‘The Good Fight’ Season 2 Eviscerates Trump—And Searches for the Pee Tape
Christine Baranski and the creators of ‘The Good Fight’ on how the series riffs on the headlines to become the best TV drama that tackles the chaotic Trump administration.
When The Good Fight premiered last winter, it made headlines for having to reshoot its pilot episode, which was written and filmed under the assumption of a Hillary Clinton victory: It opens with lead character Diane Lockhart (played by Christine Baranski), watching Donald Trump be sworn-in at his inauguration with her jaw on the floor.
The drama, a spinoff of CBS’ Emmy-winning hit The Good Wife, premiered just three weeks after the inauguration, making it the first TV series to grapple with a shell-shocked society’s new political reality. Creators Robert and Michelle King leaned into the series’ pole-position status, charging into Trump-era ripped-from-the-headlines issues and contentious conversations ripped from our collective anxiety and unrest, making it one of the timeliest shows on TV.
In the year since, Diane, let alone the rest of us, still hasn’t managed to pick her jaw back up, with the news cycle moving at a dizzying pace, and each development more outrageous than the last.
Approaching season two, Michelle King says, “We didn’t want to suffer from Trump fatigue, so we decided we should move away from it.” She takes a long pause: “But then we went ahead and did the exact opposite.”
She and her husband—the Kings are married in addition to being professional partners—let out a huge laugh. Michelle explains further: “The truth of it is that we have established very politically-minded characters. They’re going to be obsessing and talking about it. So that’s what the show reflects.”
The Good Fight is certainly not alone in incorporating politics and Donald Trump into storylines. Robert King himself admits, “Trump, more than any president of my lifetime, has infiltrated every element of culture.” But it is one of the few, if not the only, scripted drama to take on the administration with as much verve and specificity, with the new season referencing specific speeches, scandals, and headlines.
On the docket this year: everything from white supremacy to impeachment and the Mueller investigation to, outside of politics, the Harvey Weinstein fallout and the Bachelor in Paradise consent scandal. Oh, and as we spoke, Baranski and the team had just finished filming an episode about the alleged pee tape.
It’s the most realistic—and because of that, often the most humorous and entertaining—reflection of humanity in the Trump era, and perhaps the most eviscerating. If there’s one general theme of the episodes we’ve seen thus far, it’s that the world is in a state of anarchy. In response, we’re all going mad.
The season’s more biting direction was actually born out of concern that, by addressing the Trump administration, the series would suffer from erstwhile Trump fatigue. “Pop culture, you don’t want it to all follow the same thing,” Robert King says. “Then when we were doing this, we were like, yeah, but ignoring it is just putting on blinders. Why not put a lantern on that and focus on Diane, who is upset about how much Trump is infiltrating every part of her life? She’s driven a little crazy about that.”
To wit, Diane, our regal moral compass in the world’s most fashionable office attire, elegance personified, begins microdosing—using low-dose psychedelics to cope with the insanity and stress. “It’s going to be kind of shocking for people!” Baranski laughs.
Channel-surfing at night, Diane stumbles upon a news report about Trump tweeted about talking to mermaids. Another finds pundits debating whether a pet pig belongs in the White House. Is she hallucinating? At this point, who could say? (The Kings were nervous that our conversation was so politics-focused that readers might miss that this show is incredibly funny; these scenes certainly underline that.)
“We do want there to be this funhouse-mirror feeling to the show, where you’re not sure whether that is a made-up character or if that’s a real character and they all kind of mix together,” Robert King says, recalling when his daughter called him and his wife to tell them about the White House spokesperson who referenced Steve Bannon performing oral sex on himself and assuming she was referencing a Saturday Night Live sketch. Nope, it was a real-life Anthony Scaramucci interview.
Understandably, it’s not just the show’s characters who are being driven mad by the state of the world. For Baranski, this season has been a lot of art imitating life—a life that she wouldn’t even have recognized two years ago.
“I am not a television person,” she says. “I certainly never watched television in the morning. Now I put on cable news first thing in the morning. When I come home from work I watch cable television. When I’m at work I actually have a small television set in my dressing room, and I have taken, much to my amazement, because I’m so not a television person, to watching it.”
She remembers watching in disbelief in her dressing room then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe stepping down, and then having to shoot a scene in which Diane, tired of having to be the composed grown-up amongst the world’s juvenile chaos, completely loses in during a meeting at work.
“I didn’t have to go very far imaginatively to act what it was like to be a liberal-minded, Democratic-leaning woman, which I am, living in this world and how exasperating it is,” she says.
Because Diane is obviously disgusted by the Trump administration and the state of the world, viewers or critics might assume that there is an overt anti-Trump sentiment. The Kings recognize this, but are wary of that being the entire takeaway of how the show approaches politics.
“When we were doing The Good Wife, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore were both fans of the show and I took a lot of pride in that, that we could be even-handed,” Michelle King says. “It’s a little more difficult these days.”
“I do think that Republicans or some Trump fans will find the show very critical of him,” Robert King concedes, but he also points out the ways in which the season will satirize the liberals who are licking their chops as they attempt to go after the administration. Case in point: the pee tape.
A future episode will find a Russian woman who comes to the law firm worried about being deported, citing reasonable fear should she return to Russia. She also claims to be one of the women who was involved in the notorious (alleged) golden showers tape at the Ritz Carlton Moscow. The idea, of course, is you don’t know whether to believe her, yet the firm still tortures itself over its duty to prevent her deportation against its desire to find the pee tape!
“It’s a little bit like Raiders of the Lost Ark, where you’re chasing this tape like it’s the Holy Grail,” Robert King says. “It’s satirizing the Democrats’ instinct of, if we just got that one piece of evidence, like The Apprentice tape that had him saying the N-word, then we’d be winning. But you already have him paying off a porn star three weeks after the birth of his son. I don’t know if there is a tape that will take down this president.”
And while we must again reiterate that the show, while intriguingly political, is very fun, we also shouldn’t let get lost in the circus of those politics the fact that at the center of it all is Diane Lockhart—a brilliant, formidable lawyer who happens to also be played by a 65-year-old woman. Maybe especially because of the climate we’re in, Diane Lockhart—and Christine Baranski in the lead of this series—is monumentally important.
“For the nine years I played this character, I thought that she was somewhat groundbreaking,” Baranski says. “The writers portray her rather presumptively as a woman in power who could hold her own in the man’s world, who was the voice of reason in the room, but they didn’t make a great issue out of it. She was a feminist, she supported Emily’s List, she was pro-Hillary, but they didn’t put her feminism in quotation marks.”
With the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up campaign amplifying the conversation about how female characters are presented in pop culture, Baranski finds it particularly poignant that now is the time that Diane is having her moment.
“She was a supporting player in The Good Wife, and now she’s the leading lady,” she says. “I think it’s kind of a metaphor for the fact that women are becoming or stepping into a leading lady role in culture. I really look forward to the midterm elections. I look forward to women candidates and women winning senate races and House seats and governorships and local politics. It’s very much a healthy time for women to step forward and say we’re not waiting our turn. It’s time.”