In many ways, The Good Fight is so transparently a continuation of The Good Wife that only lacks Julianna Margulies that it’s not unreasonable to treat it like an old veteran that has long since figured itself out. But there are enough differences between the old show and the new one — which returns for a second season Sunday night on CBS All Access — that it’s also fair to look at it as a young show still grappling with its strengths and weaknesses, and still experimenting with different ingredients to find the perfect recipe.
Here are a few things to know about the new season, based on the three episodes screened for critics. Very minor spoilers follow:
1. The status quo keeps on changing.
Much of season one was devoted to tension between Diane Lockhart and one of the senior partners at her new firm, Barbara Kolstad, played by Erica Tazel. And late in that season, Louis Gossett Jr. turned up as founding partner Carl Reddick, who came out of retirement to wrest control of the firm back from Delroy Lindo’s Adrian Boseman.
So much for either of those battles in season two. Reddick is written out in an opening shot that will unintentionally amuse many Good Wife fans who recall who frequently Robert and Michelle King liked to reshuffle the deck, and Kolstad’s gone by the end of the premiere. In their place: Audra McDonald as Reddick’s daughter Liz, a former federal prosecutor in need of a new home. The Kings never seemed to have a plan for Barbara, so she’s no great loss, and there’s a more concerted effort to establish Liz as both a character and source of conflict at the firm, but the speed with which both shows have churned through partnerships makes it harder to invest in another one at this late date.
2. The Kings still don’t know what to do with Maia.
Rose Leslie’s Maia was introduced as the new Alicia Florrick, instantly embroiled in a very complicated and public legal scandal. But where those 22-episode Good Wife seasons had plenty of room to just let Alicia be a lawyer, which in turn allowed her to develop into a three-dimensional and sympathetic character, the 10-episode Good Fight seasons have much less room for anything that’s not arc-related, and Maia existed almost entirely as a victim in the first season, which made it hard to care about her fate at all.
Season two begins with her awaiting trial, living at home and going to work while wearing a monitoring anklet, but the early emphasis is still on her family’s Madoff-style sins. Even a story in the third episode unrelated to her legal jeopardy does little to help establish who Maia is, what makes her tick, or why the show treats her as co-lead alongside Diane and Cush Jumbo’s Lucca Quinn.
3. Diane and the show are still adjusting to life in Trump’s America.
The spin-off opened with an aghast Diane watching President Trump’s inauguration, and the “previously, on The Good Fight” montage that opens the premiere is a mix of season one scenes and POTUS news clips. And our current administration remains a continuing source of both plot ideas — Liz got into trouble at her old job for a tweet calling Trump a white supremacist, while the predominantly black firm feels a financial pinch from the administration’s policies — and the general sense of chaos and powerlessness that unabashedly liberal characters like Diane and Adrian are feeling. There’s a running gag involving increasingly surreal TV news reports about developments at the White House, yet all of the jokes feel not that far off from what’s actually being reported in the news of late.
The Good Wife was very much plugged into real-world politics, too, but it feels more prominent — or perhaps simply more despairing — now than it did in the Obama days.
“I just don’t know what’s going on in the world anymore,” Diane laments at one point. “It’s not just bad. It’s insane.”