At this point, at part of me is convinced The Goldbergs is actually a sci-fi time travel drama masquerading as a network family sitcom. Certainly throughout its inaugural year, the show has played fast and loose in terms of its chronology, with Adam’s Patton Oswalt narration opening every episode with the highly vague “it was 1980-something….” Such a choice indicates that the show has incorporated its ’80s setting as a collective rather than concerning itself with establishing a specific timeline the way The Wonder Years, Mad Men or even Everybody Hates Chris did.
“You’re Not Invited” marks (unless I’m mistaken) the first time that a precise date has been strongly indicated in the show’s universe. This comes in the form of one of the episode’s subplot, which has Murray and Albert gathering around the TV to watch Geraldo Rivera’s infamous unearthing of Al Capone’s vaults from April 1986. This essentially means that—somehow—Adam was afforded a very advanced screening of When Harry Met Sally… back in “Muscles Mirsky” as well as an early look into the romantic exploits of Say Anything…’s Lloyd Dobler in “The Ring.” (Both films, it should be noted, did not come out until 1989.)
But all these issues with timelines ultimately take a backseat to the main story, which centers on Adam’s desperate attempt to get his first kiss with crush Dana Caldwell as part of his birthday party. And so, he turns to Barry for advice. Barry’s first suggestion is to throw away the planned laser tag-themed birthday party in favor of a more mature, romantic party. By “mature,” he means a shindig in the basement with onion dip and Barry providing the mood-setting music. (“Big Tasty knows how to tame the booty with the beat,” he brags at one point.) Given Barry’s track record when it comes to scoring woman, you’d think Adam would want to ignore anything the boy says and, instead, get advice from his much more popular sister. But … then we wouldn’t have an episode.
Of course, Barry’s idea of a seductive party turns out to be a complete bust. Not that the rest of the family is any help, either. Still feeling guilty for forgetting his son’s birthday earlier that day, Murray bursts into the basement (sans pants of course) with some laser tag equipment, oblivious to the party’s theme change. Meanwhile, Erica unexpectedly finds Beverly’s behavior rubbing off on her as she tries to talk Adam out of his party. Ironically, the only family member trying desperately not to interfere is Beverly herself. Eventually, Erica divulges the nature of Adam’s party, and Beverly springs into action, entering the basement closet just as Adam and Dana walk in for Seven Minutes in Heaven. It’s at this point that Adam admits that none of this was what he really wanted for his birthday and decides to have all his friends play a game of laser tag after all.
You’re Not Invited is not without its moments, but it also occasionally strains its story beats for the sake of a joke. When a pants-less Murray enters the party only to be rebuffed by Adam, one gets the strong feeling we’re meant to empathize with Murray’s disappointed hurt. That’s a bit harder to do, however, considering the fact that he made an appearance at his son’s birthday party without pants. Even someone as clueless as Murray should understand the humiliation that such an action would bring. At least when Beverly effectively destroys Adam’s Seven Minutes in Heaven session with Dana, it seems like a move that Beverly would make based on her past actions. Also, while the idea of Erica suddenly taking on Beverly’s overprotective qualities is funny in theory, by the time she starts referring to Adam as a “little lovebug,” the shtick has maybe been beaten a bit too hard. That being said, it does lead to a funny moment when Albert, trying to watch TV while sandwiched between a complaining Murray and Erica, exclaims, “I’m watching TV upstairs! No one follow me!”
Then there’s the episode’s big moment—Adam and Dana share their first kiss after he heroically dives in front of her to block deadly laser fire. It’s an undeniably sweet moment, made all the sweeter by the inclusion of The Cure’s “Just Heaven” (in my mind, one of the best songs of that era). At the same time, a part of it feels a bit undermined by the general fact that it’s happening amidst both a crowd of their friends and Adam’s family. I guess I’m just of the mind that first kisses should be a more private occasion. Granted, this is coming from someone whose first kiss occurred in the parking lot of a bowling alley, so I don’t know if I’m one to talk.
With its highly episodic structure, The Goldbergs is not the type of show to have anything approaching a “turning point.” Adam and Dana’s kiss, however, represents a fairly significant moment in the young Goldberg’s life. With only a few episodes left, it’s hard to tell whether or not this development will play out before the season’s up or if it’s something that will be explored later in a (hopeful) second season.
Unlike several previous episodes, which delved mostly into how trivial situations could become broader comedic set pieces, “You’re Not Invited” chooses to tackle what’s very much an important coming-of-age moment. Thus, it ultimately invites more scrutiny on itself. In that regard, the episode maybe hits a few more noticeable roadblocks than I would have liked. Still, whatever faults lie with “You’re Not Invited” it’s the half-hour’s earnestness that shines through at the end.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.