Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pilot Review: Goliath

Goliath (Amazon)
Premiered October 14

Billy Bob Thornton is a great actor with a very distinctive face and style who often plays sly, devilish characters. He took that to a whole new level for this last regular TV gig, his Golden Globe-winning role as troublemaker –slash-hitman Lorne Malvo on “Fargo.” It’s only natural that anyone who saw him in FX’s stunning series would want to get him on TV full-time, and now he’s back on this direct-to-series order from Amazon, a streaming service that usually premieres a handful of pilots and asks voters to decide which should be regular shows. Based on this pilot, it seems likely that most would vote to commission it for a full run. Describing it might make it sound less solid than it is, the story of an alcoholic lawyer who gets back on track by going up against his old firm, representing the David and Goliath story in a big way. What I like most about it is its insular nature, reminiscent of “Billions,” where those who interact on a professional level on opposite sides of the table have much deeper personal connections that threaten to complicate everything. And then there’s the cast. Thornton is terrific, not nearly as angry as I would expect and still enormously compelling. Maria Bello is a great choice to play his ex-wife Julie, with “A History of Violence” coming to mind immediately as the most fitting qualifier. Molly Parker, who earned an Emmy nomination for playing a politician who wasn’t nearly as cutthroat as she wanted to be, is the perfect actress to play her partner at the firm. I recognized Nina Arianda from “Florence Foster Jenkins,” and I think she’s my favorite cast member, so unapologetically blunt and standoffish as Billy’s new partner of sorts. Olivia Thirlby, a great actress who appeared in the likes of “Juno” and “The Wackness,” seems like she’ll be terrific as “The Mouse.” I haven’t had such spectacular TV experiences with Sarah Wynter from “24” and William Hurt on “Damages,” but I think they’ll play their parts well. I’ll definitely be back for episode two of this above-average drama.

How will it work as a series? The show’s title and the framing of the first episode present the show, or at least its first season, as a one-case arc, which has worked well for other legal thrillers recently. The emphasis on characters and the strong cast suggest that there is an abundant amount of material to cover and this show, from veteran David E. Kelley, is more than up to the task of keeping it interesting.
How long will it last? A straight-to-series order from Amazon is about the best recommender of this show’s lifespan since streaming services can be overenthusiastic from the start in a way that TV-housed networks can’t be since their efforts may backfire. Reviews are good and Thornton should garner awards buzz, so I’d expect this one to be back after its initial eight episodes for a second season.


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