What I’m Watching: The Good Fight

When I wrote about The Good Fight’s pilot, I hoped the show would maintain the high caliber of quality of the first episode set up. It was a tall order, one I’m not sure its predecessor The Good Wife ever managed for a ten episode streak, but, astoundingly, The Good Fight succeeded. There’s a drive, a sense of purpose and relevance, to the show that makes it in many ways superior to The Good Wife after just one ten-episode season.

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I like to think this is actually a room in some Chicago highrise that exists solely for generic cast photos.

First off, despite the high-class world the characters navigate, the show wisely keeps its characters as more-or-less underdogs. Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad, the central law firm, is predominantly African American, while Maia’s public reputation has been destroyed by her parents’ scandal and Diane has lost all her money in addition to her reputation. The clear societal forces working against the characters make their successes feel more triumphant and hard-earned.

This underdog theme carries over into the show’s cases of the week, which are surprisingly strong. In The Good Wife, the weekly cases became trite filler after the first two or three seasons, usually skimming from the headlines without any meaningful commentary or interesting plotting. The cases in The Good Fight, however, feel very purposeful, focusing on “little guy” individuals fighting against more powerful opponents and exploring social issues in a way that feels relevant and genuine rather than perfunctory.

The more serialized plotting is pretty good, too. There are three major running plotlines–an attack on the firm by the State Attorney’s office, Lucca’s relationship with a guy working at the State Attorney’s office named Colin, and the financial scandal–that all intertwine in interesting ways. It’s a testament to Michelle and Robert King’s (the creators and writers of both The Good Wife and The Good Fight) writing skills that they can still make these legal machinations interesting after eight seasons in this world.

I do, however, think that the first of those three plotlines was much more successfully executed than the others. Lucca and Colin’s plotline often felt separated from the rest of the show, and I would have liked something a little more substantive for Lucca. The show has positioned her as roughly analogous to Kalinda from The Good Fight in being kind of mysterious in her motivations and feelings, but that mysteriousness doesn’t work as well with Lucca since she’s one of the three main characters, not a part of the ensemble. This combined with her not actually being as mysterious as Kalinda makes it frustrating rather than intriguing to not know what’s going on in her head.

Meanwhile, the financial scandal plotline doesn’t have any flaws in and of itself, but the context–a scandal with mystery surrounding it setting up the first episode in a plot-driven show–makes it look initially like it’ll be a twisty, plot-heavy storyline, but instead it’s a more character-driven story designed to test and challenge Maia. And for what it is it works very well, but in a show otherwise filled with traditional twisty plotting, it comes across as incongruously simple and un-thrilling.

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It’s the strength of the characters, though, that keeps the less-exciting-than-possible storylines from feeling dull or too much like missed opportunities. Maia isn’t a particularly original character in her conception but she works well as an audience surrogate and the show does an effective job of making her sympathetic to the audience. It’s thrilling to watch when she has her first cross-examination and that’s all thanks to stellar execution on the writing and acting level.

As I mentioned above, I’m disappointed that Lucca’s inner life wasn’t explored as much as it could have been, but she’s still a really engaging character, competent and brassy but while still being compassionate. And while I’m not sure there’s a lot to say about Diane since her character has had a lot of screentime in The Good Wife, she’s still a crucial and enjoyable part of the main cast.

The show’s other characters are also really good as well. The new characters at Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad (the main law firm) mesh well into the show’s world and I was super excited to see Marissa added as a series regular after recurring on The Good Wife for years.

Marissa’s place in the show does get into some of its more questionable subtext, though. It’s a good move to set the show in a mostly-black law firm, but immediately adding a bunch of white characters (Maia, Diane, and Marissa) into it feels iffy, and the way the show had them ingratiate themselves by using their privilege felt off in its execution. Rather than the vibe being “we’ll use our privilege to help you achieve justice,” it was more “look at how useful and great our privilege is, and doesn’t that make us better at performing the same tasks.” If the show had explored how some of the characters’ marginalized identities could be equally helpful in other contexts I think it would have come across better. The show on a couple of occasions has a white character deal with a racist for better results, but never, say, has a black character handle going into a mostly-black social space for better results.

I also didn’t love how the show handled Maia being gay, or rather how the show didn’t really handle it at all. For a show that is steeped in commentary on social issues, it’s really weird how completely absent any discussion of Maia’s sexual orientation is. None of the public backlash against her takes on homophobic forms that I noticed, her ex-boyfriend harassing her didn’t explicitly have any real homophobic bent to it, and Maia being a lesbian in a homophobic society was never brought up as a motivating factor in her pursuing a career as a lawyer. The show almost seemed to go out of its way to not explore gay identity and homophobia, which was disappointing since the show didn’t show the same avoidance when it came to racism, sexism, antisemitism, ageism, etc.

Despite those quibbles, though, I was really impressed by season one of The Good Fight. It’s an extraordinarily solid show and is a promising start to original programming on CBS All Access.

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