With pieces of the puzzle coming together — “One Mississippi,” “Transparent,” “The Man in the High Castle,” “Mozart in the Jungle”; acquisitions including “Catastrophe” and “Fleabag” — and a seemingly unending stream of pilots that never get picked up, it’s clear Amazon is going for something specific with their originals.
The goal seems to be curating a sensibility tailored to users’ desires and needs, like Netflix, but also in Amazon’s case catering to an audience that specifically loves moodiness, darkness and melodrama. It’s a niche that has proven itself (Netflix’s biggest hits fall into this category, with billions more on the way), but with Amazon, there’s something pointed to it, something confrontational, that feels a bit edgier than comparable streaming slates.
It only makes sense, then, that Amazon’s newest original series, “Goliath,” pairs them with a similarly confrontational — and increasingly moody — auteur, David E. Kelley. If you need it, here’s a quick refresher on his CV — just the majors, as the man has gotten more pilots to series than almost anyone in history and there were a lot interesting experiments among these heavy hitters:
- 1986-1992 “L.A. Law”
- 1989-1993 “Doogie Howser, M.D.”
- 1992-1996 “Picket Fences”
- 1994-2000 “Chicago Hope”
- 1997-2002 “Ally McBeal”
- 1997-2008 “The Practice”/”Boston Public”/”Boston Legal”
So what happens when you give David E. Kelley a show? You know it’s going to have a stellar, bizarre cast. You know it’s going to feature irreverent — and, it must be said, increasingly crotchety — humor. You know it’s going shift moods on you suddenly and without warning. And you know exactly how everybody’s going to talk: With degrees on their walls, chips on their shoulders and hearts on their sleeves.
This time around, the all-star cast features Billy Bob Thornton as the No. 1 Kelley trademark: A down-and-out and constantly drunk Santa Monica lawyer who believes his career and professional life are over until he stumbles onto a case that might offer not only redemption, but revenge on the law firm that exiled him in the first place.
Thornton and William Hurt take center stage, and while the former edges on antihero from time to time, there’s no question that Hurt’s the villain as the head of the enemy law firm: Half-burnt face, constantly shrouded in shadow, that whispery voice he’s been using the past few years — it’s only Hurt’s quiet menace that keeps him from being ridiculous.
But then, it’s a David E. Kelley show: You can have your complex emotions and your ethical dilemmas, and you will, but you may also end up practicing law in an abandoned shoe store (“Harry’s Law,” 34 episodes) or giving Randy Quaid a gun and making him sheriff (“The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire,” six episodes).
If you enjoy the Kelley brand, courtroom drama with ludicrous twists, second-wave feminism explained by a man and character study, and would like to see it paired with the classic look of California-based noir, you already know that “Goliath” is the show for you. If you don’t really remember any of those shows mentioned above, it still might be. Amazon is not in the business of losing money.
Perhaps that go-to quality is the show’s greatest strength: “Goliath’s” familiar premise and elements, as well as its frankly stellar cast — Maria Bello and Molly Parker are bankable stars, as well; Dwight Yoakam and newcomer Olivia Thirlby give the rest a run for their money — could end up easing the show into a hit.
What Amazon has is buzz and critical acclaim by the bucket-load: What it doesn’t have is a true breakthrough hit — yet. Its next big premiere, “Good Girls Revolt” on Oct. 28, is a well-made, well-meaning show that has a hard road ahead of it, just like “One Mississippi” before it. But “Goliath” is shooting for the middle ground, done well — and that’s ground even the streaming service that got on the map with an ambitious hit like “Transparent” could stand to cover.
“Goliath” premieres on Amazon Prime on Thursday, Oct. 13.