The Goldbergs: The Jewish 'Wonder Years' With Yenta and Yelling

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"Happy Birthday!" Beverly Goldberg coos to her teenage son, opening the shower curtain and poking her face inside as he lathers up. "What do you want for breakfast?"

"Privacy!" he shouts, pulling the curtain closed so he can finish washing his hair.

"Oh please," she says, primping her blond, feathered hair in front of the bathroom mirror. "Don’t forget to wash your bottom."

Meet "The Goldbergs," a new ABC sitcom for the upcoming fall season. "Back in the eighties, before Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, most families had one way to communicate," the trailer narration begins. "At the top of their lungs!"

It's like "The Wonder Years," but instead of the young Kevin Arnold, waxing nostalgic for the idyllic Waspy suburban life of the late 1960s and early 1970s, we have the young Adam F. Goldberg – not to be confused with "Hebrew Hammer" Adam Goldberg – narrating and videotaping his family-of-five’s wacky antics, set in 1985.

Nowhere in the trailer or the press materials does the word "Jewish" appear. It doesn’t have to. Wendi McClendon-Covey ("Rules of Engagement") is "a classic ‘smother;’ an overbearing, overprotective matriarch who rules this brood with 100% authority and zero sense of boundaries," according to the ABC press packet. "Fine, I’ll eat the way I die," she shouts in one clip, "Alone!" In another, instead of giving a car to her middle son (played, ironically, by an actor named Troy Gentile) for his birthday, she gives him a locket "with my picture in it, so you can keep your mother close to your heart."

Jeff Garlin ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") plays Murray, the "gruff, hot-tempered" father, who is "trying to parent without screaming," according to ABC. He doesn’t seem to doing a very good job of that. "It’s 2 A.M., I thought you were dead! I could kill you!" he shouts at his daughter, who is sneaking in late. A subtitle in the trailer tells us this is his way of saying, "I was very worried about you." When he shouts at his two sons, "You broke it. Amazing, you little bastards ruin everything," over a melted floppy disc (get it? Floppy discs? They’re so ancient!) the subtitle says, "Oh my, I feel frustrated!"

George Segal plays "Pops," the grandfather, a former Don Juan who wants to spoil his grandkids the way their parents won’t. He finds a kindred spirit in the narrator, the cynical, bespectacled Adam (Sean Giambrone), who shouts at his family to stop fighting already –so that he can roll camera and get it on tape.

Of course, the "hyperemotional" shopaholic mother who has "a big mouth that she’s not afraid to use" is code for "Jewish," much the way that when people say someone is "very New York," they mean "very Jewish."

The show was originally titled "How the F Am I Normal," then changed to "How the Hell Am I Normal?" before finally resolving to "The Goldbergs," which would be so stereotypical as to warrant a call from The Anti-Defamation League’s hyperbolic Abe Foxman were it not named for its writer, Adam F. Goldberg. Goldberg, 37, is a seasoned sitcom writer; he consulted on "Community" and was a writer on films including "How to Train Your Dragon," and "Monsters vs. Aliens." This series is based on his own Pennsylvania childhood.

"The Goldbergs" seems like it wants to encapsulate the everyfamily experience while at the same time depicting a specific family that is probably Jewish the way "Seinfeld" was - not overtly so. (ABC says scripts are currently being written, so it’s too soon to say anything about the content, like wondering, for example, if the characters go to synagogue or Hebrew school or have a mohel, "Seinfeld"-style.)

But whatever the exact Jewish nature of "The Goldbergs" – whether they’re Reform Jews who attend synagogue once a year or never go near it –the show may have a broad appeal: It centers on parents "who love their three eccentric kids so much, they can’t bear to see them grow up." Although that phenomenon once might have seemed very Jewish, in the age of today’s strict "Tiger Moms," and the helicopter parents who register their children for preschool at birth in hopes of getting them into a top college, the Goldbergs’ overpowering, controlling and histrionic style might just be typical 2013.

Beverly may be treacly and Murray crotchety, but at the end of the day we know they love their kids. "You know, I don’t say it a lot," Murray says to his teenage son as we prepare for a real "Wonder Years" tender moment. "But you’re not a total moron all of the time."

The cast of 'The Goldbergs.'Credit: ABC
Jeff Garlin, left, and Troy Gentile, in 'The Goldbergs.'Credit: ABC

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