Television

The TV Club, 2018

Entry 12: The Good Fight went all-in on Trump.

Christine Baranski in The Good Fight.
Christine Baranski in The Good Fight.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by CBS.

I quit Sunny a few years ago, but (like everyone?) I did watch Rob McElhenney’s remarkable season-closing modern dance, which left me sufficiently curious about how the show got there from where I had left it to consider taking a run at its just-ended 13th season. Most shows and, especially, virtually all sitcoms tend to start deteriorating once they’ve made six seasons or so (someone please put The Simpsons out of its misery already), so for the creators of Sunny to find ways to reinvent the series is exciting and extremely rare.

But since you brought up both sexual harassment and streaming services, shall I circle back to The Good Fight? Because questions of sexual ethics were all over Season 2—hardly surprising given that, like its progenitor The Good Wife, the show mines a lot of material from current events. Thus do we get a case involving a participant in a reality dating show who is filmed having sex while she’s too intoxicated to give consent (as allegedly occurred during the filming of a recent season of Bachelor in Paradise). We get an episode in which a woman must defend her creation of a website naming men who’ve engaged in sexual impropriety that falls short of criminal behavior (like Moira Donegan’s Shitty Media Men list). Even Adrian (Delroy Lindo)—a partner in the show’s central law firm of Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart and thus a series protagonist—must reckon with an accusation from his female former law student: He was so focused on his attraction to her classmate, later to be his wife (Audra McDonald’s luminous Liz), that Adrian had hardly any attention left over to pay to the rest of the women he was supposed to be mentoring, to the degree that the one who’s returned into his orbit gave up on practicing law and went into journalism instead. It’s an angle on male/female professional relationships I didn’t see other shows exploring: how “good” men in powerful positions, who would never consider trading sex for underlings’ advancement, must use their privilege consciously and affirmatively to help their female reports access opportunities in the workplace.

Sexual misconduct aside, The Good Fight continued going all-in on Trump. Remember in its first season when it built an episode around NBC’s (real-life) decision not to air an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that featured an unmistakably Trumpy perp? That was kid stuff compared with the Trump material in Season 2. Character Actress Margo Martindale reprised her Good Wife role as political operative Ruth Eastman, vetting Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart for consideration to pursue impeachment charges against Trump if Democrats regain control of the House. (Since we’re now living in that reality, side-eye emoji for Season 3.) A Russian student approaches the firm to represent her in deportation proceedings, claiming she’s one of the sex workers in the infamous Trump pee tape—something merely alleged to exist in our timeline, but which Good Fight characters watch, their faces bathed in a golden glow. Even otherwise run-of-the-mill cases turn farcical when they end up in courts overseen by hilariously unqualified Trump-appointed judges.

I generally prefer my art to be untainted by acknowledgment of Trump’s current position, if only because, to paraphrase the late sage @Horse_ebooks, everything Trump happens so much. (My experience of Pose would have been very different if an actor had been playing him onscreen.) But the main reason I can make an exception for The Good Fight is due to a pivotal event in its Season 2 premiere. At a post-funeral reception, Diane (perfect human Christine Baranski) has a chance encounter with a bartender who slips her psilocybin for the purpose of microdosing to ease her anxiety. Diane continues to do so through the season even as she starts to lose track of whether her experiences are real or hallucinations. Is it true that the programming on every TV channel she flips through is about Trump? Are the tweets various news anchors quote from his Twitter feed real? Did he actually adopt a pet pig named Petey? Eventually, Diane decides she needs to sharpen up and quits psychedelics, but the reason the arc is so effective is that it captures what the current era feels like even for those of us who are entirely sober. Amid the cruel, amoral, shortsighted, incomprehensible, punitive policy announcements, one may occasionally be seized by the realization, as if for the very first time, that one of the stupidest and worst people ever to live is president. Of the United States. Of America? How is this, any of it, happening? If it were a mass delusion brought on by magic mushrooms, it would be a relief. Diane’s confusion is our confusion.

As to the matter of how many content providers are too many, Sonia—and, long ago, Willa —I don’t know how long CBS All Access makes sense as a business. The main reason for The Good Fight not to have gone to broadcast CBS seems to be episode runtime—and so that its characters can curse (which, honestly, I respect). But other than this, the platform’s forthcoming Jordan Peele revival of The Twilight Zone, and Star Trek: Discovery, I don’t really know that it’s providing much value for any subscriber who can’t write it off as a business expense. Did you know there’s a Will Ferrell–produced cop show called No Activity, which despite starring Tim Meadows and Jason Mantzoukas, whom I adore, is very boring and bad? Did you also know that Kevin “Dawson’s Creek” Williamson is darkly reimagining fairy tales on the anthology series Tell Me a Story as if we didn’t all get sick of that conceit circa Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters? It’s probably all expensive to make and yet entirely buzz-free, and even a TV superfan is not going to go out of her way to subscribe to yet another service when she already has Netflix and it’s dropping three or more full seasons of TV on her every Friday.

While I decide whether to subscribe to YouTube Premium for the Adam Pally/Sam Richardson collaboration Champaign ILL, I’ll throw it back to Willa to … try to make us optimistic about 2019???

Tara

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