What, no new episode of The Goldbergs tonight? Well, my stars, what will I do with the extra time?

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With a quick shot of the most pitiful looking basset hound ever, the bad news is effectively established, but a few moments later, it’s confirmed via dialogue: Aunt Edie has passed away. (From what I can tell, though, the actress who plays her – Jeanette Miller – is still with us, so perhaps this is just is a case of answering fan concerns about why we haven’t seen Aunt Edie lately.) The whole family is more or less on task, trying to find the necessary paperwork to take care of the funeral proceedings, but to Mike’s annoyance, everyone else keeps getting caught up in their fond memories rather than just taking care of business. Eventually, though, they find what they’re looking for, only to discover that Edie had purchased a burial plot out of state, and you know what that means: the Hecks are going to South Dakota!

Even structuring things around a farewell to a character that was a staple of the series in its early days and taking the Heck family on a train ride, which is certainly something we’ve never seen before, this still definitely felt like a filler episode. Not a bad filler episode, mind you – at the very least, everyone gets the spotlight for a bit – but a filler episode nonetheless.

Even structuring things around a farewell to a character that was a staple of the series in its early days and taking the Heck family on a train ride, which is certainly something we’ve never seen before, this still definitely felt like a filler episode. Not a bad filler episode, mind you – at the very least, everyone gets the spotlight for a bit – but a filler episode nonetheless.

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As someone who traveled by train a fair amount as a kid (that’s what happens when your dad works for the railroad and gets a discount), I was immediately psyched at the idea of seeing what they’d do with the family while they were riding the rails, but we really didn’t get a huge amount of material out of the unique locale, probably because there were so many different storylines to be serviced, most of which weren’t directly connected to the train. The goings-on were all pretty scattered: Axl’s feeling guilty because he used Aunt Edie’s death for an excuse so many times in the past, Sue’s trying to write her college essay, Brick’s decided to start living and makes a friend on the train in the process, and after Frankie falls down in the club car and Mike doesn’t immediately rush to help her up, she gets grouchy and tells him that he’s not a nurturer.

That’s a whole lot of material to tackle in a 23-minute episode, and as a result, not all of it ends being explored as well as perhaps it would’ve been in another less-packed installment. The opening moments of the episode in Aunt Edie’s house are a lot of fun, and it actually would’ve been nice to spent the entire episode there, just looking through her things, possibly furthering the idea of Brick being suspicious of his aunt’s death at age 96 while Axl begins to look increasingly guilty. Instead, Axl’s story feels almost like a throwaway, while Brick’s sudden epiphany that he’s going to go out and live a little, only to change his mind and stick his nose back in a book after meeting a kid with sketchy morals, seemed rushed. Sue’s college essay storyline, meanwhile, could’ve taken place in any episode of the season, really. The Frankie and Mike story is kind of interesting, but aside from the bit with Frankie accidentally getting left behind and having to catch a ride in a pickup truck to catch up to the rest of her family, the rest of their goings-on could’ve taken place in the house. It’s just typical husband-wife stuff that could’ve taken place anywhere.

That said, there are some very nice moments scattered throughout the episode, most notably Mike’s little speech to Axl about how he needs to just deal with it if Sue ends up going to his school, but to keep in mind that he’ll be able to drink legally by that point. On the other hand, there’s not much development of Brick’s new friend beyond the fact that he turns out to be a sketchy character who just wants Brick to help him swipe some beer from the club car. Even though the whole “we didn’t realize you were gone” joke with Frankie having been left behind at an earlier train station is well-trod comedic territory, they didn’t dwell on it very long, and it worked out well enough. The ending at the Leilani was pretty good, though, with Frankie realizing from her conversation with the funeral director that Mike’s still very nurturing in his own way.

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As noted, this is about as good as you could hope for with a filler episode, but it’ll still be nice to see what the show’s got in store for us next week, because this definitely felt like things were standing still from a storyline standpoint.

Stray observations:

  • I’m so very tired. I just want to put that out there from the get-go.
  • It’s been done before, but having Brick rip the needle off a record at the apropos moment made me laugh.
  • For some reason, it’s never occurred to me that a meal described as “chicken fingers” should indeed provide you with five nuggets, but that completely makes sense.
  • I very much liked the scene with Frankie being grouchy with Mike, him struggling to make her happy by putting his arm around her, and the whole thing being a big fiasco.

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