Well, The Goldbergs have returned and they’re as shout-prone as ever. Deal with it.
But seriously, this ABC program has been one I’ve been looking forward to returning to for some time. The show came out of the gate as one of the more solid pilots of last year and, despite the occasional overly generic or forgettable installment here and there, it more than managed to live up to its initial promise. All the while, the writers did a good job of subtly sharpening the show’s voice over subsequent episodes, as well as exploring various character dynamics that often proved to be inspired. And though the plotlines never really deviated from a set formula (a problem is introduced —> the family members fight or break apart—> they have a heartfelt reconciliation while a popular ‘80s song plays in the background), the show as a whole frequently excelled in endowing this strict structure with some good belly laughs and moments of real poignancy.
The formula in question is in fine form here in the Season Two premiere, “Love is a Mix Tape.” It’s somewhat notable that the episode shares the title with a fantastic memoir by Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield, who last fall deemed the show one the year’s worst, despite only seeing a limited amount of episodes. Well, if naming this entry after his book is the show’s retaliation (and let it be noted this is purely speculation), then it’s certainly proof that living well is the best revenge.
The season picks up with Adam pondering over his relationship status with dream girl Dana, in the wake of their first kiss. Since, like many adolescent boys, he’s unable to verbally express his feelings to her, he decides to express himself via mix tape. Adam then makes the unfortunate mistake of leaving his masterwork out in the open where Beverly inevitably finds it and, after listening to it, believes his declarations of love and affection were directed at her. Adam is understandably mortified, but does not wish to shatter his mother’s illusions. Plus, the misunderstanding does have its perks, Notably, Beverly is now open to taking him to see Die Hard—as good a reason as any to keep the lie going.
Adam promptly makes another copy of the tape and gives it to Dana. It goes over like gangbusters. When the two attend a laser show later in the episode, she thanks him for it and flat-out calls him her “boyfriend.” Adam is ecstatic until his mother picks them up and—in a moment cringe-worthy enough to belong in an especially caustic Office episode—promptly puts her copy of Adam’s mix tape in the car’s player and starts blaring it at full force. Adam tries to explain and diffuse the situation, but the sheer Freudian implications are too much for Dana and she quickly slips away. Now, not only has Adam lost Dana, but Beverly—furious that her son deceived her—immediately crushes any notions of taking him to Die Hard.
Meanwhile, in a side plotline, Barry discovers Erica’s fake ID and demands that she helps arrange one be made for him as well. After securing the ID from a photo shop employee (David Spade in top sleazy-yet-benign mode), an overenthusiastic Barry flashes his new identity (“Carlos Del Monaco”) around school and gets recruited by the athletes to secure beer for an upcoming party. No sooner has he been given this assignment, however, than his ID is confiscated. And so, the rest of the story finds Barry on a quest to secure the alcohol without his ID. This includes stealing Murray’s wallet and trying to pass himself off as him. Eventually, Murray himself ends up helping Barry save face by pretending to “catch” him before he arrives at the party with the beer (in reality, Barry just brought a bag full of sandwiches).
As I made clear from my previous reviews of the show’s first season, Troy Gentile as Barry quickly become one of my favorite new TV characters. Whatever the scene, Gentile brings a great energy that perfectly captures Barry’s misplaced swagger. Even when the scene involves just delivering simple lines, he often manages to hit comedy gold. Upon seeing that a cereal box is empty in one scene, for instance, him merely shouting, “Dammit, who ate all the Boo Berry?!” is enough to make me cackle.
That being said, his plotline here—while amusing—does seem to be a bit redundant in the wake of the first season finale, “Livin’ on a Prayer,” where Barry threw a school party at his house, and managed to galvanize the room with a rendition of the titular Bon Jovi rock anthem. “For once I want to go to a party where people are excited to see me,” he says to Murray. At that point, I could only recall “Prayer” and wonder why that did nothing to bump up his party image. But who knows, given the show’s arbitrary timeline, this episode could very much be a prequel to that one.
Back at the main storyline, Adam is attempting to mend things with Dana and accompanies her to yet another laser show. As he apologizes for not being direct with her, the show suddenly warps into a little tribute to their relationship complete with cute hearts and arrows. Dana, believing this is Adam’s elaborate apology, promptly forgives him. It’s not until a very confused Adam looks over and spots his mom, however, that he realizes she orchestrated the event by intimidating the engineer. Granted, I don’t know how those shows work and am curious if someone could slap something like that together on short notice, but it’s a sweet concept nonetheless and I choose not to question it too intently.
Indeed, perhaps the worst thing I could say about “Love is a Mix Tape” is that it does little to distinguish itself from the first season. Considering how much I grew to enjoy the first year, however, that’s far from a complaint. Like the best Season One episodes, “Love is a Mix Tape” executes entertainingly absurd sitcom scenarios while also demonstrating that it has yet to remove the proverbial heart from its proverbial sleeve. But yes, The Goldbergs are back and they’re as loud, as crass and as unapologetic about their emotions as ever.
And, frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.