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‘Elsbeth’ turns Carrie Preston’s ‘The Good Wife’ role into a breezy good time

By Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — After fighting “The Good Fight” for streaming, the producers of “The Good Wife” indulge in a more CBS-friendly spinoff with “Elsbeth,” which breezily takes Carrie Preston’s quirky title character and turns her into a modern version of “Columbo.” About all that’s missing is the latter’s “Oh, one thing” method of springing the final trap.

The pilot sets up Elsbeth Tascioni’s fast-talking attorney by relocating her from Chicago to New York, where she’s positively giddy about everything associated with the Big Apple, from the Statue of Liberty to the theater. The reason for said move involves having her become the appointed liaison to oversee the police because of a consent decree related to what she diplomatically describes as “some teeny corruption problems.”

Of course, the NYPD and its captain (Wendell Pierce, somewhat underemployed) aren’t thrilled about having Elsbeth around, and he assigns a quiet officer (Carra Patterson) to keep an eye on her. Still, Elsbeth’s mandate provides her with the opportunity to wade into investigations, and she does so with a disarming style that causes everyone to underestimate her.

Created by Robert and Michelle King, there’s a teeny serialized aspect to the premise, but really not much that departs from the classic murder-of-the-week format. The series also employs the old device of identifying the killer in the early moments, putting the audience a step ahead of everyone except perhaps Elsbeth, who has a knack for zeroing in on the smallest of clues.

The episodes previewed include Stephen Moyer, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski as guest stars, with Ferguson portraying the producer of a very Bravo-like reality show called “Lavish Ladies,” where one of the regulars winds up dead.

Preston received a guest-star Emmy for the role back in 2013, so the stand-alone series represents a long-delayed effort to wring extra mileage from “The Good Wife’s” legacy while hewing to the kind of comfort-food formula that still works reasonably well for the traditional networks – an appetite CBS has recently fed with its other new procedural drama, “Tracker.”

Granted, there’s not a whole lot about that approach to prompt wild enthusiasm, but to those looking for a modest diversion, Preston is good company, and the writing is intermittently clever. Besides, the irrepressible Elsbeth has enough enthusiasm for all of us.

“Elsbeth” premieres February 29 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

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