Some comedies attempt to launch their second season with some grandiose celebrity cameo or high-concept hook, but that’s not the MO of The Goldbergs, which returned for a sophomore cycle in its cushy new Wednesday time slot. To be completely fair, EW’s fall TV preview suggests that the show will still have its grabby zeitgeisty episodes this season, and on the celebrity cameo front, David Spade does guest star in a throwaway role in the premiere, but that’s far from the reason why Wednesday’s premiere marked a triumphant return for the ’80s-set sitcom.
The premiere of The Goldbergs doesn’t just mark the reappearance of fabulous chunky patterned sweaters or off-hand nostalgia bait remarks about familiar pop culture (in this episode, Boo Berry and Die Hard were the topics du jour). There’s a much better reason to tune in to The Goldbergs, and that’s because the show is the best of any family comedy on TV in the way it eschews dysfunction for its more appropriate, real-world term: love.
Love is there in Wendi McLendon-Covey’s outrageously affectionate smother-mother Beverly, who, in the premiere “Love is a Mix Tape,” mistakenly thinks Adam (Sean Giambrone) has created her a “mixture tape” when, really, he made it for his girlfriend. Love is there in Adam’s response, when he can’t bring himself to break her heart and suffers from a classic sitcom case of mixtape misappropriation. Love is there in Jeff Garlin’s surly patriarch Murray, who swears he won’t bail out his bone-headed son Barry (Troy Gentile) from the inevitable trouble he’ll face in his scheme to get a fake ID—but, of course, Murray ends up coming through and exposes the soft heart that he wisely lets loose every few episodes. And best of all, there’s even love between the siblings, Barry and Erica (Hayley Orrantia). My favorite pairing on the show tends to be the Barry-Erica duo, where it’s often her reluctant duty to help her brother achieve that uniquely deluded, Barry-approved brand of popularity that he so hilariously seeks every week. (This week, the topic is fake IDs, and we can add a new identity—Carlos Del Monaco—to Barry “Big Tasty” Goldberg’s ever-growing résumé.)
It’s that foundation of love that serves The Goldbergs well, allowing the show to honor the endearing, don’t-admit-you-cried schmaltzy endings of Family Ties and Growing Pains episodes albeit with an almost sardonic spin that sends up those shows while also trying to emulate them. It’s a formula that’s hard to explain, but easy to enjoy.
While the characters on the show may skew a little too unbelievable at times, the show’s weekly dedication—a post-episode tag with a real Adam Goldberg home movie—suggests that maybe they’re more real than we’d like to admit. So yes, tune in for the ’80s music and fashion and Back to the Future references, but stay because there’s no TV family on the air right now quite like The Goldbergs.