In 10 Words or Less
Familial insanity from back in the ‘80s
Loves: Sitcoms, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Patton Oswalt, the ‘80s
Likes: George Segal
Dislikes: Jeff Garlin (in most things)
Hates: Nostalgia for nostalgia's sake
Every year, without fail, there is a sitcom I write off after a brief taste, only to learn at a later date that the series was basically made for me and I was a fool for ignoring it. In the past, there was Community, Bob's Burgers and (going back much further) Kitchen Confidential. and this year, it seems that The Goldbergs has earned its spot on that list, as watching the entire run has revealed a show that manages to fit the mold of the hilarious, yet warm-hearted series, while avoiding schmaltz and coming off as too earnest. Creator Adam F. Goldberg, who has been involved with things like Fanboys, Community and How to Train Your Dragon, summoned all his ‘80s-ness and channeled it through the prism of his own family (often seen in real home video footage at the end of the show) to create an iconic TV sitcom family.
Goldberg is given fictional life by Sean Giambrone, who plays Adam, the youngest of the Goldbergs, a dreamer who runs around with a video camera, happily documenting his aggressive, yet loving family, and any other flights of fancy he comes up with in their suburban eastern Pennsylvania home. An adorably precocious tween, Giambrone is only one (but very important) portion of the character though, as his inner thoughts are provided by Patton Oswalt, who narrates the series in a way that gives an adult voice and perspective to the action, while blending perfectly with the child we see in Adam. Together, they present a sweet, yet smart-alecky kid trying to get through life and enjoy his childhood in the face of a looming adolescence, represented by classmate Dana (Natalie Alyn Lind) whom he is smitten with.
That teen hellscape is where his older brother and sister, Barry (Troy Gentile) and Erica (Hayley Orrantia), are stuck, experiencing their own misadventures at school and elsewhere. Barry is not exceedingly bright and he's highly emotional, which is a volatile combination that explodes when things don't go right as he explores karate, politics or, especially, girls. Erica is much more on the ball, but her focus is on anything but school, especially guys. Together, the three Goldberg kids are a handful for their parents, and exist in a hazy area between siblings, co-collaborators and rivals, depending on the situation and what they can get out of it. There's plenty of yelling and fighting (and the occasional bleeped curse) but in the end, they care about each other (somewhat.)
Though the series is focused on Adam (and, through proximity, his brother and sister), the adults are a big part of the show as well, with parents Bev and Murray, portrayed by Wendi McLendon-Covey and Jeff Garlin, delivering a large portion of the show's laughs. Garlin is quite enjoyable as the dad, getting to explore the part of the traditionally befuddled sitcom dad, while breaking some of the stereotypes. His part, which is a bit low-key (when not yelling,) takes a bit of a back seat to McLendon-Covey though, who has made a career of scene-stealing parts like Deputy Johnson on Reno 911! or mom-on-the-loose Rita in Bridesmaids. She's crafted an iconic sitcom "smother" in Beverly Goldberg, she of the helmet hair, desperate desire for snuggling and distinctly ‘80s mom fashion. A fiercely protective mother, she sees no wrong in her kids (until they prove otherwise) and can't figure out why everyone else doesn't see it the same way. The joy of McLendon-Covey's performance is how it goes 100% at all times, and the zeal with which she approaches motherhood. Any Bev-centric episodes (of which there are many) are terrific fun, such as one where Adam asks her to teach him how to dance, a storyline where Bev abuses Erica's employee discount at Gimbel's or when she uses Barry as a pawn in her battle against a rival mom.
A third member of the establishment is in the picture though, as Bev's dad, known to the family as Pops, is played with gusto by George Segal. A ladies' man in his golden years, Pops is a source of inspiration and wisdom (and also money) for the kids, and a bit of a pain to Murray (who took over his furniture business.) A bit on the impish side, Pops is a hero to Adam and a fun blend of a fourth kid to Bev and Murray and an irresponsible adult figure that's handy when the plot requires it. Either way, Segal, who somehow is a regular in only his second sitcom since Just Shoot Me left the air over 10 years ago, is tremendous fun as the inappropriate grandpa teaching his grandson how to mack on the ladies.
One element that sets The Goldbergs apart from so many other sitcoms is that it's a period piece. The series takes place in the ‘80s (or, as the narration fuzzily [and smartly] refers to it, "1980something") and it is swimming in the cultural touchstones of that era (including a wealth of soundtrack songs from that decade's glorious music.) There was a chance they could overdo it, or use reference as comedy on its own (as the swiftly-forgotten That ‘80s Show was often guilty of), but instead the ‘80s references are intrinsic to the story, with a film-obsessed, cartoon-watching video-game playing kid growing up in the greatest time period possible for his ilk. Sure, it was not likely that Adam would have had a Real Genius t-shirt, but it only makes sense that he'd want to wait on line to see Return if the Jedi or be playing The Legend of Zelda or have the U.S.S. Flagg airplane carrier on his bedroom floor. (Personally, as someone who enjoys the high profile hockey has on the series, I await the episode where Barry and Murray suffer as the New York Islanders beat the Philadelphia Flyers for the Stanley Cup.)
Though most of the episodes offer storylines independent of the time period (or are just colored by the ‘80s), like the kids hoping to avoid embarrassment at the school talent show or Adam struggling at sports in an effort to make his dad happy, the episodes that embrace that era are among the best (though perhaps only to those nostalgic for that time) That includes a plot that sees the brothers bond over a scrambled porn channel, a storyline about parental notification that couldn't happen in a cell-phone world and Barry's addiction to playing Punch-Out at the arcade. The best of the bunch though is the epic "Goldbergs Never Say Die," where Adam, inspired by his love of The Goonies, makes his friends (including a strategically chosen "Data") and siblings cosplay as the characters and go on an adventure. The ‘80s feel is incredibly strong in this one, down to the opening credits being done in the movie's font, another example of the series' attention to detail that raises the ‘80s element above a level of simple nostalgia.
Packaged in a slipcover-clad clear single-width keepcase with a two-sided cover (with an episode guide), the 23 first-season episodes of The Goldbergs are spread over three DVDs. Note, the discs are stacked on a single, extra-tall hub (send your hate mail accordingly.) The discs have a static, anamorphic widescreen menus, with options to play all the episodes, select shows, adjust the subtitles and check out the extras. There are no audio options, though subtitles are available in English, English SDH and French.
The show, as expected for a recent TV show, looks quite nice on DVD, though it can't compete with its high-definition broadcasts. Colors are appropriate (for the ‘80s), capturing the show's homey feel, but the decade's garish hues, be it teal Hypercolor shirts or day-glo windbreakers. The level of fine detail is rather high and the black levels are sufficiently deep for the series. There are no concerns about dirt or damage, nor are there any obvious issues with compression artifacts, despite stuffing as many as eight episodes on a disc, plus bonus content.
The show is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, which becomes a factor when the show's great ‘80s soundtrack comes to the fore (at least once an episode.) The sides and rear do a bang-up job of boosting the music, while providing some decent atmospheric effects elsewhere. Dialogue is pretty much exclusive to the front and center, and is clear and clean.
The big extra is a set of five audio commentaries, with a mix of cast and crew, including Goldberg, some producers and several writers. Garlin, Oswalt, Segal and Giambrone are not on hand, but many others are, with stories about production or just talk about the episodes at hand. The feel is very light and friendly, with Goldberg leading the way, naturally, making for a fun listen, however, as with the series, having McLendon-Covey on hand makes a big difference (which is made clear when she goes missing on the track for the big Goonies episode.) Here are the breakdowns:
- "Call Me When You Get There" - McLendon-Covey, Gentile, Orrantia, Goldberg, executive producer Doug Robinson, and writers Stacey Harman and Niki Schwartz-Wright
- "Kara-Te" - McLendon-Covey, Gentile, Orrantia, Goldberg, Robinson and writer Andrew Secunda
- "You Opened the Door" - McLendon-Covey, Gentile, Orrantia, Goldberg, director David Katzenberg and writers/producers Alex Barnow and Marc Firek
- "Goldbergs Never Say Die" - Gentile, Orrantia, Goldberg, Robinson, Katzenberg and Secunda
- "Lame Gretzky" - McLendon-Covey, Gentile, Orrantia, Goldberg, Robinson, Harman and Schwartz-Wright
The rest of the extras are made up of a selection of featurettes, starting with the rather substantial "Blast from the Past: Making Season One" (17:47.) An overview of the series and its development, including Goldberg talking about the show's casting and the choice of timeframe, it's a bit more of a straight-forward behind-the-scenes look than the commentaries, and also lets you hear from some of the participants that weren't in on those tracks (including the cast (including one of the younger members) sharing their memories of the ‘80s.)
"Our House: The ‘80s Revisited" (11:51) focuses on the set design and props of the series, and the ‘80s-specific elements represented in it. It's a fun exploration of all the work that went into getting the show's look right, with discussion of the inspirations for the designs and changes that took place after the pilot, all centered around a tour of the show's sets by production designer Cory Lorenzen. We stay on the set for a day with Garlin in "On the Set with Jeff Garlin" (9:43), which follows the actor as he works on the show (acting, recording dialogue or cracking up his castmates), introduces mustaches or rides his bike around the Sony studio lot. He comes off as a big part of what makes his character so much fun, which makes the featurette quite enjoyable.
Though we don't see him in the series, we do get to see Oswalt in the extras, including in "Patton Oswalt: Adam Grows Up" (8:29), a featurette about his role in the show. This includes footage of the comic in the recording booth and discussion of the importance of the narration to the series (along with the opportunity to hear from his stand-in during the show's filming.) The featurettes wrap with "Costumes of the ‘80s: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (5:38), which covers the show's wonderful vintage couture, from Bev's sweaters to Murray's tighty-whiteys, and everyone else's signature looks.
An ad for the series, featuring Barry rapping, is also available to check out.
The Bottom Line
Some people have a problem with the way that Modern Family wraps every episode with a moral, a happy capper that sums everything up in a sweet and often poignant way. Well, that's fine, since the show before it is quite funny. ‘80s nostalgia-bombThe Goldbergs cuts the saccharine a bit, with a family that fights constantly while loving each other, and with McLendon-Covey and Oswalt on board, among others, it's funny as well. This set looks and sounds good, and offers a number of solid extras for fans to enjoy. If you haven't checked the show out, here's your chance, while fans can get a bit more enjoyment before season two kicks off.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.