Once upon a time, I wrote down a list of all the TV shows that I know I should have watched, but never got around to. These days it’s more of a list that floats around in my head.
At the top of that list is Breaking Bad, but there are plenty more. And it’s not as though there aren’t poor shows that I have given time to.
The Good Wife is a show that I have never seen.
It ran from 2009-2016, created by Robert and Michelle King, and starred Julianna Margulies who I once watched a bit on ER during that series’ early years. But a US network legal drama never appealed. I confess that even the title put me off. Why is the main character defined by her marital status? I know it was a well regarded show, picking up a stack of awards. But 156 episodes is a lot of catching up at this point.
In due course, that show got a spin-off fromt the same creators, The Good Fight. CBS commissioned it for its OTT service in the US, CBS All Access. It stars Christine Baranski, from The Good Wife, but better known to me as Cybill Shepherd’s friend Maryanne from the mid-nineties sitcom Cybill.
However, I didn’t watch it because it was a spin-off of a show I hadn’t previously watched. Doubtless there’d be threads and character arcs I wouldn’t understand. I didn’t watch Better Call Saul on the same basis.
Yet there was an interesting buzz about the show. You’d keep hearing about their “ripped from headlines” storylines. And then season 3 began airing on More 4.
Was this worth watching?
I found that the first couple of seasons were all up on Amazon. And usefully, the season lengths were shorter than regular network fare. Seasons one has ten episodes and season two has thirteen.
I gave it a try.
The opening shot of the first episode is Baranski’s character, Diane Lockhart, her jaw agape, as she watches Donald Trump get inaugurated as president.
This was probably going to be a little different.
The set-up involves Chicago lawyer Lockhart about to retire to a French chateau. She’s about to push the button on buying it when she discovers, along with a lot of others including friends and colleagues, that she has lost all her money in a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme. What’s more, she was friends of the family of the financier in charge of the scheme, CSI‘s Paul Guilfoyle. She’s also godmother to their daughter played by Game of Thrones‘ Rose Leslie, herself just becoming a lawyer for the first time.
Needing to un-retire toute suite, she ends up with a largely African-American owned law-firm, having been cold-shouldered by the rest of the legal community.
But this isn’t a fish-out-of-water series. This is a law-firm that takes on the police and injustice – they fight the good fight.
Watching it suddenly brought back to me why I used to love watching LA Law all those years ago. The stories are fresh and deal with issues of the day from freedom-of-speech online to accusations against the producers of a reality TV show.
This is a series of the Trump era – something that they hit harder and more directly as the series progresses. Trump basically defines the show.
The cast is uniformly excellent, and while like all TV legal cases, there are few delays and always an amazing piece of evidence to pull out of the woodwork at the last minute, it’s fun and an addictive watch.
It’s not too soapy – the relationships explored are more likely to be working than personal – the series picks its way with care.
Oh, and it has one of the best opening credit sequences we’ve seen in recent times, with super slow-motion explosions of law firm furniture, or TVs featuring white supremacists. They play with the construct too. The imagery changes slightly between seasons, and one episode in season two runs with no credits whatsoever – the opening titles without any titles so to speak. In the first episode, we don’t even see the sequence until 20 minutes in – a full halfway through the episode.In one episode in season two, the show ends with an animated song about impeachment, performed by Jonathan Coulton (best known to me as the creator of the Portal video game song ‘Still Alive‘).
Season three builds on that as episodes freeze, an on-screen asterisk appears, and we get short songs and animations about things like Non Disclosure Agreements and Roy Cohn! CBS All Action has put the shorts on YouTube, and then blocked access to them outside North America, so they’re less easy to see. A recent episode that has yet to air in the UK, was to feature a short animation about China, but CBS decided it was too much. Instead we are to get a caption, “CBS has censored this content.” CBS has nevertheless renewed the show for a fourth season.
There are also occasions where the show breaks the fourth wall – characters directly addressing the camera. This is nothing new of course, but it’s usually identified in the early set-up of a show. Think of Ian Richardson in House of Cards, Adrian Lester in The Hustle or even Ian McShane in Lovejoy. It’s much less usual when the producers use the mechanism for the first time well into a show’s run.
As I say, the series is overtly political. More so than probably any other drama on TV right now. And it has become more so as it has gone on. In the first season the firm wanted to know if any partners had voted for Trump – they needed to present a facet that wasn’t completely anti-Trump. Season two saw a plot revolve around the putative ‘pee-pee’ tape referenced in Christopher Steele dossier. Season three ups the links again, quite explicitly, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun here.
Perhaps that also explains some of the excellent guest casting – often with the judges. You can understand why everyone is happy to come on board with this show. Some have followed the show from its predecessor, but the judges are all big characters here – and mostly familiar. In a recent episode is was entertaining to realise that a judge played by Richard Kind had been a fellow cast member with Good Fight regular Michael Boatman in the Michael J Fox sitcom Spin City.
Season three sees the introduction of Michael Sheen playing a positively insane lawyer – a character seemingly without any kind of moral boundaries. It was fun to see both him and Rose Leslie standing alongside one another in courtroom scene, realising that neither was using their real accent.
Another Brit in the cast is the excellent Cush Jumbo – perhaps previously best known for appearing in Vera. In an early episode we do hear her British accent as she’s covering for her boss, played by Delroy Lindo with great gusto.
Outside of the political talk shows like Last Week with John Oliver, The Daily Show and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (the last of which is remarkably not available on any UK service I know of with the exception of clips on YouTube), The Good Fight is the only drama on-air that properly examines the world with from a Trump perspective. They play on the madness of it all.
I may be coming to it late, but it has instantly become an essential watch.
In the UK, Seasons One and Two are available on Amazon Prime. Season Three is airing on More 4 and is available to catch-up on All 4. Episodes are also available to buy on services including Amazon and the Google Play Store.