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Goliath - Season 1 - Review

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Goliath, the latest TV drama from David E. Kelley that premiered on Amazon last week, is not great television. It takes the well-worn TV concept of the legal drama, and except for throwing in some profanity, it doesn't really add much to the genre that countless broadcast shows, many from Kelley himself, already established. But while Goliath is never groundbreaking, it's important to realize that it doesn't try to be, like so many of its streaming brethren. Goliath knows exactly what it is, and doesn't pretend otherwise.

But while Goliath may not be the next great TV drama, or as narratively or thematically ambitious as many shows in the streaming arena, it may well hold the key to fixing the problems so many TV dramas are currently suffering from. Anyone who has read some of my reviews over the past several months may have an idea of what I'm talking about, but for those who don't, here it is: EPISODES.

Peak TV and the growing prominence of streaming shows has led to TV becoming increasingly cinematic, the phrase "It's like a 13-hour movie!" getting tossed around with increased frequency by network executives and showrunners to describe upcoming dramas. These shows are all trying to be the next great drama, but they forget one of the core reasons why many of TV's greatest dramas succeeded. The Sopranos told an epic tale of morality over six seasons, but its larger themes became even more resonant because of David Chase's decision to structure each episode as a sort-of short story. TV is designed as a group of smaller stories that add up to a larger whole, and the very best shows know this.

But given the rise in streaming and the changes in how people watch TV, new dramas seem to have either abandoned or forgotten about functioning as TV shows, and ignoring the convention of episodes is at the heart of that. Sure, some shows have gotten away with not being episodic, most notably The Wire, but it's an incredibly hard thing to do, and not every show can be The Wire. And so the lack of episodes has led to other issues that are central to any show's success: pacing and characters. Without episodes, shows can become shapeless, resulting in a sluggish pace (this is most notable in Netflix dramas, especially Bloodline and their Marvel shows). But episodes can often help a lot with character, as a self-contained episode can make it much easier for a show to focus on developing its characters.

Returning to Goliath, that show is able to avoid these issues. The show crafted fun and interesting characters (helped immensely by the phenomenal actors portraying them), and each episode WAS AN EPISODE, as each hour followed the protagonist, down on his luck lawyer Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton, on top form) and his crack team as they tackle a particular problem related to the season-long case. And by breaking up the season in this way, it was paced much better, as the story built up steam as each episode passed, building to an exciting climax in the finale, when Billy delivered his big closing argument to the jury. In my review of the show last week, I wrote that Goliath did the basics right, and this is what I meant by that.

In this way, Goliath is very old-fashioned, likely as a result of creators David E. Kelley and Jonathan Shapiro's inability to completely shrug off broadcast television's conventions. Essentially, it's an episode of a legal procedural allowed to breathe as it's told over the course of eight episodes, and that's not a bad thing. In fact, the show truly came alive when it was most focused on the legal process itself, the courtroom scenes warmly reminding me of the best of The Good Wife.

Goliath did have some issues, aside from its lack of originality. The supporting characters, for example, were never developed as much as I would have liked, especially compared to the development of Billy. That being said, the likes of Molly Parker and Nina Arianda definitely got some interesting material, and their characters were given some welcome shading (and Arianda tore into her character's profanity-riddled dialog with such glee). Interestingly, Maria Bello and William Hurt, the show's two big hitters aside from Thornton, were the weak links, as the former was underused and the latter was stuck playing an antagonist who never really developed beyond a set of quirks. But, because of the caliber of the show's cast, each character was interesting to watch, and the writing for each made all of them sympathetic and relatable at least once.

But in the end, this show's true strengths lie in its protagonist. Billy McBride exists in a moral area that is constantly grey, and though he was on the side of good throughout Goliath's first season, Kelley and Shapiro walked a fine line as his actions became increasingly questionable. But because Billy Bob Thornton is such a naturally charismatic actor, you can't help but root for Billy anyway, and as a result, the character was consistently enjoyable to watch. Throughout the season Goliath provided interesting supporting characters that will hopefully receive more development in the future (presuming the show is renewed), but it was always carried by a great protagonist and performance at its center. Goliath never broke any new ground, but what it did do it did very well, and that's to be commended.

Grade: B+

About the Author - Sean Candon
Sean is a student living in Ireland. He has a keen interest in dramatic television (as well as some comedies). Some of his favourite shows right now include The Leftovers, The Americans, Game of Thrones, Black Sails and Mr Robot. Some of his favourite shows of all time include The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Person of Interest, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Lost. He is also an "A Song of Ice and Fire" obsessive. You can visit his blog at
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