There Was No Winner To ‘The Goodwin Games,’ But It Was Fun to Play

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It’s very rare to see the actual lifespan of a television series equal the length of time its story naturally dictated it should last. Shows seem to either overstay their welcome thanks to the promise of more money, or get cancelled before it and the network understands all of its strengths. The Goodwin Games, and all seven of its episodes, concluded last night, seven weeks after it showed up dead on arrival. Based on what was witnessed, the game ended way too soon.

And it was not as if The Goodwin Games was a filler sitcom that hit the reset button every week, where closure of any narrative loose ends didn’t need much thought. Created by How I Met Your Mother executive producers Craig Thomas and Carter Bays along with HIMYM scribe Chris Harris, a seemingly series-long story was introduced in the inaugural installment: siblings Henry, Chloe, and Jimmy Goodwin are forced to return to sleepy Granby, New Hampshire to compete against one another to collect a $23 million inheritance from their recently deceased father, Benjamin. The concept is a great one, and even had the show lasted for multiple full-length seasons, the premise could have carried each episode and captivated some of the audience’s imaginations.

Consider how gripping the fourth season finale of Parks and Recreation was, when Leslie Knope’s election night finally took place after a year’s worth of set-up — comedy isn’t immune to the allure and the excitement of competition. With that in mind, a quick seven episode series might have been a blessing in disguise, with a laser focus on three individuals doing everything it took to achieve a clear goal. Instead, Bays & Thomas elected to attempt to spend time building the inner lives of The Goodwins, with some extra time for Benjamin’s lawyer/Chloe’s former friend/Jimmy’s lover April. Had the creators known of their brief existence on the air, its possible that this would not had been the case, and last night’s series finale “The Box” would have been some sort of chaotic free-for-all drive to the finish line to determine some winner, or knowing Bays & Thomas, a twist to prolong the proceedings further. Instead, the series ended in the middle of Benjamin’s game, with a last second band-aid of a lesson to “enjoy the journey,” Scott Foley’s Henry finally beginning to come to terms with losing his father, and a bunch of storylines unresolved.

The strange part is that it was somewhat of a satisfying conclusion — there are worse platitudes to have stuck in your head from a television show for a few days before you go back to your self-destructive ways than to live in the moment and to not concern oneself in the ending1. The show failed to conclude with the winner of the money, but each of the Goodwins learned some of their lessons and were on their first steps towards a healthier, more enriching life. The aforementioned Henry humorously had been refusing to take a leave of absence throughout the series from being a very busy surgeon despite the passing of his old man, taking to drink to the point of his sister remarking that he was a walking John Cheever character. Foley played the egotistical but easily rattled Henry as rigid to varying results, coming off as unlikable when his duress was clearly his own fault, funny when he played straight man to the strange T.J. Miller character, really funny when he was agitated against guest star Jerrod Carmichael’s flaunting of the recent ownership of Henry’s dream car, and worthy of our pity against his ex-girlfriend Lucinda. When he’s finally forced to take a leave of absence after his humorously sleep-deprived mistakes in work and speech, it set the stage for Henry to begin the grieving process after one hundred and forty seven plus minutes.

Becki Newton, who had last been seen on Carter & Bays’ CBS comedy in a handful of episodes as Barney Stinson’s stripper fiance, had what seemed to be a fun, easy time as Chloe Goodwin, an energetic, competitive, stubborn woman who ultimately discovered — way too late in life — that she was not the great actress that guest star Dave Foley insisted she was back in high school, and ended up enrolling back to college, fulfilling her deceased father’s wishes. Her relationship with Ivan, the boy allergic to mostly everything grown up into a handsome man who remains allergic to mostly everything, would have provided more story had the series continued. Chloe was versatile without veering into inconsistency, deftly managing to play big sister and gently admonishing Miller’s ex-con character Jimmy during the many times he had done something wrong, to wildly gesticulating and taunting a little girl over a chess game without it being out of character.

It’s hard to imagine that Jake Lacy was initially cast and played Jimmy in the original pilot episode, because T.J. Miller made it his own. Miller played most of the dialogue low key, letting the audacity of the things he would sometimes say provide all of the comedic punch — there’s simply no need to yell when you’re admitting to a woman that you were arrested twice for vandalizing a tortoise (it was the same tortoise, twice). In fact, whenever Miller would admit to any strange crime he had committed would only make him more likable, the shame and innocence in his voice akin to a child who just accidentally spilled milk. Of course, there were also the outlandish, loud scenes that T.J. was required to do, specifically singing to a room full of strangers revealing his secret dalliances with his dead father’s lawyer, absolutely nailed and performed to the fullest extent the bit can go2. That romnatic relationship, plus the amicable agreement with his estranged daughter’s mother of his visitation rights established in “The Birds of Granby” gave the black sheep of the family a happy ending.

All the same, even a thirteen episode order would have been a dramatic improvement in giving The Goodwin Games a chance to show what it could do. Some episodes were slow, but so were the first few episodes of How I Met Your Mother, and that show ended up being one of the best comedies on television during the first few seasons. It would have been nice to know what exactly Jerrod Carmichael was up to, and for him to continue messing with Scott Foley’s head. But the occasional laughs and those patented emotionally touching moments Thomas & Bays are known for helped us all to enjoy the journey.

1 One wonders if it isn’t a message to the fans of How I Met Your Mother who have been judging the soon to be nine year old comedy series solely on how the mystery is going to play out, but I would like to think that a show didn’t solely exist to comment on an entirely different one. It’s also the lesson to a Stephen King novel whose title I will not divulge to avoid spoilers.

2 Probably the best bit of the series was the flashback of Jimmy singing an original song of his that described the crime he had actually committed the night before, in front of the two police officers assigned to the case.