The launch of Goliath on Amazon on October 14 and the debut of Graves on Epix on October 16 show that originality is not the only currency in this era of Peak TV. The Billy Bob Thornton-starring legal drama from David E. Kelley and the Nick Nolte-led comedy created by Joshua Michael Stern also reveal that the fuel in certain vehicles are sometimes not the stars. In both cases here, the real power comes from Maria Bello and Molly Parker in Goliath and Sela Ward in Graves.
As I say in my video review above, Kelley’s streaming debut with the eight-episode Goliath really could have easily ended up on network TV back in the 1990s – for better and worse. While Oscar-winner Thornton tries to squeeze out the freshest stuff he can from the material — he plays down, out and hard-drinking lawyer Billy McBride, up against the megafirm he co-founded that still carries his name — the best he can get is a few drops.
However, it is Bello as conflicted Cooperman McBride high-flyer and Billy’s reluctantly friendly ex-wife that cuts through the staleness with a performance that actually gives the series some lifeblood. Add to that an equally strong turn by House Of Cards alum Parker and you have the real unexpected soul of Goliath. As Callie Senate, Bello’s in-house best buddy, Parker is the sharp legal shiv that the scarred senior partner played by William Hurt sends into courtroom battle to cut Billy down once and for all — that is where the real action is in Kelley’s worth-a-look series. In fact, if Amazon brings back this straight-to-series show for another round, they might want to consider a spinoff for Bello and Parker – and let Kelley’s strengths soar.
As for Epix’s first original comedy Graves…well, there isn’t a lot of action in the morose Presidential so-called satire. In fact, all the best lines and best moves are given not to Nolte’s President Richard Graves but to another Graves, aka Ward as former First Lady Margaret Graves. Having replaced the originally cast Susan Sarandon in the series, Ward is all steely poise and near-perfect comic timing, even with the weak material. Having played the Commander-in-Chief in the Independence Day sequel this summer, she seems to have the White House occupancy down and should be the lead here.
On the flipside, part Ronald Reagan, part George W. Bush and a lot of clichés in between, Nolte as the suddenly unshackled former two-term GOP POTUS is way beneath the actor’s considerable skills. As his performance in the 2015 pic A Walk In The Woods with Robert Redford made clear he has talent to burn, but in Graves those skills are not even lit. He is given nothing more to do than rail against his character’s legacy after more than two decades out of office, put up with cameos from the likes of Rudy Giuliani, and stomp around and growl.
In this election year, Graves could have taken on the body politic, but instead it just stumbles into setups and lame gags. As the troubled adult offspring, former Masters Of Sex actor Helene Yorke and Private Practice’s Chris Lowell are left with even less to do than Nolte, as is Ernie Hudson as Graves’ old fixer and Skylar Astin as the ex-Prez’s new aide.
Being that Epix has put the first two episodes of Graves online ahead of this weekend’s premiere, you can take a look now at what I mean. And take a look at my video review above for more on Amazon’s Goliath. Let us know what you think.