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“La Biblioteca Es Libros”

There are a lot of firsts in your life that you tend to romanticize over the years, but your first job usually isn’t among them. My first gig was delivering The Ledger-Star, the now-defunct evening paper which served as a companion to The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, and although it earned me a scholarship that paid for my first two years of college, it was far from glamorous. In fact, what I remember most about being a paperboy isn’t so much the job itself as it is that, on Sunday mornings, my father would drive me on my route, and then afterwards we’d go out and get breakfast at Hardees. In fact, just thinking about it has suddenly given me a craving for biscuits smothered in sausage gravy – sometimes with an egg on top – so I hope you’ll forgive me for a moment while I wipe the drool from the keyboard.

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It’s a major moment in a father’s life when his son leaves boyhood behind to become a working man, so you can see why Murray would be beside himself with excitement – inasmuch as he’s able to resemble that description – when Barry announces that he’s going to get an awesome job, learn responsibility, earn his own money, and never depend on Murray for anything. What’s more impressive, though, is that Barry’s not just talking out of his ass: he really does rush out and find himself a job. Sure, it takes a little time (he doesn’t exactly interview well), but before long he’s found some sucker – uh, that is, some very considerate gentleman who happens to look a lot like Parv Cheena –to hire him at a pizza joint. Unfortunately, while Barry kicks ass on his first day, folding pizza boxes like nobody’s business, his efforts to “avoid the Noid” and deliver pizzas in a timely fashion go horribly awry, leaving him not only without a job but also owing money for all of the pizzas that customers refused because they were so late.

Oh, sorry, did I not explain who or what “the Noid” is? Sorry, that’s what I get for growing up in the ‘80s and remembering the reference right away. I’d say Cheena’s character sums up the Noid far better than I ever could, so I’ll just quote him directly: the Noid is “the floppy eared goblin physical manifestation of challenges inherent in getting a hot pizza delivered on time,” a.k.a. “the wolf at gates who will stop at nothing until he destroys us and all we hold dear.” So, you know, not somebody you’d really want to be compared to.

Although he’s found himself suddenly unemployed, Barry can’t bring himself to tell Murray what’s happened because he feels like he’s closer to his father than he’s ever been: he’s having a beer with him, he’s bought him his own recliner, he’s given him the right to control the remote… Truly, he is a man. Unfortunately, he’s also a liar, and when Erica finds out, she’s positively giddy. Why? Because she’s been part of the work force for ages, yet she’s never gotten anything even remotely approaching the level of acknowledgement that Murray’s shown Barry. To extract her revenge against Barry, Erica orders a pizza, thereby busting Barry, but – wouldn’t you know it? – Murray suddenly starts bonding over the first time he lost a job. It’s enough to make the poor girl scream, but Murray finally catches on, and he’s soon sharing celebratory beers with Erica, apologizing for his double standard. It’s a nice way to end their storyline….and it would’ve ended that way if Bev hadn’t walked in and busted them, causing Murray to blame the whole thing on Erica. Still, at least he mouths an apology. That’s something, anyway.

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The week’s other storyline involves further character growth from Bev, who spends most of the episode applying her patented “mom logic” to Adam’s failure to succeed in Spanish, confident that her beautiful baby boy is a genius and therefore quite capable of speaking fluently in Espanol. He isn’t, of course, so Bev decides it’s the teacher’s fault. And then she decides that maybe it isn’t the teacher’s fault, and that surely the teacher could just tutor Adam, conflict of interest be damned, and in doing so she’d finally be able to afford that trip to the land of the Lambada. Except, no, the problem is still that Adam’s just really not very good at Spanish. Bev tries her best to help him deliver a flashy presentation, but it can’t cover the fact that he has no idea what the hell he’s talking about. Seeing this, Bev finally realizes that her perfect little angel isn’t actually perfect, which – given some of the comments she’s made about her kids – is a big step forward for her.

Stray observations:

  • I was bummed that the line in the opening moments about the state of television in the ‘80s ended up being a red herring. That seemed like it could’ve been a setup for an entire TV-related episode, but they really didn’t do anything with it beyond showing Barry’s fascination with the weird aerobics show, and even that wasn’t explored for more than a moment or two.
  • There are a number of great moments in the midst of Barry’s various interviews, but I think my favorite was his tiger-bear question that no potential employer asked him but that he was happy to answer anyway.
  • My mother isn’t really one for “mom logic,” but she’s damned sure gifted with the ability to see every silver lining and to see every glass as half-full. It’s something I’ve inherited, and it’s what keeps me going even as it drives my wife crazy.
  • I’m not positive, but I think this episode was actually filmed prior to Michaela Watkins’ earlier episode, “Happy Mom, Happy Life.” So does she teach both Spanish and health?
  • Best Barry moment: freaking out and smacking the beer bottle across the kitchen.
  • Best pop culture moments: I have to cite Adam’s Weird Science shirt, of course, but beyond that, it’s a tie between the Noid and the Lambada.
  • When Adam felt obliged to assure his friends that there was nothing untoward going on between him and his Spanish teacher, all I could think of was the crush I had on my Spanish professor in college. It would’ve never worked out with Senora Wehling and I - she was way too much of a hippie - but I was bold/stupid enough to make her a mix tape entitled Shaking Hands with Abraham Lincoln. (500 points to anyone who can identify the reference without using Google, but it was clearly my attempt at being risque. I really was quite hopeless with girls.)
  • Crappy early jobs, anyone? Like Barry, I did my time in the pizza industry, making pizzas for Pizza Hut, but I also spent time on the grill at McDonald’s, and I even sold propane and propane accessories. Yes, really. I didn’t do it for long, though, and I was so bad at putting together grills that I pity anyone who bought one of the few units that I constructed. (It didn’t take long before my supervisors pulled me from that particular duty, probably because they realized that I clearly had no aptitude for it and that they were probably destined to end up on the receiving end of a lawsuit if they let me keep at it. ) Thank God I finally got a job at Record Bar. Retail may suck, but it sucks a hell of a lot less when you’re working with cool people and listening to good music…like, say, Ratt.

“Just Say No”

As the second new episode of The Goldbergs of the evening, “Just Say No” is in an enviable position, one where viewers can tune in and, even if they walk away mildly disappointed, they can easily rationalize, “Okay, it might not have been as good as the episode that came on an hour ago, but how much quality television do I really need for one night?”

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As it happens, “Just Say No” is pretty good, but it’s definitely all over the place, coming across as a veritable patchwork quilt of comedy.

First up is an exploration of the big brother / little brother dynamic, specifically the amount of abuse that the latter is forced to take from the former simply by virtue of having been born later, and looks into what happens when the physicality of that sibling relationship meets up with the American Gladiators mindset. Things start out with Adam getting “Gladiated” by Barry on a regular basis, and we see the members of the JTP positively embracing the insanity of the series, but when the Meadowbrook Mafia - effectively a Bizarro version of the JTP - show up and commandeer the Wawa parking lot for their crew, Barry gets ”booped” in the nose with ice cream and walks away humiliated.

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In an effort to save face, Barry then decides that he’s going to try out for American Gladiators, but when he drafts Adam to help film his audition tape, Adam soon finds himself in a position of power and doesn’t hesitate to make the most of it, even going so far as to take Barry’s awful audition and send it to America’s Funniest Home Videos instead. Unfortunately, just after he mails it, Barry says some sweet things about Adam, who suddenly feels guilty about having sent off the tape, but when he admits his actions to Barry, the reaction is less than understanding. In an effort to combat the damage he’s done, Adam creates a new tape for Barry, edited to make him look like a complete bad-ass. In turn, Barry is inspired enough to take on the Meadowbrook Mafia and win by virtue of coming across as a complete lunatic…and good for him! Barry Goldberg brings the pain, baby!

Elsewhere in the episode, Erica has become politically active at school, and her enthusiasm for politics is contagious…unless you’re her parents, that is, in which case they really just can’t be bothered. It’s nothing against her, you understand. It’s just that Murray is set in his ways, and Bev’s been convinced that all she needs to know about the democratic process is who Murray’s written down for her as the people she should be voting for. Frustrated with her mother’s lack of awareness about the country she lives in, she decides to put together a political packet to help inform Bev on the state of the election, but things backfire when Erica’s desire to support the Mondale / Ferraro ticket ends up pitting her against her mother, who’s decided that Nancy Reagan should be everyone’s role model.

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In fact, Bev gets so very excited that she stops paying attention to the fact that Erica has actually been interested in something other than boys, clothes, and what her friends think. Instead, Bev dives headlong into Nancy’s “Just Say No” campaign, instigates locker searches at school, and delivers a presentation - with Murray’s begrudging assistance - about the drug problem in from of Erica’s entire school, leading to her mock debate being bumped for time. Eventually, though, Bev realizes that she’s made a mistake and backs down, but it hardly matters: Reagan won in a landslide.

Stray observations:

  • I love that Bev’s big takeaway from <i>T.J. Hooker</i> is how Heather Locklear’s hair looks. Now we know at least one of her style icons.
  • “That happy father got punched in the pistachios by a toddler for no reason! This show changes everything I know about funny!” I’m calling it: Pops win Best Line of the Episode. Chalk at least part of that up to George Segal’s delivery, but even so, it was brilliant.
  • Nothing says the ‘80s like making a call on a cheesburger phone while wearing a Knight Rider shirt.
  • Adam’s PSA at the end of the episode is just… I mean, I don’t even know what to say about it. Except maybe, “This is your brain. This is your brain on tampons. Any questions?”
  • I instantly recognized the music playing behind Adam’s tightly-edited tape for Barry as Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy.” It’s a little disappointing that it wasn’t front and center, but you know how it is with that guy: he’s always living in the background.

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