Catching Up With Adam F. Goldberg

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The Goldbergs takes viewers back to the ’80s—a time of Pac Man, big hair and even bigger shoulder pads. The comedy, which has become one of our favorites this season, captures the innate hilarity of not just growing up in the ’80s, but growing up in general. Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Murray (Jeff Garlin) parent the best they can as their children—Adam (Sean Giambrone), Barry (Troy Gentile) and Erica (Hayley Orrantia)—navigate first kisses, first jobs and first heartbreaks.

Executive producer Adam F. Goldberg, who grew up recording his family’s every move, bases the series on his own childhood. The comedy returns with new episodes next Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ABC. Paste recently had a chance to catch up with Goldberg to talk about growing up in the ’80s, what his family thinks of the show, modern parenting and if The Goldbergs will get a second season.

Paste: When did you decide you wanted to do a show about your family?
Adam F. Goldberg: I’ve always wanted to do this show, and I always knew I was going to take a shot at it at some point. It really took me becoming a dad to realize the kind of parents my parents were. It gave me perspective because I’m raising my kids so differently.

That’s when everything kind of clicked.

I’ve been with my wife since I was 16. I’m 37 now, so I’ve been with her a long time. This is a show about parents and how we were raised in the ’80s, but it’s also a show about Beverly and Murray and the kind of couple they were and how different they are from me and wife.

Paste: Your memories of your childhood are so vivid. Are all your memories as strong?
Goldberg: Oh no. It’s just awful. College is a blur. The videos are really helpful and especially for all the writers who don’t know my family.

Paste: As a child, you were constantly recording your life. Are you still like that?
Goldberg: I have my iPhone, so everyone is recording every moment right now. But I’m not constantly doing it. My wife is always reminding me, “You should video this.” There was something about lugging around that giant camera. It was kind of like an appendage. It was kind of part of me.

Paste: One of my favorite aspects of the show is that Barry is always in one of three shirts. I love that because I think it’s so realistic—in real life you wear clothes again and again.
Goldberg: I’m so glad you brought that up because no one has brought that up yet. I have the same feeling you do: why are people wearing different outfits every episode? I sat down with the costume designers, and for every character, I was very specific with how many clothes they had. In reality, Barry had three shirts.

Then I noticed in some episodes he was wearing new shirts, and I said to the costume designers, “You have to fight your urge to buy new clothes. He has to wear the same three shirts, and especially the Flyers shirt.” I want to do an episode at some point next year about how the Flyers shirt falls apart in the wash, and it’s like his baby blanket.

My dad wore the same thing—a variety of the same argyle. My mom was a shopaholic. She can literally never wear the same thing twice. That’s fine with me. A lot of what Wendi wears is actually my mom’s stuff. My mom sent it all. I would say a good portion of the costumes are my mom’s actual clothes, which is really weird to me because I remember growing up with certain sweaters and I’ll see Wendy wearing them and it will really bring me back in a weird way.

Paste: As much as Beverly and Murray squabble, you know they’re both really happy in the relationship.
Goldberg: Absolutely. That’s was my initial pitch to the networks—under all the yelling is love. That’s really true about my family. We all love each other. The thing that was really odd for my wife is what she calls the amnesia in my family. We’ll get in a huge fight, and mean things are said, and ten minutes later we’re all laughing and having fun. Whereas in my wife’s family a fight would mean that you don’t talk for like a week. That’s just not how we were; fighting was almost a way of talking, a conversation.

Paste: How are you a different parent than your parents were?
Goldberg: If I called my kids a moron, I think it would traumatize them. I don’t think they even know what the word is. There was kind of a no-nonsense parenting style that my parents had that was true of the time. Everything now … there are books and there are websites and there are blogs, and you’re reading and there’s research. We’re such an interconnected world now, and half the stuff they did was pretty terrible but we somehow turned out fine.

I would sit there for five hours on a Saturday morning and watch cartoons, and we feel bad if our kids watch for an hour. It’s just stuff like that. There’s more hand holding. You’re afraid to have them suffer. My mom and my dad were like, “Suffering is a good thing.” They weren’t afraid, if we were being idiots, to call us on it. They weren’t afraid if there was some kind of injustice to also get involved, too.

Paste: What does your family think of the show?
Goldberg: They all love it. It’s the sweetest version of my family that will ever exist. What’s interesting is that people assume that it’s exaggerated and I pulled back a lot. I think the pilot came closer to what my family was really like, and the pilot was very polarizing. I had a lot of time between the pilot and when the series premiered. The show doesn’t have as much of the screaming and yelling, and that’s all there was in my family. My mom even says, “I love the Beverly character, but it’s not really me. She’s too nice and sweet.” It’s the essence of my family for sure. It’s just a Disneyfied version.

Paste: All the show’s fans are wondering if there will be a second season? How is it looking?
Goldberg: All I’ll say is we’re hiring directors and writers for next year. Our offices still exist. They’re still promoting the show. I’ve been told there’s no need to worry in any way. We’re operating right now as if it still exists. I’m going to be real excited when I hear officially.

Paste: Talk about your decision to set the show in 1980s-something.
Goldberg: I knew I wanted to do When Harry Met Sally. I knew I wanted to do Say Anything. These were things that I had to do right out of the gate. I knew it would make great TV, so I didn’t really have a choice. If I had stuck to 1985, there would be no Big Tasty (Barry’s rap alter ego). Flavor Flav and rap wasn’t around yet. If you set it any later than that, you only have three years in the ’80s, so I didn’t really have choice. Memories are vague and hazy. What it lets me do is play in the ’80s as much as I want because I love that time period. But there’s a lot of people whom it drives nuts.

Paste: You also use a lot of your real friends’ names in the series.
Goldberg: I showed my high school year book for [the episode with] Dave Kim. I had to get approval for my entire senior class. Dave Kim I hadn’t talked to since I graduated in 1994. Emmy is the godmother to my son. So of course the minute the show got picked up, I said I’m doing an episode about us because, growing up, we lied to everyone and said we were cousins so people would stop asking us if we were dating.

Paste: You actually grew up with two brothers and your brother Eric became Adam’s sister Erica on the series? Does he feel left out?
Goldberg: I think he at times feels like he’s missing out and at times is happy because I just crush Barry every week.

Paste: Is Barry upset by how he’s portrayed?
Goldberg: If any character is close to the real person it’s Barry, and people can’t believe that. He is like, “I can’t argue with that—it’s me.” The last time I was hanging out with him, we were just throwing around a football with our kids and he was explaining to me that if mom had let him play football, he would have been an NFL quarterback.

Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.