Speaking as one of those guys who want their 1980s mix tapes played during their funerals (note: there’s a small cardboard box of 90-minute Maxells in the downstairs closet, sorted chronologically), I’m still not fully convinced that the public at large is clamoring to revive the Reagan decade nearly as much as Urban Outfitters, Madison Avenue and Grover Norquist are serving it up for us. Eventually we are going to have to surrender to what the calendar says and live fully in the 21st century.
“The Goldbergs,” ABC’s obnoxiously loud and dispiritingly vapid new Tuesday-night sitcom, is a good place to proclaim that enough is enough; we have looked back all we can and can look back no more. Inspired by the home videotapes that creator Adam F. Goldberg shot of his family in the mid- to late-’80s when he was a boy, the show is really just an excuse to launch a belated parade of geometric prints, paleolithic computers and giant Buicks driven by track-suited Grandpas.
“Man, I loved the ’80s,” intones the grown narrator-Adam (voiced by Patton Oswalt). “Back then, the world was still small.”
This is precisely the same brand of Rockwellian pining that preoccupies many American men on the verge of a midlife crisis. Similar sappiness was used to lump the throat of Kevin Arnold, the fictional adult narrator of ABC’s old hit “The Wonder Years,” who, if you’ll recall, recounted his microcosmic observations of social and cultural change during the late 1960s from the vantage point of the late 1980s.
You could set your atomic clock by the predictable rhythms of retromania: When I was a boy in the ’70s, we briefly wanted nothing more than to be Fonzie in the ’50s (inasmuch as “Happy Days” struggled to depict the ’50s; in reruns it just looks like the ’70s). Out came the Dippity-Do and switchblade combs.
If only our forebears had possessed the wisdom to outlaw public displays of nostalgia! When I got to college in the mid-’80s, every other dorm room had a Jim Morrison or John Lennon poster on the wall, yet our preoccupation with the ’60s while living in the ’80s is something you never see in today’s films and TV shows that are set in the ’80s. The anachronisms — then and now — require too much nuance and an understanding that the passage of time and accumulation of popular culture is a fluid experience: It’s less like a free-flowing river and more like a dammed-up lake.
Judging from the first episode, a suburban Jewish family of the 1980s only had enough mental energy to fixate on the ephemera of their particular moment. It’s all treated like a Proustian trigger point, whether relevant to the story or not: Rubik’s Cubes, “Ghostbusters” and raging arguments about REO Speedwagon at the breakfast table. It’s 1982, 1985 and 1987 all at once, and nothing else from another decade gets in. “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Jeff Garlin stars as Murray Goldberg, the bellicose paterfamilias who can only express his love through a tirade. Wendi McLendon-Covey (“Reno 911!”; “Bridesmaids”) plays Beverly Goldberg, an overbearing mother and Jane Fonda workout addict. George Segal plays Pops Solomon, Beverly’s father. All three feel like they’re slumming.
Even if there’s not much show to see here, I’m still intrigued by the essential premise of “The Goldbergs,” which is that the real-life Adam kept his original videotapes of his family’s antics. At the end of Tuesday’s episode, we get a brief look at that footage. It’s intended to convey an authenticity, but it mostly makes you wish they’d just created a show out of the videotapes themselves, or shot the whole thing in an old video format.
Meanwhile, an experiment: Watch an episode of “Happy Days,” followed by “The Wonder Years,” followed by “That ’70s Show” (which, yes, came about in the ’90s, right on schedule), followed by “The Goldbergs.” Even though none of those shows were superior, the overall decline is astonishing. “The Goldbergs” seems to have only three goals: hurt your eyes, hurt your ears and drop as many pop-culture references as it can into 22 minutes.
And sadly, there seems to be no way to get off this hamster wheel. In the late 2030s, you should expect an atrociously bad sitcom about the irretrievable Facebook-style simplicity and wackiness of life as it lived right now.
(30 minutes) premieres Tuesday at
9 p.m. on ABC.