The first time I left the channel unchanged post-S.H.I.E.L.D. as it segued into a Patton Oswalt-narrated opening monologue, I was deeply underwhelmed. I like a good period piece as much as the next geek, arguably even moreso, but I am also the person who panned Ready Player One, the last great big "I Love the '80's!" paean I encountered. But I didn't hate Ready Player One, I just found it disappointing because it brushed greatness but failed to capitalize on its own potential. To sum up the 9000 words I linked to above: Ready Player One made a bunch of '80's pop culture references with no examination or explanation of what they meant or how they connected. That bugged me. In the same vein, the first voiceover of The Goldbergs I ever heard went approximately like this: "It was the 1980's, the era of E.T., Mr. T. and MTV ..."
Gah. No. Gah. Please. Stop. Gah gah gah.
Do E.T. and Mr. T. and MTV have anything in commmon besides the letter T and being things that were created in the '80's? Well, maybe they do and maybe they don't, but the narration had no time for such trivialities, which just struck me as the worst kind of dumb, lazy writing. I know, I know, I'm taking my own personal peeve way too seriously here, it was just a throwaway bit of cutesy rhyming wordplay and entirely beside the point from the slightly skewed family sitcom that is the essence of the show. But when something rankles, it rankles.
I wanted to like The Goldbergs, though, partly because of Patton Oswalt's involvement and also because of Wendi McLendon-Covey, who plays the mom. I always thought she was hilarious as Clementine Johnson on Reno 911!, so I was rooting for her. My wife was much more charmed by The Goldbergs than I was at the outset, though in her case it was primarily because of Jeff Garlin as the dad (we've discovered this fall tv season that my wife is really, really amused by big fat older male characters who yell a lot, so there you go). And since my wife very sweetly sits through all those episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D. with me (and maybe more to the point is on board with cracking the whip on the kids at bedtime to make sure they're down by 8 so we don't miss a minute of S.H.I.E.L.D.), I could certainly defer to her and keep giving The Goldbergs a chance.
So I did, and I have to say, the show is capable of making '80's references with some depth beyond "Hey! Stuff happened 30 years ago which was superficially different from stuff that happens now! Remember?!?!?" The Halloween episode saw the older son in the family not only dressing up like the Incredible Hulk (which, admittedly, makes for a hilarious visual gag with him all bodypainted green) but actually identifying with the character's loneliness, frustration, discomfort in his own changing body, &c. Granted, the episode started with the kid watching the Incredible Hulk tv show, where Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk never spoke any dialogue, and for the rest of the episode the older son would talk in character as Hulk by speaking in the third person ("Hulk go get some chips!"), which is more true to the comics and/or cartoons, but I am much more forgiving of those slight inconsistencies if the reference is being deployed meaningfully rather than mindlessly. It's winning me over.
And if I've gone from unimpressed to moderately in favor of the show, my wife has gone from mildly interested to completely smitten. And that's almost entirely due to McLendon-Covey. This week I was downstairs in the kitchen cleaning up after S.H.I.E.L.D. ended, while my wife stayed upstairs rocking the baby and watching The Goldbergs. When the episode ended my wife put the baby in his crib and ran downstairs to tell me what I had missed. The A-story was about the older son getting his driver's license and the mom freaking out. My wife, still giggling helplessly, related to me some of the more choice monologues delivered by McLendon-Covey in her epic meltdown, culminating in calling police and hospitals looking for her son because he hasn't called to say he arrived safely. Apparently the mom provides a physical description of her son, whom she adores, and concludes with a sighing "Oh, he was the most beautiful baby!" This tickled my wife almost beyond belief, and with tears of laughter in her eyes my wife said to me "Oh my gosh, she's me, isn't she?"
I couldn't argue the point, nor would I particularly want to. My wife loves our kids uncontrollably, and we both already know that she will suffer acutely from forever seeing them as infants even as they become tweens, teens, doctoral candidates, United States Senators, and so on. She thinks the sun rises and sets on them, that they are the pinnacle of the human race's advancement, and she frets over them inconsolably and beyond reason when they are out of her sight. The only difference between my wife and Beverly Goldberg (other than one being a real person I know and one being a semi-fictionalized representation of someone I don't) is that my wife has enough self-awareness to struggle with and successfully restrain her tendency to smotheringly over-protect our brood, whereas sitcom moms are blissfully unencumbered by same.
At any rate, I love my wife for being so invested in our sons and daughter, and I love her for her self-awareness, and I love her for her sense of humor. The Goldbergs probably gets a lifetime pass for hitting so close to home in such a funny way. When something strikes a chord, it strikes a chord.
As a parting gift, here is my absolute all-time favorite Clementine Johnson clip: