Screen Test

Layered lawyers in The Good Fight and The Split

The female leads in The Good Fight and The Split prove that age is just a number in their lives

You don't often see women of a certain age on screen and, when you do, they are typically supporting, one-note players - a reflection of how females become invisible to many once they pass their reproductive prime.

The Good Fight and The Split - two dramas about women lawyers reinventing themselves in mid-or late-life - flout that convention with glee.

The second season of The Good Fight - a spin-off of hit procedural The Good Wife (2009 to 2016) - centres on Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), who has been booted from the Chicago firm she helped found and forced to start afresh at another practice.

Creators Michelle and Robert King are partial to ripped-from-the-headlines storylines, whether it is vote-rigging orreality-television scandals.

But instead of the cut-and-paste you get in workaday procedural series about crime or the law, theirs are exceptionally well-thought-out, skilfully acted and, above all, fun.

This season is no exception, but it adds a layer of complexity by being simultaneously more overtly and topically political than anything they've written before.


    Now streaming on Fox+ (Seasons 1 and 2)

    4.5 stars


    Streaming on BBC First (StarHub TV Channel 522) and BBC Player from June 22

    3 stars

And it manages to critique and sympathise with the dismay of well-heeled American liberals - and their lingering sense of the surreal - over the lunacy of United States President Donald Trump-era politics.

Diane, a card-carrying Democrat, remains shell-shocked from Hillary Clinton's defeat to Mr Trump, which neatly parallels her own career setback at a time when she thought she could rest on her laurels.

Now the world appears to be going even crazier. Someone is attacking and killing lawyers in the city and, on top of that, Diane might be losing it. At the same time, she is being undermined by the firm's new partner, Liz Reddick (Audra McDonald).

The intelligence and sheer class emanated by Baranski in this role - a woman crush-worthy character - seem effortless. But the kaleidoscope of emotions that flicker subtly across her face belies the actress' skill.

The Good Fight stars Audra McDonald (above left) and Christine Baranski (above centre), while The Split features Nicola Walker (left).
The Good Fight stars Audra McDonald (above left) and Christine Baranski (above centre), while The Split features Nicola Walker. PHOTOS: BBC, 20TH CENTURY FOX

As her niece Maia, Rose Leslie is acting her heart out as well, but her story arc this season - the fallout over her father's Madoff-like Ponzi scheme - is a snooze compared with Diane's. There is an unhinged, devil-may-care quality to the latter - and to the show overall - that is delicious to watch.

The Good Fight stars Audra McDonald (above left) and Christine Baranski (above centre), while The Split features Nicola Walker (left).
The Good Fight stars Audra McDonald and Christine Baranski, while The Split features Nicola Walker (above). PHOTOS: BBC, 20TH CENTURY FOX

Another high-powered female litigator in crisis is the protagonist in The Split, a British series.

Hannah Stern (Nicola Walker) has left Defoes, the family-law firm set up by her parents, because her mother Ruth (Deborah Findlay) reneged on a promise to step down and let her take over.

Now, she is working for a rival firm and competing against her lawyer sister Nina (Annabel Scholey), who still works for Defoes. Nina is battling her in a custody dispute and then steals a rich potential client from her - all of which makes for some very awkward family gatherings afterwards.

Further complicating matters are Hannah's handsome and flirtatious new colleague, with whom she has a past, and the sudden reappearance of her father Oscar (Anthony Head), whose departure decades ago has left the family scarred.

The cases litigated aren't as juicy or complex as The Good Fight's, but a few do tug effectively at the heartstrings - among them the divorce of a woman, played by Meera Syal, who is also having the rug pulled out from under her late in life.

It is the finely drawn portrait of fraught family ties that makes the show. They also make up for its weaknesses, which include patches of uninspired dialogue. There is genuine chemistry between the Defoe women and the actresses who play them. It is the sort of platonic female rapport most shows don't bother with and the writers deserve full marks for that.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2018, with the headline 'Layered lawyers'. Print Edition | Subscribe