Goliath Starring Billy Bob Thornton: An Impressionistic Review

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The following is a transcript of this TV Room podcast episode, with photos:

When it comes to television, my time is usually spent watching the deep cable rerun channels that show nothing more current than Murder She Wrote. That’s the TV Room way, and there’s no shame in it. But on family visits to LA, I get to see what the people with premium channels are watching, which is how I was introduced to Season 1 of Goliath, starring Billy Bob Thornton.

I should mention that due to the strong language spoken by the characters on Goliath, this review will contain profanity when reproducing and discussing certain aspects of the show, and for a little bit of shock value since we’re already going there. This episode is therefore rated MA for mature audiences.

The action begins on a fishing boat, before dawn. Like a real LA morning, the pair of voices that greet the working day are Spanish speaking voices. Things start out innocently enough. There’s a little bit of ball-breaking, a little bit of mota smoking, and just a wee bit of dynamite fishing.

But then, these two run of the mill pescadores end up seeing something they weren’t meant to see.

The narrative flashes forward to two years later. It’s a postcard beautiful day all up and down the Santa Monica coastline. Just south of the Santa Monica Pier and a couple of blocks inland, it’s still a beautiful day, where, on the second floor of a divey extended-stay motel, a guy cracks open his door, steps into the sunshine, helps himself to cold French fries from a discarded food delivery container, grabs the sports section from the newspaper on his neighbor’s doorstep, and walks on down the motel balcony to greet the day.

He’s wearing what look to be off white Vans slip-ons, and by off I mean filthy. But they could just as easily be knockoff espadrilles from a stall on the Venice Boardwalk. This is Billy McBride, played by none other than Billy Bob Thornton.

Billy McBride greets the new day.

Helping himself to the paper.

Heading to the bar to start his day.

Billy McBride is not just the kind of guy who still reads a newspaper in 2016, he’s the kind of guy who steals that newspaper from his neighbor’s doorstep. Though to be fair, he only grabs the sports section; he doesn’t take more than what he needs.

As soon as he reaches the sidewalk, his foot lands in dog shit. His shoes looked smelly enough to begin with; they’ve now gotten a lot worse.

And that brings up our first interesting sidebar: Dog shit on the sidewalk is something you really don’t see anymore now that everybody follows their mutts around with plastic bags to pick up their droppings. In fact I’d imagine that Santa Monica would have been one of the very first cities in the country to introduce an ordinance forcing dog owners to bus their pets’ feces, and that it would be one of the cities with the fiercest penalties for noncompliance. It’s the last place you’d expect to see unattended dog crap in the 2010s.

Nevertheless, if there is going to be dog crap on the streets of Santa Monica, it’s going to be right where Billy McBride happens to be treading.

Luckily, he doesn’t have to tread far. Right next door to the Ocean Lodge motel is the perfect complement to an extended stay motel, a dive bar, called Chez Jay. These two icons stand like the king and queen on a Mid-century chessboard that has otherwise been overtaken by decades of aggressive gentrification.

The dive bar next door.

The Ocean Lodge and Chez Jay aren’t just props for the show. They are the last two real life remnants of the legendary beach bum bohemia that once stretched all the way up the coast from La Jolla to Monterey Bay, and was peopled by characters from Steinbeck novels, but has now been reduced to the square footage containing Chez Jay and the Ocean Lodge motel.

When you go far enough back in American literature (and it really isn’t that far at all), you will find the character and characters of California’s coastline, described not in terms of millionaires and mansions, but in terms of beach bums and bungaloes. That goes for everything from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row to the Gidget novel that launched the movie franchise and the California beach craze in general.

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Even as the 1960s began, the beach was where you went to drop out of the rat race. But, for the last generation or two, Southern California beach culture has been celebrated in film, television, music, and magazines, not as bohemian, but as being synonymous with Winning.

The beach has come to represent the most beautiful, most athletic, most popular people, the most winningest lifestyle, and the most desirable real estate.

But even as the 1950s were winding down, the surfer was still seen as a form of bohemian, a beach bum, an outcast.

 

That all changed with the 1957 publication of the book called “Gidget: The Little Girl With Big Ideas.” This novel spawned seven sequels, a movie franchise, a TV show, and a whole new chapter of pop culture. Soon after the Gidget movies came the Frankie & Annette movies, and the Beachboys, and skateboarding and everything else that followed.

 

The original Gidget novels were written by a man named Frederick Kohner, and were based on the true-life exploits of his teenage daughter Kathy. Frederick Kohner was a screenwriter who fled Nazi Germany in the ‘30s for Hollywood. He marveled at how his American born children adapted so easily to the customs and mannerisms of the 1950s American teenager, and particularly to how his daughter Kathy became infatuated with the surfers’ subculture at nearby Malibu beach.

The surfers were lovable dropouts who had their own codes of conduct, their own social networks, and spoke their own language. They had carved out their own little bit of paradise right there on the still very underpopulated Malibu coastline. And they made for wonderful story characters, not unlike the ones John Steinbeck based his books on back in the 1930s.

Well, Gidget became a huge sensation, and the rest of the country, and the entire world, fell in love with the new Southern California beach subculture that led from Gidget straight to Baywatch.

Of course, for the original surfers, this was awful news. Suddenly, their secret was out. Their beaches were being overrun; their lifestyle was being coopted, and they got priced out of their own habitat.

 

Remember 20 or 30 years ago when nobody wanted to live in downtown American cities? Well, that’s how the beaches were a generation earlier.

 

Believe it or not, normal people didn’t want to live too close to the beach. It was considered strange and not very classy, like living next to a carnival. It was a nice place to visit, but you didn’t want to live there.

That meant that the beaches belonged to the outcasts, the dropouts, the misfits…the beach bums. But, since about 1970, coastal property has been the hottest property on the market. Beach towns replaced Beverly Hills in becoming synonymous with movie stars, and you can see the results everywhere.

Pre-gentrification Venice canal.

Post-gentrification Venice canal.

But, some enclaves of beach bums still lived on. Malibu did get snapped up by millionaires, and they eventually worked their way down to Santa Monica. But, Venice Beach stayed weird and freaky, and a little bit scary, for a long time, and basically the southern part of Santa Monica was always an extension of Venice.

It was the kind of place where free spirits and hippies and people who wanted to drop out of the rat race, or just party hearty, could still somehow afford to live. Three’s Company, the sitcom, was supposedly based on a cross-section of that part of Santa Monica back in the late Seventies. And based on personal memory, I believe it.

It was a post-Woodstock swinging singles scene where people “lived together” without thinking about getting married; where young people went to “find themselves” while working menial part-time jobs, say at a flower shop like Janet, or a restaurant like Jack, and where gay people could live quasi-openly. Before the coastal property boom, Santa Monica had been known as a place where retirees like the Ropers went for peace and quiet. And even the Regal Beagle was said to be based on the authentic British pubs that were clustered in that area to serve the British ex-pat community that, upon leaving England, preferred the moderate ocean breezes and fog of Santa Monica to the desert swelter of inland Los Angeles.

 

Now, every scene of a Three’s Company episode was filmed on a studio lot, but the opening and closing credits of each season were shot on location in the same part of Santa Monica where Goliath takes place 40 years later. The footage of Jack on the bike path; of the gang down on their rendezvous with the rides and attractions of the Santa Monica pier, and of the three roommates basking in the glow of their special companionship on a sailboat just offshore, where Jack is able to show off the seamanship…that he learned in the navy.

Every scene of Three’s Company was filmed inside a studio. That much is true. But those establishing shots of Jack, Janet, Chrissy and sometimes Teri on a day at the beach in Santa Monica is the real deal. That is the picture that everyone remembers. Even today.

(Yes, I know what you’re thinking, ‘what about the year they filmed the intro at the LA Zoo?)

Well, if that isn’t a textbook case of the exception proving the rule, I don’t know what is.

 

A couple of years before the beaches were hers and hers and his, a different TV maverick was living in a trailer parked in a public lot next to the Pacific Coast Highway with the best view in Malibu. This of course was Jim Rockford, a man who embodied the fusion of one Southern California archetype, the beach bum, with another Southern California archetype, the hardboiled detective.

 

Speaking of beach bum detectives, although Chevy Chase is not Billy Bob Thornton, Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher and William “Billy” McBride are two characters cut from the same cloth.

Rockford’s trailer is gone now, and so is Fletch, and the beach bum culture that they symbolized and that used to stretch from Malibu to Marina del Rey has been reduced to a postage stamp sized parcel of land containing the Ocean Lodge and Chez Jay.

And that is where our story takes us now.

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To recap: Billy McBride has started his day by ambling over from the Ocean Lodge to the dive bar next door, Chez Jay, nabbing somebody’s sports section along the way, and managing to trudge through dog shit in his filthy beach bum tennis shoes.

At his barstool, McBride is soon confronted by an intense, smoldering woman who bursts through the saloon door like a gunfighter in the Old West, specifically to confront him in a showdown, practically telling him to draw.

Chez Jay interior. Billy at the bar, about to be confronted.

It seems that whenever Billy is at Chez Jay it’s only a matter of time before he’s confronted by a smoldering woman barely able to contain her rage over something Billy’s done, or forgotten to do. In this case the woman happens to be Billy’s daughter, with papers for him to sign, which he does, perfunctorily and with no great interest.

“Don’t you even care what it’s for?” she asks, visibly unimpressed.

He shrugs.

“It’s a permission slip to go back East to look at colleges.”

This takes him aback. “What grade are you in, anyway?”

“Eleventh. I’m in eleventh grade,” she blurts contemptuously.

“I knew that,” he quickly tries to cover his mistake.

The looks Billy McBride inspires:

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In a way, it’s not hard to understand Billy Bob’s position. When you live a bachelor’s life, and have friends with kids, it seems like they’re riding bikes with training wheels one day, and applying to colleges the next. And you end up asking yourself with genuine surprise, ‘where did that time go?’ The difference is, it’s Billy Bob’s own daughter we’re talking about here, not the child of some acquaintances he sees once every couple of years.

Nonetheless, now that Billy’s been sufficiently updated on his daughter’s status, he does have some fatherly advice about colleges to dispense her way: “You’re not going to Miami. You’re not going to some fuckin’ beach school,” he insists. His reason being that if she goes to a beach school, she’ll never study.

The irony of course is that the man giving her this advice is the town drunk in a beach town.

We get the distinct impression that Billy is a guy who speaks from experience when he talks about opportunities blown by having fun instead of working. He may not place all the blame on the beach and the booze, but it certainly seems like the first stepping stone on the road to wasted potential.

Billy McBride goes on to make a strong pitch for his daughter to attend the University of Indiana, not for academic reasons it turns out, but because Billy has a strong preoccupation with Hoosiers, the movie, which is where the term ‘Goliath’ apparently comes from.

Billy McBride in his red Stang.

From this encounter with Billy and his daughter at Chez Jay, the camera transitions to Billy behind the wheel of his Mustang, cruising in street traffic before hopping on the freeway. Like it does on the Rockford Files, a drive across town in LA seems to be a positive, gridlock free experience in Goliath.

Naturally, Billy’s Mustang has one of those old school California license plates, soot black with gold lettering. Nowadays, you can get those retro style black and gold plates on new cars from the dealer in California, but don’t kid yourself, Billy McBride’s is one of the rare actual original plates.

As he drives, there is a palpable sense of mission. We get the feeling that Billy McBride is on the clock now.

We cut to him meeting with his client across a table in a crowded room.

If his daughter seemed disgusted by his detached indifference towards the details of her situation, so does his client.

Her final quote is, “I’m finished with you. I’m gonna find someone who gives a shit.”

Patty Solis-Papagian introduces herself.

Enter Patty Solis-Papagian, whose ears prick up when she sees Billy Bob getting fired and chases him out to his car like he’s an ambulance so she can hand him her card and make her pitch. Patty’s an up-and-coming attorney with an office above a tanning salon out in the Valley. She’s got a nice husky voice, a vaguely sneering grin, and the mouth of a crusty old sailor.

She recognizes Billy Bob because he is, or was, a high-profile Los Angeles attorney whose name still graces the letterhead of one of the city’s most prestigious law firms, even as he now lives in a motel and eats cold French fries off discarded to-go trays.

By way of introduction, Patty starts to explain that she has this neighbor, who has a very strong case against Billy’s former law firm, but the case is outside her area of legal expertise and right in his, which means that there is an easy four-figure payoff for Billy if he is interested in taking the case.

But the only thing Billy is interested in at that moment is getting away from this chatterbox as quickly as possible and getting back to his barstool in Santa Monica. At last he reaches his car, only to find a parking ticket stuck to the windshield like a gleaming white glop of freshly dropped bird poop.

 

Finally triggered, Billy turns to Patty and says, “listen lady, I’m nervous enough already, and you’re a fuckin’ yapper. And I don’t do good with yappers.”

But Patty Solis-Papagian is nothing if not persistent. Her closing pitch is, “you really don’t want to try to fuck over your old firm?” He ignores her and starts up the car.

“Wow,” she says, drawing out the disappointment, as he throws the Mustang first into reverse and then into drive. “I would!” she chirps as he peels away.

It’s safe to say that this is not the last we will see of Patty Solis-Papagian.

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We cut from “don’t you want to fuck over your old law firm? I know I would” to our first glimpse of the law firm itself, Cooperman McBride. It is the epitome of the powerful, malevolent corporation in the 21st Century; it’s like the Death Star with an HR department.

The camera then introduces us to a couple of the ice queens who work inside this Tower of Power, and they are characters straight out of a Jackie Susanne novel. For one thing, they all smoke, which is not something you see much anymore except in period pieces of the Jackie Susanne era, like Mad Men. Of course, this is the 2000s, so they have to go smoke outside.

Cooperman McBride

The Corporate Ice Queens.

And because it’s the 2000s, the firm’s up and coming ruthless ingénue of a lawyer, a 20-something named Lucy Kittredge, whose naked ambition and youthfulness make the veteran lawyers feel threatened, has a special form of job security. On Mad Men or in a Jackie Susanne novel, Lucy’s condition wouldn’t be job security, it would be job insecurity, a terrible secret that if ever discovered would result in her summary dismissal from the firm and a “you’ll never work in this town again,” mark on her rap sheet.

You see, Lucy Kittredge is a stutterer, and in that wide-eyed, innocent-sounding millennial-speak that her generation uses, the young lawyer explains to her older rivals that, “this is an employment at will business, and you can fire me on a whim–with very few exceptions, stuttering being one of them.

“Since it’s been categorized as a psych disorder, I’d actually have recourse under the Federal Disabilities Act…”

Even though we see no outward signs of this ambitious young lawyer being a stutterer–yet, on paper she is, and that’s where it counts. Especially in a law firm.

Lucy is telling her superiors that, ironically, even though she has a disorder that could easily torpedo her ambition to be the firm’s next hotshot trial lawyer, this disorder also makes her fireproof, because in the 21st Century, canning someone for stuttering is the ultimate form of workplace discrimination.

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We hard cut once again from the gleaming steel and glass office tower that soars above the skies of LA right back down into the last beatnik street curb on the Westside, the one in front of Chez Jay, pockmarked with grit, stained with oil spots, and presumably streaked with dog shit. Billy is back in the bar now, laboring over a crossword puzzle, that came, one presumes, from another section of borrowed newspaper.

Working the crossword.

In the next scene, it’s nighttime in Santa Monica. Billy is out in front of the Chez Jay this time, in the parking lot, commiserating with an old friend, who happens to be, you guessed it, a dog–probably the one who left his droppings on the sidewalk that morning.

Billy McBride is busy devouring some scavenged pizza, and feeling very self-conscious about it. Scavengers don’t like to be watched while they eat. It makes them feel vulnerable. As he guards his pizza slice and chews at the same time, Billy senses that even his canine companion is judging him, and he feels the need to verbally explain to the dog that, hey, I haven’t eaten a thing all day and I’m pretty damned hungry.

Billy and friend.

Just then, a woman approaches, cautiously, and gives Billy McBride a furtive once over from a safe distance, comparing the man she’s looking at to a photo on her smartphone. She gives him another once over, this time establishing eye contact, throwing Billy a puzzled look as he’s crouched on the pavement, devouring the slice and facing off with the alpha dog.

Billy notices her noticing him and breezily says, by way of explanation, “Oh, they don’t let you bring your own food in there,” pointing over his shoulder at the Chez Jay.

She nods like she almost halfway believes him, and compares him again to the headshot of the hotshot lawyer on her phone screen. “Are you Billy McBride?” she finally asks.

It turns out that this is the neighbor that Patty Solis-Papagian was telling him about, the one with the ironclad case against his old law firm. So although Patty herself struck out earlier that day with Billy, she sent the neighbor to come out and hit him up in person.

They grab a booth inside the Chez Jay and the woman begins to explain the situation. Her brother died in a boating incident two years earlier, she says. And while this woman is painfully recounting the details of what she believes to be the murder of her beloved brother, and trying to screw up the courage to ask Billy McBride, Attorney at Law, if he would help with her case, McBride is still venting his disapproval at what a “motor mouth” that Patty Solis-Papagian is.

 

The woman appears to be drinking iced tea out of a tall soft drink glass, while Billy is knocking back some kind of brown liquor. She explains that although her brother’s death has been ruled a suicide, she really thinks it’s not, and lays out a strong case why.

She takes us further into the backstory of Billy McBride by way of saying that she googled him on the way over, and he used to be something of a big shot.
“Well, what did Google say became of me?”

“It says you drank too much.”

“You know, you look pretty good considering the drinking and the smoking.” Just as she says this, he crouches down in the booth and “discretely” lights up a cigarette, fumbling with his lighter just the way a Hollywood wino would.

The woman gets a worried look on her face, and says, “I don’t think you’re supposed to smoke in here.”

“You’re not,” he assures her.

Somehow, the act of openly sneaking a smoke in the bar seems to get her motor running.

Perhaps in today’s highly charged pc culture, lighting up in a bar is more of a power move than a wino move. So, one more thing we learn about Billy McBride in this scene is that even with leftover pizza, and who knows what else, on his breath, he can still be charming to women.

But in a slick callback that lets him know that she doesn’t completely buy his act, she marvels aloud that he’s “able to smoke in here, but not bring pizza in here.”

 

The rest of the evening plays out as you imagine it might, and certain strange occurrences that start happening right after this encounter let us and Billy know that something is indeed rotten in the County of Los Angeles.

 

With McBride now convinced that there is a legitimate case against his old firm, he begins assembling his dream team….or wack pack… to go into legal battle, starting with a high end call girl he knows named Brittany Gold, who has a serious drug problem, and excellent office management skills, and ending with–you guessed it– the irrepressible Patty Solis-Papagian herself.

In a surefire confirmation that Billy really is onto something, as soon as he starts putting his dream team together, he begins to notice that he’s being followed. This is often what convinced a reluctant Jim Rockford that there really was a case, too.

 

It’s hard to watch Goliath and not think of the Rockford Files, and I know I’m not the only one saying that. It’s not just the Billy McBride character, who is equal parts Jim Rockford, Bad Santa, and Coach Buttermaker from the Bad News Bears–a role immortalized by Walter Matthau in the 1976 original and reprised by Billy Bob Thornton himself 30 years later.

It’s also the aesthetics of the show, and the location, and the plotline.

Like Rockford, the curmudgeonly Billy McBride makes a big show of putting up a display of irritated refusal to the damsels in distress who track him down in his lair seeking his help on a case. And like Rockford, after the initial display of irritated refusal, he quickly puts himself on the case, risking life and limb so that justice may prevail at least in one small corner of LA.

Like Coach Buttermaker, Billy drives around town in a beat up convertible with a busted windshield, and puts together his team from the kind of outsiders who don’t get picked by other teams for one reason or another.

 

Rockford’s dream team/wack pack was Angel, Rocky, Dennis, and Beth Davenport. Billy’s version is his own daughter Denise, a bookish office assistant named Marva, the irrepressible Patty Solis-Papagian, and the drug-addicted hooker with a heart of gold, whose name actually is Brittany Gold.

And by the way, Brittany Gold reminds me of what the character of Rita Capkovic (played by Rita Moreno on the Rockford Files) could have been, and would have been, if the Rockford Files was rated for Mature Audiences, and Rita Moreno worked extremely blue.

 

Like the Rockford Files, Goliath shows a lot of L.A. driving, but not a lot of L.A. traffic, and like the Rockford Files, they have to drive out to far-flung places like Reseda for leads, and they have to pose as people they’re not in order to get people to talk, and they do get people to talk.

Like Billy McBride, Jim Rockford wasn’t shy about scrounging for his next meal, especially in the early episodes when they were still establishing Rockford’s character. He would eat two-thirds of a fast food burger on a stakeout, then carefully stash the last third in his suit pocket, and finish it later while surveiling someone on the pier. All on camera.

In Goliath, Billy McBride is often seen at the taco truck parked outside the Ocean Lodge motel, where he lives. This is where he has face time with the women in his life that doesn’t involve screaming and confrontation. The taco truck is a place of repose and for contemplative meditation on the day’s hard lessons.

The taco truck.

Rockford may not have had a taco truck parked outside his trailer at night, but he had Louie’s taco shack at the end of the parking lot for breakfast, and he was often found on impromptu date nights at odd hours with the women in his life at taco stands all around L.A.

 

The truck in front of Billy McBride’s extended stay motel is an interesting prop to use in this situation because it could have one of two connotations depending on how you see it: It’s either a catering truck or a food truck.

 

A catering truck is something that would pull up to blue-collar work sites at lunchtime and serve up hot food and cold drinks of not very good quality. It was basically a 7-11 on wheels, and it was commonly referred to as a roach coach.

 

But a “food truck” is something else entirely. A food truck is a mobile chef’s kitchen, with a Twitter following. In 2016 hipster Santa Monica, there’s surely a thriving food truck scene on the ground. But maybe, maybe, in the old blue-collar heart of Santa Monica where people still read newspapers and step in dog crap and day drink at dive bars, there might be an old school catering truck scene as well.

This taco truck might very well be a hipster Rorschach test. What do you see there, a food truck…or a catering truck?

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We should mention that Billy McBride’s nemesis in Goliath, his arch-foe for season one, is Donald Cooperman, his former partner at the legal firm that still bears both their names, and the one who took control of the firm after Billy’s demise.

Donald Cooperman is played by William Hurt like you’ve never seen him before, figuratively and literally. His face has been severely disfigured by burns, which have left him very sensitive to light and force him to remain always in the dark, behind shuttered blinds.

He looks more sleestak than human, especially from his bad side.

As head of an evil corporate law firm, it’s hard not to see him as the proverbial reptilian, a lizard person, in the jargon of today’s fringe culture.

Donald Cooperman controls every aspect of the corporation’s infrastructure from a panel at his desk; he watches everything that goes on there over a bank of surveillance cameras.

It isn’t just the camera monitors either. All the functions of the building–the fire alarms, the sprinklers, the elevators–are remotely controlled by Cooperman, and in one memorable scene, are put to diabolical use delivering unsuspecting prey straight to the predator.

After what Kathleen Turner did to him in Body Heat, it’s nice to see Bill Hurt get his chance to be the ruthless puppet master for once.

 

Unsurprisingly, classical music plays at all times inside the walls of the evil corporation. It’s hard to say if the music is being added in post, or if it’s being piped into the building Big Brother-style by DJ Reptilian himself, William Hurt, as you’ve never seen him before. I think it’s the latter. But either way, it’s exactly the kind of music Hannibal Lecter would pair with fava and chianti.

Hurt’s character in particular, Donald Cooperman, may actually be more sleestak than human, but pretty much all the featured male characters on the show are human train wrecks in one way or another. The women on Goliath Season One don’t necessarily have a lot of scruples, but they are savvy and they do have their heads screwed on straight, while the men are by and large pariahs, unable to function in normal society.

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Drone’s-eye view of Billy McBride’s Santa Monica.

There is a masterful use of what’s gotta be drone photography to get some unique landscape shots of Los Angeles that just weren’t possible in past decades of LA detective noir. Distances on the ground in LA normally seem so vast and unassailable, the traffic so oppressive, that journeying from one part of town to another can feel like the ordeal of going from one solar system to another.

But the drone shows you just how easy-peasy it really is to go from windowsill to windowsill of the steel and glass offices of Cooperman McBride, and the eight-figure mansions up in the hills, to the low, boxy suites of the Ocean Lodge motel, where the cinderblock is painted festive colors because it’s the public face of the building, and meant to be seen.

The drones also remind us that the surveillance isn’t just taking place inside Cooperman McBride headquarters, but that there might be some sort of 21st Century Gatsby-esque all-seeing, unblinking eyeball, watching over all that is happening in the LA basin down below.

 

Elevation seems to be synonymous with status on this show. Cooperman McBride operates out of a soaring office tower with floor to ceiling windows. Billy McBride operates at street level, out of storage units and dive bars. The rich lawyers all seem to live in different iterations of the Stahl House up in the hills, with eight-figure views of the city below. Billy McBride lives low to the ground in a budget motel, surrounded by asphalt parking lots.

 

Parking lots…Maybe this is more true in a driving city like LA, but America’s dirty little secret is that so many of the seminal moments in our lives in fact play out in the parking lot. In car cultures like LA, parking lots end up being the de facto third place–the name given to the public spaces outside of work and home where we spend our leisure time. Not cafes, not street fairs, not parks, but parking lots. Every building has a parking lot in LA, and everybody spends time in those parking lots, sitting in their car, with the windows rolled up. Or, if you’re Patty Solis-Papagian, you get into all out yelling matches right there on the asphalt. More on that shortly. American parking lots are where life happens while you’re busy breaking other plans.

 

A couple of Goliath’s more memorable scenes happen to take place in the parking lots of Chez Jay and the Ocean Lodge motel respectively. In the first case, soon after realizing that he is being followed by somebody, Billy McBride comes out to his car in the Chez Jay lot to find it covered in fish guts.

This may or may not be a callback to the series’ establishing scene, out there on the dark side of the ocean, with the predawn fishing boat explosion.

It’s interesting that with Billy’s top-down convertible, they chummed the outside of the car, but not the inside, which would have been much more problematic to clean. Was this meant to serve as a measured threat to Billy? A warning? Next time, the fish guts go on the upholstery?

He hoses the bloody guts off right there in the parking lot, in the space nearest the curb, using a garden hose with one of those high-pressure gun attachments, so that the frothy cocktail of fish guts and hose water spreads over and across the sidewalk and into the gutter of the street. The nozzle and the hose must surely belong to Chez Jay or the Ocean Lodge motel, and apparently they’re cool with letting Billy use it to wash the smelly fish guts off his car right there in their parking lot, what with him being such a great customer and all.

In any other section of Santa Monica, you would be breaking at least eight laws by hosing fish guts straight into the street, and there’d be an army of irate citizens calling the cops on you faster than if you crushed out a cigarette butt on the Santa Monica beach. But once again, normal laws don’t apply to Billy McBride, or to this one last block of hardboiled Bay City Santa Monica. More on that shortly. But first…

There’s a nicely choreographed scene later in the series where two yellow Penske rental trucks pull into the blacktop parking lot of the Ocean Lodge motel, clearly on a mission. Both trucks are stuffed to the gills with boxes of legal documents, and Billy McBride’s wack pack has to unload them all with hand trucks. The normally industrious Patty Solis-Papagian has already reached her melting point and become apoplectic with rage, screaming at Billy Bob, “What in the shit is this? You said it would all be on a thumb drive!”

Billy has to explain that the judge in the case had decided at the last minute that they needed to use the actual paperwork instead of the thumb drive after all. It’s a very dramatic and effective way of demonstrating the difference between what a gig of information looks like on a hard drive and what it looks like in printed form, with the implicit reminder that until not very long ago at all, there was no such thing as a thumb drive. Pallets full of documents were normal courtroom currency, and moving those pallets around was an industry in itself that put people’s kids through college.

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The Invention of L.A. Detective Noir

Raymond Chandler was a Midwestern boy with an alcoholic father and an Irish mother. He inherited his father’s alcoholism and restless spirit, and his mother’s appreciation for literature and self-improvement. After trying his hand at a dozen or two occupations, including journalism, without much luck, he took a correspondence course in bookkeeping and found employment as a bookkeeper for an oil company based in Los Angeles. Ten years later, he was a highly paid vice-president in the company, until his alcoholism, absenteeism, promiscuity with female employees, and threatened suicides caused him to lose that job.

This was during the height of the Great Depression. At age 44, with nothing else to turn to, Chandler taught himself to write pulp fiction by reading the Perry Mason stories of Erle Stanley Gardner. By the 1940s, his novels were being adapted into successful films, and he was one of the most sought after writers in Hollywood.

Chandler is often credited as the inventor of the hard-boiled detective novel, and of the hard-boiled detective. His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, was immortalized in film by Humphrey Bogart. But it was Marlowe’s talent with the pen that was perhaps most enduring. His terse dialogue, femme fatales, and flourishing descriptions of the otherwise uninspiring, ignored, or belittled Los Angeles cityscape gave the sprawling desert backwater the kind of recognition it craved but had yet to receive.

Even though the gritty black and white urban vignettes that Chandler created don’t seem to match up well with the Technicolor, beach towel LA that most of us are familiar with, his legacy endures in the form of the whimsical loner detective who eats off a hot plate, struggles to get the rent paid, but possesses an unassailable inner truth that can’t be bought off.

Jim Rockford was one such detective. Billy McBride is another.

 

Chandler always referred to Los Angeles as “Los Angeles” in his writing. But for some reason, he always called Santa Monica “Bay City.”

Nobody knows why.

Maybe he thought Santa Monica was too pretty a name for the kind of city he observed. As we discussed earlier, coastal LA was a much different place before the 1950s. Venice was a failed turn of the century attempt at a beach resort town modeled after Venice, Italy, with only the stagnant canals and some faux-Italian Renaissance storefronts as a reminder. The area was muggy in summer, prone to flooding in winter, and separated from the rest of LA by sand dunes, bean fields, and oil fields. It became favored by beatniks and artists, but few others.

Santa Monica had a pier and an amusement park along its beach, and together with Venice and its boardwalk, this area served as a sort of Coney Island or Atlantic City for Angelenos and servicemen on leave.

Even as it started to become the capital of show business, Los Angeles was always a very puritan city, with little in the way of organized crime or gambling or licentiousness. A notable exception was the gambling boats that were anchored a mile or two offshore in the Prohibition era, just outside the jurisdiction of the LAPD and the county sheriff.

The best known of these pleasure palaces was probably the SS Rex, a ship that accommodated over 2,000 guests, had a crew of 350, served formal dinners, and had an onboard orchestra. The ship was open 24 hours a day, and was never without a complement of at least 1,000 guests at any time. They were ferried out to the Rex by a shuttle boat that would pick them up and drop them off at the Santa Monica Pier.

Beyond the beaches and boardwalks, Santa Monica and its adjacent South Bay cities were mostly bean fields or oil fields, bought, sold, and traded by gamblers, hustlers, and speculators. This kind of illicit activity is perhaps what gave Chandler the idea of calling the virtuous sounding Santa Monica, “Bay City.”

In tribute, a couple of early Rockford Files episodes are named after, and take place in, a fictional “Bay City.”

 

Traces of this original anything-goes Bay City have dwindled down to all but nothing in the 2000s. Today, all the old dives and attractions have been replaced by multi-million dollar enterprises–luxury hotels, five star restaurants, the Rand Corporation, the Santa Monica Civic Center, and perhaps most appropriately of all, the Michael Milken’s Institute, established by the convicted bond swindler and poster child of 1980s greed, as a very visible attempt at rebranding.

And somehow, amidst all this, a real life dive bar and low rise motel continue to exist right next to each other, all these decades later, stubbornly resisting the developer’s wrecking ball.

In fact, it was the spectacle of these two relics standing together side by side, and imagining the kind of person who would live and work in one place, and day drink in the bar next door, that gave Season One showrunner David Kelley the idea for the show, or at least for the character of Billy McBride, in the first place.

That’s the same David Kelley who created LA Law, Boston Legal, Ally McBeal and a half dozen other hit shows, and who married Michelle Pfeiffer in her prime, after taking her on a first date to……Chez Jay in 1993.

 

Speaking of writers and their muses…If LA’s dirty little secret is that its third place is not the coffeehouse, not the public park, but the parking lot, …then there’s a fourth place as well, where people spend even more time inside their cars, alone in a crowd, and that place is traffic. And the thing about traffic is, it’s totally egalitarian, it spares nobody, not even TV writers and show runners with their own reserved parking spot in the studio lot.

So, when confined by the forced captivity of gridlock on an otherwise perfect LA day, one looks out into the still life for inspiration, and one finds a phalanx of sedans on the freeway, all in m arching formation as far as the eye can see; midsize, neutral colored sedans, captained by men and women of industry, power suited, game faced, battling the traffic.

But then, when you least expect it, into this sea of conformity, out of nowhere, bobbing and weaving like a child’s balloon, merges a dinged up Volkswagen Rabbit, primer red, with a slipping clutch and a Cyndi Lauper song blasting from the radio, driven by a woman who’s singing along to the song, popping gum, fixing her hair in the mirror, and rocking out all at the same time.

With her bleached bangs, her cheap sunglasses, and her neon lipstick, she’s a kind of Valley Girl. But she is a San Gabriel Valley girl, or wherever Glendale is.

She is of course, the character of Patty Solis-Papagian, who in addition to being a lawyer working out of an office above a tanning salon in a strip mall along the freeway, also sells a little real estate in the Valley on the side. And, probably has another side business getting up early on weekends and driving out to Hawthorne to bid on abandoned storage units. (Sold to the lady in cheap sunglasses.)

We could also picture her driving briefly for uber, and that not ending well.

 

People like her are the local heroes to cloistered LA screenwriters, stuck in traffic and in their careers. People like Patty, who merge into traffic with indomitable pluck, who seize the rush hour, bad clutch and all. Their joie de vivre in marked contrast to the jaded sons, daughters, and spouses of the Westside, with their tall genes, their therapists, their pilates, and their college connections, for whom just getting out of bed everyday becomes an existential crisis.

She is the everywoman, the muse, the working class shero, the day’s first shot of espresso, blasting away the writer’s block and getting the typewriter moving.

 

And perhaps this is the place to end our narrative. Out there on the open road, in the driver’s seat, eyes forward, mind set firmly on the destination, but the foot set firmly on the brake, going nowhere fast.

It took a long time to get there, and there were considerable speed bumps along the way, but Season 2 of Goliath finally got here. And perhaps we will be back here someday, to discuss it.

Feel free to subscribe to the TV Room to get this and all future episodes as soon as they become available. Thank you for listening.

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