October 1, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “The Goldbergs”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on THE GOLDBERGS:  It’s the era of Muppet Show lunchboxes and acid-washed jeans, and the Goldberg family spends its time driving each other crazy:  grumpy dad Murray (Jeff Garlin), smothering mom Beverly (Windi McLendon-Covey), cool grandpa Pops (George Segal), teen son Barry (Troy Gentile), daughter Erica (Hayley Orrantia) and young Adam (Sean Giambrone), who follows them all around with a VHS camcorder and who will grow up to create this show (his modern-day memories are narrated by Patton Oswalt).

Episode 2:  No one can say The Goldbergs isn’t consistent; it’s the same mix of over-the-top ethnic bellowing and simpleminded sentimentality that the pilot promised.  In this installment, written by series creator Adam F. Goldberg and directed by Seth Gordon, dad takes Erica out for a day together in order to recapture the bond they had before she hit puberty.  Since cluelessness is the order of the day on this show, he brings her to the local roller rink, where there are three varieties of jokes.  First, once Murray has convinced Erica to actually tell him her adolescent problems, he can’t handle them–and nor should he, since it’s a toss-up as to which is more unconvincing, the stories she tells (a tattooed man covering her with suntan lotion–at night) or the idea that any girl would ever conceive of telling them to her father.  Second, there’s the discovery that burly Barry has become a roller rink habitue, as blind to how he looks out there with short shorts and a fanny pack as he is to the sound of his own rapping.  And finally, of course, Murray injures himself as soon as he straps his skates on.

There’s no relief in the B story, which has Beverly conducting psychological warfare against Adam to make him wear the kiddie clothes she’s bought him (a choo-choo sweater) as he enters 7th grade–until, of course, she reluctantly concedes that he’s growing up, and then fights like a wildcat to buy him those acid-washed jeans he wants.

As with the pilot, the great irony of The Goldbergs is that it’s based on Adam Goldberg’s real-life memories, and yet there’s barely a second in the half-hour where anyone sounds or acts like a recognizable human being.  (And the 15 seconds of real camcorder footage showing his father calling people “morons” doesn’t make it any more convincing.)  Nothing here suggests the nuances and complications of real family members with one another.  If these people existed, you’d cross the street to avoid them, so the appeal of spending time with them on a weekly basis is obscure.  Garlin is such a likable personality that he makes Murray tolerable by sheer force of will (he has an amusing montage of the faces and sounds he makes when he can’t bear any sign of his daughter’s womanhood), and George Segal holds onto his dignity with a touch of detachment, but that’s about the best to be said for it.

It has to be noted that with the monster Agents of SHIELD as its lead-in, The Goldbergs got off to a very strong start, with a 3.1 rating that would be a hit in anyone’s book.  We’ll find out in coming weeks how much of that is from the sheer inertia of viewers already tuned to ABC (maybe with the 1980s setting, they forget that remote controls now exist) and how much is genuine enthusiasm, but even if it’s the latter, it doesn’t make the show any more pleasant to watch.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  If You Liked the Pilot… Enjoy

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."