Remember “Ben & Kate,” the sweet little comedy about oddball siblings Fox aired — and pretty quickly canceled — earlier this season? Turns out the network developed a logical single-camera companion to the show, which should provide small comfort to “The Goodwin Games,” a series from the creators of “How I Met Your Mother” being rather conspicuously burned off in the summer heat. Mildly charming but exceptionally thin, it makes it hard to fault Fox for its lack of faith. So let the “Games” begin, but don’t expect many to wind up carrying a torch for it.
The series hinges on a trio of completely unbelievable siblings, reunited by the death of their father (Beau Bridges, in full mad-scientist mode). As if plucked from “Gilligan’s Island,” they include a buttoned-up doctor (Scott Foley), an actress (“Ugly Betty’s” Becki Newton) and a nincompoop thief (T.J. Miller) freshly paroled from prison.
All three have been estranged from Dad and are shocked to discover he has amassed a fortune of $23 million, which he plans to leave to one of them. To earn it, however, they’ll have to participate in a competition of his design, detailed in a series of taped messages he has left behind with his officious lawyer (Melissa Kang).
Although the squabbling kids and their father are depicted in flashbacks (think “How I Tried to Raise You Through Weird Competitions After Your Mother Died”), the emphasis is on their present-day bickering, and dad’s not-very-subtle motivation to reunite them in his quirky, hazing-like way. It’s only too bad the writers (Carter Bays, Craig Thomas, Chris Harris) don’t start by grounding their charges with a little more humanity; instead, the trio proves so mismatched and exaggerated as to have a very long way to reach any sort of common ground.
One also has to wonder just how long these characters can be expected to continue jumping through their late pop’s hoops, even with all the money at stake. In that sense, this is one of those U.S. comedies that would benefit from the six-episodes-and-out format of British sitcoms.
So in addition to violating “Seinfeld’s” “No hugging, no learning” rule, “Goodwin Games” runs afoul of the first guideline of pilots — namely, by failing to establish characters with whom we can imagine spending several more weeks, at the very least.
Like “How I Met Your Mother,” “Goodwin Games” comes with a small embedded mystery. Only in this case, the desire to learn who ultimately wins the cash is trumped by wanting to simply reach the finish line.
“The Goodwin Games”
Fox Series; Mon. May 20, 8:30 p.m.
Filmed in Los Angeles by Shiny Brass Lamp Prods. and Bays-Thomas in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Executive producers, Carter Bays, Craig Thomas, Chris Harris, Peyton Reed; co-executive producer, Christine Zander; supervising producers, Matt Murray, Greg Schaffer; producers, Rachel Axler, Barbara Black, Caroline James; director, Reed; writers, Bays, Thomas, Harris. Running time: 30 MIN.