Today, on a very special episode of Loki’s Law Blog, we will look at the Amazon Streaming series that earned Billy Bo Bob Thornton his Golden Globe. That’s right- Goliath.
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW. IF YOU DON’T LIKE SPOILERS, THEN- GO WATCH IT. IT’S NOT THAT BAD.
Goliath is a David E. Kelley joint; you may recognize that name from his prior work in L.A. Law, The Practice, Boston Legal, Ally McBeal, and Ridiculously Good Looking Attorneys Behaving Badly in a Large City. If you’ve seen one of his shows before, you’re familiar with his oeuvre:
A. Get some attorneys.
B. Put them in a city. You know, Boston, L.A., something like that.
C. Given them really, really important and meaningful cases with surprising relevance to “real stuff happening(tm).”
D. Add in some trademark Kelley Personal Pathos for the characters.
Well, here’s the good news; Goliath is as Kelley as it gets. Are there attorneys? YES! Are they in a city? YOU BETCHA (Santa Monica and LA)! Is it an important and meaningful case with surprising relevance? OMG (large corporate weapons manufacturer hiding the truth)! Pathos? DIVORCES AND SECRET LESBIAN AFFAIRS AND ALCOHOLISM AND REDEMPTION, OH MY! And everything is done with a little, added, premium quality-class.
But is it legally realistic? *sigh* Okay, so here’s the thing. Asking a lawyer about the legal realism of a law show is like asking Neil deGrasse Tyson about the physics in Star Wars and Star Trek. I mean, sure, he can discuss it; he can tell you whether one is “more realistic” than the other; but in the end, it’s just “pew pew pew” in space, right?
The law is boring. And hard. Real law doesn’t make for great entertainment; if it did, you would all be sitting and watching trials for free that are open to the public instead of trying to dodge jury duty. And the trial is the most exciting and telegenic part of the law! What, you want to watch 14 hours of someone typing away at part of a summary judgment motion? How about weeks of going through discovery? So let me put it this way-
1. Does it make the usual “law for fiction” shortcuts? You betcha. Opening statements and closing arguments that are a minute long and super punchy. Weird procedural mistakes (a status conference that changed into an in camera offer of proof was referred to as “surviving summary judgement”). Things that make no sense at all (“You have until the end of business to research, draft, and file these three things,” which would take days, or weeks). The old, “We’re only going to call one witness.” (I mean, c’mon, what? One witness?) All the boring stuff cut out (duh, it’s boring).
2. Does it take extreme liberties, even in fiction, to advance the plot? YES! Of course it does. A young associate at a BigLaw firm that is promoted to First Chair in a make-or-break trial for the firm. Something that has happened precisely ZERO times in the history of EVER.
3. Is it, nevertheless, okay? Yes. This show isn’t “about” the law, but it still captures several things correctly. Especially its throwaway depictions of the litigation practices of BigLaw. Neil deGrasse Tyson might get all up in Interstellar’s physics, yo, but I’m more realistic; the show gets a lot of small details right enough, while still advancing an entertaining plot. Everything from the shot of the “war room” at BigLaw, to the boxes and boxes of useless discovery dumped on the hapless Plaintiffs’ attorneys, to the occasional mind games of the deposition. It’s good enough that I didn’t spend the entire series going, “That’s not what happens.” I mean, I did say it a few times. C’mon- that wasn’t summary judgment! Also? Law firms do, in fact, regularly kill people. The more you know!
So, putting the law-stuff aside (which is what every invitation to a BigLaw Hookers & Blow party says), is this worth watching?
Yep. The acting is good. Billy Bo Bob Thorton, William “My Face” Hurt(s), Maria Bello, and Molly Parker lead a cast so good that you don’t think to yourself, “What? Dwight Yoakam is NOT the CEO of an evil weapons company.” The cinematography is premium cable quality. The story line? Well, in some ways I think it is best described as “Californication, but Agent Mulder is a lawyer in this one, not a writer.” Yeah, Billy Bo Bob Thornton plays a formerly mega-successful lawyer who has wrecked his family, is estranged from his daughter, and is battling the bottle, but still is kinda sorta likable; you know, like most destructive and self-loathing alcoholics you are familiar with....
Um, anyway, the plot is engaging and, at times, emotionally resonant.
Will you ruminate about this show for months, like Mr. Robot? No. Will you go all fan-ficcy on it like Game of Thrones? Not even close. Will it cause you to have serious questions about the current state of our judicial system, like The Night Of? You’re kidding, right? DAVID E. KELLEY DOES NOT DO ECZEMA-COVERED FEET!
But if you’re looking to binge a good-looking, well-acted legal drama, then you should check out Goliathfornication.
SUPER SPOILER ALERT!
The two things that just didn’t fly were the plot issues regarding settling the case, and the final outcome. On the first, everyone knows that a case like this would have settled; if not at the very beginning, then at certain key points. Within the fiction, they created a plausible reason why they couldn’t settle, which I was fine with (for fictional reasons). But then, later, they kept coming back to settling the case in order to heighten the drama! Really, the explaine why they couldn’t settle the case, and then, towards the end, started discussing settling it but didn’t because of arrogance. Either you couldn’t settle it for the reasons you laid out, or you could, and just didn’t want to. ARGHHH! Consistency, David E. Kelley! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!
I also didn’t like the final outcome of the trial. Not just because all good and righteous Americans root for the correct side (you know who...). But also because it wasn’t tied into what we were shown on the screen; good drama is built from suspense, not twists. If you make something one-sided in order to surprise us with a completely unexpected outcome, that’s bad drama. Especially when there was no explanation as to why the trial came out the way it did. If you make it unclear who was going to win the trial, then it’s more dramatic. But what do I know? I AM NOT DAVID E. KELLEY.