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Fox's new and well-hidden The Goodwin Games: not a bad little comedy, but who knew?


The Goodwin Games sneaks into prime-time Monday. Fox photo

Premiering: Monday, May 20th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Scott Foley, Becki Newton, T.J. Miller, Beau Bridges, Melissa Tang, Kat Foster
Produced by: Carter Bays, Craig Thomas, Chris Harris, Peyton Reed

Somebody up there (in Fox’s boardrooms) really doesn’t seem to like The Goodwin Games.

It’s stealth-premiering on Monday, May 20th between repeats of Raising Hope and New Girl. But this information initially was found elsewhere and certainly not on the official Fox media site. The series’ “Fact Sheet” still lists this fairly agreeable comedy as a “midseason” replacement with no further elaboration. As for the on-air promotional drums, well, they haven’t been loud enough to stir any creatures, not even a mouse.

Goodwin Games is from the creative team behind How I Met Your Mother, which hasn’t done too badly for itself. And it premieres a week after Fox announced its 2013-14 prime-time lineup, which last May included The Goodwin Games. It even made the headlines in a network publicity release, touted as an “inventive new comedy.” Ah, but that was then. Now it’s just a burn-off, with Episode 1 sacrificed opposite down-to-the-wire performance editions of both NBC’s The Voice and ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

Here’s the premise. Benjamin Goodwin (Beau Bridges, seen only via his videotaped will) is the late father of three estranged, maladjusted adults. None of them knew the old man was worth $23 million at the time of his passing.

Oldest son Henry Goodwin (Scott Foley) is a 36-year-old, nose-in-the-air surgeon who gets the news of dad’s death while heading to the operating room. “Prep for surgery,” he orders. “I’ll process.”

Chloe Goodwin (Becki Newton), 34, is a child math whiz who lately has taken on the role of struggling actress. She’s auditioning for a role when the news comes. A funny throwaway line ensues -- not from her but from one of the casting people.

Jimmy Goodwin (T.J. Miller) is 32 and just out of prison after serving time tied to another small-time theft. Dad’s death is by no means his biggest concern. He’s still in debt to a loan shark who wants his money now.

The three of them head off to little Granby, New Hampshire for the funeral. Squabbles resume -- and intensify during the unveiling of Benjamin’s will by an unyielding estate attorney named April (Melissa Tang). His three offspring learn that to inherit the cash they’ll have to accept a series of challenges that he dubs The Goodwin Games. A simple game of Trivial Pursuit is hurdle No. 1, with a mystery guy named Elijah also participating.

“I don’t think we ever finished a game without an injury,” Jimmy notes.

Some decently inventive twists and turns ensue as Jimmy, Henry and especially Chloe vie for dad’s fortune. Jimmy may be a simpleton, but he has both a squishy-soft heart and a cute little daughter who knows his score.

“I was on a super-long business trip,” he says, apologizing for missing her birthday. But she knows he was in jail, and delivers a sweet little lecture about being better in the future.

Future episodes, provided Fox actually airs them, will continue these high stakes games of cat-and-mouse among the three fractious but slowly bonding siblings. Henry’s first love, Lucinda (Kat Foster), with whom he’s also reconnecting, adds another spoke to the ensemble.

Goodwin Games isn’t an Olympian comedy but it’s by no means an out-and-out clunker either. It would have been nice to see it get a fairer shot much earlier in the season, particularly after Fox created a vacancy between Raising Hope and New Girl with its quick axing of Ben and Kate.

It’s now almost assuredly too late to slot Goodwin Games between reruns of those comedies while many Americans turn their eyes to outdoor pursuits and vacation plans. Most Americans, whatever their intentions, won’t even know this newcomer is on the air. But it is, with even Fox looking the other way.

GRADE: B-minus

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