Review: FOX's 'The Goodwin Games' has potential it won't get to realize
I hear it a lot: I don't want to waste time watching a new show that might be canceled; if it's a success, I'll try it. On the one hand, I get it: I've been frustrated (and, in some cases, sad) when a show I invested my time and energy into got canceled in the early stages, and in some cases might have preferred not to have seen it. On the other, I'm grateful for even the one season I got of "Freaks and Geeks" and "Terriers," and I know plenty of Bryan Fuller fans who revere "Wonderfalls" even though FOX pulled it after only four episodes.
That said, "Freaks and Geeks" is a classic, and was very clearly one from the first episode. The harder call is making an investment in a show that has potential it hasn't realized yet, and that might not be on the air long enough to figure itself out — or, in the case of a show like FOX's "The Goodwin Games," that will never have that chance.
"The Goodwin Games" debuts tonight at 8:30 Eastern, and the week after Upfront Week is a reminder of how silly the whole process is. FOX ordered this show a year ago, planned to rotate it in with its Tuesday comedies at midseason, then gave up on it when "Ben and Kate" failed out of the gate and the entire night imploded. Seven episodes were shot, then shelved, and that was it. Scott Foley went on to do an arc on "Scandal," Beau Bridges did a CBS pilot ("The Millers") that got picked up, etc. Everyone has moved on. It's as pure a case of Summer Burn-Off Theatre as you can find.
And if the show — starring Foley, Becki Newton and T.J. Miller as estranged siblings who have to compete in a series of wacky competitions for the fortune of their late father (Bridges) — was great out of the gate, or even very good, I'd be setting aside the next six weeks to watch and enjoy it, even if these seven episodes would be all I'd get. I'm happy with the six episodes of "Police Squad" I got, the 6 "Bent"s, the 13 British "Office"s, etc. Shows don't need to run forever — even if this one was canceled long before any one of the siblings would win the fortune.
But "The Goodwin Games" pilot is... okay. Fine. Pleasant. It has a likable cast, and the creative team — "How I Met Your Mother" co-creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, plus "HIMYM" writer Chris Harris and director Peyton Reed ("Bring It On") — have adopted a style that feels like a less twee version of "The Royal Tenenbaums," mixing in flashbacks of all three siblings as feuding kids with their present-day Trivial Pursuit games and other competitions. It's sweet in spots (mainly in scenes involving Miller's ex-con man-child trying to reconnect with his daughter), and the idea has potential, even though this is a premise pilot that has to spend so much time introducing the siblings and the competition that none of it's fully realized.
It is not, however, especially funny (I'm not even sure I cracked a smile), and the pilot, at least, leans clumsily on expository dialogue more than than you would expect given that A)flashbacks to their childhood are built into the format, and B)this is a show from the "HIMYM" guys.
There are definitely pieces here of a good comedy. If FOX had actually put it on the air at midseason, and given it the standard 13-episode order — or the 24 episodes that, say, "The Mindy Project" got to figure itself out over its first season (spoiler: it's not quite there yet, though it gets close at times) — I imagine I'd have set the season pass to see whether the creative team could figure out how to put it all together. But seven episodes isn't enough for a show whose pilot still feels like a rough draft, and there won't be anything past these.
The pilot's already up on Hulu (see below), and Bays has been retweeting positive comments for the last couple of day, so others' enthusiasm for it may be greater than mine. But for me, there's not enough here to commit to a show that's dead on arrival.
For those who've already watched the pilot, what did you think? And if you don't see it til after the airing tonight at on FOX, feel free to comment here.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org