The episode, titled “The Goldbergs’ Excellent Adventure,” opens with a grown-up Adam Goldberg (narrator Patton Oswalt) reflecting on the death of his grandfather, Segal’s Albert “Pops” Solomon. “Back in the ’80s, my grandpa Pops was the greatest guy ever. He was my partner in crime—sometimes literally—and was always up for an adventure,” he says. “Everyone loved Pops, which is why we had such a hard time when he passed away. But months later, we were finally moving on. Sort of…”
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In truth, we learn, not all is right with the Goldbergs. Pops’ passing has left his daughter Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) calling herself an orphan and refusing to go out with her friends. Her son Adam (Sean Giambrone) meets grief with denial, occupying his time with his latest film project, Pops & Adam’s Excellent Adventure—a Bill & Ted’s homage that he plans to somehow finish, despite the fact that his co-star is gone.
Adam’s brother Barry (Troy Gentile) reacts with anger, obsessing over the fact that Pops left his “cherished” watch to Adam, as his sister Erica (Hayley Orrantia) gets by through avoidance, dodging her fiancé Geoff’s (Sam Lerner) attempts to discuss plans for their wedding.
Patriarch Murray (Jeff Garlin) seems to be unaware of his family members’ struggles, until his friend Bill (David Koechner) brings them to his attention, helping him to concoct a “secret plan,” which he believes will help the others to process their loss.
The plan is this: Bill will pen a fake legal letter, for Murray to get in front of his family, informing them of Pops’ final wish—to have his ashes spread in his favorite place. Of course, when Murray’s relatives learn of the letter, they each have a different take on which place it is referencing, which leads them on a quest for the answer.
Their first stop is the racetrack, though they quickly decide it’s not the right spot, moving on to a jazz club and a diner. While out and about, they encounter a number of people from Pops’ past—including a gambler named Oscar (Saverio Guerra), a jazz club owner named Shorty (Scott Lawrence) and a waitress named Maggie (Vicki Lewis), who claims to have been his lover—and while each shares fond memories of him, they prove no use, as far as the quest at hand.
The episode’s emotional climax takes place at the diner, with Murray admitting, after being grilled by his wife, that the letter that has sent them on this goose chase was a forgery. At this juncture, Murray admits that even if his family members are not dealing well with Pops’ passing, he’s doing worse, because he hasn’t even been able to begin facing the situation. “The guy who gave me my business, my family, my happiness, he’s gone forever,” he says, “and I don’t know the first thing to do.”
Even if the idea of a final wish on the part of Pops was invented, it ends up bringing the family closer together, when Adam admits that he’s known all along about Pops’ most-cherished destination. It was, of course, the tree where he proposed to his wife, and he’s avoided saying so only because he preferred the idea of one last adventure over the task of confronting his feelings.
Following a pilgrimage to the tree to spread Pops’ ashes, Erica decides that she wants to get married on that very spot, and Adam delivers a speech. “As you know, Pops and I were making a movie that we’re just not going to get to finish, but there is something in Bill & Ted’s that sums up how Pops lived his life and how he’d want us to live ours,” he says. “It’s a little goofy, but here goes: ‘Be excellent to each other, and party on.’”
We then return to the perspective of an older Adam, who says, “There’s nothing harder than losing the people we love. But after that day, we began to heal. We felt ready to start living our lives again, to think about the future, while still celebrating the past.”
Following a cut to black and the message, “Dedicated to Our Pops, George Segal,” we see the Goldbergs honoring Pops’ memory by donning his signature track suits, and sampling his favorite dish, kippered herring.
“Well,” says young Adam, “he was right about the track suits.”
Segal appeared in more than 160 episodes of Adam F. Goldberg’s ’80s-set sitcom, based on his own life, over the course of its first eight seasons.
When the Oscar nominee died, The Goldbergs creatives were days away from wrapping production on Season 8, meaning that the show’s tribute to the actor would unfortunately have to wait until later in the year.
Actress and EP McLendon-Covey teased the Season 9 opener on a TCA panel back in August, confirming that the show would open with a movie tribute, as in years past. “It’s not only a traditional tribute, but hysterically funny, and you will cry your eyes out,” she said. “Sean Giambrone and I could barely get through filming, and we’ll be mentioning George a lot during this season.”