Summer 2013 Review: The Goodwin Games

31 May

Goodwin Games The Goodwin Games, which is being released at a time of year which virtually ensures the show will be cancelled shortly, is a Fox series from How I Met Your Mother creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays.  How I Met Your Mother relies on a storytelling gimmick, but a gimmick that, while dictating the way the story is told, doesn’t necessarily materially affect every episode.  The Goodwin Games’s gimmick is far more high concept and integral to the show.  The Goodwin patriarch, Benjamin (played by Beau Bridges) whose death leads to the events of the show, was an eccentric single parent who alienated his children over time through his strange parenting style.  He attempts to make up for his failings in life after his death through an extensive series of video tapes which catalog what amounts to a kind of hyper-complicated scavenger hunt for his fortune, which unbeknownst to his kids, is over $20 million.

The kids are three.  First, Scott Foley plays go-getter Henry who is a very busy surgeon who makes time to give back to the community and has a fiancé.  He’s brash, arrogant, patronizing and kind of a dick, but very successful, and his biggest crime seems to have been leaving a long-term girlfriend that his siblings loved from his hometown.  Middle child Chloe is a popular girl in high school turned wanna-be actress played by Becki Newton who seems to be relatively care free and possibly their father’s favorite, as her knowledge of Morse code wins her prizes from him in the past and present.  TJ Miller plays the youngest, idiot screw up Jimmy, who means well but has been in and out of jail due to a compulsion for thievery.  He has a daughter whom he loves, and who loves him, and who he sneaks up into her to see behind her mom’s back.  They’re all called back to their quaint New Hampshire hometown for the funeral, and they are invited for a reading of their dad’s will, which is a video tape.  This video tape provides the rules for the titular games; the three of them, and a random dude, will compete in a game of Trivial Pursuit for his millions.  Unfortunately, this family has a reputation for not being able to finish a game of Trivial Pursuit without breaking out into a game-ending fight, and this ensues doubly when they discover the game is a special edition composed of questions about themselves.  When everyone except Chloe forfeits, the proper video of their dad says they’ve all lost, but after they decide to finish the game out for dad at the local watering hole, someone at the bar passes them a card that lets them know the game is not just over (that would have been a really short series otherwise).  Apparently half the people in this town are in on The Goodwin Games.  The three kids leave the pilot episode reinvigorated, ready to play their dad’s game, and find out the first requirement is that they all move home.

It’s hard to tell if this was simply in my head the whole time because I knew who the creators were, but similarities with How I Met Your Mother were abound.  The humor was wacky, the dialogue was crisp, and it was all told with an undercurrent of sentimentality which has always been my primary hang up with How I Met Your Mother (in the early seasons, when the show was funny).  I don’t think the pilot for The Goodwin Games was particularly funny, but I could imagine how it could be, and some lines hit, or at least make me slightly smile.  It will never exactly be my cup of tea, but there’s a level of craftsmanship there that I can recognize when How I Met Your Mother is working, and I can imagine The Goodwin Games having the same.  It’s not even there yet, but as I’ve said often, a lot of watching a comedy pilot is not judging what it is, since very few comedy pilots are very funny, but trying to judge what it has the potential to be.  That said, while I think this could be very decent, I think there’s also very low probability it could ever be great, and unlikely very good, though I suppose decent is still a pretty good get for a comedy these days.

Will I watch it again? No.  It’s probably going to be cancelled because of when it’s airing, but even beyond that, as much as I hate to hold old shows by the creators against a new one, it’s hard not to.  I have a like-hate relationship with How I Met Your Mother that’s veered towards hate over the years, and since I’m long done with that show, unless Goodwin Games really knocked it out of the park, it would have been pretty hard to get me on board.  It wasn’t bad, it was kind of cute, but my standard was higher for this one.

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