Did you like The Wonder Years but wish politics had been replaced by pop culture? Do you like yelling? Do you remember things like Alf and Sam Goody? Then ABC's new family comedy The Goldbergs will be for you!
Capitalizing on the warm and fuzzy feelings nostalgia provides (not to mention the current embracing of all things pop culture), The Goldbergs, which comes from writer/producer Adam F. Goldberg's own life, flashes back to the '80s when the hair was bigger, the videocameras were bigger, and well, I guess everything was bigger. Goldberg has written a humorous and heartwarming tale about coming of age in a time that was anything but the golden age-- in a family whose mouths were big no matter what decade they were in.
Newcomer Sean Giambrone steps into the hot spot as Adam himself, the young man who documented his family with an old VHS camera. He shoots everything from his brother learning to drive to his parents sharing a sentimental moment over long-forgotten childhood items, and he does it all in his sister's Jordache hand-me-downs. You read that right.
Young Adam is an observer, at least in the pilot choosing to stand behind the camera and film rather than actively be a part of many major milestones. And older Adam (Patton Oswalt) is the narrator, explaining, even if not fully reflecting on, his experiences. He is a voyeur. In many lesser stories, he'd be the little weirdo others pick on, but here he is the hero simply for capturing memories. He has an important impact on those around him even if he's too young to realize it. The bond Adam and his grandfather (George Segal) share specifically is one of the cornerstones of emotion in this story and really rounds out both characters.
But it is really older brother Barry (Troy Gentile) who get most of the story here. He is of a more interesting age, a teenager hoping for a car for his birthday, and he goes toe-to-toe with his on-screen parents (comedy legends Wendi McLendon-Covey and Jeff Garlin) without blinking, let alone flinching. Barry has a great line about only listening to hip-hop because "only Flavor Flav understands me," but unfortunately it-- and everything else that comes out of his mouth-- is pitched with such a whine it's hard to take him seriously, let alone see him as the older brother. In all honesty, Barry spends the pilot huffing and puffing like he's experiencing PMS for the first time. Giambrone's quiet understatement makes him the more mature one, but also the more likeable and watchable one. Both McLendon-Covey and Garlin are dramatic and big in their bold and brassy personalities in a way that is fun at a distance and fine in small doses but makes me seriously think those kids deserve hugs and emancipation after spending a whole half-hour with them.
Except for his own passion project I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, Garlin is an actor who has only exhibited one volume his work. From Curb Your Enthusiasm to Arrested Development, he has come off as a big, brash, loud guy. The Goldbergs is no different but because Garlin is the patriarch of this family and therefore a central figure to this show, his one decibel should not imply completely one-note, but it's still scary enough to bring back some memories of anyone who grew up in a household like this-- or to worry about his health. The show does point out the character had one heart attack, and stress exponentially increases chances for another, whether the stress is kid or self-inducing.
McLendon-Covey is a consummate trooper who deserves hazard pay for her wardrobe of frumpy track suits and her Aqua-Net teased helmet of hair, by the way. She could sit in the corner of a scene and not say a word and still be an extremely loud presence because of her look alone. But she counters that harsh look by allowing some real vulnerability to creep in for her character. She's not just an abrasive, overbearing mother (though she plays that role at times), nor just the weepy sentimentalist (but she checks that off on the list, too). She's rides the full range, making her easily the best-rounded character, as well as the funniest and most relatable.
The Goldbergs hammers the pop culture references home in a way that many comedies will take to episode four or even six to do. Many comedies choose to ease the audience into their specific brand of humor, their characters, and their detailed quirks. Not The Goldbergs. The Goldbergs is unashamed in what it is and who its characters are. It quite literally throws the audience into this crazy family without a safety net and seems to say "fend for yourself; I had to!" As jarring as that may be for some, it lends itself perfectly to feeling like these over the top characters are actually people.
It's hard to say Goldberg has created something completely unique with The Goldbergs considering in many ways it's just an adaptation of things that actually happened to him. Additionally, nostalgic family comedies are all the rage right now, with two more coming on two other networks in the next few months. But what The Goldbergs has that those do not is an authenticity and a specificity that make it stand out among the other like-minded series, as well as the other new shows in general. Maybe Goldberg has a leg up because he has crafted characters quite literally out of the molds of his own family, but they have a life that feels real and funny and at times just outrageous enough for you to see your own family's oddities reflected back in them (I mean, seriously, what family has a family podiatrist!?).
The Goldbergs premieres on ABC on September 24 2013 at 9 p.m. but you can watch the pilot in full right now on http://watchabc.go.com/ and the WATCH ABC app for smart phones and tablets.
Want more The Goldbergs news and reviews? Follow LA TV Insider Examiner on Twitter!