July 1, 2013



THE GOODWIN GAMES probably should have been a movie.  Its extremely high-concept premise–three estranged siblings come back to their hometown after their father’s death, forced to solve a series of posthumous games and puzzles in order to get his multi-million dollar inheritance, and meanwhile bond together as a family and become better human beings–could have been neatly dealt with in 2 hours.  One can easily imagine how the stakes of each game could have become increasingly higher as the trio approached their prize, with the kind of scale a movie budget allows, and some kind of ending where they’d have to bail each other out and give up their claim to the money in order to finally deserve it, etc.  It might not have been anything great, but it would have had a trajectory and a destination.  Turning the idea into something that might potentially have had to last for years drained it of its fun.

Another problem with the concept as a TV show was that since the games couldn’t end, the very imperfect lead characters were essentially frozen as a pompous, insecure jerk (Scott Foley’s Henry), a dithering, deluded failure (Becki Newton’s Chloe) and a nincompoop ex-con (T.J. Miller’s Jimmy), because if they succeeded in changing, the show would have had no more purpose.  In a contained period of time, those characters could have been funny as they moved toward their redemption, but as company each week, they were unappealing.

Of course, series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas had successfully stretched the concept of How I Met Your Mother out for what will be 9 hit seasons, so you can understand why FOX thought they (with co-creator Chris Harris this time) might be able to pull a similar rabbit out of their hat this time.  And The Goodwin Games attracted Newton and Foley as two of its stars, a pair any show would be happy to feature.  But the show never came to life, and after a run that was reduced and pushed to summer, it expired tonight.

The final episode, written by Producer Rachel Axler and directed by Neil Patrick Harris, didn’t suggest that the show was cut down in its prime.  All through its run, the importance of the games themselves (passed on via VHS tapes–another bit of strenuous contrivance–recorded by dad Beau Bridges) wavered, sometimes the focus of an episode and sometimes barely present.  (Other gimmicks came and went too, like the mysterious fourth contestant who was given a car in the pilot and showed up thereafter from time to time.)  In this one, each member of the trio was given a riddle to solve, the solution of which turned out to be meaningless–supposedly a reminder of how much fun it had been to play games as children that were just tricks played by their father.  (Mostly, like almost all of the games, it served to imply that Pop Goodwin had been an amiable borderline sadist who should have been spent some time with Child Services.)   Jimmy had started a romance with family lawyer April (Melissa Tang), Chloe had started one with a childhood nerd pal turned hunk, and both were determined to keep their love lives secret from Henry, for no good reason.  By the end, everyone knew everything, Henry had inched closer to the reunion with his own teen love, now-pastor Lucinda (Kat Foster), that the show had been pushing toward since its pilot, and everyone had had the required epiphany about family values.

The Goodwin Games didn’t succeed in finding a tone that worked, and from the mess of the aired episodes, it seemed to struggle with network interference, production second-guessing or both.  It does get some points, though, for at least trying an original spin on the family sitcom template, and every episode had a bright moment or two.  (In the finale, all the actors beautifully played a Looney Tunes animation-type bit where Chloe and Jimmy sneaked out of the house with their respective lovers, stealing Henry’s toast as they left, while he tried to figure out what was going on.)  The networks have aired a lot worse–and from the looks of some of next fall’s pilots, that game isn’t about to change.


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."