The Goldbergs Shakes It Out for Dirty Dancing
Did you think she was just going to stand in the corner? Hayley Orrantia, who plays teenage daughter Erica on ABC’s Reagan-era family comedy The Goldbergs, strikes a pose in the center of the show’s high school gymnasium set. The entire space has been decorated to the colorful, kitschy nines for the prom, and Orrantia herself is rocking a pink dress, tights and dancing shoes.
The young actress is gearing up for a big scene with Sam Lerner (above right, with Orrantia), whose character, Geoff Schwartz, is making inroads in his unrequited quest for Erica’s affections. Together, they’re about to attempt the episode’s money shot: a re-creation of the seminal move from 1987’s Dirty Dancing, when Patrick Swayze lifts Jennifer Grey above his head.
Of course, Lerner is no Swayze. That’s why Orrantia has been harnessed in cables for the stunt. It took a week of choreography practice to lead up to this moment, and it will take an additional 17 hours to shoot the climactic scene. But other than some aching feet, everything goes swimmingly.
Well, with one exception. The cast and crew have grown seriously tired of hearing “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” the Dirty Dancing anthem that has blared over speakers take after take during this sequence.
“It’s nauseating and I want to die!” jokes Jeff Garlin, who plays cranky father Murray Goldberg. “It’s very unfortunate that I have had to live through a period of hearing that song constantly a second time.”
Goldbergs viewers, though, are accustomed to having a slew of 1980s pop-culture references thrown at them each week. In Season 3 alone, the series has lampooned everything from Tom Cruise’s Risky Business undies slide to the decade’s Jazzercise fitness craze. This particular episode, however, is extra special and extra stuffed: It’s the series’ annual full-scale homage to an iconic 1980s movie.
The characters went on a Goonies treasure hunt in Season 1, and last year Erica bumped shoulders with Charlie Sheen at the police station as part of an extended appreciation of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. For the third cinematically themed installment, creator Adam F. Goldberg—who based the series on his own rambunctious family—went with a film that hit especially close to home.“My whole childhood was filtered through movies,” Goldberg explains. “That’s how I related to the world. For this episode, I looked to my mom. This was her movie. My memories of Dirty Dancing are me being dragged to it and her watching it over and over.”
The episode opens with the fictional Adam (Sean Giambrone) sitting—just like the real Adam Goldberg—through countless Dirty Dancing screenings with his mom, Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey)—until he can’t take it anymore.
She then recruits Erica to watch the movie, and the two finally find a common interest. Beverly even encourages her daughter to stage a Dirty Dancing–themed performance at school, but she then reconsiders after realizing that the kids would actually be, you know, “dirty dancing.”
As usual, Beverly tries to put a stop to the fun, but just as in the movie, no one puts her baby in a corner. Erica, acting not unlike her stubborn mother, persists—and ultimately surprises with that show-stopping number.
“I’m excited that Erica has taken on this really strong, feminist kind of character and that she loves fighting the power,” Orrantia says. Meanwhile, middle son Barry (Troy Gentile) attempts to hijack the whole event by making it about his favorite dance movie, Footloose. Not only does Gentile improvise an “angry dance” scene like the one from that classic film, but he wears the same shiny red tuxedo as its star, Kevin Bacon. “I went balls-to-the-wall and threw it all out on the line,” Gentile says of his moves. “The crew started laughing and giving me encouragement.”
ABC can be plenty encouraged by the success of its retro-com. The Goldbergs is an important part of the network’s Wednesday-night family lineup. It ranks among the top four comedies on TV in the coveted 18–49 demographic, beating every sitcom on Fox and NBC, and is No. 1 in its timeslot against scripted competition. That’s a good thing, because all the nostalgia for the decade of synth pop and puffy shoulder pads doesn’t come cheap. In fact, Sony, the studio behind The Goldbergs, has one person on their payroll whose entire job is just securing rights clearances for the series.
“They had never dealt with this kind of volume,” Goldberg explains. “Movie clips, music, toys, posters…every piece has to be cleared.” In the case of the big tribute episodes, Goldberg has to write letters to the movie’s lead actors and also explain the story to the studio behind the film. That’s why, before they could begin shooting the Dirty Dancing episode, Jennifer Grey had to sign off on the concept.
“It’s both time-consuming and stressful, but it’s also why I love this job,” Goldberg says. “I am getting in touch with these people.” Most say yes—except for Michael Jackson’s estate, which still won’t approve Goldberg’s already written homage to the singer’s blockbuster Thriller album. That script, which Goldberg calls “the best we’ve ever written,” remains locked on his computer—in the hopes that one day they will finally be permitted to use it.
For now, though, back on set, Orrantia laughs that she couldn’t audition for a role in ABC’s upcoming TV remake of Dirty Dancing—because, ironically, she was too busy filming this episode. But no worries. She really is having the time of her life, adding, “How do you top this?”
The Goldbergs, Wednesday, March 2, 8/7c, ABC (Regular timeslot: Wednesdays, 8:30/7:30c, ABC)