Far from being an easy source of humor in last week’s entry, it looks as though Adam’s puberty (or, as it’s referred to here, the “pubening”) will be an ongoing arc for this Goldbergs season. This stinks for Adam (literally—his coach points out how he smells like an egg salad in a humidifier) but it’s great for the show as it affords the creative team more and more storylines to mine. If the best comedy centers on humiliation, there are few things more socially horrifying than puberty. Certainly, my awkward years found me with acne so intense that I risked having Edward James Olmos-like scars (only not nearly as badass), if not for a few brave dermatologists.
“A Chorus Lie” centers primarily on the number that Adam’s raging developments does on his vocals—specifically, his singing voice. Finally given a prominent solo in his school’s chorus, he balks at the idea of singing in front of a crowd with his newly off-kilter tenor/baritone mutation. His subsequent objections fall flat on his chorus teacher’s ears since the rest of the students have also had their voices ravaged by the pubening, and Adam is merely the better of a bad bunch.
Hope soon arrives in the form of the infamous Milli Vanilli scandal (the writers are leaning dangerously close to moving past their “ninety eighty-something” restrictions given that this scandal fell squarely in the 1989/1990 range). Inspired by the duo’s musical deception, Adam and Beverly hatch a plan in conjunction with the chorus teacher to have the concert totally lip-synched. This leads Beverly to utter the kind of line that can only work on a show like this: “Let’s Milli Vanilli the f*#k out of this concert!” In the end, however, Adam decides that he’d rather be true to himself and the chorus ends up delivering their ear-bleeding performance. Luckily, this epiphany comes after we’ve been treated to a truly inspired bit of lip-synching/dancing by actor Sean Giambrone.
As Adam struggles against his body’s betrayal, Erica finds herself struggling against her relentless dismissal of forming high school relationships. Convinced that there are no boys in school worthy of her attention, Erica has struck a loner path for herself. This alarms Murray, who fears that she inherited his genial misanthropy and will miss out on the joys of being young and carefree. Granted, it’s a weird position for a character like Murray to take, but the writers at least address the fact that it’s a weird switch.
That’s not to say Erica does not attract any attention. Most notably, her most prominent suitor is the hapless Jeff from Barry’s JTP posse. Determined to win her over, Jeff attempts to emulate Christian Slater, Erica’s established teenage crush. This means donning a leather jacket and taking a somewhat embarrassing run at Slater’s Jack Nicholson-esque vocal stylings, which leads directly to Murray asking why he “sounds like a jackass” (sidenote: it’s kind of cool that, in the wake of Mr. Robot, Slater has been driven back into the cultural consciousness as something beyond a relic of the ‘80s and ‘90s).
Erica dismisses Jeff’s advances; unfortunately, she ends up falling under the enigmatic spell of Johnny Atkins, the ponytailed first chair of the school band who is never without his saxophone. In one of the series’ most inspired gags, despite being aggressively uncool, Erica is drawn to Johnny primarily because of his abnormally ill-placed sense of confidence. One of the best parts of the episodes is just watching Murray’s mix of horror and confusion when he discovers that his daughter is planning to attend the homecoming dance with such a moron (and not the “good morons” like Jeff). I don’t know if Johnny’s style is quite considered “negging,” but it’s not far off.
Predictably, the relationship goes awry when Erica learns that Johnny is planning to take another girl to the dance as well (she’s also way out of his league, but comments that she thinks she can “change” him). Rather than attending the event, Erica and Jeff decide to hang out outside the convenience store. While as of now, I don’t see anyway that Jeff could ever move past the friend zone, it still makes a nice coda in regards to Erica’s willingness to open up.
“A Chorus Lie” is a strange sort of episode. On initial outset, it appears to be a fairly by-the-books installment; as each plotline dives further into its story, however, the gags grow increasingly outlandish in a way that expertly elevates the experience as a whole (I still find myself choking back laughs whenever I think of Johnny Atkins and his “rock star” ponytail). It is, in other words, an episode that sneaks up on you and surprises with just how goofy it can go without betraying the reality of the series.