Friday, December 25, 2015

Holiday "Classic" Recap: The Goldbergs: "A Christmas Story"

“No. Guilt has no place in our people’s holiday. Shame on you. I hope you feel guilty.”

“The Goldbergs” is one of my favorite comedies currently on the air, mostly because it features a family growing up not far from where I did in the 1980s. While I was a little younger than the Goldberg kids, I still remember a lot of the places they go on the show. Willow Grove Park mall, for example, was pretty much Mecca to kid/tween me, and it is mentioned quite often by the characters. One aspect of the Goldberg family that is pretty obvious but not generally stated outright is that they are Jewish. So the episode we are going to talk about today is a Hanukkah episode, which I thought would be an interesting change of pace, even though Hanukkah is over and today is Christmas. There is a little Christmas thrown in, though, as the Goldbergs try to compete with their neighbors, the Kremps, who go all out to try and have the “perfect” Christmas. As you might expect, not all is as perfect as it seems at the Kremp family Christmas.

In the opening voice over, we learn a bit about how the Goldberg family Hanukkah usually goes down. The family isn’t especially enthusiastic about the holiday. Because there are eight nights of presents, the presents are “mostly filler” like toothbrushes and underwear. Bev also breaks out eastern European dishes like cabbage rolls that nobody seems to actually like. And older sister Erica always has somewhere else to be right after the present opening. Overall, nobody seems to have a good time. Then Bev and Murray pay a visit to the Kremps, and everything changes. It appears that the neighbors are preparing for an ideal Christmas, with beautiful decorations and timeless gifts like a snare drum. They even ask if Murray will play Santa for them. He’s not at all enthusiastic about it, but Bev pushes him into it because she’s so bamboozled by the Kremp Christmas magic.

Meanwhile, little brother Adam looks forward to the holiday break being a time to bro out and play the signature family game of “Ball Ball” with big brother Barry. This year, though, Barry has a girlfriend, Erica’s best friend Lainey, and Adam is upset to see Barry playing Ball Ball with her instead. Barry has switched up all the (already very complicated) rules so that Adam doesn’t know how to play anymore, and he even made a new trophy. Lainey says Adam can play anyway, but Barry puts the kibosh on that. Adam is very upset, because he wanted to spend quality time with his brother like always.

Inspired by her visit with the Kremps, Bev announces a change-up in the holiday plans for the year. This year, the Goldbergs will be celebrating “Super Hanukkah.” They will have a decorated “Hanukkah Bush,” put up lights outside, open all their presents on one morning instead of over eight nights, and they will get gifts from “Hanukkah Harry.” At first, everybody enjoys this change, because they’re actually getting gifts that they like. Erica gets a sweet electric guitar, for instance. Adam gets Barry an Eagles keychain, but Lainey outdoes him with a signed Eagles jersey. That’s just the beginning of the drama, though. Pops arrives, and he is upset and disgusted to see the holiday all Christmas-fied. He feels like his family/cultural traditions are being disrespected. He storms out, determined to teach Bev a lesson.I was surprised he felt so strongly about this, since Pops is usually an easygoing guy, but I guess somebody had to point out Bev’s ridiculousness. Mrs. Kremp also makes a brief appearance and wants to know the stories behind all the “Super Hanukkah” traditions. Bev’s explanations get progressively more and more ridiculous (and funny).

The final straw for Adam is when he sees Barry and Lainey watching “A Christmas Story” together. It’s Barry and Adam’s favorite holiday movie (mine too!), and they have a tradition of watching it together. Adam is so upset that he challenges Barry to a dare, which everyone knows you should never do, because Barry will do whatever it is, no matter how stupid. Adam tells Barry to meet him at the tetherball pole. If you’ve ever watched “A Christmas Story,” you can probably guess what comes next. Adam triple dog dares Barry to lick the tetherball pole, and of course, Barry gets stuck. Adam finally admits he’s upset because Barry has been replacing him with Lainey. Barry apologizes and asks for a hug, but it’s not at all sincere. Instead he uses the hug to get Adam stuck to the pole, too. And since it’s the 1980’s, they don’t have an easy way to call for help.

Pops arrives back at the Goldberg house dressed in a blue Santa suit and calling himself “Hanuclaus.” He also has his “Sack of Shame,” which contains things like a photos of relatives who escaped Poland, empty jars where his dreams of sharing his family traditions used to be, and other items as well, each more depressing than the last. He is determined to go through all of them with his family to make them fully understand why he is upset. The whole thing devolves into Pops playing Christmas songs with angry Hanukkah lyrics on the banjo. Bev tries to take away the banjo, but she ends up accidentally setting the Hanukkah bush on fire. The Kremps watch as the Goldbergs take the bush outside to extinguish it, and they continue to want to know more about the meaning behind these “exotic “ traditions. Bev eventually tells them off and says that there are no idyllic Goldberg traditions, they just suck at family.

Barry and Adam end up making up while they are both stuck to the tetherball pole. As they try to hug it out, they realize the pole is loose. When they arrive home (still attached to the pole), Murray says he raised morons, and the boys don’t disagree. Barry, Adam, and Lainey all settle in to watch “A Christmas Story.” Bev and Pops make up as well, over a locket with a picture of Bev and her mother when Bev was a child. Pops says the picture was of Bev’s first Hanukkah and her mother was so excited about it. They both agree that it’s important not to forget where you came from. Finally, Bev realizes that the Kremps aren’t any better than her own family. She finds Mrs. Kremp sitting outside, distraught over all the things that have gone wrong on Christmas, including a ruined dinner. Bev offers to introduce the Kremps to her family’s true Christmas tradition , which is another thing you’ll be able to guess if you’ve watched “A Christmas Story.” The Kremps and Goldbergs go to a Chinese restaurant.

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