Alright, bombshell time… I’ve never seen The Goonies.
I have no real excuse. Everyone has those classic/beloved/nostalgic films that, for one reason or another, have just flown under their radar. Certainly I’ve heard enough Goonies quotes and seen enough clips to believe at one point that I had seen the movie. But, no, it remains near the top of my “omissions” list. Seriously, how I’ve seen Richard Donner’s obscure 1968 Sammy Davis, Jr. comedy, Salt and Pepper, but not Goonies kind of astounds me.
So, herein lies the dilemma—knowing that The Goldbergs would be airing what amounts to a Goonies tribute for its latest episode, I wondered if I should go ahead and finally watch the damn thing. I ultimately decided against it, mainly because I was curious to see how the episode plays for someone who doesn’t understand all the references. Surprisingly, with the exception of the occasional winking nod here and there—I don’t fully grasp Barry-as-Brand joke—“Goldbergs Never Say Die!” still plays as a very solid Goldbergs installment.
This week’s situation begins when Barry and Erica, having had enough of young Adam’s obsession with The Goonies, decide to play a little joke on him. While cleaning the attic, Adam stumbles upon a “treasure map” that his two siblings have secretly planted. Eager to live out his own version of The Goonies, Adam calls upon his own motley crew of friends and acquaintances, including his crush Dana, platonic best friend Mirsky and Asian student Dave Kim (invited primarily, it seems, because he’s the only Asian kid at the school). Adam has barely had the chance to take in the moment, however, before Barry and Erica reveal their prank. Devastated and angry, he retaliates by distributing embarrassing videos of his respective siblings out of spite—for Erica, an embarrassingly candid moment of her singing to a poster of Christian Slater and, for Barry, the “one time” he exercised alongside Beverly.
It’s at this point that the show’s B-plotline, which has involved Beverly trying to put a cap on Albert’s excessive spending, ends up leaking into the main storyline. Albert, positive that he gave Beverly her mother’s jewelry years ago, suddenly realizes that he has kept it in hiding and doesn’t remember where. To admit this forgetfulness, however, means that Beverly will be watching his spending like a hawk. Thus, Albert recruits Adam to solve the puzzle of his late wife’s missing jewelry. Reinvigorated, Adam uses this mission to both reconcile with his siblings (he admits that he never actually sent out any videos) and finally live out his Goonies fantasy.
Starting from its pilot episode, a sizable subcategory of The Goldbergs’ humor has involved referencing ’80 pop culture. Some of the bits have worked like gangbusters. (The Fraggle sex talk from “You Opened the Door” is among my favorite moments of the season.) Some have felt kind of cheap. (Barry yelling, “no one understands me except Flavor Flav!” in the pilot episode is a unfortunately egregious example.) “Goldbergs Never Say Die!” is, ostensibly, a love letter to a classic ’80s artifact, but it works precisely because it comes from a genuine place of appreciation rather than a cheap attempt to capitalize on certain viewers’ nostalgia. Even then, there’s still some great non-pop culture-related humor. For instance, upon learning that Adam’s tape is not the reason that he’s being ostracized by his classmates or ignored by girls, Barry proclaims, “well I’ve got some stuff to think about.” On paper, it’s not much, but Troy Gentile’s delivery really makes that line a highlight.
Compared with other episodes, “Goldbergs Never Say Die!” has gotten an inordinate amount of coverage in the media for its Goonies theme. And while it may not be the funniest episode—that designation still belongs to “Shopping” in my humble opinion—it’s a nice sampling of what the show offers and hopefully will result in more people discovering it.
As for me, I guess I should probably do my duty as a pop culture fanatic and finally watch The Goonies. Let’s see what all the fuss is about.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.