The Good Doctor's Legal Spinoff Pilot Subverted Expectations, But Can The Good Lawyer Stand On Its Own?

The Good Lawyer's Joanie cropped next to The Good Doctor's Shaun
(Image credit: ABC)

Spoilers ahead for the March 13 episode of The Good Doctor Season 6, called “The Good Lawyer.”

The Good Doctor is going strong in Season 6, with heartache like Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff) losing almost all of his earthly possessions when his house burned down being balanced by Shaun (Freddie Highmore) and Lea’s (Paige Spara) preparations to become parents. ABC took a break from setting the drama at St. Bonaventure this week, with a backdoor pilot called “The Good Lawyer” that could launch the network’s next legal drama. 

With Shaun being sued for malpractice, he turned to Joni DeGroot (Nancy’s Drew’s Kennedy McMann) and Janet Stewart (Felicity Huffman) for help. The episode subverted my expectations in some good ways, which raises the question: does a good episode mean a good series?

What Is The Good Lawyer About?

News broke back in August that The Good Doctor could be the next ABC hit to get a spinoff, following The Rookie: Feds scoring a series order. Not much was known at the time except that it would be via a backdoor spinoff that would air sometime in the second half of Season 6. 

The project would go on the cast Kennedy McMann as lawyer Joni DeGroot, who struggles to become a trial lawyer due the obsessive compulsive disorder that has led her peers to believe she’s best relegated to a research role. Felicity Huffman also joined the pilot to play Janet Stewart, a partner at the same law firm as Joni. When the backdoor pilot aired on ABC, there was no guarantee of a series order.

How The Pilot Subverted My Expectations

I’ll admit it: I didn’t go into “The Good Lawyer” with especially high hopes, even though Joni using her obsessive compulsive struggles to her advantage as a lawyer working to set the premise apart from other legal dramas. I just wasn’t sure that seeing Joni in action as a lawyer would have high enough stakes to anchor a series. After all, Shaun’s job is often quite literally life-or-death, and primetime is full of hit shows involving legal battles. 

So I was pleasantly surprised when the episode was not only solid as a standalone hour of TV, but a pretty great backdoor pilot. Sure, there were elements that were similar to many other legal dramas, and the stakes could only be so high when the main character of a show called The Good Doctor was in jeopardy of losing his medical license. Still, despite the fact that Joni was obviously going to get an acquittal for Shaun, the episode worked. 

The element that really helped this episode as a pilot was the reenactment of Shaun and Park (Will Yun Lee) trying to save lives in a terrible car accident. That’s not something that happens in every legal drama, and Joni reliving the scenarios created The Good Lawyer counterpart to how Shaun finds solutions on The Good Doctor

Plus, Joni didn’t close the case for Shaun by managing to overcome her need for three taps within the one-hour episode; she needed an assist from Janet (that includes a $5,000 fee for contempt of court) to get through the trial. The case itself had a happy ending, but the episode closed with a sense that there’s a lot more of Joni’s story that can be told. The character is extremely thorough; why not fully explore that?

Can The Good Lawyer Stand On Its Own?

Well, between the reenactments that set backdoor pilot apart from other legal dramas, the fairly smooth exposition about who Joni is and how she manages her OCD, and the performances from the cast, I can say that the episode was enough that I would check out The Good Lawyer if it scores a series order... but that may not be enough. 

The investment in Joni’s case at least partially came because of Shaun, and it seems like The Good Lawyer might not be able to rely on an ensemble cast as much as The Good Doctor does. The new characters of note were Joni, Janet, and Joni’s sister, contrasted with a whole staff of surgeons on Shaun's show. Plus, this is a legal drama without the element of investigation that has kept the Law & Order franchise going since 1990. 

And unless St. Bonaventure doctors start getting sued more often or The Good Lawyer characters start having medical emergencies on a regular basis, there may not be many openings for crossovers. Based on what ABC has done with Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19, the network likes crossovers!

On the whole, I’m guessing that the backdoor pilot has pretty good odds of scoring a series order for The Good Lawyer. A lot likely depends on how many people tune in on March 13 and over the following days. The episode subverted my expectations that Joni’s show wouldn’t have a whole lot to distinguish itself other than Joni herself – and Kennedy McCann is very charming in the role – and seems to have the potential to capture the magic that has kept The Good Doctor running for six seasons.

That said, very little is ever guaranteed in the television business… especially with rumblings of a potential 2023 TV writers strike. That possible strike may have already affected the fates of two NBC shows; if the strike does happen, only time will tell if The Good Lawyer stands a chance. 

For now, keep tuning in to ABC on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET for new episodes of The Good Doctor. The medical drama should go back to business as usual in the 2023 TV schedule now that Shaun has been cleared of malpractice. You’ll also be able to revisit the “The Good Lawyer” episode of the show streaming with a Hulu subscription, along with the full first five seasons and Season 6 so far.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).