ABC’s THE GOLDBERGS is a family sitcom of the traditional variety that happens to be set in the 1980s. The Goldbergs are an average American middle-class family who love each other, but yell a lot. There’s a mother, father, grandpa, and three children, a recipe for a very typical show.
The draw, if you will, is that THE GOLDBERGS is based on the real-life family of producer Adam F. Goldberg (Breaking In, Community). The end of the pilot, “The Circle of Driving,” highlights that by showing the parallels of Goldberg’s real family and the characters in split screen. In this, the show feels very authentic and is definitely based on something true.
The problem is, there are already a gluttony of realistic family sitcoms on the air and in the annals of television history. Other writers and creators have families, too, and have gotten to the dance well before Goldberg. Should we keep the party going just as it’s breaking up? What sets THE GOLDBERGS apart from Modern Family, The Middle, or even The Cosbys? Nothing, sadly.
Now, that doesn’t mean THE GOLDBERGS is an unpleasant show. Wendi McLendon Covey (Bridesmaids, Reno 911!) is terrific as an overbearing mom and Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) makes a great out-of-touch, always-raising-his-voice dad. The child actors, Troy Gentile, Sean Giambrone, and Hayley Orrantia, are mostly unknown, but fit in well, and George Segal (Just Shoot Me!) is a wonderful grandfather. It’s a solid cast who can handle the parts and the comedy well.
There are some notable moments in “The Circle of Driving.” I like when the mother thinks that throwing away a locket given to her elder son will hurt his feelings. Pops coaches the youngest child in picking up women, and they find just the right restaurant in which to do so by the end of the half hour. We see a moment where the parents, away from their kids, demonstrate their love for one another. These are good scenes.
The issues this family faces, such as empty nest syndrome, an elderly man being forced to give up some of his freedoms, sibling rivalry, a father who doesn’t know how to show affection, an adolescent becoming obsessed with boobs, a sixteen-year-old wanting his own car, and others, are relatable. These are things we’ve all experienced, and thus will be able to smile at, knowing exactly how the characters feel.
But there is little fresh in “The Circle of Driving.” As stated before, there are many family sitcoms already out there, and all of this ground has been covered extensively. We might giggle at a stray joke, but we’re not going to celebrate the writers for being clever or award Emmys to the actors for playing a set-in-stone type. It’s a family-friendly program the clan can watch together at night, but it won’t be anyone’s favorite, must-see show.
The best chance THE GOLDBERGS have to set itself apart is that it’s a period piece. Yes, The Wonder Years already did the nostalgic, voice-over enhanced, coming-of-age story. Yet, there is a different tone here, and one could not ask for a better narrator than Patton Oswalt (Justified, United States of Tara). Making frequent references to things like REO Speedwagon, ALF, Star Wars, and Ghostbusters is appreciated, and will give the adults something to enjoy in the tame fare.
Whether THE GOLDBERGS will last or not is anyone’s guess. I can’t say that it strictly deserves to, but neither does it offend or bore. We don’t need another program of this type, but if networks are going to keep making them, at least it’s as good as this one, and not something that proves no one is trying anymore. Maybe it’s an effort to return to classic television during the heyday of the sitcom, and if so, it is a suitable project, even if it seems a doomed goal.
THE GOLDBERGS’ first episode is available now on Hulu and premieres Tuesday, September 24th at 9 p.m. ET.