The best part about “The Goldbergs,” alas, comes at the very end, when we see video footage of the actual characters who inspired this autobiographical comedy. It’s a link to humanity and reality in a half-hour that often feels shrill and exaggerated — something that desperately wants to be this generation’s “The Wonder Years,” albeit by leaping back to a moment not long before that ABC series made its debut. There’s a lot of coming-of-age nostalgia in the ether (Hulu’s “Moone Boy” trod much the same territory), but series creator Adam Goldberg’s prism on his past too often feels like a good idea, and a missed opportunity.
It’s 1985, and Goldberg’s alter ego is 12-year-old Adam (Sean Giambrone), who has a new videocamera he uses to torment his older sister (Hayley Orrantia), brother (Troy Gentile) and parents, Murray (Jeff Garlin, in near-cardiac-arrest mode) and Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey, the show’s strongest asset).
Narrated by Patton Oswalt, the series recalls a time when there were “no parenting blogs or peanut allergies,” and in that respect, it should resonate with those currently obsessing about such things regarding their own kids.
As fertile as the mid-1980s are for comedy, however, the pilot is too often grating — with a little of Garlin, in particular, going a long way. And while Goldberg’s household was no doubt a boisterous place, filled with expressions of affection disguised as hurled insults (a recurring bit translates Murray’s broadsides onscreen), in old-fashioned TV terms, “The Goldbergs” simply aren’t particularly good company.
There are, naturally, a lot of pubescent possibilities, such as Adam’s grandfather (George Segal) dragging him to the Waffle House, coaxing him to flirt with a slightly older girl who has caught the lad’s eye.
Still, writers are so inextricably drawn to their own wonder years, there’s no shortage of material devoted to it. And that sets the bar pretty high for such an exercise — particularly if it has to adhere to broadcast content standards — unless you’re roughly Adam’s age, in which case all this seems minty fresh.
Those closing scenes, however, do offer at least a ray of hope, if “The Goldbergs” can find a way to connect the historical to the fanciful. (As a side note, based on the real family photo, one of Adam’s siblings underwent a sex change for sitcom purposes.)
Without threading that needle, however, any criticism directed at “The Goldbergs” won’t require subtextual translation.