2013 Fall TV Preview: The Goldbergs, Trophy Wife, and Back in the Game

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One of the most anticipated new Fall shows is ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, which will air on Tuesday nights at 8pm beginning on September 24. The show, which is a spinoff of Marvel Films’ hugely popular Avengers movie franchise, will almost certainly have a early dedicated following (especially from comic fans eager to see if some of the more obscure corners of the Marvel Universe are touched upon). In an interesting move, ABC has chosen to follow “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” with two brand-new comedies instead of expectedly compatible action-adventure fare. Will the move succeed? Time will tell, but for now, let’s look at the new comedies on their own merits (or at least the merits of their pilot episodes).

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That’s….a lot of velour.

“The Goldbergs” (airing Tuesdays at 9pm) is the mostly-autobiographical story of Adam F. Goldberg’s youth in the mid-80’s. The name “Adam Goldberg” sounded familiar to me, but the Adam F. Goldberg who’s created this TV series is not the Adam Goldberg whom I know as the TV and movie actor that I always confuse with Jason Schwartzman. THIS Adam (F.) Goldberg is a writer/producer best-known for making the Star Wars documentary, “Fanboys”, and he also had the thankless job of babysitting last year’s season of “Community” while NBC put show creator/show-runner Dan Harmon on time-out for not playing nice with delusional former star Chevy Chase. I’ll try to not let my disappointment with last year’s “Community” season temper my expectations for “The Goldbergs”. I simply don’t think anyone could oversee “Community” other than Harmon, so holding Goldberg responsible for the mediocre 4th season of that particular show just isn’t fair.

“The Goldbergs” revels in its eighties setting, and that offers a wealth of story potential. Any TV show that starts with a clip from the original “Karate Kid” (not the Jayden Smith abomination) amid a montage of ‘80s culture is going straight for my heart. The pilot episode introduces the Goldberg family over the course of two days in Fall of 1985. I’m probably the dead-center target audience for “The Goldbergs”, having graduated high school in 1989.

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No, not those “Goldbergs”

Patton Oswalt does Kevin Arnold-ian voiceovers for our P.O.V. character, sixth-grade Adam. Adam is obsessed with documenting his semi-functional family’s every interaction, and is equally obsessed with the fairer sex and more specifically, boobs. This rang a bit hollow for me, as the actor playing Adam seems a bit young for puberty, but it’s amusing to see Adam get coached through the finer points of wooing waitresses by his grandfather, Albert (played wonderfully slimily by George Segal).

Also perfectly cast are Jeff Garlin (best known from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Wendy McClendon-Covey (“Reno 911!” and “Bridesmaids”) as Adam’s parents, and the characters are well drawn from the start. Garlin, as blue collar Murray Goldberg, convincingly plays the long-suffering dad who loves his kids dearly but quietly struggles with his wife’s opinions on parenthood. McClendon’s domineering Beverly (think a younger version of “Everybody Loves Raymond”s amazing Doris Roberts) runs the show and is a hair-sprayed force of nature when it comes to raising their three children. Both actors play their characters with both humor and empathy, and own the roles from the get-go. McClendon is awesome, but I’ve come to expect her being an outstanding comic actress–and this may be the vehicle for her to become even better known. Garlin is very funny as well (as a working dad, I cracked up at the scene where he comes home and “gets comfortable” immediately in the hallway).

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I can’t believe what happened to James Caan’s face either.

The other two Goldberg children certainly have potential as comic fodder. Barry Goldberg, as played by Troy Gentile (um, irony?) in particular is very funny as an awkward sixteen-year-old rap aficionado whose parents just don’t understand. The oldest sibling, Erica (Hayley Orrantia) is just kind of there, but she’s not awful or anything.

I assumed incorrectly that this show would be a bit more stereotypically “Hebrew-centric”, but it’s not touched upon whatsoever other than perhaps in Segal’s slight accent. Still, this family is engaging and funny and the show refreshingly doesn’t rely on any ethnic tropes for easy laughs.

That being said, I wanted this show to be funnier than it was, but remember, pilots aren’t always the best indicator of a show’s actual quality (“Parks & Recreation” and “The Office”, to name but two). I’ll be watching this show cautiously, but very optimistically. The cast and concept are so strong (and the time period so close to my heart) that I’m really pulling for this one.

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Cosby-approved!

Does “The Goldbergs” sound like a show you might be interested in? Here’s a link to an early look at the entire debut episode:

http://www.thegoldbergstvroom.com/tv/pilot/?cid=fb_gld_pilot

Following “The Goldbergs” on Tuesday nights will be “Trophy Wife”. The concept: A twice-divorced middle-aged lawyer marries a much younger woman, and she juggles raising his three children while still trying to hold on to her youthful party-going nature.

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It’s perfectly normal for ex-wives to want to be in the picture, too. Sure it is.

“Trophy Wife” starts with a flashback as to how our leads (Bradley Whitford from “The West Wing” and Malin Ackerman from “Watchmen” and “Suburgatory”) “meet cute” at a karaoke bar. I don’t think I’ve ever watched nubile drunk late-twenty-somethings singing “Jump” by the Pointer Sisters at karaoke (not even ironically), but from the very first scene, “Trophy Wife” is asking me to suspend my disbelief. That theme continues throughout, as there’s some definite implausibility going on here.

We travel back to the present and go through a day in the life of the now married Harrison couple. Kate (Ackerman) has to do various chores and get out of various jams all relating to Brad’s (Whitford’s) three kids. Kate regales Brad’s two teenaged biological children from his first marriage to overachieving supermom Dr. Diane (a GREAT Marcia Gay Harden) with stories of drunken revelry and general troublemaking, and the kids naturally idolize her. Unfortunately, both Warren (Ryan Scott Lee) and Hillary (Bailee Madison) look up to her a bit too much (Oedipally, in Warren’s case) and use Kate’s example to get into mischief. Both kids’ performances are actually pretty darned funny.

Kate later delegates her transportation responsibilities for Bert, Brad’s adopted son with his second wife (SNL’s Michaela Watkins, perhaps best known as blogger Annie Tempura from “Bitchpleeze.com”) to Kate’s best friend, the totally bland and characterless Meg (Natalie Morales, but not the one from the “Today Show”). Bert, played very precociously by Albert Tsai, STEALS the show. Honestly, it’s the funniest child performance on a sitcom in a long, long time. It’s a good thing, because there’s a gigantic flaw found in “Trophy Wife”.

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Get to know this guy, he’s going places.

To be blunt, there’s ZERO romantic chemistry between Whitford and Ackerman. None whatsoever. We all know “May-December” couples like this (in this case, it’s more “May-August”), but there’s no discernible reason Brad and Kate are a successful couple. Ackerman is doing her best Cameron Diaz impression here, and is game for the more physical comedy required of her outgoing and bubbly character, but she’s not convincingly in love onscreen with Whitford at this point in the series. Yes, it’s just the pilot, but they’ll have to work hard for me to believe that they care romantically for one another. Whitford’s character actually connects much better with his two ex-wives (and maybe that’s the point) than he does with Kate. Perhaps this fact will lead to more tension and awkward situations on future episodes. Perhaps tomorrow will be a day that ends in “day”.

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Smell the lack of chemistry!

The script is very funny, the kids are all great (especially the aforementioned Bert), and both of Brad’s ex-wives are outstanding. Veteran film actress Marcia Gay Harden outclasses nearly everyone whenever she’s onscreen, and she adds a welcome presence as the only true grown-up on the show. Watkins is pretty funny as Bert’s hippy-dippy new age mom, and her scenes with Whitford stand out.

Sound intriguing? Here’s the pilot episode for “Trophy Wife”:

http://www.hulu.com/watch/528229

Everything about the show screams “pair it with Modern Family”, but maybe the premise is too similar to the Sofia Vergara/Ed O’Neill relationship as found on ABC’s flagship comedy. Too bad, as I think they’d work very well together, especially considering what ABC’s trying to broadcast immediately before “Modern Family”.

Since its debut in 2009, ABC’s “Modern Family” has been a consistently terrific and groundbreaking show and has won tons Emmy awards in its first three seasons. Unfortunately for the network, it’s been on somewhat of a ratings island on Wednesday nights, with shows like “Suburgatory”, “Happy Endings” and “The Neighbors” all being unable to capitalize on “Modern Family’s” strong viewership numbers. It’s been a conundrum for ABC to find something that shares “Modern Family’s” tone and quality so that viewership is retained, but so far it’s been a formula that ABC’s been unable to create.
The latest show to attempt to “get a rub” from preceding “Modern Family”, which premieres Wednesday September 25th, is “Back in the Game”, but they should really title it “What the Hell Happened to James Caan’s Face”.

I like that title so much that I’ll use it for the remainder of the article.

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The cast of “What the Hell Happened to James Caan’s Face”

“What the Hell Happened to James Caan’s Face” stars Maggie Lawson (“Psych”) as Terry Gannon Junior. Wait, a female Jr.? Do they even have that? Terry Jr., a collegiate softball All-American, is recently divorced and forced to move back in with her unsympathetic alcoholic father and retired MLB player, Terry Gannon Senior, aka “The Cannon”, played by ‘what the hell happened to his face’ James Caan. Along for the ride is Griffin Gluck as Terry Jr.‘s weird son, Danny. Danny signs up for little league but doesn’t make the cut, as the town’s league only has so many coaches and resources allotted for its league (which is run by a jerky villain straight out of a John Hughes movie played by Ben Koldyke). Predictably, Terry Jr. steps up to lead a team of kids who missed the cut and Terry Sr. supervises over her shoulder.

This show is not very good.

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“Wow! Check out James Caan’s face!”

Predictable, corny, vulgar, and giving in to stereotypes, this show is almost irredeemable. Lawson tries her best to bring some fun to the material, but her efforts as the plucky single mom (actually very reminiscent of Jennifer Morrison as Emma from “Once Upon A Time”) fall flat due to the terrible material. Ironically, the funniest part of the show is outright rip off of “The Bad News Bears” where the little league team of misfits is introduced one by one, revealing each member’s unique character trait (the fat smart-mouth! The gay kid! The nerd! The weirdo in a turban!). That part of the show was blatantly stolen (homage my butt), and it’s the only thing about “What the Hell Happened to James Caan’s Face” that’s mildly amusing.

Caan is pathetically wasted here. What the hell happened to you, James Caan? You were in “The Godfather”. “Brian’s Song” made generations of men cry. Your being in this terrible vehicle makes me cry for other reasons. I’m sorry that this is the best thing your agent could get for you. And what‘s wrong with your face? At least Caan is convincing as the gin-blossomed a-hole. Unfortunately, his countenance is so distracting that the watcher is left wondering “what the hell happened to James Caan’s face” instead of paying attention to the plot.

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Yeah, yeah, stop looking at my face.

Again, a terrible pilot doesn’t always mean series doom, but I see very little potential for success here. If “Happy Endings” didn’t work (and that show was often outstanding), I see no reason why this show sticks around. Strong recommendation to avoid.

If you’re a pure masochist, here’s the pilot for “What the Hell Happened to James Caan’s Face”. Placetobenation.com accepts no responsibility for what happens after you observe this terrible, terrible episode of television.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/528235

Final Tally:

“The Goldbergs”



What it’s like: A cross between “The Wonder Years” and “Roseanne”

Casting: A-

Script: B-

Potential: Excellent, based on the cast and premise. If the jokes catch up to the concept, this may be one to watch.

 

“Trophy Wife” 



What it’s like: “Bad Teacher” meets “The Brady Bunch” meets “Stepmom”

Casting: B-

Script: B+

Potential: If the stars develop some chemistry, this could become a really good sitcom. Still watchable due to the funny script and kid performances.

 

“What the Hell Happened to James Caan’s Face”

What it’s like: “The Bad News Bears” meets “Alice” meets “The Bad News Bears”

Casting: C

Script: D-

Potential: At best, it could become a slightly below-average show.

Author: Todd Weber

Old Man Weber, he just keeps rolling along. Send Todd an email