August 20, 2012




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THE GOODWIN GAMES:  Midseason TBD on FOX – Worth A Look

Disclaimer: Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall. Pilots are often reedited and re-scored, and in some cases even recast or reshot. These critiques shouldn’t be taken as full pilot reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.


Carter Bays and Craig Thomas are fond of gimmicks.  Their How I Met Your Mother is entering its 8th season of finding clever ways to never quite tell the story its title promises, and their new comedy (co-created with Chris Harris, an Executive Producer on HIMYM) THE GOODWIN GAMES, which will air on FOX in midseason, is a veritable attic full of narrative tricks.

It should be noted that Goodwin has been undergoing an unusual amount of tinkering since it was picked up to series in May.  Although Scott Foley and Becki Newton remain the stars, two important members of the supporting cast has been replaced, which means much of the pilot will be reshot.  That may mean some rewriting as well, although as the recent recasting at Animal Kingdom demonstrated, it also may not.  In any case, this report should be taken as more preliminary than most.

The Games of the title kick off with the death of Benjamin Goodwin (Beau Bridges), an eccentric college professor who was, unbeknownst to his three dysfunctional children, a multi-millionaire.  Those three gather for his funeral:  Henry (Foley), an obnoxious type-A surgeon who dresses like a preppy and lives a life seemingly polished to perfection; Chloe (Newton), probably the most brilliant of the Goodwin children, who developed an ulcer from the pressure she and her father put on her, then squandered her promise to become a cocktail waitress; and Jimmy (recast for the series), a dim bulb thief who’s constantly in or just exiting jail for small-time crimes.  Like many an eccentric millionaire in many a comedy, Benjamin has left his last will and testament as a series of video messages to his children.  In the pilot, he instructs them that for one of them to win his fortune, they all have to play a version of Trivial Pursuit that’s been personalized to feature questions about their own childhood–and it’s clear that this is just the first round of contests that they’ll have to engage in before he frees up the inheritance (probably around the time we find out how Ted met his children’s mother).  And one more thing:  a mysterious 4th contestant named Elijah (Jerrod Carmichael), whose identity is entirely unexplained, will also take part in the Games and could himself win the prize.

It doesn’t take a child prodigy to figure out that Dad’s real goal in setting up the Games was to bring the estranged siblings back together and help them change their lives.  By the end of the pilot, we know that Henry, before he became a study in preppy perfection, romanced and deserted local minister Lucinda (also being recast), while Chloe and Jimmy clearly have work to do.  Every round of the Games will presumably help at least one of them realize a truth about him or herself.

Despite some lapses, generally How I Met Your Mother has sustained itself beautifully for far longer than one might have thought possible.  But Goodwin has some comparative disadvantages as a concept, most notably the fact that the HIMYM characters were all friends who genuinely liked each other’s company, a bond that held the episodes together when the central storyline was dropped or heading down one of its many blind alleys.  The Goodwin characters are neither particularly likable nor fond of each other, and that underlying tone of hostility and competition is less engaging at the outset, even though the idea is clearly to have the siblings become more bearable as the show goes on.

Goodwin Games may turn out to be a match that isn’t worth following, but it has a very original slant on the dysfunctional family sitcom, and in Foley and Newton, two extremely bright and personable TV stars.  Based on that and its creators’s auspices, it’s certainly earned a bit of time to see if it can find its way to a winning supporting cast and tone.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."