The Goldbergs gets a lot of flak for being a boisterous sitcom, in both the literal and figurative sense. Propelled by Jeff Garlin’s high-strung, high-volume persona, many of the actors appear to be operating on a “the louder, the funnier” comedy mindset. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometime louder actually is funnier (see classic bits from SNL-era John Belushi). Nevertheless, few things can drain a comedy faster than unrelenting high energy. It’s exhausting for the audience and all the more exhausting for the actors. Inevitably, you’re trapped by the law of diminishing returns. As our resident narrator Patton Oswalt once said in a great bit, certain jokes should ebb and flow like a Pixies song.
That being said, “Why’re You Hitting Yourself?” marks a step in the right direction. From the onset, you can almost feel the show’s cast and crew collectively relax. Oh, the comedy’s as broad as ever and the emotional climax remains as calculated as always, but there’s now an intangible ease to the proceedings. Adam Goldberg and Co. no longer seem as though they’re desperately grasping for laughs like the hyperactive middle school class clown who couldn’t tolerate sitting through a single class period without getting at least one chuckle from his classmates.
First, let’s start off with the really good news—Beverly actually gets a storyline where she’s not smothering her children before ultimately learning to let them go their own ways. Granted, forcibly setting her Pops up on a date can be considered a form of smothering, but it’s still a nice change of pace. Also, dammit if she’s not unquestionably great as a matchmaker.
Of course, Albert fails to show up for his date, leading to an honest discussion between the two about his womanizing ways. And while the heart-to-heart between Beverly and Albert might feel a bit déjà vu after the two’s heart-to-heart last week, the mere fact that it’s not regarding the children this time around is something to celebrate.
That goes double for the episode’s titular story, which—after weeks of child-parent conflicts—pairs Adam with Barry. The situation in question begins with the two fighting over the TV. Adam wants to watch General Hospital while Barry prefers the antics of ALF. While struggling over the remote, the boys accidentally tune into a scrambled porn channel. Despite the fact that the picture is all but incomprehensible, the two become obsessed with the mere possibility of maybe seeing a breast. Naturally, this ‘80s rite of passage becomes a bonding tool for the constantly feuding brothers. This being the Goldberg clan, however, such a paradise can never be long-term.
Working with characters that tend towards the outlandish, Sean Giambrone and Troy Gentile are here given the chance to work off each other. Shockingly, the combination makes for something approaching stabilization and the chemistry proves to be both funny and surprisingly poignant.
The Goldbergs may very well be a “shout”-friendly sitcom, yet this week’s installment makes the case for why the show deserves to stick around a tad longer while other new shows flounder off into cancellation. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it “must-watch TV” at this point but, with a little bit of elbow grease, it could very well reach that mantle yet.
P.S. Final act coda music for this week: a subdued version of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door.”