The Goldbergs- Then & Now
This week marks the anniversary of Gertrude Berg’s television debut as housewife Molly Goldberg. This week also marks the fourth episode of ABC’s new show, The Goldbergs. Interestingly enough: same name, different show—and very different times.
Because there are few things in the world I like more than TV, I decided to sit down this week and honor Gertrude Berg by diving right into The Goldbergs. Before I got started I went to the show’s official website to read how they described the show—and the title family.
Before there were parenting blogs, trophies for showing up, and peanut allergies, there was a simpler time called the ‘80s. For geeky 11-year old Adam (Sean Giambrone) these were his wonder years and he faced them armed with a video camera to capture all the crazy. The Goldbergs are a loving family like any other, just with a lot more yelling. Mom Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is a classic “smother;” an overbearing, overprotective matriarch who rules this brood with 100% authority and zero sense of boundaries. Dad Murray (Jeff Garlin) is gruff, hot-tempered and trying to parent without screaming. Sister Erica (Hayley Orrantia) is 17, hot, terrifying and not one to mess with. Barry (Troy Gentile) is 16, an overly emotional teen with severe middle child syndrome. Adam (Sam Giambrone) is the youngest, a camera-wielding future director who’s crushing on an older woman. Rounding out the family is beloved grandfather Al “Pops” Solomon (George Segal), the wild man of the clan, a shameless Don Juan who’s schooling Adam in the ways of love. When Pops buys a new sports car and offers his Caddy to middle child Barry, it’s enough to drive this already high-strung family to the brink of chaos.
I read the description a few times. As a blogger writing about Jewish issues, my first read through was a scan for anything Jewish. My second read through was to confirm that I wasn’t skipping words—because there is nothing explicitly Jewish in that description.
The write up doesn’t use phrases like “the typical Jewish family.” The plot doesn’t reference battles over attending Hebrew school, or fights over a Bat Mitzvah party, or call on matzah ball soup. There are no Yiddish words thrown in—no unnecessary “oy” or “chutzpah ” In fact, if it weren’t for the family’s name of Goldberg (and my love for all things TV,) this show probably wouldn’t have entered onto my radar.
This is a far cry from the original The Goldbergs. Elsewhere on our site, we describe The Goldbergs, a show that lasted 30 years through versions on the radio, television, Broadway, and even film, as a show "that dealt explicitly with Jewish life in the United States, joking about the cultural differences between ‘old world’ immigrants and their American-born offspring.”
Adam Goldberg, the creator of the new The Goldbergs, has shared that the show takes roots in his own family’s stories. His choice of title serves as homage to his family and his past, and does add an undeniable “Jewish flare” to the show. Yet, being Jewish isn’t so controversial anymore—and there is no need for the show to hit you over the head with it. This family really could be any family in America; a loud overbearing mother might be a Jewish stereotype—but it’s also a TV troupe seen from non-Jewish mothers like those seen in the shows Modern Family, Everyone Loves Raymond, or Malcolm in the Middle.
As we look back at all that Gertrude Berg did for Jews on TV, this new version of The Goldbergs says it all. Jews on TV are no longer an ethnic spectacle, but rather just another normal family on the block.