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.”
4. The cable-friendly parts of the show remain a mixed bag.
Because the two shows share so much in terms of characters, subject matter, tone, and more, it was startling — and at times outright distracting — in the first season to hear Diane and Lucca dropping F-bombs. By now, though, the occasional profanity feels like such a natural part of the world that I half expect to hear Cary Agos curse if I ever go back and rewatch The Good Wife.
The show’s use of nudity, on the other hand, feels like a tool the creative team wants to use without quite knowing how. There’s not a lot of it in these episodes, but each time someone’s naked, it’s done in a showy way designed to call attention to the fact that we’re not on CBS proper anymore(*).
(*) The nudity reminds me of an old story about Taxi (a show whose partial library — minus most of the best episodes, unfortunately — is available on CBS All Access). After ABC canceled it, producers briefly contemplated a move to HBO, and they joked that the first shot of a new season would have to be of Marilu Henner’s naked breasts so people would understand where the show was now. Fortunately for Henner, the final season aired on NBC instead.
5. Marissa Gold is the MVP
Perhaps because she was an infrequent presence on the parent series, Sarah Steele’s Marissa is The Good Wife alum whose untapped potential has been best developed on the spin-off. Splitting time between her regular job as Diane’s assistant and the job she aspires to do as an investigator for the firm, working alongside (or instead of) Nyambi Nyambi’s Jay, Marissa brings so much energy and fun into every scene she’s in, she even manages to make Maia seem vaguely interesting through their friendship. The rest of the show is still an entertaining (if uneven) continuation of the original’s world, but her scenes are so much livelier than anything else, I wish we could just move onto The Good Detective spin-off already.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His new book, Breaking Bad 101, is on sale now.