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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
THE GOODWIN GAMES (FOX)
(written by Carter Bays, Craig Thomas & Chris Harris; directed by Peyton Reed; TRT: 22:56)
The network's description: "Where there's a will, there's a way. And when that will's worth more than 20 million dollars, you can bet someone's going to find a way to get the cash. From the executive producers of "How I Met Your Mother," THE GOODWIN GAMES is a single-camera comedy that tells the story of three grown siblings who return home after their father's death, and unexpectedly find themselves poised to inherit a vast fortune - if they adhere to their late father's wishes. If any of the Goodwin kids feel like they deserve the money, then it's HENRY (Scott Foley, "Grey's Anatomy," "Felicity"), the eldest child and an overachieving surgeon. He sees himself as a role model for his less successful siblings - and reminds them every chance he gets.
Returning home will force Henry to question the choices he's made, especially as he reconnects with his first love and true soulmate, LUCINDA (Felisha Terrell, "Days of Our Lives"). Middle sibling CHLOE (Becki Newton, "Ugly Betty") was a child prodigy in math, and her unofficial role as "the smart one" of the family still sends Henry into fits of jealousy. But long ago, Chloe gave up academics in favor of being the popular girl. Now, through a series of hidden messages, her late father will lead Chloe back to her old love of numbers - and back to the person she's meant to be. Of the three siblings, the youngest, JIMMY (Jake Lacy, "Better With You"), could use the inheritance the most. A small-time ex-con and dull-witted guitarist who's deep in debt to a loan shark, Jimmy may be the family screw-up, but he has more heart than anyone. Like his siblings, Jimmy's also returning to something in this town: his eight-year-old daughter.
Pulling the strings from beyond the grave is the children's late father, BENJAMIN (guest star Beau Bridges, "The Descendants"), a college math professor. Guilty over not parenting his kids better, Benjamin has left behind a series of unique challenges - administered by his estate attorney APRIL (newcomer Melissa Tang). Through these tasks, Benjamin hopes he can get his children to rediscover their true selves and learn the lessons he failed to instill in them while he was alive. Their potential reward? More than 20 million dollars - a fortune that they never knew their father had - and the chance to become the people their father wanted them to be. So let THE GOODWIN GAMES begin!"
What did they leave out? Felisha Terrell and Jake Lacy's roles have been subsequently recast with T.J. Miller and Kat Foster.
The plot in a nutshell: Quirky math professor Benjamin Goodwin (Beau Bridges) passed away at age 72, leaving behind a leaky old house in Granby, New Hampshire. That and 23 million dollars, much to the surprise of his three estranged children: eldest Henry (Scott Foley), an overachieving doctor; middle child Chloe (Becki Newton), an aging Las Vegas shot girl who just got fired; and youngest Jimmy (Jake Lacy), a recently paroled thief. Even more shocking: he's leaving it to only one of them, the winner of "The Goodwin Games." You see, growing up - in lieu of actual parenting - widower Benjamin subjected said trio to an endless series of contests designed to impart knowledge on them.
In death then he aims to teach them one final lesson: how to live up to their respective potentials. After all none of the Goodwins are exactly happy: Henry's success has translated into cases of annoying braggadocio and burgeoning alcoholism on his part; Chloe was set to follow in her dad's scholastic footsteps but left it all behind for Vegas; and Jimmy, well, he's just been released from jail and is an absentee father to his eight-year-old daughter, Piper (Francesca Capaldi). In any case, Benjamin's attorney April Cho (Melissa Tang) explains the game involves simply playing a game of Trivial Pursuit.
Plus, in another surprise, they'll be joined by a fourth competitor: Elijah (Jerrod Carmichael), a twentysomething fellow who appears to have no connection at all to the Goodwins. And if things weren't convoluted enough: the questions are all about their own lives. Said event serves as a staunch reminder of the good (and bad) times from their childhood, culminating in various tantrums from each member when things don't go their way. Ultimately, the Goodwins come to realize that, inheritance or not, it wouldn't hurt if they stuck around for a while and reconnected. That and their father's games are just beginning.
What works: It shares a lot of DNA with "How I Met Your Mother," between its myriad of flashbacks; the teasing of a secretive, series-long arc; and an unabashed tendency to tie itself into knots in its efforts to tell a story. Said aspects give what could have been a humdrum show a welcome ambition, even if it's in the name of mostly silliness. As for the cast, Foley's Henry is easily the standout, gradually unspooling with each passing act - whether it's randomly screaming at Elijah ("Who are you?!"); usurping his dad's funeral to chastise Chloe and pat himself on the back for a life well spent; or nonchalantly excusing himself to the bar whenever possible. Newton's Chloe and Lacy's Jimmy likewise have their moments, as the former attempts to repair her relationship with April, whom she shunned in high school ("As your dad's lawyer, I will be fair and impartial," April explains after her first olive branch. "As your ex-friend, bite me."), while the latter essentially picks up where he left off on "Better With You" ("It's so great we're all back together again, huh? Except dad's dead... that part is sad.").
What doesn't: At the same time there are a fair amount of creaky aspects, as subplots involving Jimmy as a father and the engaged Henry's unresolved feelings towards his ex-turned-minister Lucinda (Felisha Terrell) don't quite connect. While it's easy to play Monday morning quarterback and say that's why Lacey and Terrell's roles were recast, there's still something inherently awkward about how said elements are introduced and handled as their emotional gravitas is radioed in and given an incongruent credence. Furthermore as a whole, there's a lot of extraneous legwork to get to the show's premise, time that doesn't necessarily embolden or dimensionalize the characters. While you surely can't expect "The Goodwin Games" to capture lightning in a bottle like the pilot to "How I Met Your Mother"...
The bottom line: ...one can't help but have loftier expectations here.