It’s been a big year for The Goldbergs. Between the anticipated Ferris Bueller’s Day Off homage (and a Charlie Sheen guest appearance!), Barry (Troy Gentile) finally getting a girlfriend, Erica (Hayley Orrancia) picking up traction with her music career and Adam (Sean Giambrone) reintroducing us to a plethora of ’80s memorabilia, TV’s retro family has been busy, to say the least.
It all comes to a head on Wednesday night’s Season 2 finale, which comes days after ABC confirmed the series will return for a third season next fall. In “Goldbergs Feel Hard,” Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) throws Erica a going-away party when she leaves for summer arts school, while Barry and Adam grapple with their relationship statuses.
To get the Garbage Pail Kids dirty on all things Season 2 ahead of the big finish, we caught up with show creator Adam Goldberg–who infamously based this loveable TV family on his own–to chat his fanboy status and pink room growing up, scripting a fictional sister in Erica, what McLendon-Covey has nixed in the role of Beverly and more.
The TV Junkies: When the first season started, you infamously responded to reviewers and read critiques of the show. Has that settled down in Season 2?
Adam Goldberg: I think what makes the show and the character of Adam feel real to people is he is a giant geek and so am I. And I hold a lot of stock in what fans think and say, just in how it shapes the show. Do I still read reviews? Absolutely. And I don’t begrudge anyone with a bad review–they have their right to their opinions, that’s how it works. All I ask is that people don’t review it if they haven’t watched it. This is my life story. I’m so passionate about it, and I feel like I should get my due. So if you’re going to review this season, watch this season. If you’re going to review the pilot, watch the pilot. If you watch the pilot now to where it’s become it’s just a completely different show. So it’s so hard to be judged on that pilot. I’m still proud of the pilot, it really shows what my actual real family was like.
And I’m active with the fans because I am a fan. I wrote a movie called Fanboys about Star Wars fans. I’d go to conventions and wait in line. And buy toys. And so, it’s like one of us got a show. I really enjoy interacting with the fans because I work in such a bubble.
TTVJ: Have you seen any surprising reactions from fans that actually helped shaped the show?
AG: There have been a lot of episodes where I really put myself out there. I was a kid who grew up getting teased a lot, so I was a sensitive guy, I guess. And when I did the New Kids episode, or when I showed when my mom dressed me like Liza Minnelli in short-shorts and did the Sears photo of me when I was 10, I was super nervous. And what was surprising to me was how supportive everyone was. How so many guys were like, I also did a New Kids video and didn’t tell anybody. Or here’s my embarrassing photo that my mom made me take. That’s what surrpsied me. I was kind of bracing myself for the impact of becoming a meme or something and people were kind of like, no. This is my life too. And that was really cool to see. It makes me want to put myself out there more.
The other thing that surprised me was one of my favourite episodes of this season, when Bev got the gym teacher fired over Adam playing dodgeball. That was a true story. People thought Beverly went too far and was unlikeable. So that was an important lesson. It’s like, how far can you take this character? I don’t want her to be unlikeable; I want every mom to see themselves in Beverly. But I don’t want it to cross the line. I know that we’ve done it from time to time for the sake of the story. And that’s something that we battle with in the writers’ room every day is keeping it real and honest but not pushing too far. So that was a surprising one. I guess getting a teacher fired was too much for people, I get it. Unfortunately my mom would do something like that. So it’s … tricky.
TTVJ: How do you go about doing that in the writers’ room?
AG: The truth of the matter is we could give Wendi anything and she’ll make it feel real and funny. So that makes our job very easy. I think the reason the character works well on the show is what Wendy does with it and how she interprets what we write. We like honestly have a comedic genius. There have been a couple of things where Wendy has come and said, ‘I just feel like this goes outside of the realm of reality and it’s too much.’ That’s been the only time where we’ve pulled things back. Otherwise I’m just kind of telling stories about my mom, or other writers are talking about their overbearing mothers in the room. We’re writing from a place of truth, or at least it all starts from a kernel of truth. If something goes too far, then Wendi will flag it for us. She feels like she can’t perform it.
TTVJ: Any examples?
AG: One that really sticks out to me was an episode in Season 1 where Beverly and Murray (Jeff Garlin) get into a fight and she sells his recliner that he loves. It ends up in a frat house. In the script she went there and tried to negotiate and ended up flashing her boobs to get it back. And Wendi said, ‘I just feel like Beverly would mother them. Why is she flashing her boobs? It isn’t something your mom would do.’ I said, ‘You’re totally right, that’s my worst nightmare, I would never want my mom to do that, she would never do that.’ So Bev ended up going inside and cleaning up and making them food and setting their lives in order and then leaving with the chair. It was a great collaboration.
TTVJ: Speaking of scripting the ladies, what’s it like to script Erica, since you didn’t actually have a sister growing up?
AG: Yeah, that’s the only tricky part of the show for me. And I rely heavily on the female writers in the room to bring in their stories and talk about the complicated relationships they had with their parents. But a lot of Erica’s stories and her stubbornness do come from my actual brother Eric. So it’s kind of like a hybrid of stories I’m getting from writers on the show and memories I have with my stubborn, rebellious oldest brother. The truth of the matter is some of her stories are made up whole cost. That’s why a lot of her stories just explore an ’80s thing that we want to reference and dive into. Like the Dance Party USA episode.It opens us up to so many different kinds of stories. There’s something nice about having one character that doesn’t exist and I’m not responsible to. We can push her in any way and I’m not getting a phone call at the end of the day from a family member!
TTVJ: Did you want a sister growing up?
AG: My mom can completely support this; I’m not making it up–my mom was desperate to have a girl. I’m a lot younger than my brothers and when she got pregnant with me, she was so certain I was a girl that my whole room was pink. I had frilly pink curtains, a pink rug, a pink crib … and then I was a boy and she was didn’t want to spend the money to change it. So I grew up in a fully pink, girl’s room. And that was something I wanted to explore on the show in the pilot, but it fell out in the rewrite process. That’s something I love about my childhood now, looking back. At the time it was mortifying. When I’d have friends come over I’d pretend Barry’s room was my room and then Barry would come in and punch me and tell me to get out. And I’d have to shamefully walk into this girl’s bedroom. When you’re 12 years old it’s pretty brutal, now I look back and it’s hilarious. And my mom says, whenever I bring it up, ‘Oh you loved that pink room. Stop complaining.’
TTVJ: Speaking of your real mom, are you any closer to running out of those infamous home videos you show at the end of the episodes?
AG: I will probably never run out. At this point we’re just breaking whatever story we want and I’m just finding the appropriate video. The only one was the New Kids on The Block episode where I was like, I have this video, let’s do an episode about this. Other than that, we did a thing about ‘Just Say No,’ the drug campaign from the ’80s. I went and looked at my footage and I found something I hadn’t seen in years–an anti-drug campaign that I had recorded where I was holding my mom’s tampon, not knowing it was a tampon. So I always will have some video that corresponds to what we’re doing. If we’re so lucky, do I have 100 clips? Absolutely.
TTVJ: You guys had a hard time clearing all the music rights in that New Kids episode. Has that gotten any easier as the season progressed? There have been a lot of musical moments in this year’s back half.
AG: We’re having Erica sing a lot because Hayley is so gifted. But it also cuts our song price in half–we don’t have to pay performance rights. So as you notice the season goes and Erica sings more and more, that’s why. Once we did Dire Straits, and they gave us usage for that song, we paid so much money that our budget was basically maxed out. So any way to bring down the budget we’re doing, which means Erica singing a lot more. I always think it works because she’s so phenomenal but every time we want a song we have to go through the same rigamarole.
More people have heard of the show so they know it’s a legitimate thing now. A couple of weeks ago I had to beg Journey to play “Faithfully.” And it literally went down five minutes before we handed in the episode. I had to mix two different songs and do two different versions of the show. And I had to write letters to the band, and I was tweeting and fans were tweeting; it was a group effort. But at the end of the day I think the band saw all the passion that was there and it worked out. But it was a nail-bitter every week. People never really know how much effort we have to put in. Every t-shirt that Adam wears has to be cleared by a movie or TV studio. Every toy, prop, has to be cleared. Every song … every time we reference some ’80s thing we have to get permission. It’s kind of a logistical nightmare. But it makes the show so we put in the work.
TTVJ: With the finale airing Wednesday night can you give us a preview of what to expect?
AG: Our finale is about when you’re a kid, saying ‘I love you’ for the first time. About how big of a deal that is to your girlfriend and how impactful and nerve-wracking that it. I just wanted to tap into that experience we’ve all had of being with a girlfriend growing up. So Adam and Barry both have to decide if it’s time to say I love you to their girlfriends. It’s a really sweet, cute episode. There’s a lot of heart and it’s really funny. And so yeah. The last episode is more just about our family and their relationships.
TTVJ: Anything you’d like to add?
AG: One of my favourite things of the season was how we made Vic (Cedric Yarbrough) a huge Edmonton Oilers fan. I heard that when the Philadelphia Flyers go and play the Oilers, they play it there and the fans love it. So that’s one of the things that I’m most proud of, which I never knew would happen. It’s so awesome. It makes me want to do more Canadian hockey teams and references, if they’re going to go put them up and play them at games!
Please do, Adam.
The Goldbergs Season 2 finale airs Wednesday, May 13 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC and on Thursday, May 14 at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.
Amber Dowling is a bonafide TV Junkie, critic and freelance writer who watches countless shows and lives for dramatic (fictional!) twists. She currently serves as the vice-president of the Television Critics Association and has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows across North America. An advocate for Canadian Television and a lover of the medium in general, Amber founded TheTVJunkies.com as a spot for fellow enthusiasts to connect and collaborate. She previously spent almost eight years as the EIC for TV Guide Canada.