The Goldbergs may be the first sitcom I’ve ever seen during which I legitimately thought that I would love to be a part of the writers’ room. An ’80s-set The Wonder Years with a louder, more boisterous family (to suit the times), there is an immense amount of potential in The Goldbergs, and it’s already one of the few sitcoms I’ve ever fallen completely in love with before mid-season.
The Goldbergs yell a lot. They nag, and they criticize, and the mock each other, but there’s obviously a great deal of affection underneath the scorn. Jeff Garlin, who plays the Dad, is basically Jeff Garlin in full-on obnoxious mode, who seems like he’s probably spitting food on you anytime he speaks. Meanwhile, Wendi McLendon-Covey is brilliant as the no-nonsense, overbearing Mom who will walk in on her son while he’s taking a shower and gives no f*cks.
There’s nothing special about the storyline in the pilot itself — the middle kid turns 16, and his parents torture him about the fact that he’s not responsible enough to drive — but the episode does a remarkable job of establishing the characters. The older sister is dour and temperamental, the middle kid is the put-upon, overreacting dolt, and the younger kid — whose viewpoint the series is told from (with narration by Patton Oswalt) — is a nerdlinger, who is clearly going to suffer through his teenage years in hand-me down women’s jeans. George Segal rounds out the cast as the spoiling grandfather who is slowly losing his mind, and he brings in a considerable amount of charm to offset some of the yelling. The entire family starts out as caricatures of excess, but 22 minutes help to fill in their personalities, and with four or five episodes under its belt, I can see myself being invested in a more fully-realized family.
It’s also very funny, thanks mostly to the abrasive parenting styles of Mom and Dad, who dote with insults and guilt. There’s a lot of comparisons you can draw here: Besides The Wonder Years, it’s also reminiscent of The Middle and Raising Hope (minus the baby). But what really appealed to me, besides the nostalgia factor (for which I am a sucker), was a touch of the Freaks and Geeks tone that simmers beneath it all. (I think Patton Oswalt’s narration contributes to that.) I liked the first two acts of The Goldbergs pilot, but when they cracked out the REO Speedwagon, I was completely sold.
Who knows how The Goldbergs holds up over time, but most sitcoms improve upon the pilot, and after its premiere, it’s already sitting pretty.
Meanwhile, Trophy Wife — which follows The Goldbergs on ABC tonight (both follow Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — has a phenomenal cast, but there’s not a particularly compelling angle. It centers on Malik Akerman’s character, who becomes the third wife of Bradley Whitford’s character, and in doing so, inherits not only Whitford’s children, but his two ex-wives (one of whom is a straight-laced doctor played by Marcia Gay Harden). It’s not a bad pilot; in fact, it’s very watchable. But you can’t help but feel like it’s trying to duplicate Modern Family in a world of divorce, custody arrangements, and step-parents. The viewpoint it provides doesn’t feel very genuine, and the humor can be best described as tepid and inoffensively trashy. It’s very much like later season Modern Family episodes: Forgettable, easy to watch, and modestly entertaining, but certainly nothing worth tuning in for each week.