The soapy family values that MJFS can’t help but avoid are on full display in The Goldbergs. For weeks I’ve been seeing Facebook ads proclaiming, “Liked The Wonder Years? You’ll love The Goldbergs,” and reviews have strangely lumped the two together as well. I have no idea why. Aside from the presence of the protagonist narrating the show as an older man, I have to say that I have seen The Wonder Years, and you, Goldbergs, are no Wonder Years. TWY was an unusually accurate portrait of the awkwardness of adolescence, set against the background of the Vietnam War. The whole point of Kevin Arnold’s upbringing was that he was learning the serious and dark ways of the world at the same time as the rest of the country, losing his innocence as the country lost its own. The Goldbergs is about a kid named Adam Goldberg whose family is crazy. End of premise.
What’s weird about the show is how mind-numbingly average it is. It’s not even bad; if it was bad it would at least be memorable. It’s simply lazy, I think. One reason this might be the case is that the show was made by Adam Goldberg—real life Adam Goldberg, as opposed to the protag. of the series—who seems to be doing little else besides rehashing stories from his childhood. The effect is exactly what it sounds like: you just feel like you’re being told about someone else’s upbringing or looking at their family photos, which is crazy boring, I assure you. Adam captures the whole thing on a camera (as does Mike Henry’s daughter in MJFS), basically because I think it’s illegal to not have people speaking directly to cameras in sitcoms these days. But otherwise there’s no flare in the telling; no Kevin Arnold-style neuroses or cringe-inducing moments of honesty; no consciousness of this family-as-a-microcosm-of-the-whole-country; no context at all. The Goldbergs exist in a vacuum.
Well, there is one piece of context, and that’s the 80’s. And Jesus Christ, if ever there were a television show that pandered to its chosen decade, it’s this one. The paean-to-the-fifties Happy Days looks subtle by comparison. Even That 70’s Show had fewer time-period references, at least insofar as it didn’t try to sell the 70’s as the greatest time anyone could have ever lived. Director Seth Gordon seems physically incapable of staging a single shot of the whole pilot without at least six references to the 80’s: everyone wears Star Wars t-shirts and plays with Rubik’s cubes and watches Alf and listens to REO Speedwagon and has big hair etc etc. We get it! We get it! And in case the wholly unsubtle directing didn’t let you know when you were clearly enough, the writing goes even further to drive the point home: “It was the 80’s. There were no parenting blogs or peanut allergies. There was no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram…” says the narration, attempting to paint it as a simpler time. Maybe I’m just getting old, but weren’t the 80’s not that long ago? Isn’t this nostalgia a little…weird? But I mentioned before that Goldbergs isn’t actually bad, it’s simply average. It could have been worse. It could have been Dads.