In spite of my woeful qualifications to discuss anything fashion-related (my standard outfit is always a T-shirt and jeans), I always maintain that the ‘70s and ‘80s were, in general, a horrible time for women’s fashion. Girls that were widely considered to be the most desirable sex symbols of the time were, at least to my modern eyes, very much handicapped by the ridiculous hair, cartoonish make-up and horribly mismatched color schemes that fashion dictated they wear.
Certainly relics of the ‘80s like Dance Party USA demonstrate how outlandish the decade’s fashion sense was. Yet, it would seem to be the ultimate paradise for the likes of Erica and Barry Goldberg. And that’s the basic gist of “Dance Party USA,” a very funny episode which involves the siblings fighting for justification to appear on the show.
I should say that, in terms of pulling off ‘80s attire, Hayley Orrantia does it very well. Indeed, she’s a very pretty girl, which makes it all the more hilarious whenever the show decides to depict Erica’s awkward years, where she was saddled with large rim glasses, braces and a mane of unruly hair. “Dance Party USA” finds her reverting back to this stage in her life as a result of an unfortunate pinkeye infection passed on from Barry that leaves her unable to use her contacts. Her lack of vision results in her whacking into a locker, which then necessitates dental work and leaves her with an unflattering lisp. Finally, an attempt to cheer herself up with a perm ends up ruining her hair style. Naturally, this makes her desire to appear on Dance Party USA (supposedly the hub of all the cool, attractive kids) a bit of an open question.
While Erica is experiencing a major low, however, Barry is riding high after enlisting Coach Miller to teach him the ways of modern dance (because, according to Miller, that’s a real man’s dance). The subsequent training montage is set to “The Touch,” which, as the years go by, seems less like an ‘80s artifact and something ‘80s parodies and pastiches willed into existence. After whisking Lainey off her feet in the cafeteria, Barry bears witness to his sister’s inevitable (and very Barry-like) nervous breakdown. Furious that there is no pudding left, Erica begins tossing and stomping pears all over the cafeteria before slipping in front of everyone.
Knowing firsthand what it’s like to be embarrassed, Barry extends an olive branch and insists Erica appears on the show with him and Lainey. It’s the emotional boost Erica needs and the three end up tearing up dance floor, with Barry emerging victorious for once by getting to show off his newly-improved dance moves on TV.
It’s a great premise that, aside from allowing Barry to do his usual thing, also provides Orrantia with the opportunity to really show she can be just as adept at physical comedy as Troy Gentile. Between this and Sean Giambrone’s business last episode, it seems as though the creative team is looking to show off all the different levels of comedy that their actors can work.
Meanwhile, the episode’s Adam-centric subplot is instigated after the youngest Goldberg, inspired by his grandfather Albert’s seemingly endless supply of luck, decides to try his hand at gambling with classmate Gary Ball. Unfortunately, an ill-conceived game of finger football results in Adam betting and losing all of his most prized possessions—Transformers, gaming consoles and The Incredible Hulk #181 (which any self-respecting comic book fan would know marks the first appearance of Wolverine—for shame, fictional Adam, for shame). Both Beverly and Albert attempt to win back Adam’s things by entering into their own gambling contests with the boy’s father, Principal Ball (they’re really using a lot of Stephen Tobolowsky lately and I am very much fine with this). This leads to one of the episode’s best moments, where a disgruntled Albert walks out of the principal’s office without his jacket. When Beverly asks where it went, her father can only muster a bleeped “fuck that guy!”
The two attempt to buy Adam new toys but make the unforgivable error of mistaking GoBots for Transformers. Albert then confesses that his luck was never as sharp as he made it out to be, which leads Adam to doubt everything his grandfather has told him before (so yeah, he probably didn’t sock Mussolini on the jaw). A quick conversation with Murray, however, makes Adam realize that his grandfather was only trying to impress him and be a figure he looked up to. The two reconcile and obviously Adam’s luck got better because, well, I’m currently writing a recap of his successful network TV show.
“Dance Party USA” makes for an improved installment from the past few weeks, mostly by doubling down on its strongest sources of comedy (Barry doing silly things for Lainey, a normally cool Erica facing down her awkward past, well-placed profanity bleeping). It’s not the strongest entry of the season, but considering this year has been mostly excellent across the board, that’s a hard level to reach.