Twenty-five years ago, ABC premiered The Wonder Years, a lovingly nostalgic look back at a young boy's coming of age in the late '60s. To mark that award-winning, fondly-remembered show's anniversary, the network has decided to dress The Wonder Years up in '80s duds and re-brand it as, The Goldbergs, which aired its pilot episode last night.
Yeah, yeah, creator Adam F. Goldberg swears up and down that this show is its own thing since it's based directly on his own life. A claim he bolsters by including actual home movie footage of the characters' real-life analogues that he filmed when he was just a Star Wars-loving tyke in the early half of the '80s. But the similarities between The Goldbergs and The Wonder Years are too hard to ignore, right down to the one-to-one correspondence between the make-up of the Goldbergs and the Arnolds. There's the gruff father (Jeff Garlin's Murray in place of Dan Lauria's Jack); the blonde, busybody homemaker mother (Wendi McLendon-Covey's Beverly in place of Alley Mills's Norma; the one-foot-out-the-door older sister (Hayley Orrantia's Erica in place of Olivia d'Abo's Karen); the ticking time bomb of an older brother (Troy Gentile's Barry in place of Jason Hervey's Wayne); and, last but not least, the baby of the family and our youthful guide to that long-ago era that is 1985 (Sean Giambrone's Adam in place of Fred Savage's Kevin). Hell, there's even a garrulous narrator -- Patton Oswalt inheriting Daniel Stern's old job -- yakking over the entire thing, providing exposition and thematic messaging whether it's necessary or not. Since it's only 1985, the only thing missing is a scene where the Goldbergs sit down to watch the premiere of The Wonder Years on ABC, but maybe that can be a major plot point in Season 3… provided the series lasts that long.
And you know what? It wouldn't be so terrible if it did. I went into The Goldbergs with absolutely zero enthusiasm -- thanks to the infallible 20-year cycle of pop culture nostalgia, like everyone else, I'm more about reliving the '90s right now -- but came away fairly charmed by this Wonder Years knock-off. Even if, like most imitations, it can't replicate the magic of the original thing. As usual, casting is key: the young actors are all genuinely likable -- even when they're supposed to be obnoxious -- and Garlin and, particularly, McLendon-Covey have a nice comic dynamic going as the parents, though Garlin could stand to turn down his volume setting a little despite that being his primary shtick. The only character I don't have any particular use for is George Segal's Grandpa Albert, who seems primarily on hand to be the instigator behind whatever the episode's designated conflict is. In the pilot, it's driving-related as he gifts 16-year-old Barry with car keys over the strenuous objections of Beverly and Murray… but mainly Beverly.
And I'm only mildly embarrassed to admit that I fell for all the '80s flourishes in a big way. Yes, that kind of retro-humor is easy and yes The Goldbergs never successfully pushes beyond that into richer, more dramatic territory in the way that The Wonder Years did (though it is only the pilot episode, so let's give it some more time), but as a child of that decade, it's hard not to feel a certain thrill at seeing all the hallmarks of your youth onscreen. On that note, here are the most authentically '80s touches I spotted in the series premiere. Can't wait for the episode where rap fan Barry discovers Krush Groove and starts rocking a red Kangol hat.
Stretching It to the Max
Thanks to the cell phone revolution, it's a snap to carry on an entire conversation while moving from room-to-room. Back in the '80s, the trick was to wander from room-to-room anyway seeing just how far you could make the spiral cord connecting the handset to the receiver stretch before you were left with a non-functioning version of a mobile phone. In the pilot, Erica drags that lifeline all the way from her room, down the hallway and into the bathroom. Not bad… but until she manages to get it all the way downstairs and into the kitchen, I'll consider her an amateur.
A Bottomless Drawer of Star Wars Shirts
While I didn't own the exact same Star Wars tee that Adam's rocking for most of the episode, our taste in branded fashions are clearly in line. But does he have a Star Wars shirt for every day of the week? That's the real mark of an '80s fashionista.
Ah, floppy disks. Purveyors of some of the finest video games I ever played, from Sierra's The Black Cauldron and Gold Rush! to Epyx's Summer Games and Winter Games. And honestly Adam and Barry, they weren't that difficult to put in the computer. Easier than those N64 cartridges, I can tell you that.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Sam Goody Employee
Remember soliciting music advice from the older (and cooler) than you teen behind the counter at your local Sam Goody store? Hell, remember Sam Goody stores? Murray's mistake was thinking that the dude with the earring and button-covered jean jacket would give serious record-purchasing recommendations to anyone over 40. You had to be a kid with an open mind that could be both condescended to and molded.
The Vital Importance of Cars
Unlike Barry, I wasn't old enough to get my license in the '80s, but I did watch the 1988 Two Coreys classic License to Drive (and read the novelization) enough to know how important driving was to the next stage of my existence. With just a simple set of keys, you could leave the confines of your house behind and explore the world beyond. These days, of course, you can explore the world beyond without leaving the confines of your house thanks to the Internet, iPhones and almost any other electronic doohickey with an "I" in front of it. For today's generation of teenagers, the first tablet is more important than the first car.
The Song Remains the Same
Back in my day, when the family took car trips, the tunes blasting from the speakers all came from the same album and in the correct track order, no less. None of this "playlist" and "shuffle" stuff. If you put in an REO Speedwagon tape for example (not that I ever did that willingly) you listened to every. Single. REO Speedwagon. Song. Come to think of it, as much as I miss the simpler days of the '80s at times, that's one advancement that's made life significantly better.
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