Given Billy Bob Thornton’s status as a movie star, it would be easy to assume that he is the titular character of Goliath, Amazon’s newest legal drama. But in the world of this show, Thornton is more like the Biblical David, and the Goliath is something of his own creation.
Thornton’s most recent starring turn on TV was in Fargo’s first season, where he played the compellingly monstrous Lorne Malvo. For Goliath, series co-creator David E. Kelley lured Thornton back to television with the role of Billy McBride, the complicated leading man of the show. Kelley has previously created some of TV’s best legal dramas, including Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Boston Legal. But when freed from the constraints of television and basic cable, Kelley was able to make Goliath without any compromises in content. That means that when McBride indulges his vices or his darker instincts, the show doesn’t flinch.
The series tossed viewers into the story very quickly, as we witnessed a boat explosion on the ocean that nearly killed the only two witnesses. In the present, the man who died in the incident turns out to have been working for a defense contractor that seems very eager to cover up the circumstances of his death. Against his will, McBride found himself involved with the wrongful death case and the only hope of seeing justice done. But McBride’s motivation came from a more personal place: the corporate law firm that he created is representing the defense contractor, and McBride seemed to relish the chance to take them down.
To the absolute shock of no one, Thornton carried the show with his performance as McBride. Even in McBride’s darkest moments there was always something innately likable about him. That’s pretty amazing considering that McBride wasn’t above a little blackmail and other ethically dubious actions. In an earlier era of television, McBride may have even been considered an antihero or worse. Instead, Goliath portrays McBride as an imperfect protagonist who was not only aware of his character flaws, he enjoys them. He may want a measure of redemption by winning the case, but McBride isn’t interested in changing who and what he’s become.
McBride’s opposite number is his former partner, Donald Cooperman, as played by William Hurt. There are certain aspects of Cooperman’s portrayal that go over-the-top, including his scarred face and his tendency to openly spy on his lawyers in court and even in some of their most unguarded private moments. With almost everything he could possibly want, Cooperman took an almost perverse pleasure in opposing McBride at every turn. Cooperman also makes a point to strike at McBride indirectly by sending McBride’s ex-wife, Michelle (Maria Bello) against him in addition to Callie Senate (Molly Parker), and Lucy Kittridge (Olivia Thirlby). Thirlby was particularly engaging as Kittridge, a young lawyer who wasn’t afraid to use her partial disability as leverage against her own employers.
Goliath actually had quite a few outstanding roles for its female performers, particularly on McBride’s side. Nina Arianda’s Patty Solis-Papagian recruited McBride for the case out of desperation, but she quickly came to despise him on a personal level. Arianda’s fast and hilarious delivery would have probably won her a spot on one of Kelley’s earlier shows as well, and she added a deft comedic touch to this series. Tania Raymonde was also quite good as Brittany Gold, a prostitute whom McBride shamelessly used as an unpaid paralegal. Watching Thornton play off of Arianda and Raymonde gave Goliath some of its funniest moments.
As for the story, Kelley didn’t rush through the mystery and he even let it play out fairly slowly throughout the early part of the season before picking up the intensity. With only eight episodes to play with, Kelley delivered a show that feels like a complete story. The short length of Goliath also lends itself to binging, as it’s easy to get through in two or three nights. Although some ambitious viewers may want to tackle all eight episodes in a single day.
If the future of television means more short form series with stellar casts like Goliath, then it’s going to be a very good thing for TV fans. On a network, a show like Goliath could have been lost in the crowd. On Amazon, it’s ready when you are.
What was your favorite episode from the first season of Goliath? Let us know in the comment section below!