author – activist – faculty – mom
As a working writer mom, I am unexpectedly falling in love with television. Not only because this golden era of TV has so many great shows about women, but also because, in the era of binge-watching, I can better track the writing and plot structure of all my favorite shows.
One of my all-time favorites is CBS’ “The Good Wife,” the multi-Emmy winning legal procedural about the wife of a disgraced politician coming into her own. The show ended in 2016, but CBS’ new show, “The Good Fight,” is a spin-off that takes place in the same Chicago world with many of the same characters. Unlike the original, which originally followed one woman, The Good Fight intentionally follows three: Diane Lockhart (Chistine Baranski) a secondary protagonist in The Good Wife from the start, Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) introduced in “The Good Wife” season 7, and Maya Rindell (Rose Leslie) the fresh-faced ingénue of the spinoff series.
It took me ages to watch “The Good Fight.” I only now realize that was because it was hard to find. Unlike “The Good Wife,” which was a traditionally broadcast show on CBS, “The Good Fight” is a CBS original. “Original” is a confusing identifier, because all of CBS’ non-syndicated shows feature new material. But apparently the term is taken from streaming services like Hulu, Amazon and Netflix when they develop their own shows. This also refers to shows like “The Mindy Project” which started out on a broadcast network, then were picked up for more episodes on a streaming network. However, for a network like CBS, “original” means that the show doesn’t have a broadcast time slot, and can only be watched by subscribing to CBS All Access (which I did, and binge-watched the whole 10 episode series before the free 7-day trial ended).
But I would have paid for this show. There wasn’t even the slightest reduction in quality from “The Good Wife.” But what the second show allowed me to see more clearly is the thematic connections between the two series: these shows are deep indictments of patriarchy and the heroines are battling against the destructive power of men’s narcissism and male domination.
Although Alicia Florrick is in her 40s when the first series opens, she is still the ingénue. A brilliant attorney, she has sacrificed her career to be a suburban stay at home mom, while her husband successfully pursued a political career. So although she’s many years into her adulthood, she’s been disconnected from many dimensions of reality, and has a strong sense of young adult naivete. When her husband is jailed in a political/sex scandal, the facade of her life crumbles. She is forced not only to confront his infidelities, but also to become the breadwinner for her two kids. While the entire family is devastated by the Governor’s betrayal, Alicia is the one who’s been betrayed most intimately. [GOOD WIFE SPOILER ALERTS]. Through the series, the writers brilliantly keep up the will-they-or-won’t-they-reconcile tension about the marriage, but ultimately, they won’t. And not because Alicia doesn’t love him, but because he continues to betray her in new ways, even after he professes a commitment to win her back. Ultimately, he’s simply too narcissistic to repair their relationship.
In “The Good Fight,” newcomer ingenue Maya is actually in her mid 20s. The writers have set up a similar public betrayal: Maya’s parents and uncle are involved in a Ponzi scheme to rival Bernie Madoff’s. Although Maya is an unwitting accomplice, her parents exploit their relationship with her to insulate them from legal consequences. She becomes a target of online harassment. She gets doxxed, and her private information is shared publicly. As a result, she receives rape and murder threats from strangers. It is clear that her parents love her, but they are also committed to covering their own asses. The most profound moment [THE GOOD FIGHT SPOILER ALERT] is at the end of season 1, when Maya’s dad is offered a deal: 35 years in prison and Maya will be saved from prosecution. We see him crying about the possibility of losing her. And yet, just when we think he is planning to turn himself in, we see he has chosen to run from the law. He intentionally leaves his beloved daughter to face the consequences of his action.
As a parent, I find this unfathomable. The love I have for my kid would have me ready to take the brunt of any heavy consequences for my child’s actions, let alone my own. The idea of intentionally sacrificing one’s children in this way is downright unnatural. But this is the nature of patriarchy. It renders everyone: wives, children, friends, other relatives, as expendable resources to pay debts that a man accrues in the process of pursuing wealth, pleasure, and power.
Given the incredibly high quality of “The Good Fight,” and the fact that it had the brand recognition of “The Good Wife,” I find it shocking that it didn’t make CBS’ broadcast lineup for this year. However, CBS’ upcoming fall lineup of new shows has come under fire for being overwhelmingly white and all male. Perhaps “The Good Fight,” starring women and black people, wasn’t expected to have a broad enough appeal. There are no white men to center, and none of the female leads fit the typical white woman leading woman demographic: Diane is older, Lucca is black, and Maya is queer, and partnered with a woman.
But the “original” platform has its advantages. Before I fully realized what it meant for CBS to have an “original,” I noticed that that the show was much more explicit than usual broadcast programming. The characters said “fuck” repeatedly, and one character promised to “go down on” his girlfriend in a bathroom. Also, the show is more edgy—just in time for the Trump era—pulling no punches on the misogyny of online harassment, trolling, and violence. These questions, ripe for legal exploration, appear throughout the season. They even have a Milo Yinnopolous character who is deliciously spot-on. And how better to take on the issue of race than by putting veteran white lawyer Diane Lockhart in an all-black law firm that specializes in fighting police violence. Not only can they get behind the scenes of the legal battles in the movement for Black Lives, but also the challenges and opportunities when working relationships across racial difference. Not to mention veteran actor Delroy Lindo as Adrian Boseman and the gorgeous and charismatic Erica Tazel as Barbara Kolstad, the two leaders of the black law firm Reddick, Boseman, & Kolstad.
All in all, the King Wife & husband duo have not only a hit, but I would argue an intersectional feminist hit in their new show.