The Goodwin Games
Episode 5: The Birds of Granby
By: Carlos Uribe
The Goodwin Games is about three siblings who compete for their inheritance and get closer as a family.
The titular games come into play this week as the characters are given the task of appreciating the birds of Granby. It's a bit convoluted but this is their father's way of getting Jimmy to try to get back in the life of his daughter on a more official and permanent basis. All three of the Goodwins basically are split up in an attempt to achieve this goal. The series allows them to do this by having three different characters that they have to truly convince in order to allow Jimmy to be in his daughter's life. There is Piper, herself, as well as her mother. The final character they have to convince is the man that Piper's mom is going to marry. Jimmy is given the task of proving he's reformed himself to Piper's mom, Chloe tries to be the cool aunt to Piper, while Henry tries to convince the fiance to allow Jimmy into their family. These different comedic pairings work well because the show is able to exploit how their similar and different from the characters their tasked to sweet-talk. Chloe has to deal with a young daughter that is just as smart as she was at her age. The two of them quickly get competitive before their able to connect. Henry meets what he thinks is a licensed medical official but learns that the fiance is the herbal remedy kind of doctor. As for Jimmy, he has the toughest choice of all as he has to talk to someone whose already put her life together. She might have gone crazy for him before Piper was born but now she's reformed from her old party days. She's a responsible adult, the type of person that Jimmy is trying to become. The series is not only able to use these pairings for comedy but there's also a lot of sentiment in this episode. It gets a little cheesy, especially towards the end, but it is at least trying to have a big heart about the concept of family. The Goodwin Games is basically a show about reuniting three siblings through the death of their patriarch. It uses the games as the way to do this but it's forcing itself a bit with the big emotional moments. They need to come naturally rather than being so obvious for what they are. You get the feeling you're supposed to feel all happy and warm inside which means you feel more manipulated than anything. It needs to allow the moments to not only come organically but it also needs to allow moments of tragedy in. Jimmy feeling regret about not introducing Piper to his father is one we can feel until we learn that Piper did meet him. It then becomes more difficult to relate to Jimmy.
I think the strongest pairing was between Henry and the herbal doctor. At first, Henry is being himself as he tries to brag about how great of a success he's been. He went to Harvard, is at the top of his field, and he's essential in saving lives. The only flaw in his life is that he's too busy and he has to deal with his patients. As he puts it, why should he spend the time getting to know someone whose not going to be there in ten years? It's a terrible world-view but it's one he's developed largely due to his self-centered personality. He's given the vision of a different life when he meets Piper's future step-dad. This new man claims to be a doctor who is able to afford time for his family because he has his own practice. He's planning his wedding with his fiance, he's raising a daughter that isn't his own, while having a successful career. He offers Henry a place at the practice and Henry accepts. He's hesitant when he's told about the low pay, the non-existent opportunity for recognition, and that he'll have to actually deal with his patients. He's still willing to accept because he wants some time to dedicate to his personal life rather than having to constantly run to the hospital and having no time to communicate with his fiance. He's attracted to this life until he finds out that Piper's step-dad is not an MD but an ND. Henry suddenly backs out as he's not willing to respect herbal remedies as a legitimate medicine. It's a strong contrast for the show to make between the two professions. One has the time for family (albeit one that he didn't create on his own) and work (albeit it's not real medicine) but the other at least got the proper degree. The two characters were so similar and they were able to connect for this reason. It isn't until Henry realized how different they were that they completely drifted apart. Which was a pretty good way to develop Henry's part of the narrative: offer him a different lifestyle before making him realize why he can't live it. When he's in, he's all-in. He can't simply “half-ass” it. So he dedicates all of his time to his career.
The second strongest pairing was between Chloe and Piper. Henry and the step-dad worked well because they were two different versions of who they could be. Chloe and Piper work well because Piper is basically a young version of Chloe. The two are so similar with the only difference being the generational gap between them. The two get embroiled in a chess match where Chloe can't help but lose to Piper as she kept making the same mistakes. It ends when Chloe is able to offer Piper some advice. It's basically a moment where Chloe is literally able to talk to her younger self in order to give her some great advice. It's a bit forced as the show actually edits in Chloe and her younger self talking that forces it a bit. We get it, Chloe is talking to her younger self. We don't need to have it beaten down in our brains. Anyways, Chloe's advice is for Piper to do something that she's bad at without quitting. This way Piper can learn how to process failure so that when it comes, she doesn't fold to the pressures of real life because she was so used to life being easy. It's surprisingly solid advice but it does go wary when Chloe tries to teach Piper how to dance. Piper accidentally gets hurt and Aunt Chloe goes from being the cool one to the irresponsible, child endangering one. She was at least trying to do the right thing. It was a funny plot but I didn't need to be reminded of the metaphor the series was trying to set up. I got what it was going for and it was slightly insulting that the writers kept bringing up how Piper is a younger version of Chloe.
The weakest pairing was actually between Jimmy and Piper's mom and why I think the episode ultimately felt a little bit manipulative. Jimmy is supposed to be trying to prove that he's turning his life around but he doesn't actually get to do this. His siblings have to do a lot of the work and Jimmy doesn't actually do anything other than talk to Piper's mom. He's too inactive in a story that should have revolved around him. It doesn't help that Piper's mom is too bland. Piper works because she's a mini-Chloe. The fiance works because of how he's similar to Henry and yet so different. Piper's mom only kind-of works because she's the kind of person that pulled her life together after she got a kid. At the same time, there was nothing more to her. Meaning that she might have been crazy one day but she didn't really change much because that would have required for an actual personality to exist. T.J. Miller does what he can and there's some good moments but it ultimately doesn't work because Piper's mom isn't really a character but only an empty plot obstacle. It's hard for a comedic or dramatic pairing to work when only one half of it has a semblance of a personality. Ultimately, what should have been the actual heart of the episode didn't completely work out because Piper's mom didn't actually become a character.
The Birds of Granby is a funny episode of the Goodwin Games. I felt myself laughing but it didn't completely work. I liked the plot structure and the character pairings it did between Henry-the fiance and Piper-Chloe. It tried desperately to have a heart but it didn't have one because Piper's mom felt like an empty character. I'll give it points that it's trying to be sweet and sentimental but it was a complete miss this week. Oh, well, at least the episode was still entertaining even as we get closer and closer to the end. Only two episodes to go.