When ABC first presented their fall line-up this past May, it was clear that the network had pieced together strong trailers for their new, upcoming series. Though some (Trophy Wife) ultimately proved to be quick cuts of the few funny lines the pilot contains, there was hope that The Goldbergs with Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin - which arguably had one of the most positive response from ABC’s upfronts - would be one of the comedic gems of the new fall season.
From the duo behind Fox’s short-lived, quasi-cult comedy Breaking In, Adam F. Goldberg and Seth Gordon, ABC’s The Goldbergs is an endearing, semi-autobiographical series based on the life (and video tapes) of Goldberg’s real-life family in the '80s, when political correctness was unheard of and being called a “little bastard” was meant with love.
Like most nostalgia series, The Goldbergs makes great use of its familiar period elements, allowing viewers to be easily transported to a time not long ago. What separates The Goldbergs from the other throwback series that have made it to air, however, is the fact that the series never really revels in its nostalgia; instead, the '80s is simply used as the setting by which to tell tales that have a modern-day counterpart. This element, which seems like it should be a requirement for all television series, is often overlooked and pushed aside, as many series would rather simply make numerous references to the '80s than depict the not-too-far-off lifestyles of that time, compared to ours.
In the pilot, it’s not about Barry (Troy Gentile), Adam’s older brother, longing for a specific edition of the Pontiac Firebird (which the writers found out was coveted by new drivers at the time); it’s about getting your license. Through Barry obtaining his license, and Erica (Hayley Orrantia), the oldest child, fighting for her own vehicle – all while Adam tapes it – an earnest coming-of-age tale worth watching kicked off the show's first chapter.
Unlike most series, where fantastical made-up characters are created on the spot, The Goldbergs have real-life counterparts which are obviously important to the creators – and it shows. Each character - from Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey), Adam’s outspoken (and always correct) mother to "Pops" (George Segal), the ever-intrusive grandfather - is fully developed and works surprisingly well within the ensemble. The one weak link, however, may very well be one person everyone was looking forward to seeing: Jeff Garlin.
Garlin on Curb Your Enthusiasm is like having a hilarious blow horn under the control of a symphonic master (Larry David). As for Garlin on The Goldbergs? He still brings that same boisterous voice that everyone knows and love; it’s just that this time it might be a bit too much. Like Denis Leary in the throwback baseball film The Sandlot, Garlin feels a bit out of place once the pilot gets going, and there isn’t much that’s done to rectify that by the end. Still, while it was very much Beverly, Barry and “Pops” who stole the show, there’s hope that Garlin could join the rest of the cast in becoming a well-rounded character soon enough.
When one begins to look at the fall line-up, it quickly becomes apparent that there aren’t that many choices for new, strong comedies out there - so it’s important to give those which have the most potential a shot. While it may be a few weeks before Garlin settles into his character (it is the pilot, after all), there’s more than enough reason to give The Goldberg’s a watch – and not just because of all the REO Speedwagon songs.
The Goldbergs return next Tuesday @ 9pm on ABC with “Daddy Daughter Day”.