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May 7, 2014

The Couch Potato: As I suggested in the fall, give ‘The Goldbergs’ a shot

NEW CASTLE — If you have a really good memory or are just a really big loser, you may remember that last September, the old Couch Potato put together a rudimentary fall preview guide of what I thought might be the best new shows on TV.

In that preview, I talked a little bit about “The Blacklist,” which I think (don’t have the energy to check) is still airing on NBC and stars James Spader as a criminal who is forced to help law enforcement catch other criminals. I mentioned this before, but I made it through about five minutes before I couldn’t take anymore of Spader’s schtick and gave up.

Somebody recently told me that they’re still watching “The Blacklist,” so it must be OK enough to have survived the cancellation that befalls so many new shows. Or it could be that NBC is such a terrible network that it had no choice to keep it on the schedule.

Either way, I’m not watching it, nor will I ever at this point.

I also talked about the ABC comedy, “Trophy Wife,” starring the usually very funny Malin Akerman as the new, young wife of a wealthy, twice divorced, businessman. Obviously, she becomes intertwined in the lives of all of his kids and his ex-wives, laughter ensues and everyone probably learns a lesson at the end of each episode.

I mean, that is probably the case because I only made it through one episode before I gave up on this one, maybe even a bit too early. I’ve heard some good things about this show, but I bailed pretty early and now it’s too late to jump back in, at least according to my OCD that doesn’t allow me to start a show anywhere but at the beginning.

So that takes me to my final fall recommendation, which I probably should mention at this point, came without ever having seen any of these shows. Anyway, my final recommendation was “The Goldbergs,” which airs Tuesday nights on ABC.

The premise of “The Goldbergs” is that it is set in the 1980s and follows the trials and tribulations of Adam Goldberg and his family, which consists of a teenage brother and sister and his two middle-aged parents. Adam narrates the show from the omniscient present, looking back nostalgically on his childhood, much like the old and great "The Wonder Years."

Let me be honest, I watched the first couple of episodes and my basic reaction was, “meh.” It was neither bad nor good, only fairly engaging and mildly funny. Let’s just say it didn’t make you wish for more.

But something happened over the next few months. I hung in there, continued to record and watch each episode, and then all of the sudden, it just clicked.

First, the show made the wise decision to give middle brother Barry, played brilliantly by Troy Gentile, way more air time as the season progressed. Gentile plays the role perfectly, mixing the subtleties of insecurity masked by misguided over-confidence. He’s the quintessential sitcom older brother, in a good way, and the kid just has the kind of delivery that can’t help but be funny.

Secondly, “The Goldbergs” makes good use of ’80s nostalgia, using the right mix of cultural references and music that makes anyone alive during that time period long for the simpler days. The “Star Wars” movies are obviously referenced, but whole shows are based on more random things like the “Punchout” arcade game, the Presidential Fitness Test and even the now non-existent video rental store.

Aside from all that, the rest of the cast is solid enough, including “Curb Your Enthusiasm” funnyman Jeff Garlin as patriarch Murray Goldberg, “Reno 911” alum Wendi McLendon-Covey as mom Beverly Goldberg and Hayley Orrantia as older sister Erica. Each has had their moments in a season that has only got better with time.

Lead character Adam Goldberg is played by the young actor Sean Giambrone and I will have to say that he does a great job for a kid. He’s believable and has a solid delivery.

Patton Oswald provides the narration as grown-up Adam and has the perfect nerd voice to coincide with Adam’s nerdy character.

Anyway you slice it, “The Goldbergs” has grown into a solid television sitcom as it nears the end of its first season run, and I’m proud that I predicted as much.

In the mangled words of Meatloaf, one out of three ain’t bad.

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