Courtesy of CBS.
Bereft fans missing the CBS legal drama The Good Wife, which charted many of the political and social upheavals of the Obama era with eerie prescience, can rejoice. A spinoff, based on Diane Lockhart, the longtime mentor (and sometimes nemesis) of Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), the titular wife of the original show, hits our screens this month, with a powerhouse cast that echoes one of The Good Wife's greatest strengths: putting women front and center. Cush Jumbo, who joined the final season as a welcome new character, Lucca Quinn, and Sarah Steele (who plays Ari Gold's funny, caustic daughter, Marissa) are both on board, as is Rose Leslie (of Game of Thrones fame).
This time around it's Lockhart's fortunes that take a tumble, following a Madoff-like scandal that wipes out her savings. "You watch the bottom completely drop out of her life," says Christine Baranski, who played Lockhart across seven seasons of The Good Wife as a queen of the icy stare and a shrewd champion of the underdog. "She has to go back and look for work, and the only place that will take her is an African-American firm, so she is in a distinct minority." Fans may recall that Lockhart had been plotting to open a women-only law firm, so she gets her affirmative-action wish after all. Sort of. The show's creators, Robert and Michelle King (or should that be Michelle and Robert King?), love these kinds of sly subversions. They also love to create setups with built-in conflict, in which messy compromise almost always beats out simplistic moralizing. The Good Wife was that rare legal show in which lawyers might often find themselves helping the bad guys to win, and The Good Fight seems set to follow suit.
In the opening episode of The Good Wife, Lockhart's affinity with Hillary Clinton was established with a portrait of the two women hanging in her office. That same portrait poignantly reappears in the first few scenes of The Good Fight, which was filmed the night before the election. "I'm packing all my things, and the shot starts with a close-up of that photo, and you see me look at it and pack it up," Baranski recalls. "I told my director, 'When I play that scene, I gain strength because she will be president of the United States tomorrow. Lockhart probably thinks, She has gone through so much and had to pick herself up so many times. She remains an inspiration.' "
They were still filming scenes for the pilot the following night when Trump was announced as the projected winner. Baranski saw the news on her iPhone between takes. "The mood on the set got very quiet and funereal," she says. "In subsequent days we were all in shock while shooting some of the most emotional stuff in the pilot, so there's a poignancy and contemporaneousness about the episode that is spooky."
To accommodate the new political reality, the Kings rewrote parts of the pilot, and the series will channel much of the turbulence that's followed in the wake of Trump's victory. "Everything seems to be shifting and falling away, and in the main character you'll see someone dealing with the same thing psychically as the country," says Baranski.
Just don't expect happy endings. The Good Wife closed with Lockhart slapping Florrick in a gesture that summed up the show's overarching themes of professional and personal betrayal. "There are consequences when you just keep compromising yourself morally and doing anything you can to survive, and you transgress other people's lives and don't take into account how you're affecting other human beings," says Baranski. "And the Kings did not want to close the season with Alicia running off with one guy or another -- the audience is not going to accept that." She pauses, before adding, "Maybe from Downton Abbey, but not from The Good Wife." Ouch.
As it happens, Baranski frequently found herself in Emmy head-to-heads with Maggie Smith for the latter's performance as the Dowager Countess in the PBS frocks-and-foxes period drama. And though the shows were wildly different, a neat symmetry exists in the fact that both actors were playing women of commanding authority and strength.
"I was always so grateful to play a woman of that age with that level of intelligence and dignity and integrity," Baranski says. "God knows she had flaws, but you always saw her picking herself up and trying to find her equilibrium, and that's what we all have to do now more than ever -- we have to find a moral center in a world that is spinning out of control."
The Good Fight premieres February 19 on CBS and airs in full on CBS All Access.
Like what you see here? Subscribe and be the first to receive the latest issue of Out. Subscribe to print here and receive a complimentary digital subscription.