Aside from the fact that it’s often very funny, what no doubt has helped The Goldbergs endure and standout amidst ABC’s torrent of family comedies is the point-of-view it brings to its ‘80s references. While, at first, the show may have been content to simply point out certain aspects of the ‘80s with a, ‘Hey, wasn’t this decade crazy?!’ mentality, subsequent episodes have done a great job connecting specific cultural movements with the characters that they influence. For example, I had never seen The Goonies prior to viewing last season’s highlight episode “The Goldbergs Never Say Die!” Yet, while the occasion reference flew clean over my head, I laughed a fair amount and easily tracked its character developments. This balancing act between “specific enough to be unique” and “general enough to appeal to a wide audience” has been a task the show has thoroughly excelled at, especially in its sophomore year.
Similar to Richard Donner’s classic 1985 children’s film, my exposure to the New Kids on the Block oeuvre is very much lacking. What I know of the music comes strictly from the occasional glimpses of their music videos I spotted during VH1 countdowns. Also, a significantly slimmed down Donnie Wahlberg became the terrifying face of home invasion for me after seeing The Sixth Sense at an impressionable age. Yet, in spite of having little-to-no familiarity with the band, I still found “DannyDonnieJoeyJonJordan” to be a hilarious send-up of fan culture, and that ever-evolving question of “guilty pleasure.”
The ‘80s boy band emerges as a plot device after Adam and Barry discover a box filled with Erica’s various NKOTB memorabilia, including an embarrassing video of a younger Erica (i.e. equipped with glasses and braces) singing a tearful ode to them. Given that their sister has always had the proper ammo to embarrass them, the boys hold a screening of the video for all their friends. Determined to really push their pranks to the next level, the two begin actively “studying” the band’s music and, in one of the episode’s funniest moments, debating which member they would be. Pretty soon, they are launching what they assume is a tongue-in-cheek recreation of one of their videos. It’s not until another friend points out that the video seems like a labor of love that the boys fully grasp that they have become full-fledged NKOTB fans.
After Erica tries to get her brothers back by holding her own screening of their fan-made video, Adam and Barry begin giving her the silent treatment. It’s here that the episode reveals that it’s NKOTB elements were merely disguising a larger story about siblings. More specifically, drawing the line between poking fun at your siblings and respecting their desire to keep certain elements of themselves hidden. Erica eventually reaches a truce by getting her brothers front row tickets to a NKOTB concert. The storyline is as hilarious and as perfectly executed as you’d expect—made all the more glorious by not only having the actors break into their best NKOTB moves but also, at the end, revealing that much of these scenes were an exact recreation of creator Adam Goldberg’s own home videos. In an episode all about celebrating guilty pleasures, this was the proverbial cherry on top.
The less-‘80s specific plotline, meanwhile, comes about after a frustrated Murray decides that the garage has become too cluttered, due to Beverly hoarding every piece of childish artwork her progeny have ever made. Yet again, we have Beverly’s nostalgia-filled Mom goggles bumping against Murray’s more pragmatic, unsentimental outlook (when Erica leaves the house he mutters her well-wishes for “camp… or college… or wherever you’re going”). As a compromise, Murray allows her one trunk of artwork so long as they dump everything else. Beverly agrees but Murray messes up majorly when he accidentally loads said trunk onto the garbage truck. Feeling super guilty, he wades through the garbage to find the missing art. All the while, Beverly reveals that she paid off the men to put all the boxes in storage.
Of course, even after Murray discovers his wife’s deception, he has his change of heart and discovers that he also has a personal attachment to his kid’s artwork (in particular, a project by Erica that reads “I love you babby,” done when she couldn’t do “ds”). All in all, it’s a cute story with some excellent comic beats (Murray wandering in the garbage dump and cursing profusely was a season highlight). That being said, it does feel a bit more generic, especially when compared to the NKOTB storyline. Also, perhaps given the time restraints, Murray’s newfound understanding of his wife’s habits does end up feeling a bit glossed over. Though, to be fair, it also allows for the episode to have a subtler, more grounded conclusion as opposed to the “big moment” emotional beat that would normally fill that spot.
“DannyDonnieJoeyJonJordan” (thank God for copy/paste by the way) is a great Goldbergs installment for the new year, establishing itself almost as a “greatest hits” of the show’s most reliably funny tropes (‘80s nostalgia, Barry performing embarrassing dances, Beverly’s hyperbolic crying, Murray cursing, etc.). Also, in the spirit of admitting guilty pleasures, The Backstreet Boys were the first band I ever loved, and I probably still subconsciously have all their songs memorized. Deal with it.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.