Lovable Oddball or Sexist Villain? The Genius of ‘Paul T. Goldman’
Why not both!
A lonely single dad finds a woman he believes to be the perfect stay-at-home mom for his son. They fall in love and get married, but things soon begin to sour. She asks for checks to be made out to strange businesses, takes an obscene number of phone calls, and meets strangers in the park. Because it turns out, she isn’t the perfect mom at all but a madam in charge of a large sex trafficking and prostitution ring for the mafia. And her husband uncovered it all in his pursuit of truth, justice, and fatherly love.
It’s a story that sounds too far-fetched to be true. And the author/actor/screenwriter/possible victim, Paul T. Goldman would agree with you. In fact, he owns up to the outlandishness of his tale many times while also maintaining its credibility. Paul T. Goldman (real name Paul Finkelman) has self-published his own book – Duplicity: A True Story of Crime and Deceit, written his own screenplay, and attracted the attention of director Jason Woliner (Nathan For You, Borat Subsequent Movie Film) who agreed to turn the story, Paul T. Goldman, into a docu-series for Peacock. The only condition? Goldman wanted to write the script and star as himself.
What follows is a surreal, meta, and often cringe-inducing hilarious series that follows both Goldman’s story, the shooting of his script (featuring prominent character actors like Melinda McGraw as his wife, Christopher Stanley as his attorney, and Dee Wallace as his psychic), and what Woliner began uncovering behind the scenes. Because, it turns out, Goldman might actually be full of shit. Or at least partially.
As the series progresses through the first three episodes, we watch Woliner push back on some of Goldman’s statements. Goldman begins admitting that several parts of his story were embellished “for dramatic effect” and scenes written between his wife and her mafia boyfriend “imagined.” His claim of 100% accuracy dips down to 99% and then to 97% as the episodes continue.
So who is Paul T. Goldman?
But all of that is nothing compared to the character of Goldman himself. A strange man in his mid-60s, Goldman presents himself as a loveable, innocent buffoon. An odd duck. A babe in the wilderness. He claims that his trusting nature, and belief that people are inherently good, has led him to be conned several times in the past. First by his business partner, and then by his first wife – a Russian mail-order bride. He has a big grin full of extremely white dentures, in fact, he can’t stop grinning even when he is acting in his very dramatic scenes. He’s overly excited, chatty, and he loves to tell his story. He’s like a big, strange puppy.
But this too is a facade. Because there is a queasy darkness at the heart of Paul T. Goldman. He is not, in fact, a good guy. He has in him the same expectations and baked-in misogyny of your garden variety incel. When he first flies to Russia it’s to meet another potential bride, a gorgeous woman with “supermodel good looks,” but he rejects her when she doesn’t instantly respond to his physical advances. He expresses disappointment with the alternate, the woman he would marry and take home, because she isn’t as attractive.
When they divorce, he at first claims it’s because he discovered that she was just using him to come to America so that she could get a medical degree and that she left him and their son as soon as they became inconvenient. But because he can’t help himself, he invites both her and his son to set to watch those scenes being filmed and the audience learns the truth. Yes, mail-order marriages are transactional, but she did feel a bond with him and loves their son. It turns out that it was Goldman who divorced her the minute that she started prioritizing her school work over their sex life. Her interviews are the most heartbreaking moments of the first three episodes and get to the core of what makes the series so fascinating.
But his misogyny doesn’t stop there. It’s in every moment of dialogue that he writes for his second wife, once he begins to suspect her ulterior motives. Not just his abhorrence of sex work, and his obsession with whores, but the absurdly off-putting dialogue he imagines. His second wife, Audrey, constantly refers to her own pussy, and even coaches her girls to use slogans like “fast as you can, slam the man… cuz my next trick is waiting outside.” A slogan he’s so enchanted by that he decides to print t-shirts of it. (And to be fair, it is a hilarious catch phrase. Honestly, most of his lines are so absurd that they might in fact be genius.)
And the slogan is hilarious. In fact, most of his grotesque statements and assumptions are. And that is what makes the show both fascinating and entertaining. This is a man who claims to be pure-hearted but assumes that women are only after sex and money. This is a man who, when his wife (who might very well have been stealing money from him, we’ll find out!) begins acting strangely and meeting other women in a park, assumes that it MUST be a prostitution ring and not, as the women behave, a bible study and prayer circle. This is a man consumed with petty grievances but convinced of his own righteousness. And he enacts it all in the most entertaining way possible.
And the brilliance of Woliner as a director is that he is able to capture it all and present it in constantly unfolding layers of truth. We see Goldman’s story, we see Goldman telling his story, and then we see glimpses of what actually happened. The constant back and forth between the meta-textual layers can be dizzying at times, but the core of this strange man is always present. And the real core truth is that perhaps Paul T. Goldman isn’t that strange, or pure, after all. He is just like every other mediocre man who has been raised to expect the world, and women, to be given to him on a silver platter. He wants sex and he wants beauty and he wants subservience. Paul T. Goldman isn’t the hero of this story, but the villain. And the comedic genius of the series is that he doesn’t seem to realize that we can all see it.
Or perhaps the real truth is that, much like the show’s blending of fact and fiction, he is both the lovable weirdo and the misogynistic old man. That they are inextricable from each other. That what we get to see is the full breadth of his humanity, both the bad and the good. We see him mythologize himself at the same time that we watch him devastate the women in his life. A hero to himself and a villain to others.
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