Friday, March 2, 2018

TV REVIEW: CBS All Access' 'The Good Fight' - Season 2

CBS All Access will launch the second season of The Good Fight on Sunday, March 4. The drama stars Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie, Sarah Steele, Justin Bartha, Nyambi Nyambi, Michael Boatman, Audra McDonald and Delroy Lindo.

Read on for my thoughts on the new season after screening its first three episodes.

The first season of The Good Fight famously had to be rewritten on the fly following the presidential election of Donald Trump. Diane Lockhart joining a predominately African-American firm had a completely new context under that administration versus a Hillary Clinton one. The overall arcs of the season didn't change at all. Diane still lost all of her retirement money from a Ponzi scheme that defined the scandalous story for her goddaughter, Maia, for the entire season. Diane found herself starting over and trying to fit into this new work environment while trying to figure out what she wants in this world. Lucca was the associate on the rise who also found herself in a complicated romance with Colin, a lawyer in the U.S. attorneys office. It was just the minor details that changed in each individual episode. The big picture couldn't change because it had already been mapped out for the season. Reworking things after the election would have forced a delay in production and CBS All Access needed to launch a show at that point. But now, the second season is even more political. Each episode title reflects the precise number of days that Trump has been in office. That's a bold statement. It proves that this is a thing that is always on the minds of the characters and the creative team. This world has always been very politically resonant. It has never been afraid to directly comment on what is actually going on in the world. The reality of 2018 just happens to be completely insane. The show plays into that even more so in its second season. It's a change of pace that is quite refreshing and puts Diane on a path where she may not be all that recognizable by the end of the journey. That's exciting and refreshing while also potential dangerous seeing it play out across the first three episodes of the season.

The stronger political edge starts in the opening credits. Last season that sequence was a little laughable because it was just classic office supplies exploding in front of a black background while classical music played. It was cute but didn't really fit in with what the show actually was. It was just highlighting how explosive changes can happen in life. But now, it is a parallel for the feeling under the Trump administration. The objects that are exploding reflect images that have become quite potent in this new political climate. Yes, there's still handbags that blow up one right after another. There's still the phones blowing up in time to the music. But the sequence now also features televisions that are playing key figures of this administration. That's a potent image. It portrays the feeling that people tend to get when seeing the baffling news. Television is the medium in which the majority of Americans consume these stories and images. And yet, they are absolutely insane and baffling. And thus, the show's title sequence is taking those emotions and turning them into action. It's destruction of televisions. It's also a potent image because The Good Fight airs on a streaming service where the audience doesn't have to watch on a television anymore. But the visuals playing during the moment of destruction make it a more political image.

The paranoia of whatever is coming next from this administration is palpable in even second of the new season. The show chooses to dramatize that paranoia with a recurring story about lawyers being killed throughout the city. It's a story that hits close to home for Diane because of the way Will Gardner was killed off on The Good Wife. That's a piece of the show's history that is mentioned several times. Diane has lost so much. And now, the world keeps hitting her with more and more craziness. It's enough to drive any person crazy or insane. When she wants to attend back-to-back funerals, she happens to get stuck in court because the judge had a silly personal grudge with the deceased. It's all so ridiculous. And yet, it's so fitting with what the show aspires to be this season. It's all about the personification of fear and dread. Diane is worried about the future. But she's also worried about what's real and what's not. Whenever she turns on the television, she's confronted by some crazy story about Trump. It's mostly just the writers coming up with crazy headlines that are still within the realm of possibility. Yes, they may seem ridiculous. But that's also the world that these characters are living in. It's a reality that the audience understands and accepts as well. It's changing all of us in ways we can't understand anymore. It makes Diane question if any individual story can change the perception of the world. Or does she really have zero fucks left to give? And if so, does that mean she throws caution to the wind? Does that actually empower her? Or does it force even more oppression on her in a system that is unsure whenever someone acts against the societal norm? It's a fascinating story that is clearly going to be a season-long journey for the character. I have absolutely no idea where it's going but my interest has been piqued.

However, there are a couple of narrative loose ends these opening episodes have to address as well. The first season did end on the ominous note of Maia being arrested because her father fled the country. That was never the most engaging story. It was clear that the creative team couldn't do anything to change it over the course of the season because they were already locked into the full arc. After seeing the audience reaction, they understand that it shouldn't be dragged out for too much longer. Of course, it still takes up the bulk of the second episode with Maia trying to figure out where her dad is while also being on trial for fraud. That's time-consuming with Maia realizing in the next episode that she doesn't know who she is if she's not defined by this scandal. The show needs to figure that out soon or just cut bait on that character altogether. Meanwhile, the premiere has to deal with Audra McDonald coming in as a new series regular while writing out Erica Tazel. First of all, it's incredibly disappointing that the show didn't even try to make Barbara work. The show was just never interested in giving her an actual story. Tazel is an amazing actress who deserved better. She's still largely in the background even in the episode that is sending her character away. That's awkward and lame. And then, Audra McDonald comes in reprising her role as Liz Lawrence who has a few connections to some of the characters at the firm and is immediately given weighty material to work with. Liz probably gets more screentime in these opening episodes than Lucca does. That's lame because Lucca is a great character too who really doesn't have a clear story yet this season. All of this maneuvering is clear throughout the first two episodes. And then, the third episode is just great with a strong case-of-the-week that mimics the Bachelor in Paradise scandal from last summer.

Overall though, these new episodes present a much stronger path forward for the series. It's a show that is no longer just mimicking what happened before on The Good Wife. In the first season, it always felt like they were bringing in the most memorable guest stars from that show (Carrie Preston, Gary Cole, Matthew Perry) or repeating stories that already worked over there (founding partner doesn't like the way the firm is being currently managed leading to a shakeup). Anything new was being handled much more tentatively. But now, the creative team is much more confident about the product that they are working on here. It also helps that there will be 13 episodes this season. For a team that was used to 22 episodes a year, only doing ten in the first season was quite an adjustment that they didn't exactly know how to arc. This time around it still feels like the same show in structure for each individual episode. But each one has a purpose as well. There's a desire to make each one work individually in the style while building to a collective goal. Thirteen is just more fun to play around in and be experimental. There's one aspect of Diane's story in particular that I was surprised to see introduce in the premiere and continue in future episodes. It's weird and strange for that particular character while also surprisingly making sense in context of the show's overall message this year. The world has gotten insane. And thus, The Good Fight is pushing that level of insanity even further - while just yelling "fuck!" a whole lot more.