Usually, spinoffs built around supporting characters from one show involve them striking out on their own in a new place: Frasier goes to Seattle, Joey goes to Hollywood, Joanie and Chachi go to Chicago, etc. Sometimes, though, a spinoff is basically the original show, minus the original lead. When Andy Griffith wanted to stop playing Andy Taylor, the supporting cast stayed in place for what became Mayberry R.F.D.. Ditto Major Crimes after Kyra Sedgwick was ready to stop being The Closer, and the Valerie producers killing off Valerie Harper’s character during a salary dispute and ultimately renaming it The Hogan Family. It may lack the star power of the original version, but if the concept is basic enough (small-town silliness, police procedural, family comedy), the supporting characters popular enough, and the replacement lead at least adequate, it can extend a fictional universe’s lifespan a long time.
Now CBS is taking that approach with The Good Fight, a Good Wife spin-off minus the title character, but bringing back much of the ensemble, adding in a few new characters, sprinkling in echoes of Alicia Florrick whenever possible, and telling the exact same kinds of stories we got for seven seasons of the parent show.
It makes sense. The character of Alicia, and Julianna Margulies’ performance in that role, elevated The Good Wife at its best above wonky David E. Kelley-style legal proceduraldom, but the series had long since run out of new and fitting places to take Alicia. Her story lost steam, then kept going for another season or two — including a disappointing final episode — but the world around Alicia still had life in it, as demonstrated in the two Good Fight episodes sent to critics. It’s not fancy, it’s not revolutionary, and it’s not up to the level of peak Good Wife, but it’s a pop cultural itch successfully being scratched by Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King and their new collaborator, Field of Dreams writer/director Phil Alden Robinson.
We pick up a year after the end of the original series. Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart, having successfully merged her law firm with two others — it says something about the Kings’ allergy to a dramatic status quo that there was at least one firm restructuring in between the two series — is preparing for a hard-earned retirement that includes a villa in Provence. Then a scandal hits, damaging both Diane and her goddaughter Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie, aka Ygritte from Game of Thrones), a first-year associate who had just started working at Diane’s firm, and the two are forced to take new jobs at a predominantly African-American firm run by Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Barbara Kolstad (Erica Tazel from Justified), where Alicia’s ex-pal Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) already works.
The Good Fight tries to split the New Alicia load between Diane and Maia, who are each dealing with personal and professional turmoil in a most public way, and even lets Lucca step in from time to time. There’s a scene where Lucca gives Maia advice that may as well come with the subtitle, “Well, this is what Alicia Florrick would be saying right here if Julianna wanted to do a cameo.” Alicia was more complicated than any of these three, but add them together and you get a functional approximation of the old show, with slightly different lighting, and, via the new firm, a different perspective on the kinds of social issues the Kings like to spotlight. But there are still wacky judges (Denis O’Hare returns as Judge Abernathy this time wearing prescription sunglasses, because Good Wife/Fight), and there are still unusual courtroom-style settings that one of our heroes has trouble understanding the rules of (Maia is thrown by her first appearance in front of an arbitrator), and there are still so many references to technology and social media that you have to assume an angel gets its wings each time someone says “metadata.”
For all that the Kings used to lament the restrictions they had to deal with in making a prestige drama for a broadcast network rather than cable or streaming, there are only two major differences that come as a result of The Good Fight being made for the CBS All Access streaming service(*). The first is that each season will only have 10 episodes rather than 22, requiring less filler(**). The second is that the characters can now curse. Which they do. A lot. It can be startling at first to hear Diane Lockhart hurling around F-bombs, but this isn’t some Darkness At Noon-style grim and gritty affectation; when she or anyone else starts cussing, it’s in a circumstance where it wold almost feel more distracting if they used tamer language.