TV

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

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image