You know, the 1980s weren't so weird back in the 1980s.
The feathered bangs, the parachute pants, the strange fascination we had with Def Leppard … it all seemed so normal back then. It's only in retrospect that it all looks like some strange planet where everyone worshipped hairspray.
Most of us Gen-Xers somehow managed to make it out of the decade alive and with a modicum of sanity. And now we generally look back at those days like we would think of our pet Chinese Crested (of the hairless variety): Sure, it's ugly, but it's our ugly. And that, in a way, sums up the attraction of ABC's The Goldbergs. Sure, the kids might laugh at the shoulder pads and snicker at our ancient VCRs. But sitcom creator Adam Goldberg tells us that while fashions and fads may have been goofy, the people—the family and friends he himself grew up with—they were … well, goofy too. (Sometimes in a nice way, other times not.)
Onscreen Adam Goldberg is the creator's barely fictionalized avatar, with some of the show's most outlandish scenes serving as, reportedly, simple re-creations of real-life Adam's own videotaped documentation. The bespectacled tween loves Star Wars, Transformers and his nifty (if monstrously proportioned) video camera—the tool he uses to document his family's trip through the decade. He's particularly fond of taping the fights, of which his family has many.
Much of the blame for this delirious dysfunction, of course, can be saddled on the parents. Overbearing mom Beverly can out-shout and out-guilt almost anyone, and dad Murray put the blust in bluster. But Adam and his two teenage siblings are hardly spot-free. Wild-child Erica pushes almost as many parental buttons as she does familial envelopes, and Barry—well, let's just say this would-be Romeo takes after his clueless dad. And their entertainment choices? Well, we at Plugged In believe that entertainment is influential, and you can only watch so much One Day at a Time before snapping.
Now, since we're talking about the '80s, let's keep in mind that it was a problematic time in its own peculiar way. So just as it was the golden age of cinematic teen sex comedies (Porky's, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), the Goldbergs talk a lot about sex. Drinking and drugs were a huge concern ("Just Say No!"), so it's perhaps natural that such topics would be a big deal in the Goldberg household. Movie parents in the 1980s were at their most ineffectual, and while Beverly and Murray are actually more involved than, say, Ferris Bueller's or the oft-drunk father in Pretty in Pink, clashes between generations here are frequent and loud—with neither parent nor child showing a whole lot of respect. Profanity is also commonly heard in the Goldberg's less-than-happy household.
You might think of The Goldbergs as The Middle with a mullet. But for all its nostalgia, it's a reminder that sometimes some things do get better—and that may be reason enough for your family to step away from this problematic past.
Erica writes in her diary that she and her friends are going to try some "crack rock," knowing her mom will read it and freak. The ruse embarrasses Mom into promising to trust Erica more—and Erica immediately uses that trust to attend a college toga party.
Meanwhile, Adam's friendship with Emmy Mirsky is called into question when Barry tells Adam that boys and girls can't be friends. "Barry said that Emmy and I have sexual tension," Adam tells his grandfather. "I don't know what that is, but I think I got it." (A viewing of the R-rated When Harry Met Sally doesn't help matters.) Barry advises Adam to kiss Emmy to see if there are any "sparks" and Granddad seems eager to tell the boy how to undo a bra strap, but eventually Adam decides that Emmy is really, truly his friend—"and you never, ever want to kiss her."
Barry wants to take a girl up to his room (his mother forbids it), and a college student invites a friend of Erica's to his dorm room (ostensibly to see his aquarium). We see Erica and other young adults in togas, and Erica wears a midriff-baring shirt. Pictures of male models are seen in Erica's room.
Defecation, gas and underpants factor into the jokes. Erica plans to ask "creepy old guys" to buy her wine coolers. College kids are shown drinking from red cups, and we see cans of beer. There's a bleeped exclamation (with context implying it's the s-word). We hear "h‑‑‑" four or five times, and three or four misuses of God's name.