In theory, a spinoff of “The Good Wife” is a lousy, lazy idea, a cynical way to milk the only drama that consistently provided CBS with Emmy potential throughout the cable and streaming revolutions. After the 156 episodes of seven mostly top-notch seasons, during which the premise was reenergized more than Peter Florrick’s career, the drama left the air nine months ago. What else could creators Michelle and Robert King already have to say about Chicago’s legal culture?
Plenty, it turns out.
In reality, the spinoff, called “The Good Fight,” promises to be a robust second wave of high-stakes legal cases, professional musical chairs, and soap operatic flourishes. On the spectrum of spinoffs, it sits a little closer to the “Better Call Saul” end than the “Chicago Med” end, which is to say that it isn’t merely a half-hearted attempt to exploit a brand. Turns out there may be more corners of the Kings’ Chicago to explore, with the help of their twisty scripts and expert pacing, which keep each episode moving like a long, sustained crescendo.
On “The Good Wife,” Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart was usually seen racing into some new battle, her fierce hair helmet in position. But when the new series starts, she is retiring. She’s separated, wealthy, and longing for an “Under the Tuscan Sun” moment. Things go awry, though; like a number of TV characters lately, she gets Madoff-ed, and if that isn’t bad enough, it’s by her old friend Henry (Paul Guilfoyle). She winds up having to return to work, this time at a firm with Henry’s lawyer daughter Maia (Rose Leslie) and with Lucca (Cush Jumbo) from “The Good Wife.” Her previous firm, now humorously going by the name Lockhart, Decker, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert-Lurie, Kagan, Tannebaum, & Associates, doesn’t have room for her.
That’s the premise. Just as Alicia Florrick was stripped of her security and had to start over again on “The Good Wife,” Diane must adapt and get back in the race. But while Alicia was the focus of the activity for much of “The Good Wife,” Baranski seems poised to be a less prominent lead, as the community of secondary characters quickly expands. Maia, who is Diane’s goddaughter, is dealing with hatred from strangers — and a fake sex video featuring women purporting to be her and her girlfriend — because of her father’s possible role in a Ponzi scheme. And she is forced to stay away from her mother, Bernadette Peters’s Lenore, for legal reasons. The Ponzi story line is likely to run for much of the 10-episode season, in between cases-of-the-week and romantic intrigue.
A potentially rich twist in “The Good Fight” is that Diane, Maia, and Diane’s assistant Marissa (Sarah Steele from “The Good Wife”) are all white, but their new firm is predominantly black. By the end of the two episodes made available for review, that reverse image of what we generally see on network procedurals may spark some tensions among some of the firm’s partners. They tend to fight for the victims of police abuse, so the roster of cases, too, may provide some incendiary material.
The new crew is auspicious, with Leslie — from “Game of Thrones” and “Downton Abbey” — bringing fresh shadings to the familiar naive-newbie character. As lead partners in Diane’s new firm, Delroy Lindo and Erica Tazel instantly establish both their long-term connection and their long-standing tensions. Lindo is a lot of fun to watch — just listen to him turn the word “optics” into something amusing.
Here and there you will see familiar faces — including Gary Cole as Diane’s husband, Kurt, and Zach Grenier’s David — and once or twice the characters make a reference to Alicia; but the show definitely — and wisely — revolves around the newcomers.
By the way, before you decide to give “The Good Fight” a season pass on your DVR, you need to know that only the first episode will air on CBS, on Sunday at 8 p.m. The rest of the season will be available on CBS’s streaming service, CBS All Access, which costs $5.99 a month with commercials and $9.99 without.
THE GOOD FIGHT
Starring: Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie, Delroy Lindo, Sarah Steele, Erica Tazel, Zach Grenier
On: CBS, Sunday at 8 p.m. After the premiere, the series moves exclusively to the CBS All Access streaming service.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.