The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Adam F. Goldberg (‘The Goldbergs’)

If you grew up the ’80s and haven’t watched ABC’s The Goldbergs, then you’re missing out on one of the funniest new comedies of the season…and if you didn’t grow up in the ’80s, you’re still missing out on one of the funniest new comedies of the season, because most of the stories are about growing up and dealing with your family, two things which are absolutely not decade-specific. Tonight’s episode is definitely going to be a treat for those folks in the former category, though, because it’s basically one big homage to The Goonies. I had a chance to chat with the show’s creator, Adam J. Goldberg, who’s basically taken his own life and turned it into a sitcom, and there’s little question that this episode is a career milestone for him. Having now seen it, I’d agree…although I hadn’t seen it when I originally hopped on the phone to talk to him.

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Bullz-Eye: While I got a link to watch the Goonies episode of The Goldbergs, I didn’t get it in time to watch it, due to another deadline I was rushing to meet. But I’m rationalizing that, since the piece is going to be written for people who won’t have seen it either, I’m still on solid ground.

Adam F. Goldberg: [Laughs.] Right, exactly! And it’s technically not even finished, anyway, because I’m still editing it! I’m just so nervous about this one. ABC loved it and wanted to send it out, but I was, like, “I don’t know…” It’s the one that… There’s just a lot of writers on my staff who, like, don’t know the movie. I showed it to them as an adult, and they were just, like, “What is this?” So when they watched it, they were just baffled. So I’m hoping that people who’ve seen the movie will be reviewing it, at least…

BE: When you’re doing a show about the ‘80s, you’ve got the opportunity to pay tribute to basically anything you experienced when you were growing up. Was The Goonies always in the back of your mind as something you wanted to do?

AG: Yes. From the minute I sold the show, and I think even… [Hesitates.] I don’t remember if it was in my original pitch document, because I didn’t want to alienate anybody with something that could potentially be so insane to do. But I’m a collector of the props. You know, I have an original doubloon, and fans have made replicas that I have of the various copper bones and all this stuff. I’ve seen the movie a billion times. I mean, honestly, it’s the movie that… It’s the reason I’m a writer. I know that when Peter Jackson made King Kong, that was his movie as a kid, and this is mine. So if I’m doing a show about the ‘80s, of course I’m going to pay tribute to it. And there’s a character that’s me, and since it was such a big part of my life growing up…

My siblings just tortured me about it being the dumbest movie ever, ‘cause they were teenagers. They didn’t get it, so they always made fun of me for watching it and called the movie stupid to torture me. So that’s how the episode began. And, you know, I even did something on my last show, Breaking In, which was that Goonies 2 was coming out, and they had a mission to protect the movie. So it’s always something. I pitched the musical to Richard Donner. I went in initially to pitch him Goonies 2, which he quickly said he wasn’t that into. [Laughs.] So I flipped over to the musical. So it’s, like, my dream job. I keep revisiting it in different ways. It’s my thing. My jam.

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A Set Visit with the Gang from “21 and Over”

Imagine a college bar in a Pacific Northwest town and there’s a very outstanding chance that you’ll imagine a place almost exactly like Dantes in Seattle’s University Village section. The place has a rustic, slightly run-down, feeling countered by lots of colored lights, chalkboards full of bargains on bar food, specialty cocktails – most of which I wouldn’t let anywhere near my Drink of the Week posts – and cartoonish demon head sculptures mounted on the wall as if they’d been bagged in Nairobi by Colonel Blimp himself.

Now, imagine it’s September 2011 and you’re a broke-ass freelance entertainment writer in search of a day job, but nevertheless very happy to fly up the coast for a set visit and roundtable interview with the cast and writers/directors of “21 and Over.” So it was that I and a group of journos from online men’s magazines and humor sites had been ferried over from area hotels to watch a key bit of early action in the film being shot and, later, to meet with the talent.

One piece of additional good news was that the talent in question actually has some. The first film directed by the co-scripters of the sleeper megahit “The Hangover,” Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, “21 and Over” is hitting a theater near you March 1st after a somewhat delayed release. If you loved “The Hangover,” there’s a decent chance you’ll like “21 and Over,” even if that film was – in typical Hollywood style – somewhat heavily rewritten by a number of hands. For starters, it trades on a similar formula of bromantic mystery plus broad comedy played out by strong (but not overly expensive) comic talent. It’s a somewhat dumb, but occasionally hilarious low-brow effort anchored by a very funny and credible trio of young male actors with outstanding comic rapport, and a female lead who’s allowed to be a semi-believable human being for a change.

The plot involves a surprise out of town birthday visit which results in birthday boy Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) suffering an alcohol-induced near coma. Naturally, Jeff Chang – who’s full name is repeated with Charlie Brown-like regularity – has an important medical school interview the next day. Worse, neither wild-and-crazy instigator Miller (Miles Teller) nor literally buttoned-down Casey (Skylar Astin) can even remotely recall Jeff Chang’s Seattle address.

If you’re expecting the result to be a comic odyssey of debauchery and absurd hijinks that would almost certainly lead to a fatality in real life, you wouldn’t be wrong. If you’re looking for a gorgeous love interest in all of this, Sarah Wright does the honors as Nicole, a smart girl whose next foolish choice might be hooking up with prepster Casey.

Our set visit began with us doing what most people do, most of the time, on film sets. We waited, watching a short dialogue scene being filmed and drinking non-alcoholic beverages from craft services – or maybe it was beer from the bar, I can’t remember. (Probably not, but I can’t be sure. I would later have a brief comic odyssey of my own trying, unsuccessfully, to recover the lost voice recorder which held all of my notes from the set visit.)

If memory serves, we were told that one of the co-directors, Scott Moore, was off filming other material that day. That may have been a slightly big deal as Moore and Lucas have been working together for a long time, and “21 and Over” is their first shot at the directing big time. In fact, Lucas later expressed a bit of honest concern about the day, saying that he generally considered himself a decent “half a director.” Still, everything appeared to be going smoothly.

Eventually, things kicked up to a higher gear as we watched Justin Chon perform one of the film’s many physical comedy lowlights while being filmed by Terry Stacey, a top-drawer cinematographer who has proven that comedies needn’t be visually flat with “50/50,” “Adventureland,” and 2003′s “American Splendor,” one of the best movies of the 21st century so far.

Standing not far behind Stacey, we watched from above as Chon – best known by his own description as “the Asian kid from ‘Twilight’” – mounted a mechanical bull, rode very briefly, and then upchucked in spectacular fashion. The upchucking was thanks to a mechanical device attached to Chon but, in classic practical effects style, hidden from the camera’s view.

The delicate part was that that effects gag was to be captured in extreme slow motion. In the finished film, the individual droplets of fake throw-up dance about in the air and the audience is grateful the film is neither in 3D nor Smell-O-Vision.

Soon enough, however, Chon – who clearly knows his way around physical action – was managing some very nice recoveries after staging his fall from the bull, and director of photography Stacey had mostly finished the shot. It was time for a break and some roundtable chats at the pizza joint across the street.

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