‘The Good Fight’ Season One Runs Out Of Time With ‘Chaos’

04.17.17 3 months ago 4 Comments

CBS All Access

A few thoughts on The Good Fight first season finale, and season one as a whole, coming up just as soon as I rescue a baby from a carjacker…

Every year at Emmy time during the run of The Good Wife, the Kings would do interviews lamenting the fact that they had to make 22 episodes a year, had to work within the content restrictions of a broadcast network, and had to otherwise do all kinds of things that put them at an unfair disadvantage to their cable and streaming awards competitors. They made it very clear that they would prefer to do fewer episodes, even as CBS execs made it clear that they were very happy with the current arrangement.

With this first Good Fight season, the Kings got to throw off all those old broadcast shackles, doing only 10 episodes that were laced with profanity and other bits of content that wouldn’t have been allowed on the mothership. But it was also a show that was remarkably similar in style and tone to Good Wife, and the shorter season proved to hurt much more than it helped.

For all that the Kings were frustrated with having to churn out so much product, and dream up so many Cases of the Week, those episodes and stories proved enormously valuable to The Good Wife, because they let us see Alicia Florrick simply doing her job, in addition to all the story arcs about Peter, Will, press coverage, scandals, stolen elections, etc., etc. Alicia was navigating treacherous waters in her personal life, but we were also seeing a whole lot of her as a lawyer, doing well enough in court to win the favor of both Will and Diane, the jealousy of Cary, the job offers from outsiders like Louis Canning, etc. The sheer amount of time we spent with her, and the way that doing so many episodes all but demanded a heavy procedural element each week, made Alicia into an incredibly complex and interesting character: fighter as much as victim.

The Good Fight tried to turn Maia into Pocket Alicia Florrick over the course of the season, but her family’s scandal was so complicated — eventually bringing in both Elsbeth Tascioni and Mike Kresteva on opposing sides of it — that her screentime across these 10 episodes had to be devoted almost entirely to it. Other than the sneaker store mediation from early in the season, she barely got to act as a lawyer at all, which meant she was just a pawn in someone else’s chess game. The finale tried to rectify this by having Adrian encourage her to show more boldness on the job, and she did get to pitch in here and help with Lucca’s situation, but the idea of Maia getting a job evaluation at all seemed silly, given how little we had been shown of her actually working. Narratively, she’s treated as, at worst, the co-main character along with Diane, if not the primary lead, but she was in such a passive position for most of the season that it was hard to care at all about her, her parents, Uncle Jax, or any of it. Seeing her arrested at the end of the finale because her dad skipped town should have made me worried for her future, when instead it left me wondering if (hoping?) the show might simply move on without her next season, with Marissa or someone else delivering a throwaway line about how sad it is that Maia went to prison for her parents’ crimes.

With Diane and with Lucca, at least, Good Fight got to build on a foundation of what we knew about each woman from their time on the parent show, which made it a bit easier to take shortcuts, and it helped that both of them were in court a lot, working both big arc cases and smaller standalone ones. Still, the season raced through Lucca and Colin’s relationship, and even Diane’s reconciliation with Kurt in the finale felt like it could have used a bit more build-up between the start of the season and now. And while the show did a good enough job — with help from Delroy Lindo, who has always been able to do a lot with a little, characterization-wise — establishing who Adrian is and what he cares about, Barbara was mostly a blank; it was hard to tell in the Lou Gossett Jr. episode if we were meant to be surprised when she voted with Adrian to create a tie vote. (And then, because the finale devoted so much time to the blackout threat and more Rindell chicanery, we’ll have to wait til next season to see any fallout from that tie.)

The season did a lot of things well. Cush Jumbo was more than ready to carry solo stories rather than play Alicia’s sidekick, and she was showcased accordingly. Elsbeth vs. Kresteva was a lot of fun, and for the most part (the Alexa-like device possibly excepted) managed to stay juuuust on the right side of the “Is Elsbeth too wacky to be even vaguely believable?” line that Good Wife occasionally crossed. Putting Diane into the middle of a predominantly-black firm paid interesting creative dividends, and these 10 episodes featured a good sampling of familiar faces from the original series without devolving into clumsy fan service. If The Good Fight doesn’t aspire to be much more than an Alicia-less Good Wife, I’ll be happy to keep watching it, even if CBS All Access as a whole is less than ideal. But a lot of this season felt like the Kings should have been careful what they wished for. Sometimes, less is actually less, not more.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com

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