Adam F. Goldberg has waited a long time to tell us the story of his first night at college.
He gets to tell it, or a version of it, on Wednesday as The Goldbergs, the ABC comedy Goldberg created about his 1980s boyhood in Jenkintown, returns for its fifth season with Erica Goldberg (Hayley Orrantia) setting off for college, accompanied by her "smother," Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey), who's not prepared to let the first of her children go and decides to sleep over in her dorm room.
Bev may not be ready, but Goldberg is ready to see The Goldbergs move forward.
The writer and producer was in Philadelphia this month for a daylong celebration of The Goldbergs that was part promotion — reruns recently began airing in syndication on PHL17 — and part family reunion. His real-life family, including his own wife and children; his mother, Beverly; brothers Eric (transformed by TV into Erica) and Barry; some of the friends he has turned into characters on the show; and actor Troy Gentile, who plays Barry, were all there. The day included a City Hall ceremony with Mayor Kenney; a school assembly at the William Penn Charter School, model for The Goldbergs' William Penn Academy; and a night at Citizens Bank Park, where the real Barry got to throw out the first pitch to Phillies legend Mike Schmidt.
In an interview before the Phillies game, Goldberg said he'd noticed people last season talking about the show's becoming a little formulaic. To some viewers, it "felt like Beverly was going to school too much, or the brothers were fighting too much, and that the dynamics were starting to not feel as fresh. Which is fair. … So the finale last [season] was about kind of mixing up the dynamics of the show."
Erica's going to college "opened up a whole new world," and not just for Orrantia's character.
There are "a lot of stories about how Beverly is having complete separation anxiety, and struggling to let go," including the one "about how my mom slept over in my dorm room, which I've wanted to do since the show began," he said. "But, really, it leads Beverly into realizing all her kids are going to move out soon, and she starts what she calls a Beverly Evolution, or a Bev-olution. So a lot of the episodes are about what can Beverly find more than just [a] kid-centric" life.
"I think the real Beverly never really made it there," he said of his mother (who wasn't far away). "But, you know, this show is wish-fulfillment. So, hopefully, TV Beverly will make some strides in finding a group of friends and getting a job, exploring what gives her life purpose besides the kids."
The show's Adam (Sean Giambrone) has a new girlfriend, Jackie (Rowan Blanchard, Girl Meets World). Introduced last season, she's based on "a real girlfriend of mine … who I met at theater camp. So this Jackie is into sci-fi and theater and all the things Adam loves. So we're saying this is a year about nerd love."
Goldberg isn't finished with the pop-culture obsessions of his childhood.
Wednesday's season premiere, "Weird Science," also features an homage to the 1985 movie about two high school nerds trying to create the perfect woman, as Adam tries to conjure up a new girlfriend for Barry (Gentile).
"I got Ilan [Mitchell-Smith], who was the lead of Weird Science with Anthony Michael Hall, to be on the show," Goldberg said. Mitchell-Smith, who hasn't acted in more than 25 years, is a professor of English specializing in medieval studies at California State University at Long Beach. He'll play a teacher.
"I got to know him because I referenced the movie so much he said on Twitter, 'Hey, I'm the lead of that movie!' And his kids came to the set — they loved the show — and I said, 'I'm going to get you back into Hollywood,' " Goldberg said. "Most of his students don't even know he was a very popular '80s actor."
Goldberg, meanwhile, is getting used to no longer having the era to himself, as shows like Netflix's Stranger Things and GLOW and Amazon's Red Oaks move in on the territory. "When we began 4½ years ago, there wasn't a lot of '80s [on television] at that point. I think it was us and The Americans," the FX Cold War spy drama that premiered in January 2013.
One point of overlap between The Goldbergs and The Americans involves the 1983 TV movie The Day After, about the effects of a nuclear holocaust on a small town in Kansas. "I remember watching that and being freaked out," Goldberg said, and that memory became part of an episode last spring.
Mostly, though, "to me, the '80s is driving around on my bike around the neighborhood like I was in a Spielberg movie, Saturday morning cartoons, going to Veterans Stadium," he said, "filtered through TV and movies, for sure. And music."
Actor Jeff Garlin, who plays Adam's father, Murray, "is always so angry" about the young producer's taste in music, Goldberg said. "He's like, 'There's such great '80s bands,' but they're more like an indie-adult" taste. "I'll put on Toto and REO Speedwagon and Styx, and I'll be like, 'It's the best!' And it drives Jeff Garlin crazy. Because he's like, 'Where's the Clash?' "