Welcome all, to The Goldbergs Year Three!
As with most sitcoms of this ilk, the show dives back in as if nothing much has changed. Nothing, save for the voice of Sean Giambrone, who plays Adam. It seems, in the interval between seasons, full-on puberty has started to take hold of the teenage actor, with his voice now lowering to a much deeper (albeit still nasally) register.
Adam’s vocal stylings aside, however, there’s very little else to indicate that the show is looking to shake things up. In fact, though the premiere was heavily advertised as being a homage to Risky Business, the episode’s take on that seminal 1983 Tom Cruise vehicle mostly serves as a launching point for a more standard Goldbergs plot—namely, the kids’ desperate attempt to escape their smother Beverly’s influence, only to realize that her dedication is often a blessing in disguise.
The story in question is set into motion when Barry, Erica and Lainey hatch a plan to throw a Risky Business-esque rager while Lainey’s father is out of town for business (sadly, that means no David Koechner this time around). Their plan almost immediately falls apart when Barry causes the Lewis family Porsche to crash into a lake. Naturally, in trying to emulate Risky Business, the three speed right past all the fun parts and directly into the Act Two low point.
Beverly quickly wises up to kids’ shenanigans. In an attempt to appease her and escape punishment, Lainey caters to the Goldberg matriarch’s nurturing tendencies. Much to the horror of Barry and Erica, Lainey soon begins embracing Beverly as a legitimate maternal figure. They even start wearing matching cooking aprons (this has to be especially troubling for Barry, as their connection further puts into focus how much Lainey bears an uncanny likeness to his mother). Of course, it doesn’t take long until Lainey recognizes the dark side of Beverly’s unrelenting attention and love, as she begins hounding the poor girl at school.
Once the trio succeed at throwing their party, they quickly find that a Risky Businesstype party is more chaotic and scary than the movie makes it seem. People they don’t know show up, partygoers become rowdy and even the nerds react with destructive glee. It’s here that Beverly comes to the rescue and quickly clears the party out by performing the Tom Cruise“Old Time Rock N’Roll” dance, which really helps emphasize why it’s a dance best performed alone in an empty house. Moreover, it’s Wendi McLendon-Covey’s shameless dedication to the dance that really makes this climatic gag work.
Meanwhile, the episode’s B-story concerns Adam’s desperate attempt to stay connected to his girlfriend, Dana, who has moved across the country to Seattle. In a world in which everyone can catch up with a friend via a cell phone call, email or Skype chat, this subplot becomes a nice reminder of all the hurdles inherent in long-distance communication during this time period. Specifically, the two’s costly nighttime phone talks irk the frugal Murray. In his search for an alternative method of communication, Adam breaks into the teachers lounge to use the fax machine, which ends up taking roughly 10 minutes to fax two pages. What’s more, he lands in hot water with Tim Meadows’ Mr. Glascott, who is briefly forgiving of Adam’s indiscretion upon seeing that someone has taken a tab from his guitar lesson flyer only to then realize he took the tab to “get the ball rolling.” Meadows was always one of my favorite SNL cast members and his uncanny ability to effortlessly switch between happiness to anger, as he does here, was a big reason why.
As a last ditch effort, Adam enlists Barry to record a music video expressing his love for Dana. As expected, the song is a green-screen-laden mess, complete with surreal tangents in topic (personal favorite line: “there’s nothing in between us except love… and dinosaurs”). In what amounts to a quasi-sign of evolution, Adam is at least able to recognize right off the bat that the thing is as embarrassing and ill-conceived as, well, every other Big Tasty music video. Just as Adam is about to give up hope, however, Murray has his come-to-Jesus moment and remembers that he suffered through a long-distance relationship with Beverly at one point.
Aside from the subversive thrill of getting “kick-ass” in an episode title, “A Kick-Ass Risky Business Party” doesn’t much push the show out of its comfort zone. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the world of network sitcoms, where every idea and scenario has been explored to death, a strong execution is almost always the best offense. And while this entry offers nothing that two or three other Goldbergs episodes hasn’t already, it does such with great gusto and a wicked sense of comedic timing. It helps that the show is heightened just enough as to allow for highly memorable bits—specifically, Tim Meadows’ spiel about walking around the mall with a parrot to demand respect.
The Goldbergs’s return comes, as with every premiere, in the midst of a deluge of new network pilots—a good portion of which, unfortunately, look either shockingly bad or creatively hollow. Yet, for every unsalvageable mess, there is one that holds the potential to be something better. When it launched back in 2013, The Goldbergs was a perfect encapsulation of the latter. Let’s hope its dedication to improvement can rub off on its new peers.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.