Before you get the wrong idea: if you grew up as or around a lot of Jews, the Goldberg clan won’t be entirely exotic to you. See the overbearing mother, played by the excellent — and, as far as I can tell, not-at-all-Jewish — Wendi McLendon-Covey; nerdy Adam Goldberg (Sean Giambrone), namesake of the show’s creator; and Jeff Garlin, the timeless Jewish father, for whom yelling is just the way he talks, whose insults mean “I love you,” and who nonetheless harbors a genuine warmth just beneath his surly surface.
Speaking of Garlin, I’m a big fan of his, and while I’d love to see this show succeed simply to bring him out of Larry David’s shadow and make him a TV star in his own right, I wonder how The Goldbergs will find its identity. Could it become the combination of funny and sweet that most of America loves in its family sitcoms? Perhaps that’s why it’s treading the line between Jewish humor and comedy that’s not too Jewish, where there’s klezmer music playing 24/7 and a mother who swears in Yiddish almost as often as she tries to feed skinny goyim.
Yes, there is something familiar about The Goldbergs. No, it doesn’t remind me of my own weird 1980s Jewish childhood, raised as I was in a community filled with defectors and baby boomer parents with twin affinities for old-time religion and weird New Age yuppie spiritualism. It isn’t the Jewish 1980s I remember, but The Goldbergs‘ great cast gives it all the ingredients it needs to succeed, if it ever manages to develop a fresh take on the ’80s, Jewish family life, or even Jewish family in the ’80s.