Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pilot Review: The Goldbergs

The Goldbergs (Tuesdays at 9:00 on ABC; Premieres September 24)

The Goldbergs is not even close to being good comedy. The jokes are recycled; the premise is tired. But that's kind of the point, I think. It's a slice of 1980s-flavored nostalgia filtered through the dysfunctional family lens, and there's enough charm in that conceit to make The Goldbergs amusing for a split second, until you realize how mediocre it really is.

It's the 1980s! We can tell because everyone has overly teased hair, garish makeup, high-waisted jeans. If that wasn't clue enough, we're also treated to a totally unnecessary and arbitrary montage of everything we love about the decade: clips of Back to the Future played out over a deliciously synthesized music track (I want to say it's "Freeze Frame," but don't quote me on that). We are introduced to the Goldberg family via an annoying voice over of youngest child Adam (Sean Giambrone, playing a fictional version of series creator Adam F. Goldberg), the family historian who permanently has an over-sized camcorder attached to his hand (it's over-sized because it's the 80s, and everything was outlandishly big in the 80s!). There's dad Murray (Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin), a loud-mouthed slob; mom Beverly (Wendy McLendon-Covey, Bridesmaids), an overbearing worry-wort; sister Erica (Hayley Orrantia), the stereotypical popular teen girl; older brother Barry (the ironically named Troy Gentile), a perpetually uncool teenager who just wants his parents to get off his back and let him drive; and grandpa Albert (Oscar nominee George Segal), the family patriarch. There's no real overarching plot to speak of here; The Goldbergs revolves around applying a series of 1980s pop culture tropes to this fairly typical Jewish family. The pilot sees Barry turning 16 and looking to get his driver's license, and the worries his family has over his growing up and becoming an adult.

Everything about The Goldbergs is derived from something better. The plot of the pilot is directly referential of Sixteen Candles, License to Drive, and even Stand By Me, with the adult Adam reflecting on his home movies and providing voice over narration. The jokes consist almost entirely of laughing at how ridiculous everything from the 1980s was. We get scenes of Beverly doing Jazzercise in a neon unitard; Erica wandering the house on the phone and tangling the cord up in each room; Murray shopping at Sam Goody, the now defunct ultimate-80s mall music store; and a father and son singalong to the REO Speedwagon song "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore." The Goldbergs isn't so much about being creative and/or unique, but about regurgitating familiar scenes, songs, etc. It's not so much a sitcom as it is a structured trip down memory lane.

The script and dialogue don't do much to elevate the material, either. Adam F. Goldberg (Fanboys, Breaking In) bogs his script down in horrible cliches, reflecting the utterly ordinary Goldberg family. Some examples: "Whoever said life was fair?" / "Take a picture, it'll last longer!" / "For someone so smart, you sure act like an idiot." Raise your hand if your own parents have ever hurled one or more of these phrases at you. We've heard it all before, seen it all before... but, again, I think that's kind of the point. Goldberg isn't interested in breaking new ground. He's going for relatability. Beverly and Murray are every mom and dad; Barry is every teenage boy, and Erica is every teenage girl. We can laugh at these people because they're us. So there is a bit of charm and humor in how comfortable The Goldbergs is.

But that's all it is: comfortable. It's not interesting or new. You could exchange this family for any of a score of them from any 1980s sitcom: Growing Pains, Family Ties, take your pick. The sense of humor hasn't progressed or changed at all in nearly thirty years with this show. And despite how nice it can be to just sit back and not think, to just enjoy the silly, easy humor of The Goldbergs, I think audiences today deserve better. We certainly deserve better than Jeff Garlin's loud, surface-level performance and McLendon-Covey's clownish eyeshadow. We deserve better than George Segal delivering a lazy moral about letting your kids go and be themselves. This is 2013, not 1980. Where's the edge?

Clearly, it's elsewhere.

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