It’s Spin-off Sunday on unpopcult; now Jed’s covered Brother of The Blacklist, it’s time to tackle No, Not The Good Wife Even If It Features Most of Its Cast, which is currently calling itself The Good Fight and has a completely ridiculous opening credits sequence involving, amongst other things, an exploding handbag.
Since The Good Wife had no real opening credits at all, this is, I suppose an immediate (if unnecessary) statement of intent that this is Definitely Not The Good Wife, We Promise, and that’s borne out by the rest of the episode, which is resolutely downbeat and has – *clutches pearls* – swearwords in it. Heavens!
Like most pilots, there’s a lot to set up, but unlike most pilots, there are also a lot of characters and back story we already know. The magnificent Diane Lockhart is the focus: we start with her incredulous reaction to the Trump inauguration (so say we all, Diane), before moving on to her decision to retire from Lockhart, Lee and Several Trillion Other Named Partners to a gorgeous villa in sunny France; her case against old employee Lucca’s new firm (with Diane on the decidedly non-Diane side of it); and then sudden disaster in the form of the loss of her savings, her friends, her job and her reputation as a result of a million-dollar Ponzi scheme run by the parents of goddaughter and new associate Maia.
It’s a decent, if unspectacular start. There’s a sliver of the usual Good Wife wit with David Lee’s usual snark, and the irony of liberal legend Diane as a “diversity hire” at an African-American firm – if this is a sign the showrunners are tackling TGW’s previous lack of diversity amongst its cast, all to the good. And there’s a lot of the usual Good Wife topicality and interest in various types of legal proceedings: the Madoff references, the police brutality case, the metadata, the deposition etc. But it all seems quieter, gloomier and much less glossily-shot than its predecessor; for all The Good Wife could be dark and cynical and often heartbreaking, it had an energy and life and colour about it that The Good Fight doesn’t, not yet anyway. The sets seem smaller and more subdued. Diane and Lucca seem tired and sad, and angry, if justifiably so. And Maia seems nothing much at all – an entirely passive presence who is propped up entirely, both in terms of characterisation and plot, by the stronger women around her. I understand there’s supposed to be a parallel with Alicia starting over as an associate at the height of the Florrick scandal, but even while Alicia was down, she was never completely out; she had the personality, determination and ruthlessness to grasp opportunity and make a success of it herself, whether the world wanted her to or not. Maia, by contracts, has no gumption, no life, no oomph about her. Instead, she’s reliant entirely on everyone else – Lucca, Diane, her parents, her girlfriend – to step in and sort the world out for her.
It’s only episode one, though, and if Maia is not Alicia and The Good Fight is not The Good Wife, then neither was The Good Wife in the beginning. (Or at the end.) Throughout the episode, though, the memories and ghosts are almost overwhelming: photographs with Will in happier times (sob!), Diane’s estrangement from husband Kurt as a result of what she found out at the end of season 7 (albeit I didn’t believe it at the time – sob again!), the unanswered question as to what has become of Alicia (all we know is she’s definitely not working with Lucca) and the ongoing theme of women bearing the brunt of male misdeeds – like Alicia and countless women before them, Diane and Maia are collateral damage, their lives and reputations devastated by scandals they had no role in, and, again like Alicia and countless women before them, they have to harden themselves, keep their heads down and keep working till it passes, because work is their friend even when nobody else is.
Time will tell if those memories and ghosts will help or hinder the show in developing an identity of its own, and whether Not The Good Wife can come out of the shadow of its predecessor and become something special in its own right. The jury’s still out for now: I liked this well enough, but mainly because it featured Diane Lockhart, David Lee and Kurt McVeigh – Christine Baranski, Zach Grenier and Gary Cole are all, of course, terrific – rather than because of anything that actually happened in it. As I said, it’s early days, though. I want to love The Good Fight, so for now, I’ll keep watching and reviewing, and hoping I eventually do.