In the US: Mondays, 8.30/7.30c, Fox. Starts tonight
And so it begins – the summer burn-off of all those shows the US networks thought they might need as mid-season replacements but didn’t. We’ve Save Me on NBC this week as well, but on Fox, we’ve starting with The Goodwin Games, a sitcom from the makers of How I Met Your Mother that has some of that show’s charm, but lacks its sparkle or any real hook.
The idea here is that Beau Bridges, patriarch of the Goodwin family and bad father, comes into a sizeable fortune – more than $20 million. He also knows he’s going to die, so before his death, he creates a series of games and videos through which he can get his three estranged children (Scott Foley, Becki Newton, TJ Miller) to come together again and parent them from beyond the grave, the lure of all that money being what keeps them playing his games.
And while it’s a moderately intriguing idea – I’d be happy to see The Game as a TV series or a US version of The One Game – the show has only a few innovations in an otherwise ordinary sitcom. And it also has TJ Miller. Sigh.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And when that will’s worth more than 20 million dollars, you can bet someone’s going to find a way to get the cash. From the executive producers of “How I Met Your Mother,” THE GOODWIN GAMES is a single-camera comedy that tells the story of three grown siblings who return home after their father’s death, and unexpectedly find themselves poised to inherit a vast fortune – if they adhere to their late father’s wishes.
If any of the Goodwin kids feels like they deserve the money, then it’s HENRY (Scott Foley), the eldest child and an overachieving surgeon. He sees himself as a role model for his less successful siblings – and reminds them every chance he gets. But returning home will force Henry to question the choices he’s made in life, especially as he reconnects with his first love and true soulmate, LUCINDA (Kat Foster).
Is it any good?
There’s considerably more promise in the idea than in its execution. In principle, it could have been quite a fun, almost live-action role playing game situation, with the assembled siblings going around trying to solve clues. In practice, it’s them playing a version of Trivial Pursuits where they are the answers (which was a Friends episode and subsequent real-life board game as well).
Three of the characters at least are quite interesting. Scott Foley is the high-achieving surgeon who is busy, practically every moment of his day has to be planned out through a personal assistant. But he’s had a drink problem since an early age and is marrying someone other than the woman he should have married (Kat Foster from Royal Pains and ‘Til Death), who intriguingly is now a vicar.
Becki Newton, on the other hand, is now an actress, but who was something of a maths whizz at school. However, she decided she wanted to be popular instead and tried to become a mean girl, with mixed success. Which is different. Presumably the aim of the show is to demonstrate that being smart is better than being popular (or perhaps ‘to thine own self be true’), which is a good message to have.
That leaves us with the unfortunate fourth, but really fifth, wheel TJ Miller (Carpoolers). Now I have no idea how bad Jake Lacy was in the pilot before he was replaced by Miller, but he seemed fine in Better With You, so I find it hard to believe he was any worse than Miller. Miller isn’t really what you’d call an actor. He’s more a ‘mugger’. He knows he’s in a comedy, so he tries ever so hard to be funny, mugging along at every opportunity, which then ensures he’s not. His character is a perpetual jailbird, but he doesn’t really seem to bear any of the scars – emotional or physical – that you’d expect from the experience. Jailbird, here, seems just to mean a cross between kleptomaniac and stupid. And stupid to Miller means slack-jawed. Literally.
Presumably, the show’s aim is that in the following episodes, we’ll see the adults come to terms with their flaws with the help of their dead dad and maybe fix them. We’ll also see the mystery of how dead dad became a multi-millionaire explored, even if it’s not solved. I imagine that could be moderately interesting, too, given not only the pedigree of the show’s creators but also the twists the show has already put into the first game (an extra player). It also reminded me rather a lot of 80s movie Grand Larceny, in which Marilu Henner is given video-based guidance in how to become a cat burglar from dead dad Louis Jourdan, so maybe it’ll turn out this is a homage and he was an even worse dad than previously suspected.
But engaging though at least two of the main characters are, it doesn’t really have any oomph and Miller destroys any attempts at subtlety the show might have aimed for. The idea that high-achiever Foley or working actress Newton could even afford the time off necessary to continue playing the games imagined by the father is unlikely to say the least and destroys any attempts whatsoever the show might have made at plausibility. And there just aren’t enough funny lines for this to be called a comedy. There’s a few – just not enough.
At just seven episodes, it’s clear the show isn’t coming back after this season and that Fox has no real hopes for it. It has its moments, its heart is in the right place, but it’s probably not funny enough to merit your attention and it’s doomed anyway.