ABC’s flashback family comedy The Goldbergs never relents in its attempt to rekindle viewers’ nostalgia for the ’80s. This week’s episode, “Happy Mom, Happy Life,” delivers on that goal with plenty of retro goodness: Cabbage Patch Kids, She-Ra, and rock band Heart are all perfectly on target. However, the real gold found within any Goldbergs episode is when pop culture takes a backseat to familial sentimentality. In that area, this installment missed its mark.
This episode kicks off with the always awkward Adam (Sean Giambrone) pairing up with schoolmate and budding sweetheart Dana (Natalie Alyn Lind) to care for their class-assigned baby which comes in the form of the classic Xavier Roberts plush Cabbage Patch Kids doll. When Adam and Dana retreat to his treehouse to name their “baby,” Goldberg Mom Beverly (the always on-point Wendi McLendon-Covey) sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong. Adam’s so-called “smother” takes the reins with her new supposed grandchild, driving a wedge between the young couple by first changing the doll’s name from the perfect “Leia Delorean” to the unfortunate “Myrna” before ultimately losing the doll while in her care. Beverly’s attempt to retrieve both the baby doll and Adam’s affection is the driving force of the rest of the show.
In a return nobody asked for, brother Barry Goldberg’s all bravado “JTP” friends are back but without their fearless leader when he decides to spend all his free time with his girlfriend Lainey instead of smashing fruit in the corner store parking lot with his cronies. Sister Ericka, in turn, feels jealous of losing time with her best friend Lainey, so she deftly slides into the JTP slot vacated by Barry. If you thought the previous plot point was laborious to read, watching it unfold was even worse.
Though the show did show glimpses of its normal glory (such as the sudden swell of Heart’s “Alone” as a soundtrack to repeated misinterpreted romantic advances), if I’m honest with myself, this episode feels forced. Maybe it’s my devotion to team Garbage Pail Kids instead of team Cabbage Patch Kids, but the nostalgia didn’t grab me on this one and the normally sweet family dynamic didn’t either. Plus the two central plot points in this episode almost completely left out the talented Jeff Garlin and George Segal. In fact, during one point in the show, Garlin’s character Murray says to Adam “And I also am here,” in response to Adam’s deference to his grandfather, but almost as if to remind the audience that his character is still important.
Despite my negativity, there were still several laugh-out-loud moments in this episode such as when Beverly resorts to finding a replacement doll on the Cabbage Patch Kids black market. Comedian Nick Swardson makes a guest appearance with one of the funniest lines about his available goods as a sketchy salesman character. (Watch the embedded Vine below.)
— The Goldbergs (@TheGoldbergsABC) March 5, 2015
Though not nearly as good as last week’s episode, “Happy Mom, Happy Life” is still an enjoyable way to spend an evening reliving the ’80s, cringing from awkwardness, and being thankful that your mom wasn’t Beverly Goldberg.