I might be the worst possible audience for “The Goldbergs.” It’s not that I grew up in the ’90s, and the show — an ABC sitcom that just finished its first season — is all about the ’80s.
And it’s not that, having grown up without a TV, many of the show’s references would be lost on me regardless. It’s that I can’t stand the kind of nostalgia the show demands, whether I’m the target audience or not.
“The Goldbergs” is the creation of producer and writer Adam F. Goldberg, and it’s presented as a quasi-autobiographical reflection of his own family and childhood. The main character is 11-year-old Adam Goldberg (Sean Giambrone), an aspiring Spielberg who enjoys videotaping his family’s most embarrassing moments. The show also stars Wendi McLendon Covey (of “Reno 911!”) as Adam’s mother, Beverly; Jeff Garlin as his father, Murray; Troy Gentile as older brother Barry, and Hayley Orrantia as older sister Erica. Then there’s George Segal as the flamboyant, womanizing grandfather Albert Solomon, otherwise known as “Pops.”
Unfortunately, the cast’s talent is wasted on the worst tendencies of a network show. The plots are “family issue” day-olds, the characters are cardboard — Murray especially, with his loud-but-loving ways, is little more than a live-action Homer Simpson — and the jokes are hardly jokes at all. (The best one might be that Murray’s furniture store is called Ottoman Empire.) Despite Goldberg’s attempt to present the Goldbergs as a weird but lovable clan, they are entirely white-bread.
Bad as the show is, however, judging “The Goldbergs” by ordinary criteria misses the point. As a family sitcom about the ’80s, “The Goldbergs” recalls family sitcoms from the ’80s, like “Married With Children” or “The Cosby Show.” But “The Goldbergs” is not a pastiche of ’80s television, nor is it like “That ’70s Show” (or “That ‘80s Show”), whose teenage audience never experienced the decade in question.
Instead, “The Goldbergs” is for people who remember the ’80s, but who now expect something more sophisticated from a sitcom. Thus, with an “Arrested Development”-like narrator (Patton Oswalt, as the grown-up Adam Goldberg), a single-camera set-up, and the absence of a laugh track, “The Goldbergs” isn’t a look at the sitcom through the lens of the 1980s, but a look at the ’80s through the lens of a 2013 sitcom. In this case, unfortunately, that means a heap of phony nostalgia.