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TV Series Review

You know, the 1980s weren't so weird back in the 1980s.

The feathered bangs, the parachute pants, the strange fascination we had with Def Leppard … it all seemed so normal back then. It's only in retrospect that it all looks like some strange planet where everyone worshipped hairspray.

Most of us Gen-Xers somehow managed to make it out of the decade alive and with a modicum of sanity. And now we look back at those days like we would think of our pet Chinese Crested (of the hairless variety): Sure, it's ugly, but it's our ugly.

And that, in a way, sums up the attraction of ABC's The Goldbergs. Sure, the kids might laugh at the shoulder pads and snicker at our ancient VCRs. But sitcom creator Adam Goldberg tells us that while fashions and fads may have been goofy, the people—the family and friends he himself grew up with—they were … well, goofy too. (Sometimes in a nice way, other times not.)

Whatchu Talkin' About, Plugged In?

Onscreen Adam Goldberg is the creator's barely fictionalized avatar, with some of the show's most outlandish scenes serving as, reportedly, simple re-creations of Adam's own videotaped documentation of real life. The bespectacled teen loves Star Wars, Transformers and his nifty (if monstrously proportioned) video camera—the tool he uses to document his family's trip through the decade. He's particularly fond of taping the fights, of which his family has many.

Much of the blame for this delirious dysfunction, of course, can be saddled on the parents. Loving as they both are, overbearing mom Beverly can out-shout and out-guilt almost anyone, and dad Murray puts the blust in bluster. But Adam and his two teenage siblings are hardly spot-free. Wild-child Erica pushes almost as many parental buttons as she does familial envelopes, and Barry—well, let's just say this would-be Romeo takes after his clueless dad. And their entertainment choices? Well, we at Plugged In believe that entertainment is influential, and you can only watch so much One Day at a Time before snapping.

Where's the Beef?

The Goldbergs, initially dismissed by some critics as sort of a one-trick, make-fun-of-the-'80s pony ("Whoa! Look at that corded phone!"), is showing itself to be more substantive now. It's tapping into a well of affectionate nostalgia, not unlike Happy Days did for children of the '50s or The Wonder Years for the kids of the late 1960s and early '70s. Sure, the show takes some liberties with chronology (one recent episode pairs the early '80s toga party fad with 1989's When Harry Met Sally), but this is a world that looks familiar to me. And watching this show made me a little wistful in spite of myself.

But since we're talking about the '80s, let's keep in mind that it was a problematic time in its own peculiar way. Just as it was the golden age of cinematic teen sex comedies (Porky's, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), the Goldbergs talk a lot about sex. Drinking and drugs were a huge concern ("Just Say No!"), so it's perhaps natural that such topics would be a big deal in the Goldberg household. Movie parents in the 1980s were at their most ineffectual, and while Beverly and Murray are actually more involved than, say, Ferris Bueller's or the oft-drunk father in Pretty in Pink, clashes between generations here are frequent and loud—with neither parent nor child showing a whole lot of respect. Profanity is also commonly heard in the Goldberg's less-than-happy household.

The Goldbergs isn't a bad show. It's The Middle with a mullet. But for all its nostalgia and sometime good intentions, The Goldbergs is a reminder that sometimes things do get better—and that may be reason enough for many families to step away from this problematic past.

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

The Goldbergs: Feb. 21, 2017 "So Swayze It's Crazy"
Goldbergs: 2-4-2014



Readability Age Range





Wendi McLendon-Covey as Beverly Goldberg; Jeff Garlin as Murray Goldberg; Sean Giambrone as Adam Goldberg; Troy Gentile as Barry Goldberg; Hayley Orrantia as Erica Goldberg; George Segal as Albert 'Pops' Solomon; Patton Oswalt as Narrator; AJ Michalka as Lainey Lewis






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On Video

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Paul Asay

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