Review: Amazon’s ‘Goliath’ fails to deliver a strong closing argument

You may recall that I was pretty happy with Amazon's new legal drama Goliath – particularly for Billy Bob Thornton's lead performance and the most restrained writing by David E. Kelley in this century – but that was after seeing six of the season's eight episodes on screeners. Having now finished the other two, I had some additional thoughts – with full spoilers for the whole season – coming up just as soon as I click at you for a while…

Part of the deal with David E. Kelley shows, whether the great ones or the terrible ones (which are often the same show, just at different stages), is that you get some soaring courtroom rhetoric out of it. And part of the deal with Goliath, it seemed, was that we were going to see Billy McBride live up to his pre-meltdown reputation as the greatest lawyer any of the other characters had ever seen. The first six episodes functioned very well as a mix of legal drama and hard-boiled detective fiction tropes, but they offered the implicit promise of Billy getting to dazzle us when the case finally went to court…

…only it never really happened. Patty gave the opening statement and handled most of the witnesses, and whenever it was Billy's turn, he mainly seemed tired and frustrated with the whole thing, up through and including a closing argument that hung almost entirely on him noting that the defense only called one witness(*). Even his one brainstorm of figuring out a way to force Cooperman to testify amounted to much less than it could have, with the stroke cutting them off midway through, then rendering the testimony inadmissable. (The stroke also seemed designed as a catch-all excuse for Cooperman's weird supervillain behavior.)

(*) It reminded me of the one summer I spent at debate camp (#nerd), where my one and only victory came less because of anything I had to say than because my opponents failed to make their own case, which I just repeated over and over for my allotted time for closing remarks. Afterwards, the judge noted that I did a very poor job overall, “But you were also right about their argument.” What I'm saying is, Billy McBride should be a better debater than 14-year-old me.

Again and again, Billy seemed boxed in by the judge's rulings, but rather than inspire him to greater and more audacious feats of legal genius, Billy mostly just shrugged and shut down a little more. And his plan to secretly record Corey's confession on his phone would be illegal in California, which is a two-party consent state. (He could tell the FBI what Corey said, but the recording itself is inadmissable. I'll grant that Jason Ritter's character may have just used the recording as a springboard to reopen an investigation into Borns Tech, but the episode presents it as Billy giving the feds the recording itself to use.)

The underwhelming ending doesn't entirely diminish my appreciation for the show. Thornton was still great, as were several of the supporting actors (Nina Arianda in particular is already very high up on the list of performances by actresses in a Kelley show, though that's as much due to his issues writing for women as for how much fun she had cursing up a storm), and I enjoyed the atmosphere and the contrast between Billy's low-rent defense team and the polished army at his old firm. But a lot of what I liked was setting up a payoff that never really came. If you have Billy McBride warning people early on that he's getting his act together and about to remind people of how great he used to be, you have to let him actually do that. Otherwise, it would be like a version of Billy's beloved Hoosiers where Hickory High wins the state championship not through Norman Dale's coaching genius, but because the other teams keep forfeiting.

What did everybody else think? Did the ending satisfy you? Would you want to see another season with these characters (preferably with Maria Bello getting a lot more to do than she got here), or did Billy's big win take too much of the underdog quality away for future stories?