There is this idea, or maxim, that we all see ourselves as the heroes of our own stories. There is a kind of romantic intrigue in this concept; it’s partly why the medium of cinema, for instance, has spoken to people in such a powerful way for upwards of a century. Yet, there is a dark flip side to this equation. After all, we all know that, even for the most ardent cinema obsessives, life simply isn’t a movie: it’s a messy, complicated, sometimes-beautiful, sometimes-heartbreaking experiment that we all collectively participate in. In life, there are no perfectly selected music cues that drop at precisely the right moment while we walk in slow-motion down some gorgeously photographed city street. Real life means doing your taxes, waiting in line at the DMV, and listening to background music while you’re on hold with an operator. Real life, in a word, can be unexciting.

Paul T. Goldman, the one-of-a-kind character who exists at the center of the arrestingly bizarre and entirely singular new Peacock original streaming series, Paul T. Goldman, is a man who very much sees himself as the hero of his own story. He is a kind of Don Quixote for the average, unremarkable white man: forever tilting at life’s windmills, crying out in agony against his perceived foes and fabricated grievances. What’s even more beguiling is that Goldman really leans into the “hero” part of the concept we’ve been discussing: he is indubitably convinced that his quest, the one that Paul T. Goldman itself documents, is one in which he himself has been cast in a fundamentally valiant light. He is, in his own mind, unquestionably good, and those who stand in his way are nothing less than figures of pure evil.

Sometimes, We’re Really Not the Hero of Our Story

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The rub is this: Paul T. Goldman isn’t the hero of his own story. Not by a long shot. Granted, many of us have been conditioned to think of heroes in movie-star terms: men (typically, though not always) who look like Brad Pitt and Denzel Washington. Seen through this lens, Goldman is anything but heroic. If anything, he is a snide side character, a possessive ex-lover, your overbearing boss, or your neighbor who won’t stop coming by your place to bother you for unimportant things. Much of the squirm-inducing magic of Paul T. Goldman comes from what a purely odd specimen Goldman is, and how removed his image of himself ultimately is from the image we see as an audience.

RELATED: ‘Paul T. Goldman’ Trailer Teases a Stranger-Than-Fiction Tale of Twists, Turns, and Betrayal

What is Goldman’s story, exactly? In the series, which is split into six episodes, all of which were directed by Borat Subsequent Moviefilm director Jason Woliner (who himself plays a key part in Paul T. Goldman as it unfolds), we first meet Goldman as a middle-aged man working on his memoirs. What are Paul Goldman’s memoirs about? Mostly, his divorce, and what a lousy, ungrateful shrew his ex-wife allegedly was. It becomes increasingly clear over the course of Paul T. Goldman that show’s subject has a… pathology as it relates to women (many would not-incorrectly think to call it misogyny), though the hook that follows is straight out of a true-crime series, a streaming subgenre that Woliner’s show often knowingly riffs on.

Goldman eventually becomes convinced that not only was his ex-wife having affairs behind his back — she was, in fact, a sex worker with potentially lethal ties to international organized crime. Our subject proceeds to fall even deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole: he attempts to contact the FBI, and starts writing pages for a screenplay that reflects his intensely unusual, arguably tragic life arc back to us through the prism of a feature film narrative. In scenes where Woliner and Goldman attempt to re-enact iterations of scenarios that played out in Goldman’s own life, Paul T. Goldman gets an assist from some familiar faces: Mad Men’s Melinda McGraw winces her way through deadening exchanges where she plays Goldman’s ex-wife Audrey Munson, while character actor extraordinaire W. Earl Brown shows up to embody the hilariously named Royce Rocco, a nefarious character with whom Goldman’s ex was entangled. The ensemble of lowlifes here is straight out of a Coen Brothers movie, yet Goldman is doggedly adamant in his insistence that all of this really did happen.

First Must-Watch TV Show of 2023?

Image via Peacock

Throughout these sequences, it becomes clear that many of the actors in question –— and, at times, even Woliner himself — don’t seem at all comfortable with these scenes as they’ve been written and conceived by Goldman himself. One of the more lingering elements of Paul T. Goldman is that Goldman never seems anything less than dead-certain this warped vision will translate into something not only coherent, but poignant. Here is a man who exists as the ultimate unreliable narrator: a “wimp,” as he frequently calls himself, who must shed his emotional attachments become a “warrior” (in other words, a sociopath) Goldman’s distorted recollections of his own history are, at times, reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s wildly underrated, Matt Damon-starring The Informant! — the hero of that movie was a white-collar weasel convinced that he was David toppling a kind of corporate Goliath. Though, other writers have compared Woliner’s show to Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal, another bleak and bracing Meta comedy exercise that holds its audience at several layers of remove and purports to exist in the messy gray area that separates truth from fiction.

Throughout the show, Goldman himself stretches and bends the truth, even in his own recollections of what happened, in fascinating ways. This is particularly true with regard to the “characters” of Audrey and Royce Rocco. In order to corroborate his version of the truth, Goldman always, without fail, casts himself as the spurned victim: a fundamentally decent guy in a world gone mad who’s only trying to please (no, sate) a woman whose demands are beyond what he, in all his modest integrity, can provide. Goldman earnestly views himself as a Casanova with a heart of gold. He sees nothing wrong with referring to escorts in utterly dehumanizing terms. He is a repellent, paradoxical, captivating figure, full of mystery and maddening contradictions, and Woliner’s attempt at unpacking Goldman’s layers of artifice as they relate to his own personal failures has now resulted in what is arguably the first can’t-miss TV show of 2023.

That said, the experience of watching Paul T. Goldman can be a disorienting one, particularly if you’re not hip to this very specific contemporary comedy wave (to wit, the series boasts a producing credit from Seth Rogen and his creative partner, Evan Goldberg). Thus, it becomes exceedingly difficult to separate what is fundamentally true about Goldman’s story from what is outright phony. Such is the hypnotic sense of push-and-pull that underscores this uneasy, idiosyncratic new series: Paul T. Goldman’s story may only be partially real, but it’s real to him, and that is indeed a terrifying prospect.

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