The Goldbergs Review: “Livin’ on a Prayer”

(Episode 1.23)

TV Reviews The Goldbergs
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<i>The Goldbergs</i> Review: &#8220;Livin&#8217; on a Prayer&#8221;

After last week’s fantastic “A Wrestler Named Goldberg,” “Livin’ on a Prayer” sends off this season of The Goldbergs with a great one-two punch. It’s no coincidence that both episodes center largely on Barry Goldberg, who has been steadily building up his status as the show’s MVP and scene-stealer.

The episode opens with Murray receiving notice that he’s being honored by his old school. As it turns out, the now-lethargic, decidedly out-of-shape Murray was once a celebrated high school athlete who set a record for the most consecutive free throws. In honor of his record finally being broken, the school has invited him and Beverly to an upcoming game. What’s more, they even offer a free stay at a downtown hotel (complete with a banquet!). This revelation about his father gets Barry thinking about his own social status in school. Indeed, despite his boundless (if unwarranted) confidence, Barry has yet to make a significant impression on his classmates— aside from being the kid who goes into a rage whenever the cafeteria runs out of pudding. Illustrating this point, one recurring gag has the other kids continually mistaking him for Gustav, the school’s Swedish exchange student (“I’m not the Swedish exchange student, I’m speaking English to you!” a frustrated Barry yells at one point).

Determined to improve his stature, Barry decides to throw a house party while his parents are out for the night. At first, the party appears to be a major bust, with only a few dorky guys sitting around eating Bugles. Feeling a sisterly sense of pity, however, Erica recruits her friend Lainey to invite more people. Suddenly, not only does the whole student body start streaming into the house, including Barry’s crush Lexy Bloom, but a group of older-guys do too, and they proceed to break into Beverly’s closet and start wearing her assortment of colorful sweaters. Erica quickly realizes that the party is getting out of control and demands that Barry call it off. When he refuses, she points out that no one even knows it’s Barry’s party and, furthermore, Lexy is making out with another guy.

Dismayed, Barry sulks outside where he soon receives a pep talk from the unlikeliest of sources—Lainey. Erica’s BFF proceeds to point out all the crazy, memorable things Barry has done this year, including his “kara-te” demonstration at the talent show and his ill-conceived rap video. “I can honestly say there’s no one like you,” she says. Considering that each previous entry of the show seems to take place in its own little bubble, with little sense of continuity, Lainey’s speech affirms that, yes, these events have all taken place in the course of a year, thus endowing this final episode with a sense of culmination.

Meanwhile, Murray and Beverly arrive at the school game where Murray finds himself being greeted like a king. This all falls apart, however, the moment he attempts a ceremonial free throw, only to miss the net by a wide margin. Embarrassed, Murray convinces Beverly that they should head home early. While reminiscing about his lost glory, Murray catches the house party in full-force; rather than instantly pulling the plug, however, he realizes that Barry is simply trying to make the kind of great memories that he had as a high school kid. And so, despite Beverly fuming at the sight of her sweaters being used as a party gag, the two give their son a few more moments to make his impression.

Newly energized, Barry slips into his Big Tasty attire, hails in a boombox, and starts dancing around to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” one of the decade’s greatest anthemic songs. Drawn to his boundless enthusiasm, the partygoers join Barry in yelling along to the lyrics. It’s here that Lainey, in the guise of “making Lexy jealous,” dives in and plants a kiss on Barry, much to Erica’s horror. Right on cue, Murray and Beverly break up the party (“leave my f@#king sweaters!” Beverly screams), but not before Barry has successfully had the most epic night of his life.

“Livin’ on a Prayer” marks a big-hearted and exuberant end to the show’s first season. From its pilot episode, The Goldbergs always demonstrated immense promise. And while the series took a few weeks to find its footing—and, even then, certain episodes could vary in quality—it never once lost its relentless energy and heartfelt poignancy. If the show were a dog, it would most definitely be a cocker spaniel—outgoing, happy-go-lucky and always eager to please.

In a year where we were presented with several semi-autobiographical TV programs (Surviving Jack, Growing Up Fisher) in addition to all the regular fare (The Middle, Modern Family), The Goldbergs successfully developed its own unique, colorful voice and more than justified its presence on the airwaves. All in all, the network landscape is a much richer place now that the Goldberg family will be screaming at each other on our TVs for another year.

Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.