The Goldbergs: “La Biblioteca Es Libros”/“Just Say No”

(Episodes 2.19/2.20)

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The Goldbergs: “La Biblioteca Es Libros”/“Just Say No”

It’s back-to-back episodes of The Goldbergs this week. The good news (for me, at least) is that both episodes feature fairly prominent Barry-centric plotlines—“La Biblioteca Es Libros” finds him struggling with first-time employment, while “Just Say No” has him trying out for American Gladiators. Unfortunately, perhaps due to late-in-season exhaustion, the episode’s other storylines don’t quite feel as fresh or hit quite as hard as previous week’s installments.

Let’s start with “La Biblioteca Es Libros.” The Barry/job plotline comes into play after the middle Goldberg feels as though he’s not being respected. The subsequent job search proves fairly fruitless, primarily because Barry is not the best with the whole interview thing. This brief montage proves to be a major highlight of the episode. Some of my favorite Barry-isms include—“my biggest weakness? I’m honest and I’m lazy” and “who do I think would win in a fight between a tiger and a bear? That’s a good question and one you didn’t ask, but I’ll discuss!”

Somehow, Barry ends up finally landing a job as a pizza delivery boy. He’s about as effective as you’d expect, and is soon fired for perpetually getting lost on the way to deliveries. Barry decides to keep up the illusion of having a job, however, after Murray begins treating him better. He even buys Barry his own La-Z Boy. This infuriates Erica, who sees this as a double standard since she’s been working jobs for quite some time already. Erica exposes Barry’s firing and Murray eventually realizes his own mistake and apologizes. It’s fairly straightforward Goldbergs fare, though the Erica element does seem a bit tacked-on for the sake of setting up the episode’s signature heart-to-heart moment at end. In any case, it’s far from the most contrived element of the hour, so I’m perfectly willing to let that one slide.

The rest of the episode, as indicated by the title, concerns Adam’s Spanish class woes. Despite being an obviously bright kid, he’s struggling in Spanish and is about to get kicked down into the remedial level. Hearing this, Beverly’s “mom logic” (an extension of her “mom goggles”) kicks into full gear and she immediately assumes that her son’s failing is the result of an inadequate teacher. Realizing that Adam’s meek Spanish teacher (also his health teacher apparently) is saving up for an out-of-country voyage, Beverly pays for “tutoring lessons” which means that the teacher now has a vested interest in having Adam pass.

It’s a bit of a strange storyline. While Beverly’s underhanded techniques certainly have their roots in previous episodes, it doesn’t feel quite in character for Adam to be so willfully oblivious to the fact that his mother is essentially helping him cheat. Or maybe he does realize it, and is just in denial because he’s getting a free passing grade. It’s kind of hard to say. It doesn’t help that things turn very over-the-top when Adam, taking Beverly’s suggestion, puts on a full theatrical show for his oral presentation and never answers the actual question. The Goldbergs certainly never backs down from big gags, but this felt a bit too broad even by those standards.

The second episode, “Just Say No” suffers from a lot of the same issues as “La Biblioteca Es Libros” (namely overly broad scenarios) but doesn’t have quite as many belly laugh moments to make up for its shortcomings.

The initial plotline again concerns Barry trying to win respect. In this case, the PTP gang is pushed out of their hangout/parking lot by the much more preppy Meadowbrook Mafia (their leader was “kicked out of tennis camp for disruptive behavior”). At first, I hoped this was leading up to some kind of brawl between the two gangs, both of whom have no business actually being in a fight. Instead, Barry decides to prove his worth by recruiting Adam to help him make an audition video for American Gladiators because, as Adam rightfully points out, Barry likes stupid, convoluted plans.

Because of Barry’s history of brotherly, playful abuse, however, Adam decides to take some of the more embarrassing parts of the audition tape and submit them to America’s Funniest Home Videos. He instantly regrets this decision after Barry expresses his heartfelt thanks. Harsh words are exchanged over Adam’s decision but, as usual, things play themselves out in the end.

Essentially, the episode acts as kind of a companion piece to Season One’s “Why’re You Hitting Yourself?”—an episode that also concerned the boys’ physically combative relationship. Perhaps that’s why the plotline, despite numerous funny physical gags courtesy of Troy Gentile, ends up feeling a bit too familiar to entirely land.

Meanwhile, the titular storyline of the episode actually attempts to shake-up the Goldberg formula a bit to somewhat mixed results. Taking a break from typical storylines involving independence/partying/responsibility, Erica decides to become politically active and convince her more conservative parents to vote for Walter Mondale in the 1984 election. Specifically, she’s excited about the prospect of his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, being in the White House. Her plans to get her mother invested ends up backfiring as Beverly naturally finds a kinship with Nancy Reagan and her “just say no” anti-drug policy.

As I said, it’s certainly admirable that the writers decided to take Beverly on a path that doesn’t directly relate to her “concern, doting parent” characterization (though that certainly plays a part). Yet, when it comes to her interrupting Erica’s model debate in favor of setting up her own anti-drug presentation, you can feel a strain for laughter that has, until this week, been lacking for most of the season.

It’s unfortunate that The Goldbergs’ first back-to-back marathon yields some of the season’s weaker entries. To be clear, neither episode approaches anywhere close to “bad” but, in a year that has been uniformly strong, these two episodes feel a bit underserved and patched together. It feels akin to a term paper written by a very talented and capable student who was forced to type it up the night before. Still good—but not quite up to the same standard.

Then again, this was also an hour that featured Barry slamming his head onto a dumpster and beating up a cardboard cutout of the “Domino’s Pizza Noid” character, so there’s still a lot to like here.