Three seasons later, Adam Goldberg is “amazed” the show about his family is still on TV.
So it turns out the nerdy kid who used to bother his much older brothers to the point where they’d tell him to get lost and go make his movies, while his overbearing (s)mother would always be interfering, has gotten the last laugh.
And Adam Goldberg is still kind of amazed how it’s all played out.
One minute, the critics hated his show, finding his family annoying — if not offensive — and counting the days until it would be off the air. The next minute, he’s about to begin writing for a fourth season of The Goldbergs, the folks from Jenkintown who’ve somehow warmed their ways into America’s hearts.
Not too shabby for the guy whose favorite Philadelphia Flyers were Mike Ricci and Mike Bullard, neither of whom lasted more than a couple of seasons with the orange and black.
“I am, every day, still shocked it is on,” the now 40-year-old Goldberg told the Jewish Exponent, preparing to end season three with a May 11 tribute to his love of the Flyers that’s dedicated to late owner Ed Snider. “When it first premiered, the critics utterly savaged it. They really did not like this family. Some voted it the first show to be cancelled. Some voted it the worst pilot ever made.
“After seeing their reaction, I made major changes to the tone of the show. I dialed back the screaming and yelling. It’s still in there, but there are lots of hugs and lessons, which wasn’t really my intention in the beginning.
“My family — we’re a loud Jewish family. This is how we communicated. We screamed and yelled and then, five minutes later, we were laughing.
“After I made the tweaks to the show, dialing back the loudness and the aggression, I decided this won’t just be an expose of my family. I decided this would be a show that’s really relatable. This is all of our families.”
Because who can’t relate to a mother who thinks her children can do no wrong and wants to be involved in every facet of their lives? How many of us had annoying older brothers — or sisters — we tried to emulate and look up to as role models? Or younger ones who simply wouldn’t leave us alone?
And issues like peer pressure, dealing with puberty, first loves and other transformative subjects are something you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate.
That said, these really were the Goldbergs.
If anything, Goldberg said he’s had to tone them down, especially his mother, Beverly, played by Wendi McLendon-Covey.
“The reality — and she’ll be the first to say it — is I dialed her back,” said Goldberg, who last visited the area to attend the wedding of his best friend, Chad Kremp (of Kremp Florist).
That gave him an opportunity to stop by his old house in Jenkintown for a trip down memory lane before heading back home to Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two young children.
“It’s not an exaggeration,” he continued, about the woman who now lives in Warminster following the 2008 death of his father, Murray (played by Jeff Garlin). “Anyone who knows my Mom would say this is the nicest, sweetest, most tame version of Beverly Goldberg, who’d be storming down to the school every day demanding excellence for her kids.
“The story I’ve told often is before my first Saturday night in college at NYU, she had a hard time separating and slept in the dorm with me.
“All this led to a TV show, so I guess at the end of the day it’s a good thing. But yes, these are so my family members. They all recognize that it’s them, even though it’s embarrassing what I put them through every week in these stories. They can’t deny I’m staying true to who they are as characters.”
And to his Jewish identity as well. While that was never meant to be the focus of the show, it’s frequently mentioned.
“I didn’t pitch this as a show about a Jewish family,” said Goldberg, winner of the 1992 Philadelphia Young Playwrights Festival for his play Dr. Pickup — written when he was 15. “I pitched it as a show about geeks in the ’80s growing up as a movie-obsessed Spielberg geek.
“We were Jewish and went to Beth Sholom. We went there on the High Holidays and celebrated a rather lame Chanukah.
“Of course, we were gonna do a Chanukah episode, and we would’ve done a Bar Mitzvah episode, except Sean got too old it make it believable,” he said, referring to actor Sean Giambrone, who plays Adam.
“But in some episodes, Pops will speak a little Yiddish,” he said, mentioning the grandfather character that George Segal plays. “We’ve done episodes about my mom being a super yenta and episodes about Jewish mom guilt.”
Speaking of the real Goldbergs, here’s some things you should know:
Adam is seven years younger than his brother Barry, a radiologist who lives in upstate New York and still drives down on occasion for Eagles games.
And he’s nine years younger than his brother, Eric, who’s also a doctor, just like their dad. In other words, there is no Erica. She was created to give the show more storylines, although Adam insists he drew on Eric’s personality for the character.
“Sometimes, he does feel left out, just because it’s fun to be included in the show,” said Goldberg, referred to in the credits as Adam F. (for Frederich) to distinguish himself from character actor Adam G. Goldberg. “Other times, when I beat up Barry or embarrass him, it’s like ‘Oh, thanks.’”
While Barry loved the Eagles — yet wore the same Flyers T-shirt all the time — Adam’s love was always hockey.
“My dad had season tickets he split with some family members,” said Goldberg, who once grew a mullet to emulate his favorite player, Ricci, and had Bullard sign a jersey. “We had great seats, and that was our one father-son bonding thing.
“Those are some of my best memories of my dad. He forced me to play hockey at Old York Road for seven or eight years. Those were the [Eric] Lindros years, and I was obsessive. I’d videotape every Flyers game and make highlight reels on the editing machine my parents bought me for my Bar Mitzvah.
“I still have these reels of goals and fights.”
The upcoming episode is an homage to the Flyers, although it centers on a true story of Barry’s favorite T-shirt falling apart and needing to be replaced.
At the end of the show — as in every episode — will be actual Goldberg videotape of Snider and the orange and black, whom he still follows from a distance.
In the interim, Goldberg is busy working on another project for the folks at Disney: a pilot for an animated show featuring computer graphics and other technical tricks of the trade he calls “a big swing” from what he’s used to doing.: bringing this typical suburban Philadelphia family from 1980-something into our living rooms every Wednesday.
To the surprise of all—but especially him—it’s turned out to be solid gold(berg).