Mar 22, 2014

The Goldbergs: 1980s Beefcake for a New Generation

Heterosexual adults always envision their adolescence as a Golden Age, simple, fun, and joyous, when people looked out for each other and you could walk down the street without fear.

Gay people know better.  Their adolescence was, at best, an age of turmoil and confusion, as they negotiated "what girl do you like?" or "what boy do you like?" interrogations and dealt with nameless, "impossible" desires.  More often it was a nightmare of homophobic harassment and internalized guilt.

So I don't have much sympathy for nostalgia tv like The Waltons (1930s), Happy Days (the 1950s), The Wonder Years (the 1960s), or That 70s Show.  Aside from the grating "Wasn't life great then, and isn't it awful now?" rhetoric, the Good Old Days being depicted is always gay-free.

The most recent nostalgia comedy is The Goldbergs (2014-), which revisits the childhood of creator Adam F. Goldberg in a working-class Jewish family in small-town Pennsylvania during the mid-1980s.

The family consists of: (left to right):
1. Dimwitted older brother Barry (Troy Gentile).
2 Adam, age 11 (Sean Giambrone), the focus character, with voice-over commentary from his adult self.
3. Self-absorbed sister Erica (Hayley Orratia)
4. Smothering Mom Beverly (Wendi McClendon-Ovey)
5. Loud, obnoxious Dad Murray (Boomer Garlin)
6. Raunchy, unpredictable grandpa, Pops (George Segal).

Their acting style is very big, with broad, theatrical gestures and loud voices.  They yell constantly over the minor conflicts that fuel the plots: a driving test; a new pair of shoes; sneaking into a R-rated movie; a talent show; a Halloween party.

It's not terrible, just loud and heterosexist.  Gay people do not exist. Everyone is absurdly hetero-horny, even 11-year old Adam.  There are a few glimmers of buddy-bonding between Barry and Ari Caldwell (gay-positive actor Jackson Odell), and between Adam and Chad (Jacob Hopkins), but with such a large family vying for attention, neither couple spends much time together.

But there is significant beefcake.  Murray has a solid bear physique and often hangs around in his underwear. Barry is an aspiring wrestler and martial artist, and appears shirtless regularly.

And look for beefcake of all sizes and shapes in minor roles, like hirsute bear Ben Zelevansky as "Dale"

Or heavily-muscled male model Tyler Stokes (far left) as Drew Kemp, son of the "perfect" family next door.

And for the preteen gay kids dragged into watching by parents who were young in the 1980s, there's Tanner Buchanan as Adam's friend Evan.

See also: The Beastie Boys