Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Goldbergs

The Goldbergs
Episode 1: The Circle of Driving
By: Carlos Uribe

The Goldbergs is a comedy about a family in the eighties. I will be reviewing this show weekly.

Spoilers Ahoy!

I'm going to be honest and state that I'm rooting for the Goldbergs. It's a project that was of interest to me ever since the pilot stage since I'm interested in the idea of having a new, modern version of The Wonder Years. Of course, there's a difference between wanting a project to be good and that project actually be going. The Goldbergs pilot is very rough as there are at least four major problems that are holding it back-some of them might very well be the reason the show doesn't make it past it's first seasons. The first problem is that The Goldbergs is actually kind of annoying. Now the whole idea of the show is that it's autobiographical. This is based on a family that actually existed, said the things, and lived through these situations. This is supposed to add a level of authenticity to the comedy. It makes sense somebody would look at their past and create a sit-com out of it. I know of many times where I think my life would make a perfect comedy. The Goldbergs is slightly held back by it's real life inspiration. I don't know about you but I don't like it when a loud family is screaming near me. It's frankly annoying. Now, it makes sense that a member of the family might find the yelling to be entertaining. They are after all a part of the family dynamic rather than an outsider. The Goldbergs invites us into the family but we are just spectators to a household we're just getting to know. The yelling on the Goldberg is annoying for that reason. We're not a part of it, we don't know them well enough, so it's more like a strange family that is yelling at the top of their tongues right next to you. Now this annoying feature will likely be less of a problem as the producers find a way to tone it down and we get invested in the family. Of course, the issue is that this is going to make it difficult to get to know them. It's already hard enough getting anyone to watch a new show. Having that new show put up such an obstacle into getting that person invested? I wouldn't be surprised if all the yelling that adds authenticity is the very same element that makes it hard for viewers to stick around The Goldbergs. If that's the case, it might kill it.

The Goldberg has a major problem when it comes to the time period. I've read multiple reviews and they seem to suggest that the producers are approaching the eighties as a secondary feature of the show. In other series, the time period is a character in-and-of itself. It becomes a reason to watch the show because it adds cultural value, it plays into a viewer's nostalgia, and it adds a layer of realism. Mad Men is partly an iconic show because of it's managed to capture the sixties time period. The Wonder Years was fantastic partly because it explored how the time period affected the experiences of a young Kevin Arnold. The Americans blew me away partially because it explored the Cold War through a unique perspective. The eighties remained crucial for that show to work. I could name other projects where the time period helped to define the show. The people working on the Goldbergs have claimed that this is a family comedy that just happens to be set in the eighties. There's some pop culture references to the time period but the decade is never allowed to become an actual character. We're not being transported back to the eighties. The only reason we would know it's set in the eighties is the style, the references, and the fact that it tells us. It's all very artificial. If that's the case, why not just move the family into the modern age? The situations, the characters, the dialogue would still work. The pop culture references would have to be updated but that's an artificial change. The Goldbergs' refusal to actually be a time period piece despite being set in the eighties hurts the show. It hurts the show because it makes the eighties hook unjustifiable. It hurts it because we don't see how the eighties affected the family. If the Goldbergs wants to become great then it needs to embrace it's historical setting. It needs to make the eighties a character.

The third problem of the Goldbergs is a truly mystifying one. Just think about who the main character of this show is. Everything points to the little kid: he's recording everything, he's the young version of the creator, and he provides the narration. This is a show coming from his point of view. There's a small sub-plot where he tries to get a waitress to remember his name. Basically all we know about him is he likes to record his family and his hormones have made him a pervert. This leaves what is arguably the main character of the Goldbergs to be very undeveloped. Why? The pilot barely spent any time with him. It focused on the other members of the family. The main character is therefore sidelined on his own show in the pilot. That is mystifying. I could see why they might have gone with Barry's plot (it's relatable and easy to tell) but it also meant we can't get to know Adam. Which is odd because this might be a show about his family but he's the one telling us. The show's refusal to put Adam front-and-center is even more nonsensical about it's refusal to make the time period integral into the show's structure. These two decisions are conscious ones that ultimately stop the Goldbergs from really being able to work.

The final problem with the Goldbergs is that it feels like a typical family. We've seen this family on television before. Okay, there might be a level of authenticity because it's based on a real family. When I was reading through comments after watching the show, people who didn't stick through the abrasive yelling complained that the show simply wasn't original. It's easy to get that perspective. I mean, it's a harsh indictment to see a show about a real family and then claim that wasn't original. It's basically to reject that family's uniqueness. So I don't want to say that the Goldbergs isn't an original show. At the same time, I can't tell you to expect something new. Granted, that's partially because the Goldbergs refused to make the time period an integral part of the show. If it had explored how the eighties influenced their family dynamic then maybe the show wouldn't seem so typical. Ultimately that's the problem with the Goldbergs: it's an adaption of the creator's childhood but he doesn't actually have anything to say about it. He fell into the trap of thinking his family is so funny and assumed that was enough. It never is. If he was using this show as a way to actually explore his family dynamics, the ways it was shaped, and to get to a deeper understanding of why he grew up that way then I think this show wouldn't feel like “been-there-done-that”.

The Goldbergs suffers a lot of problems. There's the yelling which becomes abrasive, it's refusal to make it's time period a true part of the show, it's inability to concentrate on it's main protagonist, and how typical it all feels. The first one will drive away viewers before they come invested into the family, the second one removes a huge value to the show, the third leaves it's narrator ultimately undeveloped, and it's last one gives people no reason to watch. Now, I'm rooting that the show is able to solve it's issues and become worth watching. I'm hoping that The Goldbergs either proves me wrong or it's able to fix it's issues. Whatever the case, I'm willing to give this show a shot on my review roster and on my viewing schedule. Because I really want this show to succeed.

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