There’s no one else on television quite like Christine Baranski. I’m not sure there ever has been.
Hers is a singular onscreen persona: languid yet wholly alert, with traces of world-weariness that coexist with enormous reservoirs of vitality.
In some ways, Baranski seems to hail from another era. There’s something of Katharine Hepburn’s regal self-possession in her manner. Yet the actress seems utterly contemporary at the same time.
After originating the role of the passionately liberal defense attorney Diane Lockhart on CBS’s “The Good Wife’' (2009-16), Baranski is now reprising the role in its superb spinoff, “The Good Fight,” which has aired for the past few years on the streaming platform CBS All Access.
Baranski’s intelligence and sardonic, wised-up way with a line give you the feeling that she and Dorothy Parker would have had a lot to talk about. She’s got one of the great laughs, but you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of Baranski’s principled Diane, who can project an icy fury when she is wronged or an injustice is committed.
Baranski didn’t make her mark on prime-time television until she was in her 40s, having spent two decades before that compiling an impressive stage resume that included Tony Awards for Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” and Neil Simon’s “Rumors.” It’s been enormously satisfying watching her defy the ageism of the TV industry while becoming a cornerstone of two topnotch series. Michelle King and Robert King, who created both “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight” (the latter with Phil Alden Robinson) deserve a lot of credit for constructing a character worthy of Baranski’s talents.
But she doesn’t require first-rate material to shine. As jaded, hard-drinking Maryann Thorpe, best friend of the title character played by Cybill Shepherd in CBS’s “Cybill” (1995-98), Baranski delivered a performance of such acid wit that she almost singlehandedly made that mediocre sitcom worth watching. She walked away — make that strode away — with every scene she and Shepherd shared.
Her Maryann seemed to have stepped out of Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch.” How wonderfully fitting that Baranski teamed up in April with Audra McDonald and Meryl Streep to sing “The Ladies Who Lunch” in “Take Me to the World,” the 90th birthday celebration of Sondheim on Zoom.
And even in a white bathrobe, Baranski was the picture of elegance.