It’s a rare Wednesday when The Goldbergs gets its own TV Club review, but even setting aside the biggest reason for this momentous occasion—ABC’s decision to try and kick-start its new Tuesday night sitcom, The Real O’Neals, by debuting its first two episodes on a Wednesday night—it’s clear that the network knows that there’s no better time for The Goldbergs to take the spotlight than the week when it’s delivering its annual movie-homage episode. Granted, it’s unfortunate that it’s a decision which results in The Middle being shelved for a week, but at least it’s for an episode that’s just downright delightful from start to finish.
For as much as fans of this series rightfully try to play up the fact that it isn’t all about the ‘80s nostalgia, that it’s far more about family, friendship, relationships, and the horrors of adolescence, and that it’s full of quality comedic performances that damned sure aren’t defined by one’s appreciation of a particular decade, there’s no denying that when The Goldbergs turned in its tribute to The Goonies in its first season, it was a turning point in people’s awareness of the series. Suddenly everyone wanted to know what next year’s movie homage was going to be, which made “Barry Goldberg’s Day Off” a pretty big deal when it premiered, and not just because Charlie Sheen reprised his role from the original Ferris Bueller film.
For this third installment, the prospect of seeing the series tackle Dirty Dancing didn’t really do anything for me, which I attribute mostly to the fact that I never actually saw the film until 2010, but when I learned that Footloose was also going to play a key role in the proceedings? Now that excited me.
Then again, I’m not part of a mother-daughter relationship, which is at least one big reason why Dirty Dancing serves as such a substantial part of the episode’s plot: it’s that rare pop culture item that manages to bring Beverly and Erica together. Bev’s so obsessed with it that not only does she force Adam to see it 17 times, but she also—gasp!—buys a copy on VHS.
[No, kids, that wasn’t an exaggeration: it really did used to cost upwards of $90 to purchase your own copy of certain movies on VHS. I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t know if Dirty Dancing was actually one of them, but let’s just all thank the pop culture powers that be that we now live in a sell-through world.]
The bond between Bev and Erica is so intense that when Erica suggests that they could have a Dirty Dancing-themed dance at school, Bev can’t resist: she immediately takes the opportunity to team up with her daughter and help her plan it. That plan is stricken almost immediately, however, when Principal Ball finds out about the idea and promptly puts the kibosh on it. In another episode, this is when Bev would’ve stormed down to the school and fought for her baby’s rights, but Erica decides that this is her moment to use everything her mama done taught her, making Bev proud. Things don’t go entirely as Erica had envisioned them—she didn’t actually take into account the fact that saying the sorts of things that Bev says will get her thrown into detention—but Bev has her back…literally: hovering outside Principal Ball’s door, he can see her through the window and is sufficiently intimidated at her mere presence to let Erica move forward with the dance.
This is less than thrilling news for Barry, who has already proudly dropped the truth bomb that Dirty Dancing sucks, refusing to accept Patrick Swayze in any role outside of a road house and arguing instead that Footloose is the only dance movie that matters. He continues to fight this fight even amongst the members of the JTP, but they can’t believe that he’s not seeing the bright side of the situation: they’ve just been given a school-sanctioned opportunity to sensually gyrate and generally get freaky on the dance floor. Unfortunately, in spelling this out for Barry, the JTP also successfully cause Bev to realize that she’s made a terrible parenting error, sending her straight over to the dark side, i.e. Principal Ball’s side of things.
Unaware of these shenanigans, Murray has been convinced by Pops—with a little help from Adam—that it’s high time that he does right by Bev and gives her what she’s always wanted: an opportunity to share the dance floor with him. At first he didn’t want to have anything to do with it, not wanting to break his solid 25-year streak of not dancing with his wife, but after being assured by Adam that there’s a way to make Bev happy that involves little more than lifting his arms, he agrees. It’s actually a little more than that—Adam’s plan is to get Murray to catch Bev, as in the final dance—and Murray quickly backpedals after a trip to the pool reveals that his instinct is to duck rather than catch.
After finally sitting down and watching the movie, Murray finally concedes to Pops that his biggest concern is how he’ll look to others while he’s dancing, but the admission leads him to record himself dancing in order to find out what he looks like. It’s a cathartic exercise for Murray, to be sure, but it’s one that apparently scars Pops and Adam for life when they go back and watch the recording, with Pops demanding that Murray burn the tape and Adam—who accidentally walks in while they’re watching it—comparing its effects to the Ark of the Covenant. Needless to say, things aren’t looking good in regards to seeing Murray on the dance floor.
They aren’t looking much better for Erica, now that the Dirty Dancing dance is off and Principal Ball’s Soda Pop Hop is on. Barry tries to help her vent her frustrations by introducing her to his ritual of “angry dancing” in the gym, a la Kevin Bacon in Footloose. It’s hilarious for us, to be sure, but it’s even more valuable for Erica, in that she’s reminded by Barry of the importance of fighting the power. In short order, the Goldberg siblings, Lainey, and the JTP have devised an all-too-elaborate plan to dirty dance the living hell out of that Soda Pop Hop.
The episode’s grand finale pans out more or less as you might expect. Yes, Erica and Geoff play Grey and Swayze, and of course Geoff completely screws things up the first time around, but he comes back with a vengeance and pulls off the iconic Dirty Dancing lift perfectly…and then talks too much and ruins it. Still, there’s a look in Erica’s eyes immediately after the perfect dance that would seem to signal good things for those two crazy kids as a couple. And, yes, Murray does end up surprising the living hell out of Bev and hitting the dance floor with her, and although he’s definitely no Swayze, just finally making the effort is what matters most. It’s still a dream come true.
As much as I want to end this by saying that I had the time of my life, that I’ve never felt this way before, and so forth, I just can’t do it. But I will say that this was a damned fine episode, one that was satisfying across the board.
- “You said we could see Spaceballs! There’s no space or balls in this entire movie!”
- “Woof. Mama like that mullet.”
- “Tapping my finger? Who I am, Gregory Hines?”
- I don’t know where Barry got that factoid that our bodies are pre-programmed to love Kenny Loggins, but…I’ll allow it.
- “Argh! My soft belly meat!”
- Stripping to his underpants is Murray’s “warning shot to outsiders that you’re not welcome.” I approve of this.
- I didn’t see Barry’s obsession with the confetti cannon coming, but the closing tag stuff was hilarious.
- Lastly, here’s a piece of information I’ve been sitting on since August: I was actually in the writers room when they were breaking this episode. They weren’t sure exactly how much of the Footloose material was going to end up making it into the episode at the time—a situation which, at least as far as ABC’s publicity department was concerned, remained unchanged until they actually got the final cut of the episode—but it’s remarkable how many of the beats remained the same even from that initial discussion. Let me tell you, I’ve laughed to myself about the concept of Barry’s “angry dancing” scene ever since I heard the writers talking about, and I couldn’t be happier that it played out more or less exactly as I imagined it.