It was formerly my favorite contemporary sitcom, but now, it often brings plots with little stakes or thought.
I saw this season’s premiere last night, and man… I didn’t laugh, and I think once I even gagged. Okay, to start, ABC reserves the right to fire Jeff Garlin. If his behavior was making people uncomfortable, he deserves to be held accountable. ABC has not disclosed much detail of what exactly Garlin did or said, but I take it is was repeated derogatory humor. Maybe ABC overstepped and could have found a better solution than firing him, or maybe it was the only feasible action. Like I said, they haven’t revealed much of the substance of his misdeeds, so it’s hard to say. But still, the treatment of his character Murray in the show is very unusual. He died between last season and this one I guess, but his demise is not treated very gracefully. In the opening, this is brushed aside. Instead Beverly in more involved snooping into her children’s lives, helping Erica and Jeff set up a nursery. Murray’s father is now living with them, and over the seasons Murray had mentioned his father was disinterested in his life, and the same goes for his death in this episode. Ginzie says his eulogy for Murray was very short. This betrays Pop-Pop’s character. Like his son, he doesn’t display affection so outwardly, but still, he cares. And Murray and Beverly had confronted him enough times to learn this.
Same thing with Beverly. Murray and her children and their significant others had confronted her time and time again that they want her to be involved, but not to the overwhelming extent that she is, and she learns his lesson for a little while, but then turns up the selfishness. Erica and Jeff’s wedding is “her wedding,” and their baby is “her baby.”
Oh, Erica and Jeff. I’m annoyed with how both of them have deflated. Erica had high ambitions, and still does, but unreasonably thinks she can take it all on. A husband and an upcoming baby while finishing college… Not to mention both she and Jeff plan to attend grad schools, optometry school for Jeff and law school for her, so they may have to separate depending upon where their education leads them, and still raise a child. And… She still pursues her music career sometimes. She had been a responsible character before, but despite the fact she has made some big lifetime milestones, she is increasingly naive and dependent on her mother and parents-in-law to fund her life. I know it’s set in the 1980s and people married and procreated earlier then, but that’s no excuse. Given their circumstances, I feel they married and got pregnant at a very inopportune time, and too often fiction gives the narrative that “even if the timing isn’t right, everything will work out okay,” but that’s often untrue and will set future marriages and parents up for failure and disappointment. Not to mention, many of these developments are retconned when Erica and Barry visit Lainey on the spinoff “Schooled,” set a decade later. Erica does not mention marriage or children, and in fact implies that she and Jeff broke up to make Lainey feel less alone in her breakup with Barry. But if we believe the later “Goldbergs” time-line, Lainey should know Erica and Jeff had been married for a while since she was the maid of honor. She may have assumed they divorced, but… That’s a stretch. Also, I may be mistaken, but I believe either Barry or Erica tell Lainey that their parents are doing well in “Schooled”, which is another retcon, as Murray would be alive into the late 1990s.
Jeff is another character who irritates me because of his flatness. Erica broke up with him only a few seasons ago because he was not his own person and was too submissive to her interests. Then he changed a little I guess, stuck up for himself in one thing, and they got back together, then engaged, and then… He goes back to being spineless. He sometimes sticks up for himself with JTP, or to Beverly… But not enough. He’s the worst with Erica, despite the fact that she dislikes it and wishes he were a decisionmaker too.
Finally, the farewell to Murray, as I mentioned, is so hollow and half-hearted. While Erica keeps his chair, Beverly keeps his shirts, and Adam and Barry play on a baseball field they made to summon him a la “Field of Dreams,” something about it feels disingenuous, but it’s hard to really describe. I know there is friction in the relationship between the network and Murray’s actor, and I think it shines through in the writing and performances. Because of this friction, I doubt there will be many follow up episodes to extend on their grief. Compare it to the death of Albert “Pops” Solomon, the children’s maternal grandfather played by George Sehgal, who actually did die in real life as opposed to Garlin’s firing. This is handled with much more care. The family connects with Pops’ old hobbies, friends, and belongs. They even mention the fuller aspects of his life, like being in World War 2, betting on horse races, writing love letters to his wife, meanwhile Murray is only mentioned sitting his chair, watching TV, and calling his children morons. But there was a lot more to him than that, but I guess ABC doesn’t want to remind us about this. His memorial is purposefully mundane.
Anyway, I feel as though a lot of this is done to check off a box on a list of tropes that make “great TV moments.” Marriage, pregnancy, death… We especially need the female sibling to get married and pregnant…because that’s all women think about, right? And ABC probably thinks their female audience is still sore that Barry and Lainey called off their wedding… So they think that Erica and Jeff being married is some kind of retribution. It feels like a lot of storylines were introduced by pressure from the network rather than organically. The season is still early, so maybe it will get better, though I’m doubtful. Part of me wants a good portion of this season to stay unaired because I feel it will just be that bad. (By the way, I would have had Murray and Beverly get a divorce or have him go on a yearlong business trip to explain his absence and to avoid the cheap grief, and open the doors if Garlin changes and could be rehired again for a guest appearance.)