Anniversary Post: The Goldbergs

The GoldbergsOn this day in 1949. The Goldbergs first appeared on television. It was the first situation comedy to be on television. It was the brainchild of Gertrude Berg. It started as a radio show in 1928. Berg wrote, directed, and starred in it from the start. It is a show about a Jewish family where Berg plays Molly Goldberg, a stereotypical Jewish mother.

I’d never heard of it before yesterday, so I found a couple of episodes to watch. It’s a bit hard to call it a comedy since it doesn’t have much in the way of laughs. It is pleasant enough. But weird. You can definitely see how I Love Lucy would have impressed people. Just the same, The Goldbergs actually had a longer run.

I don’t know quite what to say about The Goldbergs. I’m curious what other people think of it. But I can’t quite recommend watching this episode, “The New Landlord,” from the first season. I can see how it is supposed to be funny. And it wouldn’t be hard to rewrite it to make it work. It is, after all, a standard kind of comedic set up where Molly finds herself in a bad situation and just makes things worse and worse. It’s like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but before the mechanics of the process had been worked out.

Still, The Goldbergs is very sweet. No one is evil. I suspect it is very much what most people wanted to watch coming out of the World War II.

5 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: The Goldbergs

  1. Well, that’s something you don’t see every day. The ethnic/cultural stereotyping is a bit broad, but it’s not done in a harmful way. It felt to me like one of those BBC shows that ran for forever, like “Are You Being Served” or “Last Of The Summer Wine.” Where class and accents are poked at a little.

    I wondered about the prominent portrait of George Washington. Was that generic patriotism or a specific Jewish-American reference? GW did lots of things wrong; one thing he did absolutely right is stick up for Jewish believers. I know lots of working-class families had FDR portraits in their home. Did 1950s Jewish families have GW for the same reasons?

    Basically this thing terrified me, as it was about a scumbag landlord. (Not much has changed, huh?) Everyone who lives under a scumbag landlord is in a permanent state of stress. All your shit breaks all the time, and you’re worried about asking to get it fixed. Because maybe your landlord will use that excuse to raise your rent.

    So here’s a story. Probably not too far off-topic.

    One time I had an issue with my landlord — everybody in the building was — and I completely lost it. I met an acquaintance in the restaurant downstairs, and I went ballistic. “That mf-ing, s.o.b.,” I used all the cussing I could manage, and I made up some new profanities to boot. (You’d be surprised; I can really, really swear pretty offensively when I get mad enough. David Milch should have been there with a tape recorder.)

    So the restaurant is Kurdish, and the owner is a conservative Muslim. She comes over to my table. “Have some Kurdish tea, it’s free.” Doesn’t say a word about me cussing up her joint. Of course not. She was dealing with the same landlord. What a great neighbor!

    • I wondered about the GW on the wall as well. But in 1949, Jews still had real reasons to be worried. So being uber-patriotic might have been a thing. (And maybe FDR was too divisive — probably still would be.) I wonder how we are supposed to take the landlord. My take is that he was planning to raise the rent. But he took the $2 increase (less than he could have gotten) because then Molly gets blamed. He can always raise the rent more later.

      I found the portrayal to be extremely gentle and positive. Gertrude Berg was Jewish, I assume. But you are right to compare it to “Are You Being Served.” Although I almost hate to admit it, I’ve generally found the show to be hilarious. Many of the dated stereotypes bother me — especially the outrageous queer and the vulgar older woman. But it still seemed to respect the basic humanity of all its characters. And it was well written and had a fabulous cast.

      Maybe the Kurdish owner was just trying to shut you up!

  2. The first American TV sitcom, but not the world’s first, apparently: “Pinwright's Progress” ran on the BBC for 10 episodes from November 1946, though I can’t say I’d heard of it before now, and only stills remain. The basic premise was more of a ‘situation’ than The Goldbergs, too:

    J. Pinwright owns the world’s smallest multiple-store, but life is far from easy. His attractive daughter, fierce rival, Ralph the octogenarian messenger boy, and members of staff (trying to be helpful) hinder him day-by-day.

    Staff member Mrs Sigsbee was much in the same vein as Mrs. Slocombe from Are You Being Served?, being highly outrageous in her time.

    • Good research, Barney, thanks! I must say I want to watch “Ralph the octogenarian messenger boy.” Now that’s a creative sitcom invention . . .

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