The Goldbergs





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

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 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.)

Whatchu Talkin’ About, Plugged In?

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 Adam’s own videotaped documentation of real life. The bespectacled teen 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. Loving as they both are, overbearing mom Beverly can out-shout and out-guilt almost anyone, and dad Murray puts 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.

Where’s the Beef?

The Goldbergs, initially dismissed by some critics as sort of a one-trick, make-fun-of-the-’80s pony (“Whoa! Look at that corded phone!”), is showing itself to be more substantive now. It’s tapping into a well of affectionate nostalgia, not unlike Happy Days did for children of the ’50s or The Wonder Years for the kids of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Sure, the show takes some liberties with chronology (one recent episode pairs the early ’80s toga party fad with 1989’s When Harry Met Sally), but this is a world that looks familiar to me. And watching this show made me a little wistful in spite of myself.

But since we’re talking about the ’80s, let’s keep in mind that it was a problematic time in its own peculiar way. 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.

The Goldbergs isn’t a bad show. It’s The Middle with a mullet. But for all its nostalgia and sometime good intentions, The Goldbergs is a reminder that sometimes things do get better—and that may be reason enough for many families to step away from this problematic past.

Episode Reviews

The Goldbergs: Feb. 21, 2017 “So Swayze It’s Crazy”

Inspired by a classmate who gets a bit part in the film A Christmas Story, Adam decides to shoot for stardom himself, hoping his mom will help him get an audience with a top talent agent. But when the agent says Adam has the makings of a great film nerd, Beverly takes offense and tries to turn her son into a Patrick Swayze-level hunk. Barry, meanwhile, also wants to change his image. Encouraged by girlfriend Lainey, he commits to a punk-rock style of dress and lifestyle, enlisting help from the high school’s resident spiky-haired expert.

Adam’s sister, Erica, and her longtime crush share a kiss in the driveway (even though the crush is going with someone else at the time). Lainey talks about how “hot” ’80s punk fashion is. There are joking, non-sexual references to cross-dressing (how a guy at school, for instance, dresses a little like Velma from Scooby Doo). The word “boner” is included in a litany of synonyms for “nerd.” We hear the word “poopy” as well. Someone serenades Erica in the lunch room à la Top Gun; one of Erica’s friends then suggests that by Air Force rules, she’s now obligated to date him.

The episode includes some sweet moments: While Beverly admits to Adam that she’ll never see him as a nerd (even though Adam’s ready to embrace that look if it leads to stardom), she tells him that if everyone else sees him that way, “You go out and you be the best nerd the world’s ever seen.” But we also hear five uses of the word “d–n,” three of “a–,” two of “h—” and one “frickin’,” along with two misuses of God’s name. The talent agent also says Adam would be a perfect “Schlemiel,” which while not a curse in Yiddish, is still considered fairly vulgar.

Goldbergs: 2-4-2014

“Muscles Mirsky”

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.

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Paul Asay
Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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