The Goldbergs: A Not-So-Modern Family
When he was a child, Adam Goldberg wanted to invite Steven Spielberg to his bar mitzvah.
An aspiring filmmaker and the youngest of three, Goldberg videotaped everything his family did: His mother’s benevolent nagging. His father’s not-so-benevolent screaming. His older brother Barry slamming the door. His other older brother Eric avoiding curfew. It was all captured, and the tapes were meticulously cataloged.
As an adult, Goldberg (not to be confused with actor Adam Goldberg) moved those tapes (there were over 100) from place to place. Now his devotion to his family’s antics is paying off: He’s turned those tapes into a TV show.
The new ABC comedy The Goldbergs premiered Sept. 24 at 9 p.m. EST, bringing Goldberg’s memories of growing up in the ’80s to life. Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) plays his father, Murray. Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids) is his mother, Beverly. And 13-year-old newcomer Sean Giambrone is cast in the pivotal role of the young Adam.
“We saw a lot of kids from LA who’ve been acting a long time and have parents who rehearse and drill,” Goldberg explains of casting the real-life version of himself. “Sean just came in and was a normal kid from Chicago. It just felt like that’s what I would have done at that age. There is also an aspect to the Adam character just like devilish, and Sean did that so well in the pilot.”
Goldberg’s friend Doug Robinson, who is an executive producer on the series, has been trying to get him to make a TV show about his childhood for years. Goldberg was reluctant until he became a parent himself. “I just kind of had perspective on we’re raising our kids so differently,” he says. “And that was really the thing that changed. It gave me kind of a new perspective on how to do the show.”
The show does have quite a bit of fun with the juxtaposition of parenting then and now. “Back in the ’80s, we didn’t have Dr. Phil,” McLendon-Covey tells critics. “We didn’t have anyone showing us how to do things perfectly. So, you know, you yelled through it. I mean, you got in trouble. Your parents didn’t really ask you how you felt about things. It was just, ‘This is what I say you’re going to do. So do it.’”
As in real life, the Goldbergs are quite loud and the characters do yell at each other quite a bit. The screaming may be jarring to those who reside in quiet, calm households. “We’ll see if people respond to the language of the show,” Goldberg says. “It’s what I knew.”
Garlin thinks the yelling will ring true for most. “That’s one of the things I love about the show,” he says. “Because that’s most families. Most families yell at one another and then they’re fine.”
It’s also familiar to Giambrone, who is the youngest in his family. “I am Italian,” he says. “It really gets crazy when my grandma comes in.”
As The Wonder Years did for the ’60s, The Goldbergs also takes viewers back to a bygone era, this one a time of shoulder pads, big hair, loud sweaters, Pac Man and Rubik’s Cube. “It’s really fun to go back and think about all the old toys and old video games but the crazy thing is that it’s still here. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Tron, Karate Kid, all the things we grew up with, they’re redoing now,” Goldberg says.
Goldberg previously created the short-lived comedy Breaking In, which had the distinction of being canceled twice by Fox. “That show was always hard," he says. "It was a crazy premise. This one has just been easier and fun. It’s not a matter of what are we going to do; it’s ‘which of these ideas are we going to do?’ It’s been a blast.”
But is Goldberg prepared to let everyone into his childhood and expose his family to critics? “It’s going to be interesting,” he says. “I think when people don’t like the show and talk about the characters, it’s going to be hard for me because it’s going to be like a direct attack on my dad or a direct attack on my mom and it’s going to be very weird and surreal. At the end of the day, at least it’s not them. This is actors playing versions of my family from 30 years ago.”
The real-life Beverly Goldberg has already sent a box of her old sweaters to McLendon-Covey, and the actress cannot wait to meet her real-life counterpart. “I know she will have pages of notes for me,” McLendon-Covey says, laughing.
Goldberg’s family is looking forward the show. “My mom couldn’t be more excited. This just validated everything she ever did,” he says. “It’s a nice homage to us growing up.”