‘The Goldbergs’ Are a Strangely Familiar Family

Even with their boistrous personalities, the Goldbergs are a distinctly ordinary family; that's what makes them both relatable and funny.

One of the most impressive things about The Goldbergs is that this family sitcom actually gets the idea of family right. The characters’ situations aren’t over-the-top or excessively dramatic, even though Beverly Goldberg (Wendi McLendon-Covey), with her guilt trips and over-praise of her “perfect” children, might play up the drama in a distinctly mom-ish way. We don’t get any “very special episodes” or unrealistically extreme hardships, and while it may seem that the characters are always in conflict with one another, it’s the kind of conflict that only occurs between people who love each other deeply and unconditionally enough to let arguments happen when they need to rather than bottling up their feelings.

Perhaps the emotional and situational authenticity of The Goldbergs is due in large part to the show’s genuine inspiration. Loosely based on creator Adam F. Goldberg’s own childhood memories, each episode concludes with a clip from actual family videos depicting a moment or situation recreated in the show. While the fictional version is undoubtedly embellished for the sake of comedic and dramatic effect, this real-world foundation seems to ground the sitcom in reality in such a way that it also feels highly relatable to viewers’ actual experiences.

The Goldberg family exists in a general atmosphere of the ’80s, highlighted by the fact that every episode is labeled with a date in “1980-something”; however, no specific year or even sequence of events from episode to episode is strictly maintained. This conforms to the traditional nature of sitcoms as episodic as opposed to continuous stories, but even more than adhering to the conventions of the genre, using this nonspecific and yet immediately recognizable temporal setting allows The Goldbergs to depict the general feeling of remembering one’s childhood in a way that is understandable to children of any era.

While ’80s nostalgia is perhaps part of the initial appeal of this show for a certain demographic, the kind of childhood wonder and optimism embodied by the young Adam Goldberg (Sean Giambrone) is evocative for any adult viewer. Of course, not all audiences have the same exact set of experiences, but even those who don’t immediately or fully understand the specifics of Adam’s situation — including an overprotective, overbearing mother (or, as Beverly is often called, a “smother”), an unsentimental father with difficulty expressing his feelings for his children, and the torture only an older sibling can inflict — the very ordinariness of the Goldberg family is innately familiar.

The kinds of things the Goldbergs fight about, such as not filling up the gas tank, leaving sporting events early to avoid traffic, and whether to eat out or have Mom cook dinner, are distinctly ordinary, and thus realistic. From Thanksgiving drama to teenaged rebellion, frp, getting lost in public to disagreements over politics, The Goldbergs touches on the kinds of generic and common childhood experiences familiar to many viewers, only to amplify these ordinary scenarios with boisterous personalities. The humor comes from the magnification of stock character traits –Beverly’s love for her children, for example, becomes over-the-top smothering, or big brother Barry’s (Troy Gentile) oafishness verges into slapstick. The comedic effect of The Goldbergs is undoubtedly intensified by these actors’ performances, especially those who exaggerate familiar traits in this way.

The Goldbergs balances comedy and emotion in a way that is both real and, dare I say it, ” heartwarming”, reminiscent of Full House, Family Matters, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Indeed, I would argue it does more successfully than even its critically acclaimed contemporaries, such as Modern Family, which admirably highlights the ways in which the concept of “family” has shifted over the years, yet whose smattering of exaggerated and very different characters may detract from its ability to resonate on a more personal level. Guided by a grown-up Adam’s voice-over (Patton Oswalt), hearkening back to The Wonder Years, and thereby focusing on one child’s perspective on growing up, it is easier to identify with his childhood concerns, desires, and feelings, as well as his relationships with his family.

Even though not much changes in any sitcom from season to season, The Goldbergs: The Complete Second Season is still a highly entertaining and clever season that merges childhood nostalgia and relatable family dysfunction in an unmistakably funny way. The deleted scenes do add some humor and some depth to the characters, but by and large, the DVD bonus features paint a picture of the good vibes on the set of this show that translate onto the screen. Actor Sean Giambrone, for example, reveals himself to basically be the same kid he appears to be in the show, with the same (if not more) of the wide-eyed innocence, excitement, and enthusiasm that make Adam Goldberg such a relatable character.

While some may argue that The Goldbergs is anything but groundbreaking, perhaps even the subject of ridicule for wholeheartedly embracing some of the silliest qualities of its chosen era — bedazzling, tacky sweaters, and big hair — as an ’80s “period piece”, this sitcom is pioneering in that it takes a classic formula that has only found moderate success since the ’80s and rejuvenates it for modern audiences. In particular, no matter what era, there’s one thing about the Goldberg family that seems to translate to audiences of all ages: family is weird, no one knows your weirdness like your family, and they accept you and love you anyway.

RATING 8 / 10
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