Oh, the horror…
Anyone who’s ever lived through the battlefield of middle school and high school knows that the idea of a parent chaperoning a dance is akin to social suicide. When said parent is Beverly Goldberg, however, the capacity for embarrassment suddenly becomes downright catastrophic.
The episode begins with Adam garnering enough courage to ask Dana for a dance at the upcoming school dance. The problem comes when Adam realizes he has no idea how to actually dance with a girl. After failing to get advice from Erica or proper lessons from Barry, who only subscribes to the art of break-dancing, Adam turns to his mother, despite knowing that asking her help will be “opening the door” for her to further invade his life. To Adam’s delight, Beverly actually teaches him decent dance moves. (I assume they’re decent; by the time I started going to dances, everyone was just grinding all the time.) His worst fears come to pass, however, when he hears that she’s volunteered to chaperone the event to witness her son’s first slow-dance.
Reading the premise of “You Opened the Door,” I thought I knew what kind of episode to expect. And while select portions of the main story met my expectations, others surprisingly threw me a curve. Certainly the scene where Adam must practice slow dancing with his mother is as awkward and as painful as you’d expect (not to mention the fact that she goes to the dance dressed in “hip” parachute pants). Yet, the writers appear to presuppose that their audiences know Beverly’s character and, with that knowledge, expect her to do and say certain things.
In other words, when Beverly eventually shows up at the dance, despite Adam’s desperate attempts to keep her away, we expect an avalanche of humiliation to follow suit. Instead, Adam yells that he doesn’t want her there and that asking for her help was a mistake. A legitimately hurt Beverly then proceeds to leave the party. Only after seeing Dana’s drunken mother (a co-chaperone) making a fool of herself, does Adam realize that everyone feels embarrassed by his or her parents, and that, however extreme his mother may be, he’s not alone. Adam asks his mother to return and, in a surprise turn of events, her boundless enthusiasm actually encourages the other students to get up and dance.
The episodes’ dance storyline certainly had the potential for over-the-top, crazy cringe comedy, but the writers wisely decided to pare that down in favor of a more understated, yet still humorous approach. In particular, I love how the joke about Beverly being able to read lips, which I initially took to be a throwaway line, was actually called back in a very endearing way by the final act.
Meanwhile, most of the more hard-hitting comedy is brought by the B storyline, which has Murray finally attempting to give his son the “birds and the bees” talk. His first crack at the discussion, where he uses baseball players as euphemisms, ends with Barry questioning the logistics of his analogy—such as that “Bo Jackson” (aka, the vagina) would never be on the same field as “Mike Schmidt” (aka, the penis) during the winter season. (“I never thought I would ever say this to you, but you’re over-thinking this, you moron!” a frustrated Murray exclaims.) After Barry storms out, the camera pulls back and, in a funny reveal, shows that Albert has been sitting right off-screen listening to the whole embarrassing exchange. He also lets Murray know that he gave Barry the talk long ago. When Murray then jumps Barry with an even more awkward presentation using Fraggle puppets as punishment, Barry says his irreverent behavior was born out of frustration. He accuses his dad of never offering the proper advice when he needed it, whether the subject was sex, playing sports or shaving. “In my defense, I know very little,” a guilt-ridden Murray later admits to Albert. Seeing the truth in Barry’s anger, Murray attempts to take a more active role in his son’s life. He starts, of course, with showing him how to open a bottle using the edge of a kitchen counter.
The baseball and Fraggle scenes between Murray and Barry stand as some of the best gags in the show’s history. What’s more, Jeff Garlin and Troy Gentile are more than capable of the rapid-fire delivery necessary to pull it off. I’ve mentioned previously how the cast now feels much more at home in their characters’ skins, and these scenes are an excellent demonstration of that. The one downside is that, while the subplot’s sudden turn into more heavy material does make narrative sense, the sentiment still feels like it comes a bit out of nowhere. Though I admire the fact that The Goldbergs’ creative team always tries to endow the humor with a little bit of heart, there’s something to be said about a plotline that exists purely as a vehicle for comedy and is not weighed down by needless character drama.
Also, I must say, while I laughed at Barry’s ill-conceived stab at doing the Worm, few break dancers will match the sheer glory of Pawnee, Ind.’s Perd Hapley.