When The Goldbergs debuted on ABC in 2013, it became an immediate hit. Watching a family sitcom set in the 1980s feels nostalgic, like reliving one’s own childhood. It has been ideal escapist television. Watching the antics of characters like Beverly Goldberg (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Adam Goldberg (Sean Giambrone) for half an hour feels like a good, light-hearted reminder of how much you loved your own youth.
Nostalgia, though, hasn’t been the only thing the series has had going for it. The characters by and large have made this show work. The show revolves around Adam Goldberg, a nerdy kid obsessed with making movies. He’s surrounded by his quirky family. There’s his sister Erica (Hayley Orrantia), who aspires to be a singer, and a brother Barry (Troy Gentile), who is just a tad bit full of himself. There’s Pops (George Segal), the cool but wise grandfather. Rounding out the cast are the parents, with Wendi McLendon-Covey as Beverly, the overbearing but well-meaning mom, and Jeff Garlin as Murray, the grumpy, antisocial dad. Every week the family bickers, drama ensues, and thirty minutes later they forgive each other and grow closer. The Goldberg family is half crazy but also full of love.
That love has been tested recently by real life events. First came George Segal’s passing in March 2021. As Beverly’s father and Adam’s best friend, Pops was the glue that held this family together. The Goldbergs dealt with the loss in this season’s premiere. Beverly won’t go out. Adam won’t accept the loss. Barry is mad. Erica won’t talk about her upcoming wedding. And Murray seems oblivious, only for it to be revealed that he’s perhaps hurting more than anyone. Pop’s passing serves to bring the family closer. The ending sees them together spreading his ashes at the tree where he proposed to his wife. Erica says this is the spot where she wants to get married and Adam gives a speech acknowledging that his best friend is gone. The family dynamic between the Goldbergs had never been stronger.
That dynamic was shattered with another event from real life. In December 2021, Jeff Garlin was shockingly let go from The Goldbergs after multiple investigations into misconduct allegations. It was a severe blow to the series to see one of its principal actors gone. Fans were dumbfounded. How would Garlin’s absence be addressed? Would they write him off by having him die?
The creators of The Goldbergs decided to do nothing. Rather than dealing with the situation in a creative manner, they have kept Murray in the show by inserting him through previously unused takes and off camera dialogue, as well as using a stand-in during instances where Murray’s presence has been unavoidable. It has turned out to be the worst possible decision.
Some choices have been worse than others. There is an awkward scene where Murray is in his chair watching TV, interspersed with his family in other takes filmed in the living room to make it appear as if the clan is interacting, even though Murray is always shown alone. It comes across clunky. In another episode Murray’s absence is dismissed in the laziest way, simply by having a character say that Murray still isn’t back yet from a trip. Okay, that gets you out of one episode, but what do you do when he isn’t back next week either? That trip is permanent, and the audience knows it. It’s insulting to act as if nothing has happened.
Other choices have been completely bewildering. In the Season Finale, Adam graduates from high school. Murray has to be there for his son’s big day. To get around this, we get a few quick cuts of Garlin sitting in the audience and Adam hugging his stand-in, who’s filmed from the back.
The biggest offender, and one of the most cringeworthy moments in recent TV history, comes earlier in the season for Erica’s wedding. Murray, of course, has to have a presence there as well. To get around this, there are more stand-in shots, where Murray is filmed from the back or the neck down, with his dialogue has been inserted from unaired takes. It doesn’t feel natural at all. Then comes the wedding scene, in which Garlin is superimposed into the affair through CGI. He looked like a Star Wars ghost at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Garlin’s horribly filmed inclusion took viewers out of the moment. No one was talking about Erica’s wedding. They were talking about how jarring it was to see Murray look so horrible. It would be funny if it didn’t feel so wrong.
However, the worst sin The Goldbergs has committed is not the horrible ways they’ve inserted Garlin into the show. It’s that by refusing to accept reality and deal with it, they have destroyed the family’s dynamic. The theme of how the love of family can get you through anything has been washed away. Usually Murray’s absence is never mentioned at all. Where is he? Don’t these people care that their husband and father isn’t around anymore? Shouldn’t they be concerned that he’s barely a part of their biggest moments?
The only solution to the problem would have been to kill off Murray. It’s been done many times before when an actor has been removed from a series. Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men and Roseanne in Roseanne both recently had their characters die offscreen after they were fired. It is the only way to deal with Garlin’s removal and save what the show is supposed to be about. Murray is integral to the family. He’s a grump who would just rather watch TV in his underwear, but his selfishness is always outdone by his love for his family. He always comes around in the end. Now he doesn’t come around at all, leaving his wife and children to deal with their issues alone. He’s somewhere supposedly, he just doesn’t care apparently, and we’re being told not to care either.
The Goldbergs is a family sitcom. To take away part of that family and pretend that said missing member still remains not only insults the audience but destroys the family dynamic that the series is built around. To kill off Murray isn’t easy, especially when the series is supposed to be a comedy, but it was the only way to spare that family closeness. Just as when Pops died, we would see everyone grieve, then watch them grow stronger and closer as they learn to appreciate each other more. It could have forced the show to evolve from the repetitive storylines it’s suffered from the past few seasons.
Instead, life moves on as normal for the Goldbergs, and through the show’s silence we’re being told that a father’s absence doesn’t matter. Everyone can move on just fine without him as he seemingly works twenty-four hours a day. It makes the plots less impactful to have Murray ignored. We’re left with something off kilter and clunky that’s living in denial, refusing to accept loss just as Adam did with Pops.
As an unexpected Season 10 was recently announced, The Goldbergs appears to be willing to try to keep up the ruse for at least one more season. With the finale revealing that Erica is pregnant, we can all look forward to a future scene next season of Ghost Murray standing in the delivery room after spending nine months not being there at all. Yikes.
10 TV Shows That Took Disney Vacations