The Goldbergs bid farewell to Murray, their fictional patriarch, during the Season 10 premiere on Wednesday night.
It’s a farewell that balances the signature sense of humor of the long-running ABC comedy and ’80s era with an authentic look at the emotional range of grieving. It’s also a character broadcast that follows former star Jeff Garlin’s departure last season following an HR investigation and multiple complaints about his behavior on set.
The aptly titled episode, “If You Build It,” sets the stage for the Goldbergs family, and ultimately the show, to rebuild (or rebuild) their lives — and a show that will draw viewers back. It begins with a Patton Oswalt narrated overview of the months between the season nine finale and Wednesday’s premiere. Through a series of quick sequences, viewers become entangled with each member of the family.
But the montage slows down when Adam (Sean Giambrone) starts talking about his father. “That year there was one change that made everything stop,” says Patton, as the camera pans to Murray’s chair and casts it under a spotlight. “Just a few months ago, out of nowhere, we lost my father. We will always love you, Dad. Always. And we will find a way to move forward together. After all, we are the Goldbergs.”
The rest of the episode sees each of the family members grieving Murray in their own way. Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey), Erica (Hayley Orrantia), and Pop Pop (Judd Hirsch), along with a few other famous Goldbergs faces, grappling with whether or not to give away Murrary’s chair, resulting in a quick and emotionally charged change of heart from Beverly and a generational transition from the torch.
Meanwhile, Adam gets caught up in a… Field of dreams joke got out of hand. After creating his own James Earl Jones-inspired voiceover of “If you build it they will come” with the help of his sister’s baby monitors, Adam Barry (Troy Gentile) convinces that he receives an outside message to Wiffle Ballfield in the backyard, a move that will reunite him with their father’s ghost.
It’s not until Barry’s friends reveal the multiple emotional meanings behind the Kevin Costner movie that Adam realizes he may have made a mistake. It’s all part of a character farewell that comes just one season after the show pays tribute to late star George Segal and amid the show rebooting itself during its ten-year season.
News Kidda spoke with ABC comedy showrunners Alex Barnow and Chris Bishop about how they wrote their farewell to the character, why it was different from their tribute to the late George Segal, and how the cast and crew are feeling for their 10th season without Garlin in to go.
Why for both of you? Field of dreams do you feel the right movie for what you were doing in the premiere with adam and barry saying goodbye to their father? In the end, what did you want to say about Murray and Jeff’s absence, the show itself and moving on?
ALEX BARNOW Field of dreams is like the ultimate second chance to reconnect with someone who is no longer around, and whether that relationship is fraught or not, you take the people in your life for granted when they are here. Then when they’re gone, you’ll wish you had a second chance to deal with those relationships. We tried very hard to emotionally thread the needle through this needle. Last year we really lost George Segal and it touched all of us personally and we wanted last year’s premiere to be a tribute to him, first of all, and also to the character. It was rawer and it was real. Losing not the person, but losing the character in a season premiere just required a more delicate touch in a way.
In the sense that we wanted to honor this character, but the actor wasn’t dead. So we wanted to use something that I think was an important movie for a lot of people growing up in the ’80s. It was a chance not to make it so sad. Building the field in the backyard got a chance to be funny and silly, but all to have that kind of sweet memory at the end. Sometimes it works out really well that the movie we’re used to seeing fits the theme of what we’re trying to do, but we’ve also made a mistake. (laughs.)
CHRIS BISHOP Everyone has a different interpretation of Field of dreams. It’s about hope, reconciling with your past and moving forward – and we do that, of course, with the nostalgic power of Wiffle Ball. (laughs.) The movie meant a lot to me personally as a kid and I loved it. So this was a really touching episode for us. And the feedback we have received has been positive. It’s been really emotional. So we’re really happy.
There is also the storyline with Beverly agree to give up Murray’s chair for donation and then make a 180 emotional turn. Viewers later learn that Pop Pop saved it and brought it to the nursery. Can you tell why you wanted this storyline of wrestling to let go of the chair and why Pop Pop was the one to save him?
BARNOW The chair for the Murray character is the ultimate totem pole. Nothing means him better. It demonstrated his lethargy. He just sat there like the captain, barking a little at people. So it just seemed like a natural fit. It just seemed like an obvious meaningful item that if you took it away, everyone would immediately miss it. It sits in the middle of the room, you ignore it, and when it’s gone, it’s heartbreaking. My father died when I was a child and I would say anyone who has gone through grief knows that you don’t want to hold onto these things indefinitely and are desperately trying to find value in something that is lifeless and remembers you in a bad time. way.
But there are other things you could never break and never give away. So it felt good to us that that’s what the story should be about. As for Pop Pop, the history of him on the show is that he was kind of a crappy dad and he was a gruff person in general. Murray raised his younger brother Marvin. We try not to make the story lines too crazy, but we thought it was a really sweet idea that he’s going to miss his son. He couldn’t express it when he was alive, but he couldn’t bear to see this part of him gone either. So I don’t think we should say it explicitly. I think it was kind of a nice grace note for the episode that he was the one to pick it up.
One of the ways you can comically investigate Murray’s death is that Barry misses the deadline for applying for college housing, so he’s back home. Obviously his excuse for this is a joke, but it does say how chaotic your life can get. Things great and small fall to the side when you grieve. What were you trying to tell viewers about Barry and his own personal reaction to Adam’s?
BARNOW I think we’ll spend more time on it in future episodes. Adam isn’t going to college this year, of course, and I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s also going to have a hard time leaving the nest. But Chris came up with that move of landing on a chair in the cold open air that I thought was a clever way to handle everything that’s happened, but not feel too sad. And with that you hopefully take away the feeling that people don’t want to leave. They circle the chariots to support each other during this time of mourning. They have gone beyond the immediacy of death and are now a little afraid to move on with their lives.
BISHOP I think you hit the nail on the head with the fact that sadness throws your world into chaos. Mainly because Murray was the one who cared so much about college and got everything on track. I have a feeling he rode it a lot. Whether Barry didn’t do it unknowingly or on purpose, I think it’s all part of the whole.
Alex, you’ve hinted at this a bit already, but will this season continue to explore the effects of Murray’s absence on the family?
BARNOW I’d say it’s not done yet, but I think our goal is to really look ahead. The baby is coming. There is a reason to be optimistic. Although it has changed in who our cast is, [the episode] Tonally because we’re dealing with maudlin issues, I think the show will really return to what it is. It will be fun and you will see exciting storylines.
BISHOP Yes, at the end of the day we are in the comedy. So we have to ease it. Lighten the mood a bit. (laughs.) Obviously it will affect their lives, but I think we will discover a lot of new, happy stories.
Murray is dead at the start of the season. There are no visual calls to him and the circumstances of his death are a bit sketchy. Why didn’t you want to capture visual memories or details about the circumstances of his death and instead focus on how different family members grieved?
BARNOW We thought about what it takes to tell the story. Frankly, Adam Goldberg made the show, his dad was a real person and I think when we separate fact and fiction you want to be careful about honoring the real person and not stepping into that area. But also for what the needs of the show are. It just didn’t seem necessary to me. It’s a fictional character, so it felt important to deal with what’s going on with our characters who are present and not dwell on what happened in the past.
BISHOP Also, again, we sort of addressed that the previous year with the passing of George Segal. We’ve really been at a loss there, so I feel like it would be too similar.
Last season was a bit of a rough patch with Segal losing and then Garlin’s early departure both on screen and off. How do you, the cast and production crew feel about things now, during your 10th season and after those shakeups?
BARNOW It’s incredibly positive. Everyone is incredibly excited to do this. We’ve come to the point where everyone is lucky. Not doing shows for 10 years. I think everyone appreciates what we have and I think his legacy is 200 episodes in total right now. It’s such a big part of our lives. I really enjoy what we do. I think the cast enjoys what they do. I know the crew is incredibly excited about it. Like any family, any business that has been around for 10 years, there are highs and lows. It’s a very long season. But I have to say that my conversations with Wendi and the rest of the cast have been extremely positive and grateful for everything we have.
BISHOP It sounds corny, but we’re a big family here. It’s what we’ve become over the years and we’ve grown and we’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s been pretty good. Everyone seems to be progressing very, very positively.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
The Goldbergs airs on Wednesdays on ABC.