If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably know that I don’t often go back to shows. We don’t do episodic recaps here (because, popular as they may be, I don’t get them), and even new seasons of shows don’t often get a review. The truth is, there’s just too much coming out these days. Unlike the days during which The Goldbergs take place, a new show pops up on practically a daily basis.
There simply isn’t time to watch all the things you have to, all the things you want to, AND things you watched and didn’t like.
Before the pilot for The Goldbergs came out, I reviewed it, and to say that I didn’t like it would be an understatement. I think it was one of those rare occasions that I only had the pilot to go on, and the pilot was more than enough for me.
That might easily be the end of the story, because I’d never watched it again until a couple of days ago, but Adam F. Goldberg emailed me, and asked if I’d give the show another shot. Such (Googling your show, or whatever), according to Goldberg, are the whims of procrastinating when you have another season to write.
It wasn’t just the fact that he asked that got me, but the way he asked. As you might imagine, I’ve pissed off writers in my time.
In my initial review, one of my complaints was that this was a show that knew exactly what it wanted to be, and was clearly going to run with that. But, Adam (we’re tight like that now) had a counter to that idea. He said that in my review I found the show to be awful, “…which I get after the pilot because it was very polarizing. I did quickly find my footing and shifted the tone and comedy of the show almost immediately to what I think were great results.”
He added that he, “turned a lot of people’s hatred around.”
I’ve disliked a lot of shows in my time, but no writer has ever responded with, “Alright, fair enough… but…” Besides, if he’s willing to say that he’s shifted the tone and comedy, and now he thinks I’ll like it, that’s something I’ve got to respect. I mean, he read my review, and thought something beyond, “Well, this guy’s an idiot,” or, “Can’t please every jerk out there.”
So, I watched the second season of the show.
He’s right. It’s different.
I stand by my reaction to the pilot (though I’m stretching my memory), because that was a show that seemed to be playing to fans of reality television, who find that watching stupid people is all you need to know.
I can’t say that the second season won me over instantly, but it was certainly a lot better. Not every episode was solid, but as Adam said, you couldn’t miss the change in tone, and the difference in the overall comedic effort. Then I got to the New Kids on the Block episode, and I watched it again.
I’m not sure exactly what Adam’s take on the progression of the show is, but to me it just feels a lot more honest. This is a show based on real life, as witnessed by the actual home videos we see at the end of most episodes, but there’s a lot of ground you can cover between telling your friends a funny story over a beer about your Mom guilting your brother and sister into a day of Bedazzling (by the way Adam, my wife wants that Mom sweater with the unicorn), and pitching a pilot that spins your own life to the point of hyperbole.
Where the pilot moved very close to making fun of everyone involved, the show now manages a level of honoring your own early years, while simply recognizing the “crazy” inherent in all families. The comedy builds, not by overly pointing at the stupidity (well, I’m not so sure about Smashball), but by just owning the fact that no one knew what the hell they were doing.
In trying to figure out how the show got where it is now (having not seen the first season), I wonder at that episode that finds Adam (Sean Giambrone) pining for Class Clown status in the yearbook. It seems like a telling episode, though I have a unique perspective going in, because when the heat was on, and Adam was really trying to be funny, he wasn’t funny at all. When he gave up, and wasn’t worrying about being affixed with the right label, you really wanted to watch him.
That’s the sort of change the show underwent as well. I have to admit that it might have happened long before the second season started, but that’s where we are now.
You’ll recognize yourself somewhere in there now, which is the best part, and if your Mom isn’t quite as embarrassing, Beverly isn’t alien to you (though she could get a different “’80s kooky” hairstyle at some point), she’s just at a different point of the spectrum. Maybe your Mom wasn’t the one making a scene at school, or scaring the teachers, but you knew the kid with that Mom… you get the idea.
That’s the trick that I think the show didn’t get in the pilot, because, though we may still be exaggerating for comedic effect, the closer it is to real, the funnier it is, and the better the show. More importantly, the second season of the show spent more time than you might realize focusing on everyone’s insecurities and motivations. That’s how you get involved with the characters, and how you get the best comedy.
I have to imagine George Segal had some notes on his character’s major plot points throughout the season, because he knows how to deliver these things, and nails them here… now.
If you wrote this show off, do your best to give it another chance. I’ve never said that before. There aren’t many shows that deserve a second chance, but there aren’t many shows that really change.
On a final note, the show now also has another level to it, and it is one that I respect. Wedged in between the various reasons that the ’80s were filled with a lot of insanity – like Jazzercise outfits and Miami Vice fashion – the show subtly reminds us that there are some things that we’ve really lost. Being almost exactly five years older than Adam, I know what he’s talking about. Saturday morning has no relevance anymore. Waiting by the phone is a turn of phrase that technology has sucked the meaning out of. We don’t want to go back, perhaps, but those things were… things, and they aren’t anymore. My kids don’t get up early and sneak downstairs to watch TV on Saturday, and it makes me a little sad. The show doesn’t mention such maudlin nostalgia really, but it hints at it.