One of the benefits of having a TV show on a streaming platform is something few actually take advantage of: you can more or less do anything. Freed from the shackles of broadcast ratings, once a streaming show is greenlit for a season, it’s basically guaranteed that season. The Good Fight, a legal drama on CBS All Access, has spent three years playing by no rules other than its own, upending everything you might expect from a legal drama to become one of the most slept-on shows out there. Its season 4 premiere, out this week, is the series at its most absurd and most incisive.
To understand The Good Fight’s audacity, you have to know where it comes from. The first episode of The Good Fight began with the Trump presidency. The show, a legal drama spun out of The Good Wife (you don’t really need to watch that to enjoy this one) leaned into this. Its first scene featured protagonist Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), a wealthy, successful lawyer, watching the inauguration and swearing. Then, she makes plans: she quits her job and makes preparations to run off to Italy, where she can ignore the looming political carnival. Things don’t go as planned, and she’s stuck here with the rest of us — her money gone, her former firm shutting her out, and her old way of life upended.
She’s hired by a law firm owned by black partners, and The Good Fight turns its premise on its head. Instead of being a story about a wealthy white woman dealing with Trump’s America, it’s about her confronting just how different that America is — and always was — for people of color.
problems do not begin and end with the person in the White House
Perhaps that makes the series sound didactic, like it’s serving civic vegetables. And while it’s cathartic to see the writers handle topical issues like ICE’s lack of accountability or the consequences of a record number of barely qualified judges being approved by Congress, The Good Fight is also unbelievably watchable. Like any good courtroom drama, its cases are full of moves and countermoves that make each episode feel like a dance, and it’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny. One of the most memorable characters is Roland Blum (Michael Sheen), and amoral, fentanyl-sucking sleaze who blows through the show’s universe like a dirtbag hurricane that feels too cartoonish to be true. Then you notice he appears in an episode called “The One Inspired by Roy Cohn” and realize that he is, in fact, inspired by Roy Cohn.
At its best, The Good Fight’s jokes always have a little bite.
Take this season premiere as an example. In a completely out-of-nowhere twist, Diane wakes up to find she is in another universe where Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election, and she’s the only one who remembers the timeline where Trump did. Again, I must stress that The Good Fight is a legal drama. It does not dabble in science fiction or the multiverse or alternate timelines. And yet, that’s what the premiere does because The Good Fight decided it had to make a point, one that it maybe didn’t underline well enough in previous episodes and one that feels especially resonant in an election year: the problems do not begin and end with the person in the White House. People have blind spots.
The Good Fight excels at satire that is both over-the-top and incredibly sharp — a talent that has made it the first truly good series about the Trump era, even as it continues to unfold. It’s a show that’s not afraid to be ridiculous in an effort to underscore the absurdity of the times, while affixing its drama to underappreciated stories ripped from headlines that the news cycle glosses over all too quickly. The thread tying this season together, for example, involves a top-secret memo that allows the rich to completely opt out of the legal process, a plotline clearly lifted from last year’s long line of Trump associates who simply refused to comply with subpoenas — a criminal offense.
But perhaps the biggest reason The Good Fight resonates is in how it takes advantage of its case-of-the-week structure to continually widen its lens to look at how the systemic corruption of the judicial system is felt by people beyond its world of lawyers, who, by nature of their profession, must continually compromise. Sometimes it falters in this, reflecting the blindspots of the characters it usually is self-aware about. One season gets a little too mired in a #Resist plot, and in another, the actual pee tape appears. (Yes, that pee tape. What other one could we possibly be talking about?)
Yet, on the whole, The Good Fight doesn’t want the rich and powerful to be the only ones writing the story of our surreal, nightmarish present. It knows that the justice system is hopelessly compromised, and it isn’t naive enough to think it can be fixed from the inside. The good guys can’t always win, but they can leave a record.