After a few weeks of mostly decade-neutral stories, “The Adam Bomb” finds The Goldbergs diving full-force back into its 80s setting. Besides the opening narration drawing parallels between The Cold War and Adam and Barry’s brotherly squabbles, we also have references to Castle Greyskull, pop star Tiffany, heyday Charles Barkley and the demolition of the Berlin Wall. Yet, to the episode’s credit, the sheer 80s-ness doesn’t feel overly gimmicky and works in service of the characters and their dilemmas. So, in other words, no awkward cameo from an older Tiffany.
The titular storyline finds Adam and Barry’s brotherly “war” escalating to property destruction after an ill-conceived practical joke where Adam pretends to have destroyed Barry’s beloved Charles Barkley sneaker. Barry destroys Adam’s Castle Greyskull model in retaliation and, before you know it, the two are destroying treasured objects left and right. Eventually, Adam goes one step too far, sabotaging Barry’s relationship with Lainey by talking about how petty he has been acting lately (she prefers “sweet” Barry). It all culminates with Barry threatening to release a very embarrassing photo of Adam (with knee-high socks). In the end, however, Barry relents, after TV footage of the destroyed Berlin Wall and David Hasselhoff’s rousing balladry gives him pause. The two brothers then reconcile and Adam helps Barry win Lainey back. While the Berlin Wall twist is basically the ultimate “why not?” reason for a character’s change of heart, the sheer absurdity of it kind of makes sense. Barry is nothing if not a boy defined by fickle impulses. What’s more, even if this plotline’s sole purpose was to build to Barry’s Big-Tasty-as-LL-Cool-J’s rap video/apology to Lainey, it would have been worth it. Troy Gentile continues to be one of the TV’s most under-appreciated comedic champs.
The secondary storyline begins with Erica finding out that Tiffany will be performing at the local mall. This inspires her to start pursuing her own path to pop stardom. It’s here that we get an exploration of Beverly and Murray’s good cop/bad cop parenting dynamic—whereas Beverly works as the supportive “dream pusher,” Murray acts as the more pragmatic “dream smusher.” Not wanting to be the bad guy for once, however, Murray ends up throwing his support behind Erica’s pipedream. Not knowing what to do, Beverly first begins trying to scare Erica away from her dream and, after that fails, decides to anoint herself as her daughter’s manager.
In the end, reality proves to be the biggest dream smusher as Erica attends the Tiffany concert, only to have her demo tape thrown in a pile with countless others. Her backup plan to play for Tiffany as she boards her tour bus also proves to be futile, as there are dozens of equally enthusiastic wannabes with that plan as well (including Lainey and her school teacher Miss Cinoman). This makes it all the more embarrassing when Erica returns home to find that her mother is now gung-ho about booking her gigs. It then falls on Murray, again playing the unexpected role of emotional support, to get her out of her funk. You’d think after the events of last week’s “The Lost Boy” that the image of Murray hugging his child would demonstrate some example of diminishing returns, but damn it if it still doesn’t kind of work as an effective emotional trigger.
“The Adam Bomb” may not equal last week’s Vet storyline in terms of sheer poignancy but it’s plenty moving and funny in its own way. Thinking back on the show’s season thus far, it occurred to me that this year’s batch of episodes will be wrapping up in the next few weeks and, thus far, there has yet to be a single dud. It speaks to real quality control that The Goldberg creative team boasts that they can still find new and fun situations and interactions to try out each week. Sure, some weeks are funnier than others, but this season has been an ideal example for why, sometimes, network comedies need time to find their groove. In a landscape where the idea of network TV is becoming less and less “cool,” The Goldbergs is proof that something geeky, specific and hilarious can still thrive on the broadcast channels.