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‘The Good Fight’ Back for a Third Round, Ready to Go the Distance
March 12, 2019  | By Alex Strachan  | 1 comment

People in certain circles seem to be scared of The Good Fight, and that’s a good thing.

There was the TV reviewer, writing for a prominent newspaper in the UK, who featured The Good Fight prominently on his Best TV of 2018 year-end list, and then wondered why it was consistently overlooked by the Emmys and other TV awards in the US, even more so than its antecedent The Good Wife was before it. (While Julianna Margulies broke through with a well-deserved Emmy, the show itself was routinely snubbed — except, interestingly enough, by the TV Critics Association trade group.)

There are the showrunners and TV executives at other mainstream networks who avoid politics like the plague, who know even proposing a primetime drama about a left-leaning, predominantly African-American law firm owned and operated by Democrat-voting activist lawyers who specialize in civil rights cases will get them shown the door faster than proposing a sequel to the short-lived Fox sitcom Costello. Focus groups tell them viewers are fed up with politics in real life, so why would they want politics in their entertainment at home, especially after a long, hard day at work? Bring on the bright, sunny sitcoms and police procedurals where the good guys win and the bad guys get their comeuppance at the end — and those who go to jail get put away for longer than 47 months.

Those viewers who want politics in entertainment can turn to pay cable — Veep on HBO and Our Cartoon President on Showtime, or even House of Cards on Netflix — but it’s hard, impossible even, to get an overtly political drama green-lighted by a conventional, mainstream broadcaster like CBS, certainly not one as cutting and acerbic as The Good Fight.

And yet. When The Good Fight returns with new episodes Thursday on CBS’s All Access streaming service, it will once again name names, take no prisoners, and be brave and unflinching in its portrayal of national politics as a blood sport, where illegal wiretaps are the norm, rules don’t apply, and everyone is listening in on everyone else. In the previous season, The Good Fight featured a story arc about a vigilante determined to murder lawyers at random, an immigration case involving a faked birth certificate and institutional misuse of the “Einstein” visa, threats of regulation leveled against a tech firm and prominent social-media site (the name “ChumHum” remains one of The Good Fight’s great contributions to the public lexicon, in this writer’s view), and the suspicious shooting of an undercover black police officer by his white colleagues. (Among its many inspired choices, The Good Fight is set in Chicago, a city that is less familiar to avid TV viewers than New York or Los Angeles but which reflects many of the country’s urban issues and controversies.)

In the days of the old Hollywood studio moguls, there was a saying: "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." The Good Fight is unafraid to indulge in message-sending or message-making for that matter.

It’s also entertaining, from the fine and ferocious lead performance by Christine Baranski (top), an accomplished, exceedingly gifted comedic actress (Cybill, The Big Bang Theory) who landed the dramatic role of a lifetime in The Good Wife and is clearly enjoying every minute of hard-hitting drama in The Good Fight, to the tart, snappy dialogue (much of it by show creators Robert King and Michelle King), a classy, chamber-music background vibe by Papillon film composer David Buckley, and one of the most visually striking, eye-grabbing opening title sequences I can remember seeing in quite some time. These new episodes are being kept under wraps until their release — I haven’t seen them, anyway — and the third season is always make-or-break for a promising series that’s proven itself and is now looking to step up its game; go from merely good to great, for posterity’s sake. The third season can be a trap, too: Faced with the prospect of greatness and a long shelf life, more than a few would-be all-timers stumbled in their third season and never recovered. For every Dexter or Ally McBeal, however, there’s always an X-Files which, already promising, really kicked into overdrive in its third season.

The Good Fight may yet stumble at the turn, but in these fractious political times, this seems the perfect moment for a legal drama that takes on everything from race to immigration to Fox and Friends, and names names.

“Our shows are touching on the issues that are (in the moment),” Robert King told writers from the TV Critics Association in Los Angeles, at a time when he was filming a midseason episode last year. “Sexual harassment, the chilling (government) effect on news, and something even harder to approach, this idea of Trump fatigue, the tendency of culture taking on Trump in so many ways that everybody is just exhausted by it because it’s everywhere you look.”

In one of those strange twists of fate not even the most plugged-in, self-aware showrunner can predict, one story eerily foreshadowed elements of recent scandals rocking the entertainment industry.

“It was a little like the Ronan Farrow situations, where there’s a sexual charge against a liberal star you wouldn’t expect to be charged,” King said. “It creates this chilling effect on a network not to broadcast it. Often, obviously, you’re so far ahead in production from when an episode is actually broadcast, we always want to get something that will cross over from, say, sexual harassment to other issues.”

“In terms of behind-the-camera,” Michelle King added, “we have the great fortune, on The Good Fight as we had with The Good Wife, half  the (executive producers) are women.”

“And the other half behave,” Robert King said, deadpan.

The Good Fight makes no apologies for what it is, Michelle King admitted. That doesn’t mean it’s predictable, though.

“Some TV shows do choose to call out political parties,” she said. “Ours does. It takes place in Chicago. Virtually everyone in the show is a Democrat, except one of our lawyers. One of our African-American lawyers is outed as a Trump voter, and it becomes contentious. That’s one of the points of the show.”

Robert King concurred.

“The show is not just anti-Trump, anti-Trump, anti-Trump. It looks also at how liberals react. For me, the bigger concern is how the culture changes with fake news, the confusion between what’s real and not real. I think that’s particularly interesting in this show because we try to address that from a legal point-of-view. The legal scenes in the show are not really about finding the truth — they’re about who tells the best story. It’s always been about who puts across the bigger lie, the better lie, the more convincing lie.”

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Leila L'Abate
Way after Norman Lear's progressively political comedies, heartful "Judging Amy" showcased progressive political issues on CBS in its court cases, while excellent dramedy "Boston Legal" did the same on ABC, as the show in its later episodes made it a running joke that it would be cancelled for its unapologetic progressive stance.(which it was.) Progressive "The Fosters" with a family headed by a mixed-race Lesbian couple, with adopted Hispanic kids and an intense skewering of the foster care system, police corruption, and immigration policy, among other progressive issues, with a regular transgender character, somehow survived several seasons on ABC Family, now "Freeform." Freeform is now airing its even more progressive, more "adult" content, spin-off, "Good Trouble," with perhaps TV's first polyamorous bisexual character, and a communal living situation. Sexist tech firm, court handling of cop shooting of a young black man, sexual harassment, transgender discrimination, well-done!
Mar 13, 2019   |  Reply
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