Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review - The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife

ABC has introduced two new comedies into its Tuesday night lineup, The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife.  With a tremendously strong lead-in - Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - we'll have to see how much of the audience they maintain.  For me, these are going head-to-head with my beloved Supernatural (CW), and both will battle CBS' NCIS: Los Angeles and NBC's The Voice's result show, but since I don't watch the latter two shows, I should be able to tune in to these newbies.  Question is, will I want to?


The 80s are back!  Going in, this sounded like it could be the new The Wonder Years - following the ups and downs and all the growing pains of a young boy, Adam (Sean Giambrone). Adam's family - a.k.a. the Goldbergs - are loving just like any other ... but with a lot more yelling. There's mom Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey, Rules of Engagement, Reno 911!), overbearing and authoritative; dad Murray (Jeff Garlin, Arrested Development) is gruff and hot-tempered; 17-year-old sister Erica (Hayley Orrantia) is hot and not to be messed with; 16-year-old brother Barry (Troy Gentile) is overly emotional and suffers severe middle-child syndrome; and grandpa Al “Pops” Solomon (George Segal, Retired at 35, Just Shoot Me) is wild and shameless and enthusiastically schools 11-year-old Adam in the ways of love.

The opening moments of the show made me smile as they showed a montage of images from 80s TV and pop culture - The Karate Kid, Diff'rent Strokes, Knight Rider, Alf, the Rubik's Cube, Back to the Future ... totally awesome! (I was so, like, an 80s kid, totally!) - but absolutely this show is heir-apparent to The Wonder Years, complete with voice-over commentary from now-adult Adam.  What is different is that we are treated to family moments captured by young Adam on videotape (no DVD back then, young ones) interspersed with the regular story, providing a visual record of his point of view in addition to the audio.

Also different is, where TWY mostly focused on telling Kevin Arnold's (Fred Savage) story and touching less on the rest of the family except when they directly affected his life, The Goldbergs takes time to tell each character's story equally.

It's strange to watch a show that features no current tech - no laptops, no internet, no cell phones - things that have become such staples in TV today (hell, the cell phone is practically a whole character on Pretty Little Liars)  And the fashion - oh, the horror of 80s fashion!:  fringe jackets, colorful track suits, leg warmers, big hair, overly done pastel eye shadow (*shudder*). Gave me a warm sense of nostalgia, but I wonder how young viewers will receive the references ... if it'll be at all funny to them since they have no frame of reference. For certain the show can't rest on that element alone; the writing and situations have to have good comic substance, which for me, eh.

The characters are very over-the-top, and while the show absolutely established that this is a family of yellers, I gotta say the screaming got old real quick.  Not sure I could take it week after week.

The Goldbergs fits right in to the family of ABC's other misfit family comedies - Modern Family, The Middle - but I'm not sure it's a winner.  Nothing made me laugh out loud and, again, the constant screaming was hard to take.  It doesn't have the heart and sentiment that The Wonder Years did, at least not right off.  But if nothing else, I might tune in just to get a little 80s nostalgia fix (I mean, young Adam had a Voltron shirt! How awesome is that?).  Rad music soundtrack, too.

One thing I did love:  The show was created by executive producer/writer Adam F. Goldberg and during the closing credits, we were shown the real-life inspirations for the show: his actual family.  First they showed a clip from the pilot, then split-screened actual video footage of the real person - his parents and siblings -  doing exactly what had been re-created in the episode.  Very cool.

BOTTOM LINE:  Probably not for me, but didn't hate it.  The Wonder Years is better.

The Goldbergs airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.


Reformed party girl Kate (Malin Akerman, Children's Hospital, Burning Love) has become the third wife of Pete (Bradley Whitford, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The West Wing).  Taking on an instafamily complete with three stepchildren and two ex-wives, she is determined to make her challenging new home life work.

Also in the cast are Marcia Gay Harden (The Newsroom) as ex-wife #1 Diane, intense, overachieving and mother of twin teenagers Hillary (Bailee Madison) and Warren (Ryan Scott Lee);  ex-wife #2 Jackie (Michaela Watkins, Enlightened, The New Adventures of Old Christine), free spirit and mother to adopted son Bert (Albert Tsai); and Natalie Morales (Parks and Recreation, White Collar) as Kate's best friend Meg.

I liked this pilot, a lot, actually.  Ackerman is very good in the role of Kate and is very natural with the comedy.   The episode succeeded in setting up the family dynamic very well.  When, in one of the first scenes Whitford's entire brood, exes and all, is thrust upon her in a chaotic fashion, you wonder how Kate ever considered dating him, much less marrying him.  But she did, and it works.  The chilly relationship she has with Hillary, the judgment cast down on her by Harden (deliciously cold in her role), her trying too hard to be the perfect stepmom ... it all plays out with comfortable realism.

The show does include a voice-over by Ackerman, which, in following The Goldbergs seems so overdone, but that's a small annoyance.  I like how Ackerman and Madison play off each other.  Their animosity works much better here than, say, the tense relationship established between Anna Faris' Christy and Sadie Calvano's Violet in CBS' Mom. Having had a stepmother of my own who had no interest in being any sort of a mother, I appreciate that they've made the character of Kate put in so much effort and be likeable without being fake.  She and Whitford make a nice couple, too ... good chemistry there.

BOTTOM LINE:  Award Trophy Wife a spot in your viewing lineup.

Trophy Wife airs at Tuesdays 9:30 p.m. on ABC.

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