Television spin-offs always come to the screen in a cloud of apprehension and skepticism. They may take place in a world that viewers know and love from the original series, but they leave behind the primary characters and turn the spotlight on secondary ones. Save for a handful of series that found the magic formula, among them “Frazier,” “Angel” and “Better Call Saul,” most spin-offs are like the “Seinfeld” episode in which Elaine and George struggle to have a good time without Jerry. It quickly becomes clear that they have nothing to talk about if he is not around, and they experience awkward silence and half-hearted efforts to create interest.
The spin-off of “The Good Wife,” which debuted in the United States on Sunday night (it premieres on Monday night in Israel on Yes VOD and on Tuesday on Yes Drama) also had all the initial signs of being a superfluous continuation of the successful legal drama. “The Good Fight” (“Hatovot Lekrav” in Hebrew) was born out of a desire by CBS to squeeze more cash from the brand and use it as a base for the network’s All Access streaming service, which is where all this season’s subsequent episodes will be shown.
In “The Good Fight,” Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), who developed into an impressive, elegant and sharp character over the seven-season run of “The Good Wife,” replaces Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) at the center of the stage. In the first episode of “The Good Fight,” Lockhart discovers that she has been the victim of a Ponzi scheme that has emptied her investment account and dashed her dream of retiring to a villa in the south of France. The fraud also ruins the reputation of Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie, “Game of Thrones”), a young lawyer who is Lockhart’s protegee. In addition to fresh faces such as Leslie, the new series features familiar characters from “The Good Wife” such as Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) and David Lee (Zach Grenier). Conspicuously absent is the wonderful character of Eli Gold (Alan Cumming).
Our apprehensions about the series proved false. The pilot episode is intriguing, sharp and retains the pace and tone of “The Good Wife.” It barely hesitates over Florrick’s absence and doesn’t let it undermine the world of the characters or the series. Baranski is full of charm as Lockhart, and it’s pleasant to reenter the world constructed by Robert and Michelle King, the married creators and showrunners of both series.
Still, there is a certain disappointment in the cut-and-paste of formulas from “The Good Wife.” For the umpteenth time, the Kings return to a story built around a female character who must leave her old law firm and start over at another. This time the recycled conceit involves two characters, Lockhart and her young protegee Rindell.
Instead of giving Lockhart an original story, the Kings treat her as a replacement for Alicia Florrick, who at the start of “The Good Wife” faced public humiliation after her state’s attorney husband was brought down by a sexual and political corruption scandal.
Lockhart’s emotional and professional journey in “The Good Fight,” like that of Florrick in “The Good Wife” begins with public humiliation that destroys her reputation and makes her nearly unemployable. The need to earn money adds to the humiliation. “Holy Alicia” competed for her place against young lawyers, while trying to maintain high ethical standards. It is stressed repeatedly that Lockhart also moved to a law firm that will give her the chance to be on the right, ethical side of the law and to defend minority victims of violence and discrimination.
Apart from the freedom to use obscenities that the streaming format offers, “The Good Fight” is an almost identical replica of “The Good Wife.” There is no originality, no unique vision for the series’ new protagonist, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The formula that made “The Good Wife” much more than the average legal drama also works here.
“The Good Fight” succeeds in preserving the narrative fabric despite Florrick’s absence, just as “The Good Wife” retained its power after the departure of Will Gardner (Josh Charles). That attests to the Kings’ ability to create a complex, fully realized world that stands on its own, without depending on any particular character.
Despite their great similarity, the spin-off can be expected to enjoy a significant advantage over the original, in light of the Kings’ ripped-from-headlines narrative inspiration.
If the subjects of “The Good Wife” included internet privacy, National Security Agency surveillance and the conduct of corporations such as its fictional Google analogue ChumHum (Google) and Reddit clone Scabbit, “The Good Fight” enters bravely into today’s much more complex, tense and stormy United States.
As reported on the Vulture entertainment blog in early January, at a press conference for the series Robert King promised that “The Good Fight” will “explore the ways politics, the legal system, and journalism will change under the Trump administration.”
As a hint of things to come, the pilot opens with a scene that was added after it was shot. In it, Lockhart watches Donald Trump being sworn in as president. With a stunned, grieving and angry expression on her face, she turns off the television.