Friday, December 28, 2018

Bot Picks Runner-Up: Goliath is the Legal Thriller I Hoped "Better Call Saul" Would Be But Isn't

From October 24, 2016:

I remember five or six years ago I watched the (failed) pilot for a Zombieland series on Amazon Instant Video.  It was not good:  no name actors, low-budget effects, and a fairly blah story.  Since then Amazon has gotten a lot better with shows like Transparent, Mad Dogs, The Man in the High Castle, and The TickGoliath is the latest addition to that list.  It's a legal thriller from David E Kelley, who knows his way around legal thrillers like LA Law, The Practice, Ally McBeal, and Boston Legal, plus other series like Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, etc.  He was a huge deal in the 90s and early 2000s, though I think he kind of fell off the radar a bit in the last ten years.  Like Kelley, most of the stars of the show were bigger stars 10-20 years ago like Billy Bob Thornton, William Hurt, and Maria Bello.  Still, it makes for a winning combination.

In the title I mentioned AMC's Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul.  I watched the first season and really wanted it to be good, but it wasn't.  Instead of actually focusing on low-rent lawyer Saul Goodman and any actual cases, they decided to do this whole lame prequel/origin story thing that was boring as shit.  The reason why 99% of prequels suck is they spend most of their time trying to build mythology and explaining useless shit (the origin of Wolverine's jacket, revealed at last!) so they don't have time to actually create a decent story.

So while they begin with something of the same premise--a low-rent lawyer who used to be part of a big firm and is now working out of a seedy motel and the bar next door--Goliath can actually tell a story instead of trying to tell us the origin of  Saul's loud wardrobe.  The story is pretty simple:  a boat blows up on the ocean and the guy on board is ruled to have committed suicide, except his sister doesn't think so.  At the behest of another ambulance chaser, she goes to Billy Bob Thornton, who basically starts out as his character from Bad Santa if he were a lawyer instead of a safe-cracker.  Really they could have called this Bad Lawyer if they'd wanted.  Anyway, he isn't willing to represent her, but then they sleep together and he takes the case against a weapons company who is represented by the big firm he helped to create but left after a murderer he defended went out and killed again.

The big firm is run by William Hurt with a Harvey Dent-type look of half his face being badly burnt.  He sits up in his office with the blinds closed while spying on everyone and listening to opera music.  It definitely makes for a creepy vibe.  As you'd expect there are a lot of high-priced assholes working for him, one of whom is Maria Bello, who also is Billy Bob Thornton's ex-wife (in the show).  Like Netflix's Jessica Jones there's a gratuitous lesbian attorney subplot involving Maria Bello and the head of the defense team for the weapons company.

From there the big law firm does pretty much everything they can to keep Billy Bob Thornton and his ragtag team from taking the case to trial and winning it.  They run over his client, frame him for a DUI (which included tazing his daughter), set up two witnesses on drug smuggling charges, and even put a dead body in his trunk.  He has some dirty tricks too like having a prostitute friend sleep with a cop to coerce some information from him.

So yeah neither side is squeaky clean, but that's the real world for you; it's never really black hats vs. white hats.  The case does eventually get to trial, where it's hampered by a judge doing everything possible to help the defense and an important witness who has a stroke.  Who wins?  You can watch to find out.

There were some things I don't think were really dealt with adequately:  who kills the mysterious "Karl Stoltz" for one thing.  How did William Hurt get burnt?  (A flashback like they do in Breaking Bad and Arrow would have been good there.)  Other than having slept with Billy Bob Thornton and the other side's lead attorney, Maria Bello doesn't really contribute a lot to the story.  And at the end there's a "hot mic" (or cell phone) moment that's a cliche I get tired of.  There are some unanswered questions, but that's for season 2, right?

If you have Amazon Prime you can watch the entire 8-episode season for free.  Unlike some of those old series on Amazon it's actually worth the time.

BTW, I was glad among all the dirty tricks, the bad guys didn't kill the stray dog Billy Bob Thornton was always feeding and even letting sleep in his room on cold nights.  I kept fearing someone was going to do a Godfather and leave the corpse in his bed or something.  Maybe they're saving that for next year.

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