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The Surprising Benefit of Watching “The Goldbergs” with My Son

the-goldbergs

Recently, my family’s been taken with the new sitcom “The Goldbergs.” It’s an adorable show about a boy (Adam Goldberg) growing up in a (I’m assuming Jewish) family in Philadelphia in the 1980s. It’s got an overbearing, loving mother, a father who just wants to be left alone to nap in his recliner after work, and two older siblings who take turns teasing and embarrassing Adam in the ways that only older siblings can. Throw in 80s pop culture (“Star Wars,”“The Goonies,”“Ghostbusters,” mixtapes, and laser light shows) and hilarity ensues.

The series is based on the creator, Adam Goldberg’s, life. As a child, the real Adam Goldberg had a video camera and recorded everything that went on in his household. At the end of every episode, viewers are treated to a snippet of that footage that relates to the story we just watched.

After watching the first season, my husband and I decided that our 10-year-old son might enjoy it too. Some of his favorite movies have been featured in episodes. I had fond memories of watching sitcoms with my parents at his age and hoped this would be a show we could watch together as a family. I didn’t realize it would end up being a favorite show of his, and a means of therapy at the same time.

I’ve written before about Joey. When he enjoys something, he jumps in and memorizes every minute detail about it. Over the years those interests have included the presidents of the United States, “Back to the Future,” our family tree, “Star Wars,” outer space, my address book, skyscrapers, etc. All of these topics have one thing in common: They are all fixed numbers that don’t change. The presidential timeline doesn’t change. The “Star Wars” universe doesn’t change. Joey was drawn to all of these interests because they are structured. He craves structure. The more numbers and dates are involved, the happier he is.

Here’s the thing about “The Goldbergs”: It starts off every episode by saying, “It was 1980-something…” and the story continues from there. Because of the nature of sitcoms, the timeline doesn’t always add up. Joey loves the show, especially the “Star Wars,”“Goonies,” and DeLorean episodes. He loves the fact that the show is based on Adam Goldberg’s real life. He especially loves the clips at the end from Adam’s real life. Sometimes they recreate the old clips in the show and present them side-by-side. Joey LOVES this.

But Joey being Joey, he wants there to be order to everything. He Googled Adam Goldberg and found out that he was born in 1976. He then tried to line up the dates. The episode where Adam sees “Return of the Jedi” should have happened in 1983, making Adam 7 years old. Adam is clearly in middle school in the show, so that didn’t work out. Then Joey found out the real Adam Goldberg has two brothers—Barry and Eric. To make the show more sitcom-y, Eric was changed to Erica. As Joey dove further and further into the show and his Google searches, he started to realize that a lot of things didn’t add up.

He asked me why. I explained that while the show was based on Adam Goldberg’s life, he changed some things to make it funnier, that sometimes writers exaggerate or bend the truth to make something work in a book or on TV.

I was afraid he’d reject the show. I thought it would be too much for him to get past the details and just sit back and enjoy the humor.

But Joey surprised me. He accepted it all, cautiously and curiously. He laughs at the funny parts, and asks a lot of questions while he watches the show. That’s OK. He has watched several of the episodes multiple times. He often asks the same questions, expecting the same answers from me. That’s OK, too.

Recently Joey’s been talking about making his own show called “The Taylors.” He tries to make each of the characters from the Goldbergs fit into his family. We’ve had several talks about how his show can be different. Instead of one grandparent (Pops) like in “The Goldbergs,” his show can have three—like his actual family. This is a great life lesson for him. Not everything lines up in a neat little row. A few years ago I don’t think he would have liked that. It would have made him uncomfortable. He’s come a long way, and I’m proud of him.

Now, on Wednesday nights at 8:30, I let him stay up past his bedtime to watch the new episodes as they air. We all curl up in my bed and watch it together, and that has introduced him to another 1980s relic—this one he’s not too fond of—commercials!


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