From time to time, certain TV critics will pose the question, “Which is the most Jewish comedy show on television?” Then the debate begins. It’s “Transparent.” No, it’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” No, for sure it’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Calm down, guys. It’s not a competition. Besides, the most Jewish comedy on television is “The Goldbergs.”
I discovered the show a few months ago when I happened upon a rerun. Within 30 seconds I realized it was screamingly funny, and then and there I became a confirmed Goldnerd. (New episodes air at 8 p.m. Wednesday on ABC; past episodes are on Hulu.)
In some ways, the Goldberg family is a live-action Jewish version of the Simpsons family. Papa Murray Goldberg (played by Jeff Garlin) is a Homer-like boor; Beverly Goldberg (played by comedy genius Wendi McLendon-Covey) is, like Marge Simpson, a tireless “smother” obsessed with her kids. And the humor tends toward smart absurdism.
But it’s not “The Simpsons.” The show is a remarkably close parallel to the life of Adam F. Goldberg, the show’s creator and namesake of the central character, the teenage Adam. Growing up, Goldberg was never long separated from his shoulder-mounted camcorder, and with it he essentially captured his entire youth on VHS.
Thus, over the show’s six seasons, each episode begins with the voice-over of the quasi-fictional Adam (played by the gifted Sean Giambrone) saying, “Back in the ’80s…” That’s the decade that formed the real Goldberg, with all of its now-quaint pop culture, from bands like Culture Club and Milli Vanilli to blockbuster movies like “Die Hard” and “Predator.”
The real Goldberg constantly filmed himself and his family members (including his brother Barry, also a character in the show) living together in a house full of yelling, screaming, noogies, wedgies and, apparently, some true family love.
All became fodder for storylines, and each episode ends with a short coda that includes Goldberg’s real-life clips. No matter how wacky any one episode may seem, it turns out it really happened and was caught on tape.
As with any Jewish family on TV, you’ll get the occasional Yiddish mot juste. And every year they do a Hanukkah episode. But those outward trappings are the least of the show’s Jewishness.
What other show purporting to depict a Jewish family would linger several minutes on the mother, father and zayde (played by George Segal) swooning over a juicy cantaloupe, saying things like, “Can you believe this melon?” And there’s no better way to crystalize Beverly’s angst than the catchphrase she uses to try and guilt-trip her kids, fretting out loud, “I have failed as a mother!”
The family doesn’t keep kosher (shrimp parm is Beverly’s go-to dinner recipe). They don’t do Shabbat (although they do love their local Chinese restaurant). But after binge-watching the entire 100+ episodes more than once, I finally grasped why “The Goldbergs” is the most Jewish show on TV. It goes like this:
In every episode, one of the characters invariably attempts some minor selfish act, almost always at the expense of a family member. (They all kinda suck.)
Feelings are hurt, a confrontation ensues, and ultimately the shamed schemer apologizes. The wrap-up includes some variation of the phrase, “As long as you’re with the people you love, everything will be OK.”
Then they go right back to hurting and scheming.
Basically, every episode is a mini-Kol Nidre. A Goldberg sins, a Goldberg atones and makes a face-to-face apology, all vows are nullified, and back they go to being fallible human beings.
If a show models itself on the holiest time on the Jewish calendar, it’s safe to say it’s the most Jewish show on television.
But don’t let that scare you off. It is relentlessly hilarious, too, and well worth all of the formulaic plotting and cheesy moralizing. In fact, if you don’t start watching “The Goldbergs” after reading this, then I have failed as a TV critic.