No one gives a shit about this show, but I really liked the first season of Amazon’s Goliath. It was a meat-and-potatoes, straight-down-the-middle legal-thriller fastball. It was like an old-school Grisham novel come to the small screen. It was in no way revelatory, but it was a solid eight-hours of entertainment led by a reliably cranky Billy Bob Thornton character, a nice supporting cast, and a lot of booze.
I watched Goliath because it came from David E. Kelley (The Practice, Boston Legal, Ally McBeal, etc.) who — at the age of 62 — has somehow still managed to quietly be a very good television writer and surprisingly relevant: He adapted Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes for the Audience Network and Big Little Lies for HBO, and in Goliath, I got exactly what I wanted from a David Kelley series: An old-fashioned, well-made, well-acted gripping television show with bad guys and morally questionable good guys, an intriguing mystery, a dash of conspiracy, Billy Bob Thornton playing a grouchy old alcoholic, Molly Parker The Devil Wears Pradaing out of her young associates, and William Hurt being skeevy as hell.
This second season? It’s garbage, and I’m 98 percent certain it’s because David E. Kelley left the show over “creative differences” with Billy Bob Thornton (all due respect to Thornton, but if you’re having creative differences with David E. Kelley, you’re almost certainly on the wrong side of that debate).
Season two starts out decently enough. Julio Suarez, the teenage son of Oscar Suarez (Lou Diamond Phillips) is wrongfully blamed for the murder of two drug dealers, which gives Billy Bob Thornton’s character, Billy McBride, an opportunity to litigate a murder case. But the whole show goes off the rails pretty soon thereafter. McBride doesn’t appear in court after maybe the third episode, and the series leans hard into the conspiracy thriller genre. Billy McBride falls in love with a mayoral candidate, Marisol Silva (Ana de la Reguera), but her candidacy is very tied up in the fate of Julio Suarez’s trial for murder. She actually recruits McBride to defend the kid, and she believes that her candidacy is tied into getting Julio off for murder, although it’s never explained why that is actually the case.
Elsewhere, there’s a shadowy Mexican cartel with tentacles that extend into Los Angeles, and the cartel leader is very invested in ensuring that both Julio is blamed for murders he committed and that Marisol Silva wins the election, because there’s a land deal that he will benefit from should she win (we get next to no details on that land deal). So, Silva is in both the back pocket of the cartel and she is rooting against the cartel’s interests where it concerns the kid wrongfully accused of a double homicide.
However, none of this really matters that much, because by the fifth episode, the show completely loses the plot, and it becomes mostly about the people in Los Angeles working for the cartel covering up the murder by any means necessary, which mostly just means that they all start killing each other and trying to kill Billy. Mark Duplass, for instance, plays a shady but violent land developer who also has a sexual obsession with amputees, which plays out in his relationship with Brittany Gold (Tania Raymonde), the sex-worker turned paralegal from season one (the storyline eventually fizzles out, and seems only to exist so that the show can dabble in amputee porn). David Cross — in a terrible, terrible wig — also shows up periodically as one of many middlemen, and there’s also a dirty cop and his best friend, who helped frame the kid for murder in the first place.
The whole thing completely runs off the rails after the midway point — subplots are abandoned; motivations stop making sense; and Billy Bob Thornton finds himself running through Mexico while guys are shooting at him after a different sex worker stabs a dude in the taint (don’t ask). It is so dumb, which is a real goddamn shame because there’s some pretty good acting talent in this from Thornton, Duplass, and even our old friend James Wolk (Bob from Mad Men).
It is telling, however, that few of the regular cast members returned from season one (Maria Bello, Olivia Thirlby, Molly Parker) and that Thornton doesn’t spend a lot of time with the characters who do return. I don’t want to speak out of turn here, but the sense I get is that maybe Billy Bob Thornton is a giant asshole. I mean, after all, Kelley quit over creative differences after Thornton had already made him revamp season one. Then they brought in Clyde Phillips (Dexter) to oversee the show, and Thornton pushed him out after they’d already shot the first four episodes (three of which were scrapped). This comes after Amazon dragged its feet on renewing the show in the first place, despite it apparently being their most streamed series ever.
I guess it’s what Raylan Givens once said: “You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”
I think we know who the asshole is here, and I doubt that Amazon is going to want to put up with the headache of producing a season three.