PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Television

Quirky Puzzles: 'The Goodwin Games'

The Goodwin Games wears its quirk on its sleeve. The opening is straight out of The Royal Tenenbaums: while ornate classical music plays, a bowtie-wearing family patriarch (Beau Bridges) sits in a too-perfectly-art-directed library.


The Goodwin Games

Airtime: Mondays, 8:30pm ET
Cast: Scott Foley, Becki Newton, T.J. Miller, Melissa Tang, Kat Foster, Beau Bridges
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: Fox
Director: Peyton Reed
Air date: 2013-05-20
Website
Trailer
Amazon

The Goodwin Games wears its quirk on its sleeve. The opening is straight out of The Royal Tenenbaums: while ornate classical music plays, a bowtie-wearing family patriarch (Beau Bridges) sits in a too-perfectly-art-directed library, gazing at a formal portrait of his three children, while a sans serif caption shifts immediately from announcing his age to declaring his death.

The show only gets more oddball from there. It's revealed that the man was Benjamin Goodwin, a flawed single father estranged from his adult children (of this, we will be reminded repeatedly). For those children, and with the help of his lawyer April (Melissa Tang), he has devised a series of games and puzzles to decide which of his heirs would inherit his $20-million-plus fortune. The contenders: surgeon Henry (Scott Foley), who feels the most entitled to the fortune, being the most responsible and successful; struggling actress Chloe (Becki Newton), who, sometime around puberty, gave up her mantle as the smart one to become a popular mean girl; and Jimmy (T.J. Miller), the dimwitted petty criminal and single father. Benjamin could have split the inheritance among the three of them, but he wanted to teach the children a lesson or two even after his death.

And so, the games begin. First challenge: complete a game of Trivial Pursuit, with all the questions altered to cover family history. (Dare we call that "adorkable?") When the trio returns to home to compete for the money, running into former best friends and ex-sweethearts, The Goodwin Games expands its focus beyond the borders of a family-based sitcom. Now it becomes part-homecoming, part-Parenthood, part-It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World, with elements of David Fincher's The Game thrown in for good measure.

Thankfully, in the hands of the creators Carter Bays, Craig Thomas, and Chris Harris of How I Met Your Mother, these many pieces form a coherent whole. That whole that isn't too maudlin (it is a show centered around death, after all), too cute or too manic. Instead of wink-winking at the audience about its own cleverness, The Goodwin Games mostly keeps things moving along at a snappy pace, with jokes as well.

When the show gets too pleased with its own eccentricity, though, it becomes grating. On more than one occasion, information is withheld from viewers just to make someone or some situation look weird. In the pilot, airing 20 May, it's not explained how Benjamin Goodwin, an "underpaid math professor" as far as his kids were concerned, amassed such a fortune. For the first game, a competitor is brought in from outside the family, and, though people inquire after his identity or connection to Benjamin, the answers remain undisclosed.

At times, the quirk crosses the line from grating to ridiculous. It's obvious that a sense of fantasy is integral to the show, but the number of times Benjamin gives a fitting and perfectly timed response to the reactions of his children during his posthumous videos -- on VHS, to ensure their analog cred -- borders on ludicrousness. It also seems as if he has a vast network of people doing his postmortem bidding -- delivering notes with essential information, rigging bar photo-booths to show yet another video at the exact right moment -- that suggests he's rigged a series of deus ex machinas. Whenever an extra explanation is needed, or if the plot needs to move forward, another message is delivered right on cue.

Such detours into unbelievability occur throughout the show, but they doesn't define it. Instead, the chemistry among in the characters helps to sell the series -- enough to say that it deserves better than the treatment it's getting from Fox. The network cut the episode order from 13 to seven, then decided to push the start date and burn off all of the episodes during the summer. As of now, it's not on the network's schedule of 2013-2014 programming.

With that in mind, it doesn't seem likely that the estate will be settled before the show goes off the air. Yet even though the show may never fulfill its central plot purpose, watching the reduced number of episodes may be like one of Benjamin's challenges: a little silly, likely to conjure up a few heavy sighs, but ultimately an entertaining diversion.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.