When I really think about it, there's much more sadness than laughter in Fox's new sitcom "The Goodwin Games," debuting Monday night at 8:30.
The premise of the show pits three disparate and damaged siblings against each other after the death of their father, as the dead dad leads them via video through a series of crazy games to decide which child gets his $23 million inheritance. What gives the show its dark flavor is that we see in flashbacks that this is actually the way he raised the children after the death of their mother -- always in competition and always at odds with each other.
"The Goodwin Games," which comes from the executive producers of "How I Met Your Mother" plus Raleigh native Peyton Reed, has a fine cast. First, there's Scott Foley, a longtime favorite ("Felicity," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal"), and T.J. Miller, who is weird and wonderful in everything I've seen him in (I'm one of the 12 people who loved "Carpoolers" on ABC and Miller was a big reason why). We've also got Becki Newton ("Ugly Betty") and Beau Bridges, who has been showing up more and more lately on television ("Brothers & Sisters," "Franklin and Bash"), as the eccentric, wealth-hoarding dad.
Foley plays an uptight, overachieving doctor with a bit of a drinking problem, while Newton plays an underachieving, aspiring actress. Miller is a sweet but untrustworthy doofus (of course), just released from the latest of several stints in prison. And they don't seem to like each other at all. They're not only different in almost every way, they're openly suspicious and hostile toward each other (thanks, dad!).
The whole point of the competition for the cash doesn't seem to be for the father's perverse, posthumous enjoyment (although I'm still unclear after watching the pilot as to why he chose to raise them in this way -- pitting small children against each other for basic rewards for which the losers would be deprived). The sentimental vibe at the end of the pilot suggests the father's ulterior motive is to force the estranged siblings back together so that they will reconnect and become closer. Perhaps as his way of apologizing for so thoroughly screwing them up in the first place.
And I'm not sure how to gauge Fox's commitment to this sitcom, since they've waited to debut it after the season finales of all their other sitcoms have aired, and they're sticking it in the middle of a bunch of repeats Monday.
It's always tricky trying to judge a series by a single pilot episode (the episode is available free online until Monday, so you can go ahead and judge for yourself), but it didn't work for me. I love dark humor and I love bittersweet anything. But so far, I'm just getting "The Goodwin Games."