Sunday, October 16, 2016

REVIEW: 'Goliath' - Billy Looks into a Wrongful Death Case and Faces Major Consequences in 'Of Mice and Men'

Amazon's Goliath - Episode 1.01 "Of Mice and Men"

A burned-out attorney gets a second chance for redemption when he agrees to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the biggest client of his former law firm.

Amazon's new drama Goliath marks a return to the legal genre for series creator David E. Kelley. It comes on the heels of a couple big failures - NBC's failed Wonder Woman pilot, TNT's Monday Mornings and CBS' The Crazy Ones. This is a genre that Kelley knows well as seen though shows such as L.A. Law, The Practice, Ally McBeal and Boston Legal. Of course, Kelley has had some problems with the genre as well. Whenever the writing gets too self-conscious, it drifts into parody territory which isn't good for anyone. Goliath isn't the only project Kelley is working on right now either. He also has adaptations of Big Little Lies and Mr. Mercedes set at HBO and Audience Network. He's still an in-demand writer and creator. He has no problem finding work. But it sure would be great to enjoy a David E. Kelley show again. When it works, he's one of the best writers and storytellers in the business.

There are certainly some problems in the opening episode of Goliath. But overall, it is an impressive return-to-form for Kelley. This show promises to be unlike his previous legal dramas because it's a serialized story. It's one case told across eight episodes. As Netflix and Amazon have learned over the past few years, seasons that view themselves as ten or twelve hour movies and not episodes don't really work. Serialization is tough. Things can't be a slog in the middle of the season. Each episode needs to have its own value otherwise there's no reason why anyone should keep watching. "Of Mice and Men" pulls the viewers in tremendously well. It's a simple story about Billy McBride coming to work on a wrongful death case against his former firm. But it's also a story with big and explosive moments that promise to entertain and surprise the audience. The structure of the season will more than likely be pretty standard. It's a show about one man's fight against this huge corporate entity. It's the David vs. Goliath story with Billy Bob Thornton taking the fight to corporate America. That's a solid premise and this premiere does more than enough to show this as a great role for Thornton.

It's so great to see Thornton back on TV following his terrific performance on the first season of Fargo. Goliath is a very different show. It's a more relaxed and casual character. Billy McBride has suffered a fall from grace. He was the co-founder of a firm that is now one of the largest in the entire world. According to Google, he was kicked out because he drank too much. Of course, he counters with he drinks just the right amount. That's certainly a predominate part of the character. He lives in a hotel room and works out of the bar right next door. Everyone knows that they can find him there whenever they need to get ahold of him. He's still working as a lawyer. But it's clear he's just not as good or engaged as he once was. His reputation is still strong throughout the legal community. But now, he's struggling to represent a client accused of drug possession. That's not exactly a winning endorsement for his legal prowess. He's not like the confidant and cutthroat people back at his old firm. And yet, it doesn't really take a whole lot for him to get back into the swing of things once this new case presents itself.

This premiere has quite the opening sequence with a boat exploding in the middle of the ocean. It starts as just a major fire and then just explodes further until there's falling pieces of burning debris and huge waves rippling across the water. It shows how big and dynamic this show plans on being. It's the central event for the case. Apparently, there was only one man aboard. The explosion was him committing suicide. That's the story that the military company he works for and the insurance agency are selling. But the man's sister-in-law doesn't want to believe that he would commit suicide. Sure, it's problematic that Billy sleeps with her the first time they meet. It adds to the complications of this case. Billy has already compromised his ethics. It shows that he's willing to cross those lines because he doesn't feel like he has anything left to lose. Of course, he does. He becomes passionate about this case because the details aren't all adding up for him. A boat explosion doesn't seem like the easiest or most practical way to commit suicide - even if it means an insurance payout. The wife of the deceased doesn't want to relive this horrific experience all over again. Plus, two other men who were out on the ocean during the explosion had the easiest insurance payout ever. The audience gets a few more clues as well. We know that Gina calls Donald Cooperman's office right after Billy leaves while the representative from the military company, Leonard, is furious that a potential motion may be filed soon. It's clear that something big and secretive is up.

Both sides are preparing for this legal conflict. Like all premieres, this hour spends a lot of time just introducing the plot and the relevant characters. Donald is an aloof and secretive man sitting in his darkened office watching over the rest of his employees on video monitors. That's curious while also incorporating the most of Kelley's past writing flaws. Billy's ex-wife, Michelle, and her best friend, Callie, are the ones actually running things at the firm. They are confidant and proud of how successful this business is throughout the world. Michelle still cares about Billy. She wants Callie to go easy on him in court. But she also hates him for throwing his life away and being a bad influence on their daughter. Meanwhile, Callie isn't so sure about a junior associate, Lucy, who is very capable of writing briefs and motions but also has a stutter that makes her less effective in the courtroom. On Billy's side of things, he has the lawyer who brought this case to him, Patty, who doesn't really have any experience with civil cases and just wants an easy settlement. Plus, he has his own assistant in Brittany whose regular job is as a high-end escort. Kelley hasn't always done a great job at writing female characters in the past. The sheer abundance of them in Goliath is very promising. But it's still problematic that two (Lucy and Brittany) are defined by less than ideal characteristics and that's about it.

Plus, this premiere largely just highlights the resources that can be used against Billy in this fight. It's clear that people out there don't want him to dig any deeper into this case. They do whatever it takes to stop him from pursuing this further. That means getting a police officer to pull him over and arrest him for no reason whatsoever. Donald has a plan on how best to address this case in the courtroom. He has a strategy and knows the people he wants working on it. It's clear his word and opinion means so much at his firm. The company he represents though may be a bit more shifty and shady. Leonard wants to use illegal means to silence Billy. So, it won't be surprising at all if the company is responsible for what ultimately happens to Billy. He's nervous about being in a courtroom for the first time in a long time. His daughter is enough of a pleasant distraction even though she's using him to get back at her mother. But it's still a surprising moment when he's pulled over. Everyone knows to question if he has been drinking. That should be a major concern. He says that he hasn't. But there's no way for the audience to know that for sure. He doesn't seem to be that reckless of a drunk. He wouldn't put his daughter in harm's way like that. And yet, that's exactly where she ends up. Billy may be the one arrested and knocked out in a jail cell likely missing his day in court. But his daughter was actually tased and forced to see all of this happen. She sees the abuse of power firsthand. Billy has the law on his side but that doesn't help at all. He's still broken down and surrounded by a bunch of petty criminals in the end. This fight is just getting started though. This is the first shot fired. Billy better come with a good strategy quickly if he hopes to expose the truth in this case.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Of Mice and Men" was written by David E. Kelley & Jonathan Shapiro and directed by Lawrence Trilling.
  • Ever Carradine plays the client who brings this case to Billy and Patty. She is the sister-in-law of the deceased. And yet, she's only listed as a guest star. So, does that mean the audience should worry about her and her willingness to expose the truth? Just how badly does this company want to cover all of this up?
  • Billy and Michelle's daughter, Denise, is obviously an important part of their lives. And yet, the annoying teenager trope has just gotten so predominant over the last few years in this medium. She does have value in this premiere in adding a different texture to Billy's character. But she could become nothing more than an unnecessary part of this story.
  • Billy's name is still on the firm. That has to mean something. He messed up enough to be forced out by the other partners. But he's still respected enough to have his name on the door. Plus, it should be fascinating to see Billy and Donald in the same room again. That seems like an odd partnership.
  • Seriously though, Donald using a clicker of sorts in order to break up fights is a type of character quirk Kelley loves incorporating into his shows. Once those details starting becoming too prevalent, the overall story suffers. So, it could be hard to care about Donald in the future.
  • Michelle asks Callie not to be too rough on Billy in court. Callie promises to keep her argument solely to the facts of the case. But she doesn't seem like a person who would censor herself - especially if it got in the way of victory.

As noted in previous reviews from shows that release their seasons all at once, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.