The Goodwin Games lives or dies by its main characters, a trio of siblings reunited after the death of their happy-go-lucky father, Benjamin Goodwin (Beau Bridges). Initially, the Goodwin children are a mixed bag of sitcom stereotypes, but the show’s writers occasionally break the mold with unexpectedly compassionate moments: The eldest Goodwin, Henry (Scott Foley), is an egocentric surgeon who’s been an individualistic overachiever his entire life, possessing a hard-to-reach soft spot when it comes to family; Chloe (Becki Newton) was once a child prodigy in the field of mathematics, but never received proper attention from her father; and Jimmy (T.J. Miller) is a kleptomaniac with a heart of gold who’s spent much of his adult life in the slammer. The common denominator they share is the love of their old man, who, despite hardly being the ideal role model, was usually there to provide an unshakable shoulder to lean on.
Benjamin was never known to be wealthy, but his passing brings sudden news of a $23 million inheritance that’s inexplicably up for grabs by only one of his brood. The Goodwin Games frequently deals in contrived, feel-good silliness, as the basis for the decision of who will receive the money is a modified game of Trivial Pursuit, with every question and answer relating to Henry, Chloe, and Jimmy’s past actions. The concept is quite a stretch and quickly runs out of steam by the end of the first episode. A series of dopey pre-taped video messages from Benjamin dictates the oddball rules, Bridges laboriously hamming it up every step of the way, blowing on a conch shell to signal the next stage of gameplay.
The strangest choice the show’s writers make is to throw a fifth wheel into the proceedings in the form of Elijah (Jerrod Carmichael), a seemingly random guy Benjamin selected to give his stubborn spawn some incentive to keep playing his whacky test of patience. When Henry and Jimmy quit, the executor of the will, April Cho (Melissa Tang), hands a briefcase filled with $1 million to Elijah, who gladly accepts the cash and scampers out of the office. The appearance of Elijah serves only as a tawdry motivational tactic to maintain the siblings’ participation, lessening the impact of Benjamin’s posthumous plea of “Just get along” to his progeny by prolonging their bonding.
The Goodwin Games works best not when its central characters are bickering at each other during their Trivial Pursuit sessions, snapping to and fro with uncalled-for insults, but when they use the game’s playing cards as jumping-off points for memories of better times. It’s obvious that none of the Goodwins are particularly content with their current situations; the rounds of Trivial Pursuit, however forced they may seem, bestow on the doubtful kin a brief, soul-searching respite from their otherwise problematic lives. The Goodwin Games isn’t a sophisticated comedy by any means, and memorable quips are few and far between, but its overall lightheartedness manages to save it from becoming completely dull.