'The Good Fight' makes good case for CBS All Access spinoff

Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo in 'The Good Fight'

(CNN)Will people pay for premium original content from the major networks? CBS is betting they will with CBS All Access, inaugurating its new subscription streaming service with "The Good Wife" spinoff "The Good Fight," which possesses many of the original's virtues, to test that theory.

Picking up a year after the unsatisfying sign-off to its predecessor, "The Good Wife" is ostensibly built around the characters portrayed by Christine Baranski and Cush Jumbo, but quickly moves to establish a third lead, Maia, played by "Game of Thrones'" Rose Leslie.
In a ripped-from-the-headlines riff worthy of "Law & Order," Maia is the daughter of a powerful money manager (Paul Guilfoyle) who, it turns out, has been running a Ponzi scheme. In the process, he lands himself in jail, sullies Maia's name and decimates the savings of Baranski's patrician attorney Diane Lockhart.
Faster than you can say "Madoff," that forces Diane to call an audible and postpone her retirement plans by continuing to work, albeit at a new law firm. Heightening the drama, Maia, who has just passed the bar, joins her there.
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Jumbo also returns as Lucca, adding another steadying presence. And the title takes on a deeper significance because Diane signs on to an African American firm known for, among other things, bringing lawsuits against the police, prompting one of its partners (Delroy Lindo) to wryly refer to Diane as an "affirmative-action hire."
Again overseen by "Good Wife" creators Robert and Michelle King, here collaborating with director Phil Alden Robinson ("Field of Dreams"), the series doesn't stray far from its sire (or actually, mother) in tone or substance. The main difference -- which won't be fully evident to those watching the preview on CBS -- is that the All Access episodes run a bit longer and are free to use pay-cable-worthy expletives, which certainly sound forgivable upon learning someone has squandered your life savings.
Many familiar faces appear to get the ball rolling, but Leslie occupies an outsized role in the early going, and she's terrific, even if she never says, "You know nothing, Jon Snow." As usual, the producers have also done an admirable job casting the show, which includes populating the new firm not only with Lindo but "Justified's" Erica Tazel.
Even without Julianna Margulies, "The Good Wife" fans should quickly settle into the storytelling and rhythms.
How many will feel compelled to seek out and pay for that could be another matter. The network is shrewdly using recognizable titles to get CBS All Access off the ground, although on a pay-to-view basis, the more logical lab rat for its potential will likely be "Star Trek: Discovery," whose launch was previously delayed.
In both cases, CBS will introduce the series on its flagship network, hoping to hook enough viewers to jump-start the subscription venture. Whether that's a viable business model remains to be seen, but in "The Good Fight," at least, the show delivers a strong enough argument for watching to give that proposition a fighting chance.
"The Good Fight" will premiere February 19 at 8 p.m. on CBS before moving to CBS All Access.