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The Good Fight comes out punching in Round One for CBS All Access


Christine Baranski as centerpiece of The Good Fight. CBS photo

Premiering: Sunday, Feb. 19th at 7 p.m. (central) on CBS and CBS All Access
Starring: Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie, Delroy Lindo, Erica Tazel, Sarah Steele, Justin Bartha
Produced by: Michelle King, Robert King, Phil Alden Robinson, Ridley Scott, David Zucker, Liz Glotzer, Brooke Kennedy, Alison Cross

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Lately there’s no such thing as a free, new top quality drama on CBS. Instead you’ll have to pay for it.

The network’s recently launched streaming service, CBS All Access, gets serious this Sunday with its first original series. The Good Fight, a continuation of its much-lauded The Good Wife, puts Christine Baranski at center stage in place of Julianna Margulies, who leaves the scene after seven seasons and two Emmy awards in her leading role of Alicia Florrick.

The CBS broadcast network will air The Good Fight’s first episode before it moves exclusively to the subscription All Access for Season One’s remaining nine hours. They’ll be doled out once weekly on Sundays, which puts All Access in alignment with Hulu while Netflix and Amazon Prime continue to offer their original series in full season gulps.

Baranski earned six Emmy nominations but has yet to get a win for her portrayal of hard-driving attorney Diane Lockhart. Episode One, subtitled “Inauguration,” briefly shows her in a seeming traumatized state as Donald Trump is sworn in as President. It spurs her to pre-purchase a luxurious villa and retire from her senior partnership at Chicago’s Lockhart, Decker, Gussman, Lee, Lyman (we’re not finished yet), Gilbert-Lurie, Kagan, Tannebaum & Associates.

Alas, her nest egg is quickly wiped out by a Ponzi scheme that implicates Henry and Lenore Rindell (guest stars Paul Guilfoyle, Bernadette Peters), and by implication their innocent daughter Maia (new cast member Rose Leslie). She’s just joined Lockhart, Decker, Gussman et. al. after passing the Illinois bar exam. But Diane, who’s Maia’s godmother, is coldly rebuked when she asks to be taken back, only to be taken aback. No. 1, she’s too pricey. Secondly, she directed some of her clients to the Rindells -- and that didn’t end well.

So that’s the setup for a reset, with a rebuked and uncommonly weepy Diane (in a scene with her estranged husband) eventually accepting the life preserver offered by a rival firm of mostly African-American lawyers. She can be both a partner and “a diversity hire,” says attorney Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo). This amuses both of them.

Diane also will be newly in business with the firm’s founding partner, Barbara Kolstad (Erica Tazel), and Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo carrying over from the last season of The Good Wife). Maia likewise is brought on board after getting almost immediately dumped by Diane’s old firm.

CBS made the first two episodes available for review, and they’re both pretty terrific. The dialogue crackles and the first featured case (in Episode 2) is buoyed by a guest appearance from Christine Lahti (Chicago Hope) as a very self-assured prosecutor.

Among the regular cast members, the immensely under-recognized Lindo instantly registers as the suave Boseman while Jumbo is a commanding presence in her holdover role. Baranski also remains first-rate in what’s become her defining TV role.

Absent any restraints from advertisers, The Good Fight has mixed in some f-bombs (which obviously will be excised from Sunday’s lone showing on regular old CBS). Episode 2 puts Maia on the jarring receiving end, with bilked investors still hating on her via a barrage of very pointed text and voice mail messages. This one also ends with a jolt.

CBS obviously wants to entice viewers to buy into All Access by giving them something worth investing in. The Good Fight is enticing bait, although it’s a shame that the broadcast network hasn’t come close to measuring up in recent seasons with a string of standard-issue new dramas, most in the crime-solving genre and none in any danger of receiving an Emmy nomination.

All Access also has the new Star Trek: Discovery in production, although creative problems have delayed its debut. In future years, will most if not all of the “good stuff,” such as The Good Fight, wind up on All Access instead of CBS? That’s a distinct and somewhat disheartening possibility in times when the old-line Big Four broadcast networks increasingly are hard-pressed to compete -- not only with their own pay-for-play creations but with the aforementioned established streamers plus high-caliber cable networks such as FX, HBO and AMC.

More than ever, you get what you pay for.


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