This week on The Goldbergs, Adam’s “Pubening” continues onward. This time around, the episode’s focus is on that most awkward of activities that every high middle schooler tries to shut their eyes and bear—swimming class. After all, it’s bad enough you’re going through puberty and your body feels super weird—the idea of being forced to parade around in front of your fellow classmates just seems downright torturous. There were certainly days when I showed up to swim classes wearing a shirt and assuring the PE coach I had a nasty rash that no one would want to see. Adam’s excuse proved to be a bit more lavish and elaborate (“I got one heck of a fungus downstairs,” “swimming is against my religion”). When Coach Meller’s theory about Adam wearing a wig is disproven (Bryan Callen’s talent for delivering stupid statements with a confident tone is always a highlight), he lays out an ultimatum—Adam must choose between either taking the plunge or repeating the eighth grade.
After Beverly attempts to give Adam a new swimsuit to give more room for his “little coin purse” (the horror), he looks for an alternative solution. Per the episode’s title, he hatches an idea to get out of swimming by depositing a Babe Ruth in the pool. The kick that Adam and the other students get out of the incident, however, is swiftly followed by the reality kick that is Coach attempting to play the students against one another. This all culminates with Muscles accusing Dave Kim of the deed (which, in Dave Kim’s mind, makes no sense, given he’s allergic to nuts).
After getting the appropriate heart-to-heart with Murray about body issues (if anyone has transcended bodily shame, it’s the guy who spends nearly all his free time in his underwear), Adam decides to step forward and take the blame. Though his inspiring speech about his body being punishment enough is not enough to avoid a month’s worth of detention, Coach does take the concerns to heart, allowing the kids to wear T-shirts while swimming.
The episode’s parallel storyline finds Erica, inspired by the “We Are the World” video, starting up a social cause organization at the school. Unlike many of the other Goldbergs characters—who basically have their personalities and interests set in concrete—Erica has never really had a set characterization, which has led her to be a sort of malleable vehicle for different plotlines that the creative team wishes to explore. Over the past few years, she’s been a cool kid, a slacker, a rebel, a mother figure, a heartbreaker and heartbroken. In many ways, this fits with the idea of being a teenager, as you’re constantly shifting between different interests and concerns. As such, this decision to become a crusader for world issues is, in a way, inevitable. What’s also inevitable is that Barry grows jealous and sabotages her meetings, creating an environment where anyone with a pet issue (no matter how niche) must be addressed.
In the end, Erica actually manages to put together a fairly comprehensive song about all the various causes (one note I love—Johnny Atkins appears on the sax and is wearing a Rush T-shirt because, of course he likes Rush). Her thunder is promptly stolen, however, when Barry begins passing out doughnuts as part of his newfound “Barity Charity.” As is the case with most of these stories, Barry eventually decides that his sister’s happiness is more important than getting money for Air Jordans. At this point, I’ve grown accustomed to the show’s final act “we are family” moments, but even by this standard, this ending still comes as a bit of a shrug. It’s particularly notable, given how Adam’s moment with his dad in the other storyline concerns Murray discussing his childhood insecurities. While the model is no different, at least the substance of the conversation felt like something that was a bit fresh. Overall, the episode’s funnier moments easily surpass any issues I have with these final minutes, but I am hoping that one day the writers will introduce another storyline where the Goldberg children actively screw with each other and don’t ever come to a reconciliation (as most siblings, mine included, often did).
P.S. As someone who worked long nights at my college newspaper, I do appreciate the fact that the school’s publication, The Mirror, is readily accepted as a prestigious institution who’s capable of truly shaping the cultural conversation of the school. It’s the kind of thing you hope for when you’re looking over copy at midnight. Just saying…