Some TV shows lure viewers in with a gimmick and hope they care enough about the characters and storylines to stick around. Unfortunately for ABC, even if people do tune in to their new comedy The Goldbergs because of the ’80s throwback, nobody will want to stay.
This is one of many new comedies the network is debuting this fall; there’s also Trophy Wife, Back in the Game and Super Fun Night. There’s a good chance at least one of these will fail. And based on the direction this review is going, I’m sure you can guess which one I’m thinking of.
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The Goldbergs is about a dysfunctional family from the ’80s, and is based on creator Adam Goldberg’s life. There’s 11-year-old Adam, who considered this time period to be his “wonder years” — and he’s filming the whole thing on his oversized camcorder. (As someone who grew up in the ’90s, I remember using one just like that.) Adam’s family is constantly annoyed that he’s filming their everyday lives, yelling at them to shut the camera off.
And the biggest yeller of them all is Adam’s father, Murray, played by Jeff Garlin. Not only is he constantly yelling at everybody and everything, but he’s doing it on such a high level that you just want to tell him to go to Anger Management. Oh, and to top it off, as soon as he gets home from work, the pants come off. Seriously? Do the writers really have to put that in the script? It only solidifies annoying stereotypes that invade generic, bland shows like this.
Then there’s Murray’s wife, Beverly (played by Bridesmaids‘ Wendi McLendon-Covey), who is described as a classic “smother” — very overprotective and overbearing. If she wants to head on in to the bathroom where her son is taking a shower to wish him a happy birthday, she’ll do it, even reminding him to “wipe his bottom.” And since this is a show with stereotypical characters, Beverly of course gets her way all the time and her husband just nods along, agreeing without even hearing one word of what she says.
My favorite character out of them all is Beverly — I don’t know if I can pinpoint exactly what it is about her. Maybe it’s the fact that she is a “smother” and therefore goes a little overboard in her parenting ways. McLendon-Covey was great in Bridesmaids, and she continues with a fantastic personality here.
Adam has two siblings, an older sister and brother. I don’t have much to say about Erica because she doesn’t stand out much. But I did learn that the actress that plays her, Hayley Orrantia, was a contestant on season 1 of The X Factor — she tried out as a solo artist, but was put into a group called Lakoda Rayne. Once the live shows began, they didn’t last long (coming in ninth place).
The middle child is Barry. What’s interesting here is that even though I assumed Adam was going to be the main character since we’re watching everything essentially through his eyes, it’s Barry who is the focus of attention most of the time in the pilot. As we’ve seen him say time and again in the promos, the only one who understands him is Flavor Flav.
And the final character we’re introduced to is Al “Pops” Solomon, the children’s grandfather. The family is already dysfunctional as it is, but then when you add Pops into the mix, he inadvertently stirs up trouble, causing Murray and Beverly to constantly smother (get it?) out metaphorical flames left and right. Well, knowing this clan, they’ll eventually have to put out an actual fire at some point, which might actually be entertaining.
But Pops is a character I do kind of like — for that very reason, because he does cause trouble, usually without even realizing it. He’s likable and fun, and it’s nice to see that he wants to spend time with his grandson.
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I mentioned earlier that some shows use gimmicks to lure in viewers. Setting this show in the ’80s is a huge gimmick. We’re taken back over 20 years ago to the time of floppy disks and cassette tapes — both of which we see on the show. And then there’s the fashion: many of the characters are wearing clothes that are not flattering in the slightest.
And the hair? Well, let’s just say Beverly’s poofed-out ‘do is hilarious to look at, maybe the only thing to cause a chuckle. It’s all fun (and funny) to look at — I mean, who doesn’t look back at photos of their own family from years ago and wonder why they thought those clothes looked good at the time?
But that’s the extend of the comedy on The Goldbergs. Because when you take away the gimmick of the ’80s look, what are we left with? Characters who I don’t feel any attachment towards or want to care about. Maybe if I found myself laughing all throughout the show, then maybe I could give them some slack, but I smirked maybe once the entire time watching the pilot.
There’s an attempt at the end of the pilot to wrap up each storyline on a heartwarming and satisfying note, but it doesn’t feel genuine because, going back to what I just said, the show hasn’t done anything to make me want to care if they put aside the yelling for a moment to come together as a family.
TV is filled with period pieces: Mad Men, Downton Abbey and the upcoming Masters of Sex, to name just a few. What do they all have in common? They’re all dramas. Maybe period pieces just don’t work with comedies. (Feel free to comment below if there have been ones I’m forgetting that succeeded.)
ABC is hoping we’ll tune in because of the gimmick and because period pieces are all the rage nowadays, but does anybody actually want to revisit the fashion of the ’80s, even when it’s played for laughs? At the end of the day, what are we left with? Floppy disks, cassette tapes and unflattering jeans. That’s The Goldbergs for you.
Will you be tuning in to The Goldbergs? Do you think a comedic period piece can work?
The Goldbergs premieres tonight at 9pm on ABC.
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(Image courtesy of ABC)