By Gerrad Hall
September 18, 2019 at 10:15 AM EDT
Eric McCandless/ABC

“Do you wanna touch it? It’s good luck.”

The Goldbergs star Wendi McLendon-Covey isn’t carrying a special penny or horseshoe, nor did a ladybug land on her. Rather, the actress is referring to the signature golden-locked wig she dons as Beverly Goldberg on the ABC comedy. She lowers her head to allow for a quick rub and admiring glance as she approaches for a break in the shade, ironically, next to the wishing well adjacent to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland. That’s where she and her costars are filming part of their (lucky number) season 7 premiere.

Her infectious laugh quickly follows, brightening up an already sunny day in Anaheim, Calif., and her admiration for her interview partner is immediate. Supermodel/entrepreneur/actress Christie Brinkley guest stars in the episode, a tribute to the 1983 classic National Lampoon’s Vacation in which she so famously played “Girl In The Red Ferrari.”

Eric McCandless/ABC

“I’ve been going to Disneyland since I was a baby, and I remember watching that movie, Vacation, and feeling like, Oh my God, that is the funniest thing. I wonder if I could ever be in a movie like this,” McLendon-Covey recalls during EW’s exclusive set visit. “And Christie was goals when I was a kid — of course, she still is…. We did not make it easy for the poor girl. We dragged her out to [the desert in] Palmdale where it was dusty and awful. She did it with a smile on her face. Take after take, she was fabulous, so we are very lucky.” (There’s that word again.)

While Brinkley brushes it off as no big deal — “I’ve really enjoyed this week, it’s great fun. And my part was really easy,” the 65-year-old, wearing a white dress similar to the one from 36 years ago, says, laughing — the episode truly is. For the first time in the seven-year history of the show, which has seen ratings grow and has spawned the spin-off Schooled — almost the entire episode is on the road, quite literally, as the Goldberg family takes a 2,700-mile road trip from their home in Pennsylvania to Southern California.

“Two of the kids are going to college — 15 minutes away, but that’s still too much for Beverly. So I really have to sink my teeth into the youngest one, and this is kind of our last hurrah as a family,” McLendon-Covey explains. “We know it won’t be, but that’s what Bev’s position is.”

The sitcom, inspired by show creator Adam F. Goldberg’s own life, is set in the ’80s and has paid tribute through the years to movies, TV shows, music, pop culture moments, and more that helped define the decade, including Star Wars, Dirty Dancing, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” A Nightmare on Elm Street, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club.

It’s those last three that make another cameo in the premiere all the more special.

“We have Anthony Michael Hall, who I just … I feel like I keep looking at him and he’s catching me looking at him,” McLendon-Covey gushes. “I can’t believe he’s here.”

Eric McCandless/ABC

“He’s so humble, and he’s a really good actor – you can see how much he cares,” Sam Lerner, who plays Goldberg daughter Erica’s boyfriend Geoff Schwartz, says. “Just seeing that this morning I thought was really magical and made me remember why I love acting and want to do this my whole life. He’s a legend to me.”

While Hall says he has received numerous requests the last several years to license clips from those John Hughes movies in which he starred as a young actor, paying tribute to Vacation was an opportunity he sought out. “It’s a real privilege and a pleasure. I came here to have some fun,” he says.

And he’s doing that in the form of a park security guard. Sound familiar?

“He’s doing justice to the memory of John Candy,” Jeff Garlin, who plays the grumpy but lovable Goldberg family patriarch Murray, interjects. In the Harold Ramis movie, written by Hughes, Candy delivers the unfortunate news to the Griswold family — who have just overcome every outrageous obstacle, ridiculous roadblock, and hilarious hurdle imaginable on their own 2,460-mile trip — that Walley World isn’t open due to improvements.

“When I saw my first line is ‘Sorry folks, park’s closed‘…” Hall says, pausing for a moment as memories seem to come flooding back, “John [was] the greatest, he was such a wonderful guy, had such a heart, and he really loved making people laugh. He really did; he enjoyed it. So it’s all great how it all comes together.”

Eric McCandless/ABC

If makers of the movie had had their way, Hall says, Disneyland actually would’ve been the Griswold’s final destination.

“When we did the original film, Walley World was invented because we couldn’t get Disney, because it was a Warner Bros. film. So 30, 40, however many years later, it’s gone full circle,” Hall explains. “And we shot a different ending…. When we did the original film, we actually didn’t’ get into the park…. The studio tested the film and basically audiences were like, ‘No, we want to see them get there. They have to actually get in!” So it was a reshoot because the original film ended with us going to Roy Walley’s [the fictionalized 2-in-1 version of Walt Disney and his brother Roy] house in Beverly Hills, and the original ending that Harold had written was the family holding him up at gunpoint at his mansion where he was having a nice poolside lunch with his executive team. After the studio tested it – this just came back to me – they were like, ‘We have to get the family inside the park.’ So here we are.”

But just like the Griswolds, it won’t be easy for the Goldbergs to get there. While there’s no crazy dog like Dinky (“But we did do a photo that will be a representation of that with our family dog that is not nearly as vicious,” Hayley Orrantia, who plays Erica, explains), nor does anyone die, à la the movie’s Aunt Edna (“I feel like we almost do,” Orrantia adds), and the family matriarch doesn’t go for a topless swim (“I angled for it. Oddly enough, they said, ‘Please don’t, don’t bring it up again,'” McLendon-Covey jokes. “That’s too bad. You know who suffers? The viewers.”), there are a couple scenes they couldn’t not replicate.

“The car jump is one of those big moments in the movie where it’s larger than life how far and how high the car goes,” Sean Giambrone, who plays Adam, recalls. “And we did just as big. I think the car’s going like 48 miles per hour and they set a cone way off in the distance and the car’s getting there … it was nuts!”

And, of course, there’s the Christie Brinkley of it all. Referred to for the past 35-plus years only by her gender and the car she drove, “Girl In The Red Ferrari” now has a name, Aleah Welsh. This time, when her speeding sports car pulls up next to a station wagon, she’s greeted by a car packed with a loud, boisterous family rather than a sleeping one. And that worked out especially well for Troy Gentile, who plays middle Goldberg child Barry.

“We’re on the freeway for one of the scenes… and Christie Brinkley’s car pulls up next to us, and that was one of those moments where I was like, Holy cow, this is my job right now,” he explains, his eyes wide with excitement. “I remember watching the movie growing up and being like, ‘Dad, who’s that beautiful woman?’ [My dad said,] ‘She’s before your time’.…And now she’s of our time. That flashes in your mind when you’re filming those scenes and it’s so cool. It’s like, literally my job is what I used to see on TV. Crazy.”

After 140 episodes, this TV family is still learning things about themselves, both on camera (“We love each other more than each one wants to let on,” McLendon-Covey says) and off.

Eric McCandless/ABC

“They’re bigger troopers than I ever could have imagined. The people I work with are big, big troopers — except maybe Troy,” Garlin jokes. “By the way, he is beloved by us big time, but he is the one who yelled ‘How many more takes?!’ He’s never like this, but he lost his temper once in the desert, and we laughed. It wasn’t stressful at all…and he calmed down in 10 seconds. It was hilarious. We were hoping it would happen!”

The heat will do that to a person, after all. Or maybe he was just excited to get another glimpse of that red Ferrari.

Season 7 of The Goldbergs premieres Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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