The Goldbergs Review: An 80s-Set Family Comedy With Humor And Heart

In 1988, following the broadcast of the Super Bowl, ABC aired the first episode of The Wonder Years. While adults watched on with find nostalgia, I watched 12-year-old Kevin Arnold living the life of a typical American kid in 1968. At ten years old, I was a bit less appreciative in the show's depiction of the turbulent backdrop on which this story was set as I was in seeing if Kevin -- played by the dreamy Fred Savage -- would end up with Winnie Cooper. Watching ABC's new series The Goldbergs makes me realize just how much time has past since The Wonder Years, as ABC's new comedy puts me in the nostalgic seat this time around. The comedy takes a humorous and heartfelt look at the decade that gave us The Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid and REO Speedwagon, among other things.

"This is how I remember the 80s," Patton Oswalt's voice says in the narration, as we watch a comedic family fight play out at the dinner table in the opening scene of Adam F. Goldberg's The Goldbergs. "There were no parenting blogs or peanut allergies. Just a whole lot of crazy." Narrated by the youngest of the three offspring of Murray and Beverly Goldberg (Jeff Garlin and Wendi McLendon-Covey), ABC's new comedy introduces us to a typical American suburban family living in the 80s. This is a family that loves one another, though they don't always get along. While Dad's verbal temper seems to rest at about a seven, Mom's love teeters into overbearing territory, compensating for Dad's lack of affection and then some.

Erica (Hayley Orrantia) is the eldest of the kids. At 17, her hobbies include crimping her hair, talking on the phone and begging her parents to get her a car. A year younger is Barry (Troy Gentile), whose middle-child-syndrome makes him a bit over emotional, and given his parents' natures, it's really not all that surprising. He too wants to drive, and that's a big part of the plot of the pilot episode, as he looks to his grandfather Al (George Segal) to help him with his cause when his parents think a locket and a soft rock cassette tape will suffice for a birthday gift. And then, of course, there's Adam, the youngest of the kids. On screen, he's played by Sean Giambrone, an adorable 11-year-old who's embarking on his own wonder years, crushing on a sweet diner waitress named Zoe and harboring a deep appreciation for boobs. Patton Oswalt is the Daniel Stern of this Wonder Years story, narrating as the older version of Adam as he looks back on his childhood.

It seems necessary to reference The Wonder Years because the series seems -- at the very least -- inspired by Neal Marlens and Carol Black's beloved 80s/90s dramedy, what with its nostalgic approach and narrated format, told from the perspective of the youngest member of a suburban family. With that said, tonally, The Goldbergs plays like a modern comedy, similar to Modern Family or The Middle, and that's a format that's been working out just fine for ABC. The difference in tone from The Wonder Years to The Goldbergs is particularly fitting, as the 80s weren't the 60s and 70s. The decade has its own tone, which just so happens to play really well for comedy, especially when it comes to the what-were-they-thinking fashion trends. You'll appreciate that best when you see McLendon-Covey sporting a denim synched-at-the-waist denim jump suit.

While The Goldbergs plays up the comedy, and includes about as many 80s references as it can pack into the pilot episode, the series makes it clear by the close that this is a family comedy first and foremost. Strip away the clothes, the music and fond nods to yesteryear and I think The Goldbergs would still work as a funny and engaging new series. But I also think those who remember the 80s will a smile will appreciate The Goldbergs all the more for its setting. And be sure to watch the closing credits, as they'll give you a better appreciation for the true inspiration for this series.

The Goldbergs premieres Tuesday, September 24 at 9:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Kelly West
Assistant Managing Editor

Kelly joined CinemaBlend as a freelance TV news writer in 2006 and went on to serve as the site’s TV Editor before moving over to other roles on the site. At present, she’s an Assistant Managing Editor who spends much of her time brainstorming and editing feature content on the site.