Amazon Studios

Bad Lawyer: Billy Bob Thornton’s Goliath Doesn’t Do Anything Interesting With The Legal Drama

The new Amazon series has more of a CBS dad-show vibe than the expected boundary-pushing of a streaming show

The new legal drama Goliath begins as a fusillade of quirks. Star Billy Bob Thornton never convinces us of his protagonist’s résumé — co-founding one of the most powerful white-shoe law firms in the world — but he lobs so many idiosyncrasies at us that he almost makes us forget that central failure. Living out of a motel, Thornton’s down-and-out attorney Billy McBride can still lay claim to several remaining possessions: an alcohol addiction, multiple bicep tats, a canine best friend, an irritatingly precocious teenage daughter (Diana Hopper), a friendship with a sassy prostitute (Tania Raymonde), and, later, a storage-space office with a visiting possum. There’s also his feud with his former legal partner, Donald Cooperman (William Hurt), an opera-loving darkness-dweller who communicates with his underlings using a dog-training clicker and who’d fiendishly twirl his moustache if the fire that melted half his face hadn’t probably also annihilated his hair follicles.

Cheesy and crotchety and lazily populist, Goliath is more CBS dad show than Amazon awards bait. Streaming now on the latter, it feels like a throwback — and not in the good way. Co-creator David E. Kelley awkwardly forces together outlandish villains, abrupt violence, ham-fisted social critique, and crusty rants against Google and “PC culture.” The sleek production design and Thornton’s too-pretty shag can’t cover up how out-of-touch the series feels, with its all-white L.A., convenient lesbians, and Billy repeatedly ordering his chatty co-counsel, Patty Solis-Papagian (Nina Arianda), to stop “yapping.” Billy’s sold to us as a defiantly blunt antihero. Neither he nor the show seems to realize that he just comes across as an indefensibly sleazy asshole.

Goliath’s propulsive, plot-thick first season encompasses a wrongful-death trial from Billy taking on the long-shot case to its verdict. The suit is his chance at redemption; he faces off against his leviathan old firm, which helps cover up the sins of its biggest client, a weapons-research company. That makes the disbarrable act of Billy sleeping with Rachel (Ever Carradine), the sister of the victim and thus his new client, all the more dumb and pointless. Even sillier is the borderline-campy Cooperman’s decision to replace his seasoned proxy (Molly Parker) with an inexperienced associate (Olivia Thirlby) he’s smitten with in his war against his mortal nemesis. Billy and Cooperman’s foibles and transgressions should create their own universe, but these particles just float in the air, conspicuously disjunct. Despite an electrifying jolt at the end of the second episode, the season’s uneven pacing comes through: It takes too long for the case to be admitted into court, and the trial itself is anticlimactically shortchanged.

Billy and Cooperman make so many boneheaded moves that it’s hard to take the legal chess game between them seriously. The largely female supporting cast — which includes Maria Bello playing Billy’s ex in a role that belongs in the Thankless Wife Character Hall of Fame — is mostly squandered despite a promising theme about women’s rivalry in the workplace. Among the parade of dopey improbabilities, it’s only Billy’s methodical buildup of the case — the investigating, deducing, coaxing of witnesses, and piecing together a courtroom presentation — that makes the journey worth the eye rolls. You’ll never be so relieved to watch an insufferable jerk yammer on and on and on.