‘The Good Fight’ Eviscerates Trump Better Than Any TV Show
No TV series understands and reflects life in Trump’s America better than ‘The Good Fight.’ Creators Robert and Michelle King tell us how they do it.
In the season three premiere of The Good Fight, Christine Baranski’s regal lawyer, Diane Lockhart, delivers an incendiary monologue about “men, and what they do.” The speech is delivered to none other than Donald Trump.
Well, it is delivered to the animated face of Donald Trump… which she hallucinates… on a bruise… on the back of her husband, Gary Cole’s Kurt McVeigh. (Stick with me.) It is a bruise that McVeigh suffered while leading Eric Trump and Donald Jr. on a big game hunt in Africa, after one of them accidentally shot him, Dick Cheney-style.
“What is happening to men? Where did the real guys go?” she asks the Trump-face-bruise (?!). “When did Trump and Kavanaugh become our idea of an aggrieved man? Quivering lips, blaming everyone but themselves.” By the time she finishes, she threatens to destroy him.
But if you’ve watched The Good Fight across these last two seasons, in which Diane has worked through feelings of anger, frustration, delirium, and, now, resistance as she weathers the post-truth, post-facts, post-justice Trump administration, you know that the Kings haven’t lost their minds at all. In fact, with their escalating, bonkers, incisively sharp and shockingly current series, they’ve helped us find ours.
The show’s premiere in 2017 made headlines for being forced to reshoot its pilot episode, which was written and filmed under the assumption that Hillary Clinton would win the election. (The pivot opens with Diane watching Trump get sworn in, her jaw on the floor.)
It was the first drama series to premiere in the Trump era and routinely interacted with the actual news coming from the administration, whether it’s an impeachment storyline or a search for the pee tape. As Decider’s Joe Reid recently wrote, “The Good Fight is the only show on television that understands, reflects, and comments upon exactly how insane it feels to live under the Trump presidency.”
The show is so vital and celebrated because of its distillation of the Trump administration that it’s hard to imagine what it could have looked like, or even if it could have been this good, had Hillary Clinton won and the show existed as planned. It’s an unanswerable hypothetical, but we asked the Kings anyway.
“I would say that the way the election turned out certainly gave the show a purpose,” Michelle King tells The Daily Beast.
“The Good Fight was a kind of cynical title that really took on meaning once the Diane character realized what new world she was in,” Robert King agrees.
The morning we connect, Trump suggested as part of an unhinged tweet storm that shows that critique him, like Saturday Night Live, should be investigated by the FCC. It certainly makes one wonder how he might view a series in which his avatar is animated onto a bruise while a powerful woman emasculates him. Robert brings up what he considers a “meta aspect” of the show. It’s a time in which story trumps fact, and The Good Fight, as a purveyor of a “fictionalized reality,” benefits from that.
But it only works because of a delicate balance. The Good Fight couldn’t be as satisfying if the Trumps weren’t actual characters, portrayed with enough verisimilitude that you recognize and relate to Diane’s frustration and anger. Yet, as with the Eric and Don Jr.’s hunting trip gone awry, it also has to be surreal enough to heighten the fiction and the dramatic stakes.
“I think what allows it is that the story is never really about what the Trumps are doing,” Michelle says. “It’s really about how our characters are responding. Them never knowing if they’re seeing things as they really are or if the craziness is even more extreme than they imagine.”
So many series are preoccupied with honoring time—“This could never happen in 24 hours”—or honoring geography—“You turn this corner, you should really be at that street, not across town.”
What The Good Fight is more concerned with, Robert says, is our current reality. “It’s weird if someone says, ‘What is President Mulfory doing today?’ There isn’t a President Mulfory. When I hear that, it’s like hearing 555 on a phone number. It just throws me. When they do a show in this fictional Arabic country or fictional South American country, why? That, I think, is our bias as writers.”
The first episode of The Good Fight season three is available on CBS All Access now, and sparks conversations about NDAs and sexual harassment/misconduct payouts that are so coincidentally current it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that Michael Cohen was a consultant in the writers room. (He was not.)
Episode two premieres Thursday, in which Michael Sheen makes his debut (pantsless and injecting his own Botox while receiving a blow job) as a crass, blustering protégé of Roy Cohn. The firm grapples with whether to hire a lawyer who had prepped Brett Kavanaugh, and Audra MacDonald utters the phrase, “Welcome to the Thunderdome.”
Upcoming episodes will see Diane join an underground resistance group, a country singer modeled after Taylor Swift seek advice about whether or not to condemn neo-Nazis, and Michael Sheen in a fantasy sequence will sing “I’ll Be There.”
Last season, Diane began microdosing—taking very small doses of psychedelic drugs—as a way to cope with a world in which reality too often resembles a hallucination. It worked so well as a representation of our collective are-we-all-going-mad exasperation that Robert felt they could add sequences like the bruise soliloquy or Michael Sheen’s musical number to “make it look like the world had been microdosing this year.”
Because the news moves so fast and questions over the legality of what is happening in the country are raised so frequently, this season interrupts each episode with a hilarious Schoolhouse Rock-esque musical explainer of the wonkier Trump-era topics, including NDAs, the influence of Roy Cohn, and troll farms that peddle fake news. But the loopiness and more avant-garde set pieces only land because of how close to reality the rest of the narrative and the stakes are.
Last week’s premiere, for example, entered the #MeToo conversation in a way none of the dozens of other series which have tackled the topic have so far: By opening the doors to the boardroom where characters are debating what monetary value to assign certain sex acts in payouts, and even the characters most angered or affected by an accused man’s behavior contribute to crafting the legalese of NDAs because it’s what’s best for the firm.
“I would say in general we always like to explore every story from the practicalities, and one of those practicalities when you’re talking about a workplace is money,” Michelle says. “A lot of shows ignore that and go for the big talk of ethics. Yes, sometimes if you’re lucky people are talking about that. But at the end of the day, it really is what is the number on the check?”
The episode was not directly inspired by what happened at CBS, which has employed the Kings for over a decade, in the wake of the Les Moonves’s scandal.
That said, “I do think we have a great affection for so many people at CBS and what they were going through when the whole culture was being called into question, and knew, in many cases, that just wasn’t true,” Robert says. “So part of that was saying, how could a bureaucracy handle something that is threatening upheaval of their whole system?”
It makes The Good Fight a nuanced evolution on the “ripped from the headlines” designation that’s often assigned to certain procedural drama series. The series isn’t “ripping” anything as much as it is in constant conversation with the news. It’s a tricky position to be in. How do you stay current when news happening now may be dated or in its fifth cycle a week from now?
The couple laughs at one very recent example: the college cheating scam involving Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
They had recently shot a scene in which the character Lemond Bishop, played by Mike Colter, goes to the firm because he spent a lot of money to get his son into Georgetown, and is incensed when he is waitlisted and wants to know what he can do about it.
“So when we watch the news, it’s like, oh shit, how does this reality affect something we already shot?” Robert says. Three or four weeks may pass between an episode being shot and when it airs. They’re wary of storylines looking like they were ripped from the news when “sometimes it’s the reverse of what you might think.”
The question becomes, he says, “How do we mold the reality we created so it doesn’t butt up against the reality that does become real?” Does that sentence make your head hurt a little bit? Well, welcome to the good fight.