‘The Goodwin Games’ Might Benefit From the Time Limit

The Goodwin Games premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. eastern on Fox. Check your local cable box for confirmation. Or you can just watch the episode right now.

The Goodwin Games is a cute, fun show that has a 99.9 percent chance of not lasting beyond its seven episode order. Which is a good thing.

You probably know the names of Carter Bays and Craig Thomas – they are the creators and executive producers of How I Met Your Mother, a comedy that is about to continue to extend a cool, lofty premise even longer past the point of diminishing returns for a final, ninth season. Well, along with HIMYM writer Chris Harris, they came up with The Goodwin Games, which also involves a big idea. This time around, Scott Foley, Becki Newton, and T.J. Miller are three siblings competing against one another in a New Hampshire town to win a $23 million inheritance from their recently deceased father, Beau Bridges.

The pilot episode is funny enough, and written with the fine care of professional writers that know how to build a mystery when they’re not putting in jokes. For example, I figured immediately that Benjamin, Beau Bridges’ character, was probably lying about the money and only tricking his children into getting along with each other, because apparently my parents taught me to not trust others. But a random character named Elijah (hi Jerrod Carmichael!) helps dispel that thought, without calling too much attention to it. But it’s a relief that, because Fox chose to delay the launch of the show from January until the last few days of May sweeps – leaving the remainder of the episodes to languish over the summer when everyone goes outside watches cable – and cut the episode order down from thirteen to seven, Goodwin Games will never have to strain to come up with more elaborate and unlikely scenarios for the three main characters to find the money, or to create any dubious tension between them. As it stands already, it looks like whoever does win the game would share it with the others anyway, but in order for the game/Macguffin to remain interesting, and to keep an audience who isn’t just interested in jokes to come back, there needs to be some tension, unless Carter, Bays, and Harris choose to write in a common enemy, or the real possibility that none of them receive the prize.

In any of those scenarios, nine seasons would be too long of a time. While It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was a fun romp at a tight 154 minute (edited) clip, I doubt the budget for a summer series can afford very extravagant adventures, taking the young adults on a crazy weekly chase. So it’s kind of funny that the men currently responsible for a show that stands as an example of a program that exemplifies why the American television model of programming – 22-24 episodes a year, for as many years as possible – can be considered barbaric and at complete odds with artistic integrity, have another series that can really work because it’s lack of faith by the network has it on a tight, finite schedule, like the British approach, with their 6-8 episodes a year, and consideration from creators for potential diminishing returns.

So who’s playing this game with a shot clock? Scott Foley is Dr. Henry Goodwin, an overachieving surgeon who is involved in some sort of love triangle involving his as-yet-unseen fiancee and Lucinda Hobbes, an ex of his who is now a minister. He also likes the sauce. Becki Newton is Chloe, who is smart but has apparently underachieved by a far amount, particularly compared to Henry. T.J. Miller is Jimmy, the youngest of the three. Jimmy is easily the most interesting character, having been in multiple prisons, and being haunted by a loan shark that goes by the mysterious moniker of “Frankie Steamroller.” His backstory is easily the most established so far, and he even has a daughter from one of those marriages where the man has to sneak in and out of his daughter’s bedroom window to see her. Jake Lacy, who played Pete on the just concluded final season of The Office, was initially going to play Jimmy, but it’s hard to not see anyone but Miller handling the duties. Miller is great at playing oblivious and unintentionally obtuse, something he exhibited before in his performance in Our Idiot Brother.

The Goodwin Games is sweet, and very Bays/Thomas, particularly in its music selection (hello Ben Gibbard solo album!) It has some nuance, and it’s amusing, but not yet laugh-out-loud funny. There’s a world still yet to be established, and a game to unfold, and not much time to do it in. Could be interesting.

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