It finally happened.
Late last year, when I first started recapping The Goldbergs, I wondered when the inevitable smack down between Beverly and Erica Goldberg would occur. After all, never has there been a richer source of conflict (for comedy and drama) than the heated relationship between mothers and their teenage daughters. I should know—I grew up in a household with two teenage sisters and a strong-willed matriarch. Eventually, my ears became numb to the sounds of heated arguments and slamming doors.
Adult Adam Goldberg’s opening narration in “Muscles Mirsky” compares such a relationship to that of a battleground, with other family members merely struggling to stay out of harm’s way. Coming from experience, that’s spot on. Quite interesting then that the The Goldbergs’ Erica character is actually a feminized version of Adam Goldberg’s real-life brother, Eric. Funny how that works.
The Beverly-Erica plotline centers on a fairly simple (and relatable) dynamic. Erica wants her mother to trust her about going out on her own; meanwhile, Beverly wants Erica to prove that she’s trustworthy enough to earn such a privilege. Neither of them is particularly good at compromise. Beverly frequently eavesdrops on Erica when she’s in her room and goes through both her “fake” diary and her actual diary. Erica, in turn, squanders her free moments by doing exactly the things that Beverly forbids. All in all, it’s a vicious cycle.
Finally, after a particularly ugly argument that arises after Beverly finds references to “crack rocks” in Erica’s diary (a phrase she purposefully planted there to prove that Beverly was snooping), the two agree to a quasi-truce, and Beverly allows Erica a night out. Naturally, Erica uses it to secretly sneak into a toga party at a local fraternity. In one of the episode’s funnier moments, while interacting with a typical, sloppy frat boy, Erica admits to using the bed’s fitted sheet for her toga, much to the boy’s amazement. (He’s never heard of such an item.)
Just as a disappointed Erica decides to leave the party, she’s swept up by Murray and Beverly, who have managed to figure out her location. In the midst of their inevitable scolding, Erica breaks down crying. Mother and daughter then have a private discussion, with Beverly admitting that her own mother was equally as protective of her and that, one day, Erica will have a daughter of her own to fret about. If I were to have any major issues with the episode, it would be here. Frankly, Beverly and Erica’s final discussion sounds like a variation on the kind of heart-to-heart seen in dozens of other sitcoms or character-based dramas. I’m aware that, in the world of the half-hour comedy, there’s lots of story to burn through and only a limited amount of time to do it in. Still, considering how long I’d waited for a Beverly-Erica-centric storyline, a part of me wishes it might have gone down a bit differently. Of course, the fact that the episode ends with us witnessing the first music video of Barry’s “Big Tasty” rap persona is more than enough to toss aside this minor nitpick.
Despite the mother-daughter storyline taking the forefront, a good chunk of the episode, including the title, concerns the B-story. It makes a certain amount of sense, considering that this serves as the more autobiographical tale for Adam Goldberg (I assume). The plot revolves around Adam’s relationship with longtime gal pal, Emmy “Muscles” Mirsky. In a direct contrast from neighborhood crush Dana, young Adam feels no romantic longings towards Emmy and sees her as a close friend. That is, until Barry plants the idea that girls and boys can’t be friends and that Adam and Emmy will soon start experiencing sexual tension. Adam tries to wipe the thought away, but it sticks in his head. Not helping matters is the fact that the two end up watching When Harry Met Sally together—the Holy Scripture of the “man-and-woman-can’t-be-friends” concept. (Side note: Nora Ephron, you are sorely missed.) On the advice of Barry, Adam suggests that he and Emmy kiss to see if there’s anything between them. Emmy, for her part, can’t go through with it, and accuses Adam of ruining the purity of their friendship.
Then, inspired by, of all things, the climatic When Harry Met Sally love confession, Adam runs to Emmy’s house in the rain (he’s pulling a Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral before that movie even existed) and, in a nice bit of subversion, proclaims that he doesn’t’ love her. It’s a cute storyline that even helps complement the episode’s trust theme. (In this case, the trust and openness that comes with close friendship and how that’s worth holding on to.)
While “Muscles Mirsky” might not been as laugh-out-loud funny as recent installments, it gets credit for accurately—in its special, heightened sitcom-y way—portraying both major battles that characterize adolescence: the external battle (fighting against parents and authority figures) and the internal one (learning to deal with one’s own hormones and changing chemical make-up).
Also, seriously, that Big Tasty video is amazing. I’m with Emmy in wanting 40 copies of that thing. Just saying, if such a thing actually exists, it should stand as the Holy Grail of Adam Goldberg’s home movies archives.