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Goliath - Advanced Preview: "Great Performances, Slow Pace"

It’s a slow-simmering buildup in this David versus Goliath-type legal battle. But after viewing the first two episodes of “Goliath,” I’m unsure how much heat it will take to really get this series boiling. Amazon’s newest original drama from legal mastermind David E. Kelley (“The Practice,” “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal”) and Jonathan Shapiro (“The Blacklist,” “The Practice,” “Boston Legal”) is fueled by some great performances. But it’s also slowed by a meandering pace. It’s a series that asks the viewer to wait a little longer for payoff. And that can be a risky move in today’s crowded television landscape.

Billy Bob Thornton is one of the show’s biggest selling points and the perfect choice for down-and-out lawyer Billy McBride. The attorney, with some clear demons in his past, has fallen from grace after leaving goliath firm Cooperman McBride, a firm he helped start. But when a young lawyer (Nina Arianda) asks for his help on a wrongful death case against the firm, Billy takes advantage of the opportunity to fight the giant and perhaps win redemption along the way.

The role is the typical archetype Thornton seems to repeatedly play: the apathetic smart-ass who likes to buck authority. But after a while he breaks out of the typical mold. Slowly you start seeing a different side to the character – a more vulnerable side. Billy has a teenage daughter that keeps him grounded. You realize the uphill battle he’s fighting at work mirrors his already tenuous personal issues. And you start to feel his desperation as he’s pushed down and stifled. All of this fleshed-out context added a necessary depth to the character. Billy is going to be severely tested by all the Goliaths after him. So his character needed to be more than a wise-ass seeking revenge. Several scenes already make you wonder what is going on with him personally. How and why did he leave the law firm? What happened to him afterward? What challenges is he facing now? These are details that have yet to be fully developed but the groundwork is slowly being laid.

My favorite character of the show is Patty Solis-Papagian, the in-your-face, seemingly-flighty-yet-probably-intelligent blonde lawyer played by Nina Arianda. Part tell-it-like-it-is Jersey girl who isn’t going to take any crap, and part professional-woman-just-trying-to-get-by, she keeps Billy honest and accountable. Patty believes in the case but doesn’t expect too much from it. She is not a high-class lawyer like the type at Billy’s old firm. She is a smaller city lawyer trying to make ends meet and working a second job as a realtor to help pay the bills. So she has no time for crap. Arianda created such a well-defined character that you both love Patty and cringe at the same time. She is bold. She is annoying. She is funny. And you definitely want to keep seeing more of her. Arianda stole all her scenes.

The rest of the cast is slowly percolating as the supporting roles are taking longer to develop. Too long, in fact. Right now the audience is only privy to small snippets of information about each person. Maria Bello plays a woman with intimate ties to Billy who still works at his old firm. It’s unclear how much she is going to help or hurt Billy. William Hurt portrays the enigmatic, reclusive head of the firm. Half of his face is burned, though the backstory isn't given. Associates whisper about his existence and motives while he watches them from secret video recordings. A young mousy female associate with a stutter (Olivia Thirlby) holds some cryptic intrigue for Hurt’s character. And other lawyers seem to be working their own angles throughout the case. Mysterious connections between all these characters also promise fodder for the future. But these morsels, while interesting, don’t offer enough yet to keep viewers hooked. And in this age of proliferating television options, it can’t take this much time to build interesting characters. Audiences don’t have the time or stamina to stick with a series for weeks before they find a legitimate payoff and decide they have a reason to keep watching.

The plot and pacing also ambled. The case Billy takes on involves a boat worker who lost his life in an accident on the water. The first episode begins with at least some of the circumstances of the mysterious problems at sea. The man’s sister (Ever Carradine) is convinced something nefarious happened to him, while his wife (Sarah Wynter) insists it was a suicide. She wants the case left alone. But she may know more than she’s saying.

When Billy stumbles upon the case, he at first holds no interest in battling his former firm. But some of the details intrigue him and soon he’s fighting with everything he has. That’s partially because the lawyers on the opposite side (and the company they represent) are throwing everything at him. They’re willing to go to great lengths to potentially cover the truth and maintain their power and good name. Just like the title suggests, this series is all about the extent to which the big guy will go to get what he wants. Will the rich and powerful always win? Do their innumerable resources prohibit the little guys from seeking and finding justice? Those questions probe the core of the series.

They’re interesting questions to ask. But they were also somewhat undermined by the weak setup and snail-like pace of the show. The boat case wasn’t interesting enough to keep viewers invested. It seemed almost superfluous to the plot, though the entire legal case is built around it. And I’m all for slower-moving series that build on intrigue. (AMC’s “The Night Manager” accomplished this well.) But most of the time it was hard to tell where this show was headed. Though mysteries popped up along the way, they weren’t enough to overcome the lagging tempo. The show needs to get moving toward something – fast.

It’s clear the writers are building up to the drama but they haven’t fleshed out enough meat in early episodes to gain a loyal audience. I suspect the characters and connections may be worth the wait. But it’s taking too long to gain steam. We need to see more in each episode than a battle of big versus small. We need to see more character development and connections, and a faster-moving plot. Especially with only 10 episodes this season. “Goliath” definitely has potential. It may just need a little shot in the arm, straight from a sling.

You can check out the series premiere of “Goliath” on October 14. It airs on Amazon.

What are you looking forward to in "Goliath?" Which actors and performances can't you wait to see? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author - Tonya Papanikolas
Tonya Papanikolas is an online, print and broadcast journalist who loves covering entertainment and television. She spent more than 10 years as a broadcast news anchor and reporter. Now she does everything from hosting to writing. She especially loves writing TV articles and reviews for SpoilerTV.