May 21, 2013



THE GOODWIN GAMES:  Monday 8:30PM on FOX – If Nothing Else Is On…

Note:  we reviewed the original pilot for this show back in August.  Since then, however, it underwent fairly significant recasting and reshooting, so it seemed fair to give the new version another look.

The term “busted pilot” is fairly well known, but this summer will bring us two busted series:  FOX’s THE GOODWIN GAMES and NBC’s Save Me, both of which were picked up and produced to be aired during the regular TV season, but which were discarded by their respective networks and shoved into the minimum-security prison of summer TV.

Of the two, the much more surprising was Goodwin Games, which had credentials as strong as anything this season.  It was the first show written and produced by the team of Craig Thomas and Carter Bays since they hit the mother lode with How I Met Your Mother (this time working with HIMYM colleague Chris Harris), and it starred Scott Foley and Becki Newton, either one of whom would be considered strong enough to carry a network series on their own.  It’s clear that FOX had its doubts about the show even after ordering it to series, considering the changes that followed, and despite those alterations, the network was never comfortable with putting it on the air–even when Ben & Kate was dying, and The Mindy Project barely registered a pulse.

So how bad is it?  Not nearly as much as you’d think.  The basic concept is gimmicky, but in a not-unpleasing way.  The Goodwins’ father Benjamin (Beau Bridges) has died, and left behind a multitude of VHS tapes containing the various eccentric terms of his last will and testament.  Although his children knew him as an underpaid teacher, somehow Benjamin amassed a fortune of $23M.  He was also an enthusiastic proponent of games and puzzles.  Thus he leaves instructions for his estranged children to compete for their inheritance through a series of challenges–although of course his real aim to to make them better people and bring them together again as a family. (The initial game is a personalized version of Trivial Pursuit where all the questions refer to their own childhoods.)   Henry (Foley) is an overachieving, buttoned-up surgeon who left behind his true love Lucinda (Kat Foster, one of the recast regulars)–now a minister–when he left town; Chloe (Newton) was a whiz kid as a child, but now she’s an out-of-luck aspiring actress (if memory serves, in the original pilot she worked in a bar); Jimmy (T.J. Miller, also recast) is an inveterate petty ex-con.  (The major conceptual change from the original pilot was that a 4th competitor, an African-American man named Elijah whose connection to the family was a mystery, is here paid off and apparently done with the game in the pilot.  This change makes sense–including him as a series regular was probably one gimmick too many, and it watered down the connection of the games with the Goodwin siblings.)

We’ll almost certainly never know if this premise would have worked in the long term, and even in the pilot, there’s a dichotomy between the fact that Benjamin apparently ruined his kids’ childhood by forcing them to compete against each other in his games, and now he’s going to manipulate them into playing games again.  There aren’t a ton of laughs in the pilot, although Miller is funny as the least intellectual of the siblings.  But everyone in the show is good company, and if the series moved forward by deepening the characters as they continued the games, there could have been something here.  At the very least, it seems like The Goodwin Games will be an above-average addition to the lackluster summer line-up of the broadcast networks.

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."