ABC’s The Goldbergs is a love letter the 1980s and contains a veritable cornucopia of pop culture references and jokes about decade in each and every single episode. While it’s next to impossible to list every single 1980s reference on The Goldbergs, we’re going to run down some of each episode’s geekier and more obscure pop culture moments. Please note that this column tries to cover only the “unique” references that appear in each episode, while passing on the posters, toys and other background pieces that appear in every episode and are irrelevant to the plot.
At the beginning of the episode, Barry and Erica briefly watch an episode of Bob Ross’s The Joy of Painting before Pops walks in to pass on his Thanksgiving toast tradition. The Joy of Painting seems to be a popular show in the Goldbergs’ household. Murray and Adam were previously shown watching The Joy of Painting in “Kick Ass Risky Business Party”.
Cat's in the Cradle
Much of the episode revolves around “Cat’s in the Cradle”, a popular 1970s folk rock song sang by Harry Chapin. Chapin’s wife originally wrote the song as a poem about her ex-husband’s awkward relationship with his father, and Chapin converted it into a poem shortly after his own son was born. With a powerful message about not neglecting your kids, the song was Chapin’s only number one hit. In addition to The Goldbergs, countless other TV shows have used the song, usually to make a heavy-handed point about fatherhood.
As he manipulates Murray into buying him a D&D module, Adam is shown wearing a Robocop shirt. We just had a Robocop reference a few weeks ago, when Adam dressed up as Robocop for Halloween (accompanied by his mother, dressed as one of the larger robots from the movie).
Dungeons and Dragons Module
Adam asks Murray to buy him a Dungeons and Dragons module. Dungeons and Dragons was the first modern role-playing game, in which players completed quests and explored dungeons in a high fantasy world controlled by the ever-watchful Dungeon Master. While Dungeon Masters could always create their own adventures, many chose to use pre-made “modules” written by the makers of the game. Modules are nice tools for beginning dungeon masters, as they came with pre-made maps, a coherent storyline and tied into other modules to create a longer, more fulfilling adventure.
Beverly begins to suspect her son is up to no good when she walks into the living room and finds her husband and Adam watching ALF instead of one of Murray’s usual shows. ALF was a popular 1980s sitcom about a wisecracking, cat eating Melmackian alien and his adoptive family. Many episodes deal with ALF (whose real name is Gordon Shumway, ALF stands for “Alien Life Form) trying to adjust to Earth life while his family tries to keep his existence secret from their friends and neighbors. While ALF wasn’t originally intended as a children’s comedy, the character proved popular with kids (if you were an 80's baby, chances are you had an ALF doll) and the show got in trouble several times when children tried to mimic the alien’s antics with disastrous results. ALF ran for four seasons on NBC, which cancelled the show in the middle of a cliffhanger. While the show didn't have a long run, ALF became a pop culture icon synonymous with the 1980s and still occasionally pops up on TV or in 80s themed commercials.