As someone born in the waning months of 1989, I actually did experience a time before cell phones or the Internet. Certainly I recall a time when the act of leaving a voice message or calling to check in was a vital function of communication. Of course, I say I recall all these things, but that era feels so distant and so foreign it might as well have been a half-remembered dream.
The concept of communication in a pre-cell phone age lays the groundwork for “Call Me When You Get There.” The titular storyline finds Barry at last earning his driver’s license. After he dons his coolest attire and some nice shades, however, the buzzkill that is Beverly descends like a hawk. Naturally, she has a few stipulations; chief among them is that Barry must call her whenever he arrives at his destination so she can know he’s not “lying facedown in a ditch somewhere.”
Bummed about his newfound freedom being restricted, Barry nevertheless learns of a loophole from Erica. So long as he calls Beverly and lies about arriving at a location, he can actually then go wherever he likes and she’d be none the wiser. Inevitably, after lying to his mother so he can go out into the woods for a high-school kegger, Barry manages to royally screw up even this seemingly simple set-up. Not only does he arrive at the party without a concrete cover story, but he also assumes there would be a phone at this forest-based party where he could call his mother. Hijinks promptly ensue as a frantic Barry dashes around to find a phone.
The episode’s subplot, meanwhile, centers on Albert refusing to wear a medical alert alarm. While Beverly insists, Albert believes it would cramp his style (he’s not far off since one of his conquests quickly excuses herself after seeing the device). And, yes, he ultimately ends up pulling his back and attempting to contact the rest of the family.
After last week’s problematic Halloween episode, “Call Me When You Get There” serves as a more solid example of what The Goldbergs can do if given the proper comedic set-up. I wrote at length last week about how Beverly and her overprotectiveness were starting to become a crutch of a characterization. Surprisingly, these traits did not bother me at all this time around. Whereas in the Halloween episode, her compulsion to sneak into a high-school party to protect Barry from emotional embarrassment felt like a contrived sitcom gag, her motherly concern towards Barry now driving a car is a much more relatable and realistic situation. After all, anyone who’s ever gotten behind the wheel for the first time has found themselves at the receiving end of a long series of safety speeches courtesy of their parents. Knowing what we know about Beverly, it would be abnormal for her not to freak out a little.
Moreover, the big, ironic joke of the episode is that, despite Beverly’s predilection for overreacting, both of the episode’s plotlines wholly justify her worldview. By the time the third act rolls out, Albert actually does experience an emergency where he would have needed the alarm and Barry does, in fact, end up facedown in a ditch (though the results are no doubt far less gruesome than Beverly imagined). After weeks of mining Beverly’s extreme personality for laughs, positioning her as a legitimate authorial voice is a great step towards crafting a more well-rounded character.
While on the subject of parents, perhaps one of the most unexpected elements of this episode is that it manages to fit in a quasi-emotional moment between Murray and Barry. After Barry has jumped out of the way of a semi-truck and dropped his jacket on the road, Murray locates the article of clothing and appears to have a split-second moment of panic before spotting a grinning Barry off to side (in the aforementioned ditch). During the subsequent car ride, Murray berates Barry for his stupidity before acknowledging that he (figuratively) “almost died” after seeing Barry’s discarded jacket and, like any good parent, fearing the worst. It’s a small moment but it’s the kind of gruff acknowledgement of love that Jeff Garlin does so well.
As for the Albert subplot, I struggle to signal out anything particularly memorable, but—as funny as George Segal is at falling down—it can’t help but feel a tad slight compared to the main storyline. Then again, that story has more than enough juice to keep this weaker plot from sticking out too badly.
Finally, as a sort of footnote, seeing Erica and Barry at a school kegger made me realize that we’ve never seen any of the children at school. Were it not for the Halloween episode, one would be mistaken for thinking the series has taken place over the course of a long summer. Perhaps it’s purely budgetary reasons (infinitely cheaper to simply film at a few, select locations), but I do hope we get more glimpse into the kids’ school lives in future episodes.