It Was 1980-Something: Flashing Back with The Goldbergs

Promo images of a family standing looking up at a Bat signal, with a blond woman in the front hands clasp in front of her

Sitcoms are a dime a dozen. It seems like every year we get a few more on the TV schedule. Every one of them is trying to be the next Cheers, Frasier, or Seinfeld, yet many fail to ever reach a second season. However, occasionally, a sitcom comes along that is something special—it may not reach the height of TV’s Mount Olympus, but it somehow reaches in and tugs at your heart.

In 2013 ABC launched The Goldbergs, a sitcom set in the 1980s that follows a Jewish family living in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and the trials and tribulations, as well as the celebrations, they go through together. It was an instant hit and the show would go on to air for 10 seasons and a total of 229 episodes!

The Goldbergs stars Patton Oswalt as the show’s narrator (who always says, “It was 1980-something”), Wendi McLendon-Covey as Beverly Goldberg (the at times neurotic mother), Sean Giambrone as Adam F. Goldberg, Troy Gentile as Barry Goldberg, Hayley Orrantia as Erica Goldberg, George Segal as “Pops” and Jeff Garlin as the absentminded father, Murray. The cast is excellent, and from Episode 1 the chemistry between them shines. Most shows have trouble for the first half of a season or so, as the cast learns to mesh, however, The Goldbergs never had this issue, and they were very believable as a family.

A family sits around a restaurent table and looks beyond the camera.

What made The Goldbergs stand out and be unique among other TV programs was that it was very autobiographic to the show’s creator Adam F. Goldberg. All the show characters are named after real-life people, and many of the show’s hilarious stories are also based on real things that happened. Creator Adam Goldberg captured tons of footage of his life growing up, and at the end of most episodes, he dedicates the episode to a person or event and then shows footage of the real-life event that inspired that week’s episode.

More than once I would roll my eyes thinking a story seemed too far-fetched, like when Erica is arrested for stealing a knish from a retirement home, only for the show to end and inform me the event really happened! I also appreciated the look at Jewish culture the show provides, with lots of cultural references throughout, including some hilarious Hanukkah episodes!

The Goldbergs mostly follows the adventures of Adam Goldberg as he dreams of being in Hollywood as a filmmaker, but we also get stories about his sister as she tries to build a career in music. All the characters are good, but one stands out: “Pops,” the family’s grandfather, is a delight, as he shares wisdom, and strangely is always at the Goldberg house for reasons never explained. He’s always willing to be in Adam’s home movies, and supports Erica when she needs a listening ear. I also appreciated that the show gives value to the role of a housewife, showing how much work Beverly Goldberg has to do to take care of her family, with her kids always undervaluing her until they realize how much she does for them.

The show feels very much like snapshots of the ’80s, with episodes centered around pop culture moments such as Return of the Jedi, Hands Across America, and others. They don’t always happen in order, but the as narrator explains, “The memories are sometimes fuzzy but in my memory, it was always 1980-something.”

While many may criticize this use of pop culture moments, they really do feel like moments from someone’s memories, which in the end is what The Goldbergs is, a flashback to the creator’s childhood.

The Goldbergs falls into a category I like to call Cozy Sitcoms. The show is not designed to address big social issues or to send a message. It’s just intended to be enjoyed by its audience. In that way, The Goldbergs succeeds as a warm and funny show that one can watch at the end of the day. So sit back and relax and allow your worries and troubles to melt away.

Written by Byron Lafayette

Journalist, film critic, and author, with a (possibly unhealthy) obsession with Pirates of the Caribbean, Zack Snyder and movies in general, Byron has written for many publications over the years, yet never shows his face. To partially quote (and mangle) Batman V Superman "If you seek his face look around you"

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