Why are we talking to the creator of a family sitcom about the 1980s?
Because it might be the geekiest show you don’t know about.
Now in its second season, ABC’s The Goldbergs is the ultimate love letter to the 1980s – all of the ‘80s. Taking place in the nebulous year of “1980something,” where any movie, song, TV show or news event from any given year can take place at the same time (just repeat to yourself, “it’s just a show, I should really just relax”), it’s also pulled off some of the most elaborate, crazed pop-cultural riffs on TV.
Based on the childhood of creator Adam F. Goldberg, (who also created the cult fox comedy Breaking In and co-wrote the 2009 Star Wars-themed comedy Fanboys) and narrated by geek-favorite comic Patton Oswalt, it’s the tale of fictional Adam (Sean Giambrone), an awkward kid and amateur moviemaker growing alongside his siblings Barry (Troy Gentile) and Erica (Haley Orrantia) while dealing with his overbearing “smother” Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey), irritable/pants-less dad Murray (Jeff Garlin) and too-cool grandpa Pops (George Segal).
Oh, and the craziest part? Despite the fractured timeline, every episode is based on a real event from the real Adam Goldberg’s childhood – proven by classic home movie footage at the end of each episode. You can check out the truth behind the tales of the first season in this article.
What you might not know is that TV’s Adam is a major, major geek…just like his real-life counterpart. Episodes have not only included incredibly precise hommages to The Goonies and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there have been plots revolving around the likes of the Nintendo Power Glove, finishing The Legend of Zelda, doing fan-films of Tron, Ghostbusters and the like, and a recent episode that saw Adam traumatized by the death of Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie.
We knew one thing: Newsarama had to talk to the guy behind this.
The real Adam F. Goldberg is as hardcore geek as his show suggests – he’s even working on a documentary about Back to the Future you can help fund on Kickstarter. Goldberg took some downtime during production to talk with us – and things got real geeky real fast.
Newsrama: Adam, the show’s doing very well in season two, and the episode that’s airing the day we’re having this conversation is your homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which I understand is very important to you.
Adam F. Goldberg: Yes. The thing we like to do every year on the show is a big movie blow-out episode, and last year we did The Goonies, which is my favorite movie of all time, possibly.
It was really…these episodes are impossible to do, because if you want to do them right, they take so much time. All the legal clearances – getting the clips from the movie, getting the actors’ approval, getting the studio to sign off – it’s just a nightmare that I think most shows would never undertake.
This episode, the Ferris episode, I’d say we’ve been shooting for about over the course of two months, and usually we shoot an episode in five days. Last year, they were calling the Goonies episode “Adam’s Folly,” because the writers were convinced that would be the episode that got the show canceled.
So this year – “Adam’s Folly” has been me never wanting to stop shooting the episode, and wanting everything to be perfect. Eventually, I had to stop shooting the episode, because we had to air it.
Nrama: And you got Charlie Sheen doing his Garth Volbeck role…
Goldberg: I do! It’s interesting, because I have this thing where I get offers a lot from people from the ‘80s I grew up with and worshipped wanting a role on the show, but my rule is, if it didn’t happen to me, I don’t want to do it.
So I talk to Tiffany on Twitter, and we’ll talk about her being on the show, but I didn’t know any celebrities, and I don’t want her to play an aunt or whatever – there’s a Tiffany poster in the house.
But for this episode, because it exists in sort of a different kind of reality, where we’re literally doing a homamge almost shot-for-shot from the movie, it has different rules. We thought of who we wanted from the movie, and I decided on Charlie Sheen, because that’s one of my favorite scenes from any movie. And being familiar with the original script (which you can read here) –
Nrama: Right, there’s a whole history and backstory with the character that’s not in the final movie.
Goldberg: I love reading that script, because it’s so different than the end product of the movie. And as a screenwriter, I love reading first drafts or production drafts of scripts, to see what stays and goes and for what reason.
As a kid, I loved that role – the delivery, he was so cool. So it was kind of a no-brainer, “Let’s have Charlie reprise his role.”
Nrama: It’s a great cameo – you know, there’s cracks about his reputation, but he also has that reputation for being able to show up and deliver with comic timing.
Goldberg: Yeah, exactly. I just wrote him a letter that went, “No matter what, here are my favorite roles you’ve ever done. You’re someone I’ve grown up with, you’re a great comedic actor. I’ve seen Hot Shots! so many times, I loved you in Red Dawn…” I just listed all these roles, and went, “No matter what, you can know your acting has had an impact on my life.”
And I think he just wanted to come and have fun and experience that positivity and work for a fan. It was really cool – he showed up, read the script once, and nailed it. At one point, he looked around and went, “This is f***ing weird,” because we just literally gave him the same jacket, the same set, and I think he was having déjà vu in a really cool way.
Nrama: That’s a good transition into something that’s very intriguing to me about the show, but I know was offputting for some people at first, which is the “1980something” setting.
Nrama: And I’ve come to appreciate it as something like a Tim Burton movie, or to get more obscure, the 1985 movie Streets of Fire –
Goldberg: Sure. [laughs]
Nrama: -- it has a sledgehammer fight! But it has an interior landscape, where things you associate with different eras in memory bump up against each other.
And that’s how I see your show – it’s just all the different experiences, the memory experiences, through this spectrum of all these major events of the 1980s.
Now, I saw the initial draft of the pilot, the one called “How the Hell am I Normal?!”, and that was a more specific setting. When did you decide, “We’re not going to wait around for these major events to occur, we’re just going to have all the big events happening all the time always?”
Goldberg: Well, my plan was always to do “1980something” from when I pitched the pilot, and have the 1980s be a character in the show, and not pin it down to one time or place, because I thought it would free you up to tell the kind of stories that would get the show noticed.
It was really someone at Sony who thought, “This is a crazy idea, and we need to set it in 1985.” So I was kind of being pushed in that direction, and when we shot the pilot, we said, “1985,” but then took it out. So that was kind of the compromise; we just wouldn’t say what date it was, because that was confusing to executives.
My argument was, “Okay, we set it in 1985. What if the show goes 10 years? Then you’re doing what That ‘70s Show did, where they’ve been in 1977 for eight years.”
I’m working on an ‘80s documentary, so if you want legitimate ‘80s, there’s other places for that. It’s not a drama like Mad Men with the 1960s, which does it really well.
The concept is that it’s what I remember from when I was growing up. Your memories are very hazy and foggy – I can’t remember when it was when I won The Legend of Zelda. I remember who I was with, I don’t remember what I was wearing or what grade I was in. That’s how memories work.
And it led me to do a story about a Power Glove as soon as I could, because that was 1989, and I didn’t want to wait four to five years to do that episode.
Nrama: I got one of those back in my bedroom. Had J.G. Quintel of Regular Show sign it a few years ago.
Goldberg: That’s awesome!
Nrama: I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.
Goldberg: It really is bad. Very bad.
The band that does the theme song, I Fight Dragons, they’re amazing – they literally rigged up their Power Glove as an instrument. In their concerts, they play it as 8-bit music.
Nrama: …that’s just beautiful.
Now, you’ve had these geeky episodes, and there’s all these fanboy Easter eggs in Little Adam’s bedroom on the show – are you a comic book fan, or were you one growing up?
Goldberg: I was and I am. I would say…my collecting kind of stopped when I got to college, but there’s a bunch of titles I still love and read.
Right now, I’m reading Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe from IDW, and loving it. It’s just awesome and really out there. And I like a good graphic novel; I’m reading Saga right now. I love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Afterlife With Archie, they’re doing a great job.
I was definitely more of a movie/cartoon guy than comics, but I really do like graphic novels – I don’t have the time to sit down and read Stephen King like I used to, so I find picking up Saga every now and then and just diving back into it is a great way to stay reading.
Next: We relive the traumatic death of Optimus Prime – and the struggle to make a sitcom episode about it in Part 2. And in the conclusion: Adam Goldberg answers our super-hard 1980s geek trivia questions, resulting in possibly the only reference to the show Pandamonium ever made.