Will the ‘better than ever’ fifth season of ‘The Good Fight’ get some awards love?

Mandy Patinkin’s Judge Hal Wackner, the latest kooky character on the Paramount+ series “The Good Fight,” makes his litigants end each lawsuit by saying to one another, “I respect and I love you.” Critics have shared the exact same sentiment about this criminally underrated series, which has been earning some of the best notices of its entire run for its brilliantly bizarre fifth season that wraps up on Thursday.

Its new characters, including Patinkin’s Wackner and Charmaine Bingwa‘s enigmatic new lawyer Carmen Moyo, topical episodes on medical racism in the treatment of COVID-19 and hilarious, moving visits from historical figures like Elaine May’s Ruth Bader Ginsberg have earned the plaudits of critics. Kevin Fallon (Daily Beast) calls the season “flawless,” writing that the show is “having what may be its best season ever,” including “the most thrilling stretch of episodes in a TV series this year.” David Canfield (Vanity Fair) deems the show “better than ever,” Melanie McFarland (Salon) declares it “gripping as ever” and “invigorating,” and Inkoo Kang (Washington Post) says it’s “exhilarating.”

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Such stellar notices weren’t a foregone conclusion before the season kicked off in June. “The Good Fight” was returning from the pandemic hiatus with a major storyline from its previous season unfinished and the departures of original cast members Delroy Lindo and Cush Jumbo. Series co-creators Michelle King and Robert King leaned into the chaos — as they always do — and tied up the loose ends in the meta season premiere “Previously On…”. In addition to the increasingly chilling Wackner’s kangaroo court, the season also features a biting plot on the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Perhaps most incisively of all, the whole season questions the appropriateness of Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) leading a historically Black law firm with Liz Reddick (Audra McDonald). The arc gives the series’ two stars topical fodder to tear into with all of their trademark gusto in scenes that crackle with anger, hurt and resentment but also veer into the hilariously absurd. Author Mark Harris praised this plot as something “drama series almost never do,” adding, “I don’t know how to sell it any harder.”

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With the show’s critical buzz at a fever pitch, this season may finally net “The Good Fight” some hardware. It’s way too early to talk about its hopes at next year’s Emmys when this year’s ceremony hasn’t happened yet and it’s historically been overlooked, but the series could start building momentum this winter. Its best chance is at the Critics Choice Awards, which have always embraced “The Good Fight” when others, like the Emmys, have not: The show already has 10 nominations for its first four seasons, including three for Best Drama Series, three for Baranski, two for Lindo, and one each for Jumbo and McDonald. While it has always contended with juggernauts for the top honor — it has lost to “The Crown,” “Succession,” and “The Americans” — the competition this upcoming cycle, or lack thereof because of pandemic delays, could work to its advantage. “Succession” will return in the fall, and “Pose” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” look strong, but the critical hype for “The Good Fight” may at last yield a trophy or two for the series or its cast.

This would also be an opportune time to recognize the series with its first Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for drama ensemble since all five of last year’s nominees will be ineligible unless Netflix does a last-minute drop with the first half of “Ozark’s” final season. While Baranski and McDonald always deliver, this season has also featured series-best turns from regulars Nyambi Nyambi as his character deals with symptoms of long COVID and Sarah Steele’s Marissa Gold as Wackner’s conflicted court clerk. Patinkin and Bingwa would be eligible, as would Zach GrenierMichael Boatman, Gary Cole, Stephen Lang and Wayne Brady. Wanda Sykes and CCH Pounder recur, too, but will not appear in enough episodes to be eligible. Though Lindo and Jumbo have left, this starry cast continues to fight just as brazenly as ever.

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