In the series premiere of The Good Fight, Diane Lockhart, a pristinely put-together, 60-something woman, sits perfectly upright, mouth agape as she watches Donald Trump’s inauguration. A Hillary Clinton contemporary and supporter born from the mind of The Good Wife’s co-creators Robert and Michelle King, Diane was meant to usher the spin-off of the long-running Good Wife into the age of Clinton, but the election of Trump put the character into a tailspin. If any television show was poised to tackle the personal, political, and legal issues Trump’s reign has wrought — while also holding a fun house mirror up to him — it was The Good Fight.
If The Good Fight’s first season depicted Diane, portrayed with class, wit, and intellect by Christine Baranski, rising from the flames of her sidelined retirement, its sophomore season — set in a nearly all-black law firm and featuring female characters who cover the intersections of age, sexual orientation, and race — tackles the surreal news coming out of the White House with plotlines that reflect and telegraph the state of the world.
“There's an overarching theme to the second season, and it does have to do with that sense of having to live under the cloud of the presidency,” Baranski tells The Advocate. “I think of all the years that I played the character, I've never enjoyed myself more, so that says a lot.”
Rose Leslie and Cush Jumbo
As on The Good Wife, which ran for seven seasons and covered topical issues perhaps more thoroughly than any other series on television, The Good Fight features an often timely case of the week, while exploring larger themes like police brutality and the alt-right. The 13-episode second season, which began airing on CBS All-Access March 4, will take on subjects including sexual harassment, the possibility of a Trump impeachment, and the “golden shower tape” (on which the president allegedly allowed his fetishes to flourish in a Moscow hotel room), Baranski confirms.
“I'm excited by the fact that we're just moving head-on into what's going on and into the headlines as it were,” Baranski says. “The real challenge is to stay abreast of the news or almost ahead of it or we're trying to predict what will happen, which isn't impossible, of course, but by the time many of these episodes air in April or May, who knows what will happen, because that's the world that we're living in right now.”
While Trump’s ascension to the Oval Office knocked real people for a loop, the plotlines and characters of The Good Fight, despite their relative privilege as attorneys at a high-powered Chicago law firm, are vessels for expressing a collective national anxiety. To cope with the state of politics, the buttoned-down, fully composed Diane, who occasionally enjoyed a stiff martini on The Good Wife, takes to stashing a gun in her desk and microdosing with the psychedelic drug psilocybin.
“In a lot of ways, if I can say this, [Trump's] given us a shitload of good story because there's always something going on that you kind of think, This can't be real. And as a result, it makes our show seem more real than the real world,” Cush Jumbo, the English actress and writer who plays Lucca Quinn, The Good Fight’s other leading character, tells The Advocate.
Leslie and Christine Baranski
While the series delves into the news of the day, so much of which is about the current occupant of the White House, its real focus is on how characters handle themselves when faced with challenges not exclusive to life under Trump.
"[The series] is really about how people are dealing with it [the news] on a day-to-day-basis in terms of the law firm," Jumbo says. "Where is their moral standing in dealing with these police brutality cases? How does politics affect people's belief in the justice system? And how do we as lawyers believe in what we’re doing when we are being sucked into moral mazes of decision making. It’s never a clear-cut as good versus evil, black and white.”
A newcomer to the second season, Tony-winner Audra McDonald seconds the notion that The Good Fight seeks to explores shades of ethics. Her character, Liz Reddick-Lawrence, arrives to at the show’s central law firm following her father’s death.
"I like that [the Kings] don't shy away from the complexities from the human spirit and the human condition within a character, so she's not the goody two-shoes, but she's also not the evil queen, but somewhere in between; she's certainly got essence of both," McDonald tells The Advocate.
As evidenced in the first few episodes of the season, Liz is positioned as both friend and foil for Diane. But just as there are no easy answers on The Good Fight, viewers won’t find the Kings pitting Diane and Liz against one another in a straight-up catfight, especially during a time of a national examination of women and their place in the culture.
“Work relationships can be a tricky thing," McDonald says. "There’s a lot of friction that will be involved, but I think there’s a lot of respect between those two characters because they’re both really strong, powerful women and they absolutely recognize that and respect that. They may not always agree with each other, but they respect that they’re dealing with someone of equal power.”
For every conceivable transgression of Trump’s, there is a Good Fight plotline or character that represents a marginalized group he’s terrorized in one way or another. The leads, including Baranski, Jumbo, McDonald, and Game of Thrones' Rose Leslie, are all women, a group Trump has continually assailed with misogynist remarks. Two of the women are of color, a group of people Trump has continually attacked by calling white supremacists in Charlottesville “good people” and referring to peacefully protesting black football players as “sons of bitches.”
Audra McDonald and Baranski
Leslie’s character, Maia Rindell, who is Diane’s goddaughter, is a lesbian. Trump’s disdain for LGBT people was made clear in his pick of dangerously homophobic Mike Pence as his right-hand man as well as his support of allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. But when Leslie took the role of an inexperienced attorney, marriage equality had been approved by the Supreme Court, President Obama was in office, and Maia’s sexuality was just an aspect of her character.
Leslie isn’t aware of any upcoming plotlines that put Maia’s sexuality front and center, but she’s inspired by the show’s willingness to go headlong into difficult subjects even when she personally feels overwhelmed by the news cycle.
“With regards to her relationship and her love life, we haven't seen a lot of kind of turmoil, so I think that is an incredibly interesting aspect in the storyline to explore,” Leslie says. “There was a moment where I just thought I wanted to bury my head in the sand because there was a sense of being overwhelmed [by the news]. However, I fundamentally believe in being informed.”
The show's focus on racial diversity — no inclusion rider needed — is very clear. “I can't think of another television show on the air," McDonald says. "Maybe there is one, but I can't think of another one that takes place at an all-black law firm, can you?”
“We are 50 percent women, 50 percent black actors, and that's really rare,” says Jumbo, who is biracial. “Once the series got rolling, what happened was people kind of forgot that it was an all-black law firm. People stopped talking about it because they were talking about the storylines and [it] proved to people that you don't have to be afraid to represent the world we live in.”
The Good Fight, on its surface, serves as witty entertainment, but as Baranski points out, the best shows are game-changers. And the Kings, with The Good Wife’s exploration of what it means to be a modern woman and mother, and their creation of Kalinda Sharma, that show’s fearless, matter-of-fact bisexual investigator (played by Archie Panjabi), are no strangers to groundbreaking TV.
“Kalinda was deservedly a breakout character,” Baranski says, adding she can't see The Good Fight being anything but envelope-pushing amid the current political climate.
“Scripted television has to be fairly audacious to keep up with what's going on. Are you going to do some quaint show about lawyers and, you know, love affairs?” Baranski says. “No! The world's going crazy — to hell in a handbag. Better to write about it.”