September 24, 2013

PREMIERING TONIGHT: THE SKED Pilot Review – ABC’s “The Goldbergs”


Read All Our Fall Pilot Reports here.

THE GOLDBERGS:  Tuesday 9PM on ABC – Change the Channel

THE GOLDBERGS is startlingly bad.  ABC’s most highly-touted new sitcom of the fall is inspired by series creator Adam F. Goldberg’s memories of growing up in the 1980s, and fragments of his own home videotapes at the end of the pilot purport to certify how close the television version of his family is to the real thing. (Mostly they just prove that the casting directors and costume designers have done their jobs well.)  Really, the show is a recreation instead of the airless world of 1980s family sitcoms.  As someone who grew up not all that far from the time, place and ethnicity of the series, I can say that those comedies were completely artificial in 1985, and they are now, too.

Furthering the idea that this is all an accurate depiction of real life, the focal point of The Goldbergs is, in fact, named Adam Goldberg (played by Sean Giambrone), who constantly annoys the rest of the family by following them around with the kind of homevideo camera that took full-sized VHS tapes and was a sight-gag even when it was new.  Adam’s father Murray (Jeff Garlin) bellows and complains, but he has a good heart; we know this because Adam’s voice-over narration as an adult (you’d better believe that everyone here has memorized the entire run of The Wonder Years) tells us: “Turns out Dad did have a good heart after all.”  That’s the kind of subtle this is.  Mom Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is the poster child for overprotective Jewish Mothers, opening her teenage son Barry’s (Troy Gentile) shower to remind him to wash his bottom, when she’s not magically turning up at a local restaurant where Adam was hoping to get to know one of the waitresses.  The show also features big sister Erica (Hayley Orrantia), although based on the family photo in the end credits, the real Adam Goldberg doesn’t have a sister–perhaps that’s why Erica has little to do in the pilot.  The gang is rounded out by Pops (George Segal), an indulgent grandpa who gives Adam cutesy dating advice.

The plot of the pilot revolves around one of the hoariest of all TV growing-up storylines, as Barry turns 16 and wants to learn how to drive.  If you’re going to tackle this practically Old Testament piece of family myth, you’d better have something new to say about it, but no–Goldbergs just gives us Mom not wanting her boychick to get behind the wheel while Dad erupts during the family driving lesson, as though the book on teen-driving comedy had slammed shut 30 years ago and couldn’t be reopened without a sorcerer’s spell.  Meanwhile, the dovetailing B story has Pops, with his grandsons in his car, losing control of his vehicle and smashing through a restaurant patio, an event treated in the show as nothing but a sight-gag.

There are a few scattered moments in The Goldbergs that reflect a life actually lived in a real era, like Murray relaxing by pulling off his pants the second he comes home from work at night, and his reliance on a clerk at Sam Goody for music expertise.  But most of the time, the show just uses references as recognition punch-lines, as though the very act of showing a Simon toy, mentioning Flavor Flav or playing an REO Speedwagon song in itself constitutes a joke.  Even though The Goldbergs is a single-camera comedy, the entire cast has been encouraged to perform as though there’s a live studio audience out there.  (The pilot director is Seth Gordon, who gave us Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief.)  Since there isn’t, everyone comes across as perpetually over-the-top.  The worst offender is McLendon-Covey, who’s so shrill she makes you want to put your hands over your ears, but even Garlin, whose grounded presence is easily the best thing about the show, is encouraged to be nothing but broad.

ABC really believes in The Goldbergs, and they’ve proven it by giving the series the pivotal post-Agents of SHIELD timeslot on Tuesday nights.  That puts it against New Girl, NCIS LA and–oh yes–The Voice.  Maybe Marvel’s superheroes can give the comedy such a massive lead-in that it can carry the day, but that would be an Avengers-level feat.  The Goldbergs would be better off on TV Land.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."