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'Evil' And 'The Good Fight' Are Great Network Shows — For A Price

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. This week two drama series with ties to CBS return on the recently launched Paramount+ streaming service. "The Good Fight," a sequel to the CBS series "The Good Wife," began its fifth season yesterday, moved from the now renamed CBS All Access. And earlier this week, a drama series called "Evil," formerly televised on the CBS broadcast network, returned with its first episode of Season 2. Our TV critic David Bianculli loves both shows but doesn't like the way they're distributed. Here's his review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: I'm really, really impressed by what I've seen of the new seasons of "The Good Fight" and "Evil," two drama series from the husband-and-wife writer-producer team of Robert and Michelle King. But with "The Good Fight" especially, I'm also very, very frustrated and close to angry. It's so good, so clever, so cutting edge. It would be CBS' best TV series by far, except it's not on CBS. Like "Evil," which used to be on CBS, it's now on Paramount+. That bothers me for two reasons. But before I get to that, let me make a case for just how good these shows are.

"The Good Fight," like its parent CBS series "The Good Wife," has been brilliant from the start. It's impeccably cast and intelligently written and loves to take deep dives into technology, politics and current events. The new season's opening episode, for example, is an extended flashback, taking the characters and us back through the pandemic. In March 2020, a televised press conference announces a government-mandated stay-at-home order in Chicago, while the law firm's senior partners, played by Delroy Lindo and Christine Baranski, gather their troops and issue some marching orders.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD FIGHT")

J B PRITZKER: (As himself) We have looked closely at the trajectory of this virus in countries like Italy and China. If left unchecked, cases in Illinois will rise rapidly.

DELROY LINDO: (As Adrian Boseman) All we know is that this stay-at-home order will last until April 8. At that point, you'll be getting invitations to come back to work.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Are we all being asked back?

CHRISTINE BARANSKI: (As Diane Lockhart) I hope so, but we really don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) How do we know whether we still have a job?

LINDO: (As Adrian Boseman) We'll be calling you guys, hopefully within a week.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) So we just wait by the phone.

BARANSKI: (As Diane Lockhart) In the meantime, we're setting up a teleconferencing infrastructure, so download a program called zoom.com.

BIANCULLI: Before the episode is over, two of the show's stars - Delroy Lindo and Cush Jumbo - say goodbye. But other actors step up to fill the void or are newly introduced, and there's no shortage of talent. Four episodes in, and you not only get returning regulars Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald and Gary Cole but Wallace Shawn, Jane Curtin, Bebe Neuwirth, Stephen Lang and more.

Charmaine Bingwa comes on board playing Carmen, a brand-new associate at the firm, and she gets a juicy storyline almost immediately. So does Sarah Steele, who's been around since the days of "The Good Wife" playing Eli Gold's daughter, Marissa. But now she's offered a job from an eccentric judge who's set up a sort of underground people's court behind the storefront of a copy machine business. He's played by new series regular Mandy Patinkin, who, as usual, steps into the spotlight and absolutely shines.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD FIGHT")

SARAH STEELE: (As Marissa Gold) I can't. I have a job. I want to pass the bar. I want to be a real lawyer.

MANDY PATINKIN: (As Hal Wackner) You know why all these people are here? Because the courts and the lawyers and the appeals have made justice unattainable, out of reach to anyone who doesn't have a s***load of money to wade it out. That's why Exxon beats out Mr. Nobody. Read Kafka's "Before The Law."

STEELE: (As Marissa Gold) Now I've got homework.

PATINKIN: (As Hal Wackner) It's one page long. Don't be a philistine. Justice is only just if it's available to everyone.

BIANCULLI: "The Good Fight," in its first few episodes this season, tackles everything from the January 6 insurrection to cancel culture. And while being topical, it's also unpredictable because its characters always are evolving and often act in surprising ways. That's true as well of the Kings' other Paramount+ series, "Evil." Its new second season begins with the show's central character Kristen, played by Katja Herbers, visiting her psychotherapist, played by Kurt Fuller. Her admission is indeed surprising, to say the least.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "EVIL")

KATJA HERBERS: (As Kristen Bouchard) We have patient-doctor privilege, right? Jaffee v. Redmond's Supreme Court decision demands absolute protection from communication between psychotherapists and their patients.

KURT FULLER: (As Kurt Boggs) Kristen, what is this about - a parking ticket?

HERBERS: (As Kristen Bouchard) And it cannot be reported to the police as long as it's not about a future crime.

FULLER: (As Kurt Boggs) OK. Yes. We both know the rules.

HERBERS: (As Kristen Bouchard) And I also know how psychiatrists sometimes bend these rules and tell anonymous stories to the police in order to achieve what they consider justice.

FULLER: (As Kurt Boggs) That would never happen.

HERBERS: (As Kristen Bouchard) Kurt, I worked with the DA's office. It happens all the time.

FULLER: (As Kurt Boggs) Kristen, you know how seriously I take confidentiality. It's absolutely sacred. I will in no way share or hint to the police. Now, what are we talking about here - shoplifting?

HERBERS: (As Kristen Bouchard) I killed someone.

BIANCULLI: Both these shows are delightfully entertaining. So why, while watching them, am I bordering on angry? Because viewers can't watch them without paying a streaming fee. I get that this is the future and not just for Paramount+. NBC has Peacock, and ABC has Disney. But the broadcast networks themselves aren't offering hardly anything worth watching. If these turn out to be the dying days of broadcast television, it's because the networks are killing themselves by putting their best stuff behind one paywall after another.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey.

On Monday's show, three-time Emmy Award winner Uzo Aduba. She stars in the HBO series "In Treatment" as a psychotherapist. In "Orange Is The New Black," she played Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren, and in "Mrs. America," she portrayed Shirley Chisholm. We'll talk about her roles, colorism and being the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. I hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "PFRANCING")

DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support by Joyce Lieberman and Julian Hertzfeld. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Kayla Lattimore and Joel Wolfram. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Seth Kelley directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "PFRANCING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.