In an episode of The Good Fight that first aired in April 2019, Jay Dipersia (Nyambi Nyambi) stares straight into the camera and walks towards it. Behind him, a car window is being smashed with a baseball bat; another car is overturned. Police lights flash, sirens wail. Vision of Jay is intercut with footage of Richard Spencer being punched.
“Is it all right to hit a Nazi unprovoked?” he asks us. He considers: “There’s no better way to show some speech is not equal. Some speech requires a more visceral response […] It’s time to punch a few Nazis.”
I started my iso-rewatch of The Good Fight months ago. In the past week it has taken on a new urgency.
A spin off from The Good Wife, The Good Fight is darker, funnier and more political than the show that preceded it. It is sharply of the Trump era, presenting two often-contradictory sensibilities at the same time: a cynical realism regarding American politics, and an optimism that, by participating in the fight, things can change.
The Good Fight understands the cruel racism of society, and places us in a majority-black law firm. The first episode, set at the time of Donald Trump’s inauguration, deals with a case of police brutality against a black man; by the end of the episode he is awarded $6m in damages.
There is a darkness to the world of The Good Fight, because there is a darkness to the world it explores. As Trump’s presidency continues, the show has only gotten darker.
And yet in the face of this darkness is also great light. There is joy in the fight. Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) is much braver here than she ever was in The Good Wife, and viscerally embodies this anger against the world – first embracing martial arts, then axe throwing, then trying to overthrow the government.
Within the law procedural and the discussions of race and politics, The Good Fight is also funny, while often feeling impossibly bold in its storylines: the law firm comes into possession of the Trump “pee pee” tape; Melania Trump wants to use the firm to file for divorce. A website called Assholes to Avoid (a sort of Shitty Media Men list) leads to confrontations between different generations of feminists. A group of women, angry and ready to break the law, create “PAnon” to counter QAnon.
As politics itself gets darker and more absurd, The Good Fight becomes increasingly absurdist, too – in plot, but also in form.
The show ricochets between courtroom drama and melodrama; between satire and serious polemic. In later episodes, for almost no reason, the show starts inserting interstitial comedic cartoon songs that speak directly to the show but expand it out to explain the political touchpoints. At first these felt odd, but I came to love the way they most fully demonstrate the show’s balance between farce and tragedy. The most startling cartoon is one that didn’t air at all: a clip about Chinese censorship was censored, replaced with a title card reading “CBS Has Censored This Content”.
The cartoons are joined by the monologues, by characters moving into song. And yet within the heightened tensions of the world – the United States both real and imagined – these surrealist elements feel right.
Perhaps more than anything – more than the absurdism, the fight, the grit, the humour, the heart – the reason I keep coming back to The Good Fight is the intelligence of the performers. Cush Jumbo’s acidicly sarcastic Lucca Quinn; the quiet fury of Audra McDonald’s Liz Reddick (the show features a truly surprising number of Broadway stars).
I can’t think of another TV show that is more fully of this time than The Good Fight. Contemporary US politics are brought into each episode, warped and laughed at, while also remaining serious and staid about the darkness.
Filming of season four was cut short due to coronavirus; a fifth season has been commissioned. As I am watching, I think about how The Good Fight will look back on the world we’re living in now. It is an incredibly exciting proposition.
• The Good Fight is streaming on Stan