The Goodwin Games
Episode 3: Small Town
By: Carlos Uribe
The Goodwin Games is about three siblings who compete for their inheritance and get closer as a family.
The premise of the Goodwin Games doesn't really play into this episode. We don't get to see April, there is no challenge to drive the plot, and the inheritance is only occasionally mentioned. If the Goodwin Games had a shot at a second season then this would be the first example that the series doesn't need the premise to drive every episode. It wouldn't be a very good example because Small Town is a mixed episode. It's very funny and entertaining but the narrative lacked the focus that the inheritance game provide. There is supposed to be this big emotional climax at the end where the family is brought together but it doesn't really work because the writers try to put too many internal conflicts into play without really being able to tie them together. The writers should have picked just one theme and built the episode around that. It's possible that if they had done this then Small Town could have proved that the Goodwin Games could survive without it's premise on a weekly basis. At the moment, the show would remain entertaining but it would lack the focus to make any of the emotional moments land. The ending in Small Town is supposed to be heart-warming but it easily veers into cheesy because it lacked focus. The episode is funny but none of the emotional beats land because their all over the place. The viewer should be entertained by the Goodwin Games but they won't find themselves feeling anything. It will just come across as a shallow way to spend your evening rather than a must-watch comedy. Small Town would not have made for a good example if the series was coming back for a second season that it didn't need the premise to drive the episode. This is simply because without the premise to provide the narrative drive, the episode was too scattered for the plot to work.
The main conflict has to be between Jimmy and Chloe. She's worried when she learns that he has a secret project because she's afraid it's illegal. She's worried that he'll go to jail so she tries her best to intervene. This involves giving him lectures and trying to set him on the right path. She is alone in her fight as Henry is too busy working until she practically forces him to stay home and help her deal with Jimmy. He's not much help. It's an effective conflict but what is it about? That's where the show falters. It's a good idea to have the relationship between Jimmy and Chloe be the center but it never actually allows this. It makes the mistake of giving Chloe a secondary conflict where her apartment in Los Angeles is at stake and a tertiary one where she's homesick. When she should be worrying about her brother, she's too busy having to deal with a problem I could care less about. Who cares if her roommates rent out her room while she's in New Hampshire? She might have lost her stuff but it's not like we even got a glimpse of it. It's hard to care about her material possessions that are so far away or her living conditions since she's currently staying in Gramby. As for Jimmy? The show makes the right choice by having him be building a trainset that he had started with his father. There's even a part where he promises to build one with his daughter and to actually finish it rather than give up four days. It plays into Jimmy's father issues. The problem is that this issue is largely in the background rather than having any importance. We spend more time with Chloe's stuff in Los Angeles than with Jimmy's father issues. Which is frustrating since his father issues might indicate why he's resorted to crime throughout his life. The real kicker is that we learn nothing on why Chloe is so worried about Jimmy when she's there with him but can ignore him when she's away. There is nothing in their relationship that is explored beyond the two being siblings.
The sub-plot of the episode is where Henry avoids his family and home town by going to work. He pretends that he doesn't have a choice in the matter. He refers to his boss as a hard ass and tries to prove that by telling a story about how she worked a triple right after having a child. It's not his fault he can't spend any time at Granby because he has to work. When he's at home, he drinks scotch to try to avoid talking to his family. It turns out that there's a very good reason for this: he's trying to avoid having to deal with his father's death. He doesn't want to accept that it's true or confront his feelings. He's in denial. He thinks working and drinking will allow him to delay having to deal with this for a long time. These are great emotions but they are forgotten as soon as the show introduces them. What was the point of that if they weren't going to actually tie it in when Jimmy was showing them the train station? There's a moment when the writers teased this by having Jimmy refer to the grave of their dad but it instantly undercuts this by moving on to Elijah. There is simply no attempt to connect the grief of the loss of their father between the two sons or with Chloe. It all remains relatively separate, as if actually covering this material would be too sad for the show or something. It might be that the writing isn't actually there. Overall, Henry's internal struggle might have been strong but it's largely in the background.
Do I recommend watching Small Town? If you have half-an-hour to kill and there's nothing immediate on your watch list then this isn't a bad way to spend it. Small Town is funny as the writers are getting a good handle on how to write for the cast. It's entertaining as the Goodwin family proves they are fun to be around. It is too scattered to make appointment television. It's also the second of a seven-episode season that feels like a bit of a waste. If this was having a second season, then I would all be for an episode that tried to prove that the Goodwin Games could create episodes outside of the premise. This would prove that the show has longevity. When the series isn't having a shot at a second season, it feels like it's wasting time making an example rather than answering the urgent questions-such as who the heck is Elijah? Small Town is a good episode but it's not something you have to rush to see and one that wastes an episode from the short order on what is now a pipe dream. For any who have hope: repeats of Raising Hope (a bubble FOX comedy) are doing better than the originals of this show. It be dead and it's a pity because it is funny.