Monday, May 27, 2013

The Goodwin Games

The Goodwin Games
Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe

The Goodwin Games is about three siblings who compete for their inheritance and get closer as a family. I will be covering this show weekly.

Spoilers Ahoy!

The Goodwin Games is a dead show walking. It has a seven-episode order, a tough premise to sell, little support from the network, and it is airing in the summer. There's a small chance that the series could have overcome all but the last one. There's no way that the Goodwin Games is going to get a second season which is pretty disappointing. The rest of the six episodes might suck or they might be good but the pilot promises a show with a lot of promise. The cast is pretty good and the chemistry between them already feels pretty believable. The pilot had some problems with exposition and is filled with logical holes but it was consistently entertaining. The jokes might not have always landed but there were many times where it made me laugh. It would be interesting to see this series if the premise faded to the background. That's largely where the show's biggest obstacle is. The idea behind three siblings competing for an inheritance is a good idea for a feature film or a single television episode but it doesn't really function well as a concept for a series. I'm not entirely sure how the games are going to play in every episode but the series could find itself anchored down by having to fit them into the narrative. It's logical that the games would have to be forced into the background, only becoming relevant on key episodes. It can only do this for so long because of the title of the show and because we live in an era where people expect resolutions. A major issue with the premise is longevity. How long can the games reasonably last before the audience wants to find out who the winner is? How I Met Your Mother, from the same creators of this show, has always been plagued by the issue of viewers getting frustrated that they hadn't met the titular mother after eight seasons. The difference between How I Met Your Mother? The tough-to-sell premise was easily conveyed in the title, it had support from the network, it had a full first season but it actually premiered within the season. It launched in the fall and it has managed to attract a big enough audience to last nine seasons. The Goodwin Games will find itself unable to find the same success. The tough premise isn't what killed the Goodwin Games: that would be the summer, the network, and it lacks the opportunity to improve itself.

The plot of the pilot is simple. The patriarch of the Goodwin family dies and he plans to leave his twenty-three million fortune to whichever sibling is able to win a competition. The characters agree because of the incentive. They play a board game where all of the cards have been replaced to convey personal information before it breaks down. There was a fourth player in the pilot who collects a million dollars for participating, even though he didn't win. It seems like the inheritance is lost but one of the siblings quickly figures out there's more to the competition. The three agree to stick around and complete it but it's not just about the money anymore. It's because they had drifted apart and these games forced them to be together. The money might be the reason behind the games but the series shifted the real stakes to family. It's a smart move because it provides an additional incentive for the characters to stick around and because it helps to provide a heart for the series. The problem is all of the questions the pilot brings up. The father has a twenty-three million fortune with a mysterious origin and the fourth player's presence is never explained. The reaction of the characters to his presence was always comedic gold but it feels a bit cheated for the audience to never know the man's relationship to the father. There's no clue that this man is going to appear again which just makes the pilot partly frustrating. That's ultimately the problem with the pilot for the Goodwin Games: it sets up the series but I have no idea what's actually going to happen in it. How is a typical episode going to work? It's a question that ultimately might answer why the network doesn't believe in this show. In failing to answer this question in the beginning, it's possible that the rest of the Goodwin Games episodes don't work. Or maybe I'm off-base and they do figure it out because the producers had a formula I just don't see yet.

The three main characters of the Goodwin Games are the siblings. The oldest is Henry. He's the straight man whose a little bit too seriously. His character arc is that he basically needs to loosen up. Scott Foley plays the role well but he can't help save this character from being two-dimensional. The youngest brother is Jimmy. He's the odd ex-convict who likes to say non-sequitor things. He actually reminds me of Morgan from The Mindy Project but there's a huge difference. Jimmy actually works well because his weirdness makes sense and because T.J. Miller is able to sell it well. The final sibling is the sister, Chloe. She's the smart, beautiful actress who is the most competitive member of the family. She's the only kid who can decipher morse code and who actually seemed to embrace her father's games when they were little. Becki Newton does a good job with the role as she's basically the only one who seems to have any sign of depth. It's true that the Goodwin Games has two-dimensional protagonists. This is partly because the pilot was so busy setting up the premise that it left little room for character development. Don't get me wrong as there was some: Henry has a love interest and Jimmy has an adorable little daughter. It's just that the pilot was so heavy in the exposition that it didn't have as much time to dedicate to characters as it should have. The characters might be two-dimensional but they were funny and they felt like they were real siblings. It helps that they have talented actors in these roles. There's no doubt that the series will be able to develop them as it goes along so that they become more human.

The Goodwin Games doesn't have a lot of side characters. There is Lucinda Hobbes but she's barely developed. She's a minister who used to date Henry. The show is clearly planning on pursuing her as his love interest. This feels more forced than anything since Lucinda doesn't even have a real personality. She's just there because this show needed to give it's straight man a love interest. The other main character is April Cho. She's the lawyer who helps moderate the games. She used to be best friends with Chloe before middle school hormones split them apart. Melissa Tang basically has to act tough and official so her character is as two-dimensional as the protagonists. The only other character of note is the young daughter, Piper. She's simply adorable and she can help provide the tool for Jimmy to change himself. The only note I really had is that it's odd that the pilot didn't show her mother. The absence was really felt. Overall, the side characters are okay but they're nothing impressive. The only one who really stands on her own to the rest of the cast is Piper. The rest of the characters fade into the background.

The pilot for the Goodwin Games is funny. It is entertaining. It has a nice, sweet heart that helps ground the high-concept premise. The cast is simply stellar. It does have problems. The premise threatens to overwhelm the show or test the patience of the audience. The characters are two-dimensional at this point. The pilot doesn't really set up a formula nor does it give any sign of how future episodes will work. It has little time to figure itself out with a short episode order. These problems could have all been potentially resolved if it had a chance to survive. It doesn't: the series is premiering in the summer. It is a dead show walking. It is a show that deserves a chance at life.

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