The Goldbergs Review – Reality TV Gets A Sitcom

I blame Paris Hilton for The Goldbergs.

This could be a long review.

A family sit-com that looks back at life in the ’80s, The Goldbergs takes inside a household before cell phones and the internet, and back to a time when dysfunction was something you held up like a coat of arms. Murray (Jeff Garlin) and Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) – because that’s the sort of names people had back then – are the parents of a very mixed bag of personalities, and we’re on board to watch by way of youngest son Adam (Sean Giambrone – voiced as older Adam narration by Patton Oswalt) and his new toy, a video camera. Our family drama is mostly spurred on by our teen children – Barry (Troy Gentile) and Erica (Hayley Orrantia) – and Grandpa (George Segal).

The premise behind this show, which you might expect to be something from the official synopsis, like, “The Goldbergs are a loving family like any other — just with a lot more yelling. Mom Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is a classic “smother,” an overbearing, overprotective matriarch who rules this brood with 100% authority and zero sense of boundaries,” is actually very simple – reality television is doing pretty well.

Here comes Paris Hilton.

Many reality television historians blame the fact that every show (competition shows especially) aims to make sure that we have at least one participant who is a complete ass, thus ensuring lots of drama as the go mental at the other participants, on The Real World‘s Puck. Similarly, I blame the fact that we now have countless shows that exist purely on the basis of finding a group of extraordinarily stupid people willing to be filmed on Paris Hilton. She was one of the key forerunners of, “Look how stupid I am” television, and she changed the dynamic of putting together reality television ever since.

Now we’ve got The Goldbergs. It’s a blend of media which follows directly from the idea that someone looked around and thought that what people like to watch is people who are really stupid. If we can find people who are, to some odd extent, cognizant of their own stupidity, and moreover have a sort of self-congratulatory ego directly related to their own stupidity (see Jersey Shore), so much the better.

The Goldbergs review
(ABC/Eric McCandless)

Patriarch Murray is “funny,” because he does things like walk in the front door and drop his pants so he can watch TV in his underwear, pays virtually no attention to anything, and screams about everything. Beverly is funny… well, mainly because she’s generically the poster child for “embarrassing things your Mom did when you were a teen,” and has ’80s clothes and hair – because, you know, those websites with hilarious pictures of ’80s hair and clothes are really popular.

The kids move things along, funny or not, just based on straight-forward, random acts that display the brains of a bag of hamsters and all the charm of a really obnoxious customer in a department store screaming bloody murder as you stand in line giving God a really serious talking to. Once in a while Adam pops up to continue our gag, and, as the show itself says, “with a video camera to capture all the crazy.” What they mean is, “to capture the fact that you can grow up with complete morons (those people on reality show really do exist!), and somehow come out the other side in order to provide narration.”

On the plus side, where a lot of comedy pilots get lost in managing the necessary establishment, which makes it unclear exactly how things will play out down the line, The Goldbergs lets you know right where you are, and where you’re going to be.

I suspect that there is something about this crossbreed that will be off-putting to most viewers. The wonderful charm of watching real idiots does not seem to translate well when it comes to watching fake idiots. On the other hand, as the old saying goes, I’m led to understand we’re working a serious demographic here.

It would, perhaps, be another matter if there was a pattern to the writing that made it possible to point to “the jokes,” but since that isn’t exactly how reality television works, it isn’t how it works here either. If we broaden “jokes” to mean simply “whatever it is that it seems we’re supposed to find funny,” everything is the same joke, and it is, “Look, these people are obnoxious and stupid.” Huzzah.

 

The Goldbergs Teaser

You can watch the full pilot episode of The Goldbergs right now here.

 

Before there were parenting blogs, trophies for showing up and peanut allergies, there was a simpler time called the ’80s. For geeky 11-year-old Adam (Sean Giambrone), these were his wonder years, and he faced them armed with a video camera to capture all the crazy. The Goldbergs are a loving family like any other — just with a lot more yelling. Mom Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is a classic “smother,” an overbearing, overprotective matriarch who rules this brood with 100% authority and zero sense of boundaries.

 

Dad Murray (Jeff Garlin) is gruff, hot-tempered and trying to parent without screaming. Sister Erica (Hayley Orrantia) is 17, hot, terrifying and not one to mess with. Barry (Troy Gentile) is 16, an overly emotional teen with severe middle child syndrome. Adam (Sam Giambrone) is the youngest, a camera-wielding future director who’s crushing on an older woman. Rounding out the family is beloved grandfather Al “Pops” Solomon (George Segal), the wild man of the clan, a shameless Don Juan who’s schooling Adam in the ways of love. When Pops buys a new sports car and offers his Caddy to middle child Barry, it’s enough to drive this already high-strung family to the brink of chaos.

 

“The Goldbergs” stars Wendi McLendon-Covey (“Bridesmaids”) as Beverly Goldberg, Patton Oswalt (“Ratatouille”) as adult Adam Goldberg, Sean Giambrone as Adam Goldberg, Troy Gentile (“Good Luck Chuck”) as Barry Goldberg, Hayley Orrantia (“The X Factor”) as Erica Goldberg, with George Segal (“Just Shoot Me”) as Pops Solomon and Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) as Murray Goldberg.

 

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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