Peacock’s Paul T. Goldman throws fiction and reality into a blender, the result being a deliriously demented concoction of truths, half-truths and make-believe. Ambiguity, contradiction and confusion are inherent to its appeal. In its finale, the show doesn’t deviate from that path, offering up answers and theories that only further complicate its portrait of its subject and his hilariously far-flung tale.
(Warning: Spoilers follow!)
Paul T. Goldman wrote a book, Duplicity, about the betrayal he suffered at the hands of his second wife Audrey Munson, and about his discovery that she was supposedly running a sex-trafficking ring (as a prostitute-turned-madame) with her pimp-boyfriend Royce Rocco. He then penned numerous fictional sequels to that tome (The Paul T. Goldman Chronicles) in which he cast himself as a superspy dedicated to destroying Munson and Rocco’s criminal organization.
Paul T. Goldman has not only detailed that but dramatized those novels (courtesy of Goldman’s own screenplay). In its final installment, it reveals that Goldman’s desire to reimagine his life in complimentary terms extends even further—namely, to a live-action spin-off series involving his son (The Johnny Goldman Chronicles) and an animated one featuring his dog Ceezer (Darling Street Detectives), both of which, per the Peacock show’s format, are brought to small-screen life by director Justin Woliner.
Those projects illustrate how Goldman has coped with Munson’s treachery by creating outlandish fantasies in which she’s a nefarious villain in league with international baddies. In them, he’s simultaneously an average-guy victim and a righteous do-gooder cut from a 007-style Hollywood cloth.
Paul T. Goldman is a true-crime-esque character study of a man who, wounded by rejection—he knew Munson for three months before marrying her, only to have her try to snatch his assets on her way out the door—responded by trying to literally and figuratively rewrite himself and his history. Woliner’s show is merely an extension of that modus operandi, giving him the space to play an alternate version of himself that’s not hurt, gullible and alone.
At the same time, though, Paul T. Goldman doesn’t wholly buy what its protagonist is selling; in ways big and small, it’s proven to be an incisive examination of Goldman’s extravagant self-deceptions, some of which come crashing down in the finale. As hinted at by the fifth episode’s cliffhanger, Woliner found Royce Rocco, aka John Cadillac McDaniel. And through conversations with him and his alleged trafficking cohort Albert Borelli, aka Anthony Zwiener, a number of things become clear, none of them favorable for Goldman.
For one, psychic Terri Jay was plainly manipulating her naïve client Goldman for profit. Goldman himself perpetrated more than a few nasty (if not outright slanderous) ruses throughout his “investigation,” the worst of which involved a fake letter to Munson’s parents and ensuing claims that Munson had executed her mother and father (who died in a murder-suicide).
Rather than a madame, Munson appears to be a shady con woman with numerous boyfriends and husbands whom she preyed upon for money. Rocco was simply one of those long-time beaus. Zwiener, meanwhile, is actually a friend of McDaniel’s and a long-time married missionary who has convincing explanations for the “evidence” Goldman found in McDaniel’s trash can.
That material (pictures, plane ticket stubs, faxed messages) was the basis of Goldman’s entire case against Munson and Rocco, so when presented with the truth in Paul T. Goldman’s last episode, Goldman’s goofily confident façade crumbles and he immediately apologizes on-camera to Zwiener. It’s a moment of the rubber hitting the road that feels as inevitable as it is sad, and it’s followed by Goldman’s first viewing of this very show at the premiere.
Initially excited about his newfound red-carpet celebrity, Goldman’s enthusiasm melts away once he realizes that Woliner hasn’t made the series he wanted; instead, he’s made this one, which humors Goldman’s fabrications and conjecture without totally accepting them. A subsequent backstage confrontation between Goldman and Woliner thus proves both pitiful and heartbreaking, as Goldman desperately tries to maintain a brave face and pretend he’s not upset while decrying the fact that the show, by presenting his narratives, has exposed his real self.
This makes it sound like Paul T. Goldman ends on a gotcha note that outs Goldman as a fraud, but Woliner shrewdly recognizes that things are messier than that. As its expertly edited concluding sequences express, Goldman—in response to the latest in a lifelong string of rejections that began, emotionally, with his father—took bits and pieces of the truth and wove them into a crazy tapestry in which he wasn’t a bit-player casualty of Munson, but the center-of-attention hero of a sprawling espionage tale.
That may be pathetic, yet the fact remains that Goldman succeeded in his mission, as demonstrated by the existence of Paul T. Goldman itself. Goldman dreamed a big dream, and that dream came to fruition, replete with him in slam-bang action set pieces, sex scenes opposite a beautiful actress, and revisionist dramatic moments that drench him in a flattering light.
In short, Paul T. Goldman is the story of a delusional individual who dealt with pain by immersing himself in self-serving, role-playing illusions, and also of a wild go-getter who made those fantasies come true. He’s both wimp and warrior, and thanks to Woliner’s fascinating, amusing and surprisingly moving series, he’s one of modern TV’s most eye-opening and unforgettable stars.