The Goldbergs are back! Can we get an ‘amen’? We’re obsessed with the totally nostalgic sitcom, and obviously it’s all because of Bev Goldberg and the actress who portrays her. But Wendi McLendon-Covey (who plays Bev) admits that when she first began playing the F-bomb dropping, children-loving, total 1980’s badass “smother,” she was a little freaked out.
No wonder. On the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs, not only is McLendon-Covey playing a great character, but she’s also playing a real woman who is still very much alive and can watch the show each week. Oh, that woman also happens to be the Mom of the show’s creator, Adam F. Goldberg.
Talk about pressure.
She’s not old. She’s still got half her life to live. I’m excited to explore that.”
McLendon-Covey, 48, was more than up to the challenge. Having already shown the world her comedic chops in TV shows such as Reno 911! and the hit film Bridesmaids, among many others, she was ready to meddle in her TV children’s lives, threaten to never whip up shrimp parm again, and to argue with her TV husband Murray, who never seems to want to wear pants at home.
“It was never more difficult to play Bev than in the beginning,” says McLendon-Covey. “But now, I’m comfortable with it.”
The Mom Superhero
So is the woman she plays: the real Bev Goldberg. “You can read on her Twitter page. People ask her that question a lot [what she thinks of McLendon-Covey’s portrayal], and she is always very complimentary. She said recently, ‘Oh Wendi plays her a lot nicer than I was. She makes me look great.’ She’s the real deal. So, I’ll take it,” says McLendon-Covey.
It’s especially great to play a strong woman intent on getting her way.
It’s especially great to play a strong woman intent on getting her way—not so much out of selfishness, but for the good of her family. McLendon-Covey says, “One thing I love about playing Bev is she’s kind of like a Mom Superhero, except that her methods are unorthodox.” And by unorthodox she means showing up at the principal’s home during dinnertime with his family because she agreed to stay off school grounds.
Or dressing as a ghost and sneaking into a high school Halloween party to talk up her oldest son, Barry, so that he can have a chance with the girl he likes. Or even taking over the “Hands Across America” campaign at the kids’ school just because she wants a family photo in the local newspaper—which she gets, but not the way she planned.
The Empty Nest “Bevolution”
During last season, McLendon-Covey says that Bev had been undergoing a “Bevolution.” Her kids are growing up, and the oldest is in college. She realizes that she will soon have an empty nest. “She still keeps meddling in her kids’ lives, though. That’s never going to go away. But she’s got to have her own friends at some point and get in other wacky adventures. She’s not old. She’s still got half her life to live—so what’s that going to look like? I’m excited to explore that.”
In real life, McLendon-Covey said that she’s seen friends struggle with the empty-nest syndrome. “For some of them, it’s gotten quite ugly and expensive. Because they try to take up hobbies that they have no intention of actually going through with or they start getting plastic surgery. You’re trying to fill a hole being left by your kids when what you should do is get a job or go back to school,” says McLendon-Covey. “On the show, Bev is constantly saying, ‘I could’ve been a lawyer.’ I want to see her go out in the world and advocate for somebody or see her get into it with people with her legalese.
“I like that aspect of her character. The real Bev is kind of a badass! There are times when I’ve thought, ‘I’m having problems with my insurance company. I wonder what Bev would say about this. I feel like I want to call Bev.’ I’d like to see more of that on the show.”
The Betty White Model
Although the show takes place in the 1980s, McLendon-Covey believes that it could be set in any time period because what makes the show and her character work are the family themes—and they’re universal. “In real life and on the show, teenagers and parents just don’t get along and never have. You’re constantly apologizing to your family. You’re yelling at each other one minute; you’re crying the next, and then you’re patching it up. I don’t know a single family that isn’t like that,” she says.
Same thing with marriage. McLendon-Covey and her real-life husband Greg have been married for more than 20 years and have a strong relationship. “If you want to stay married, you have to have fun doing really mundane things because that’s what life is. I can have fun sitting in traffic with Greg. I can have fun going to the grocery store with him. I can have fun—or at least not go to pieces—at three o’clock in the morning waiting for an emergency plumber to show up,” says McLendon-Covey. “He’s got my back, and I’ve got his. If you can have fun doing the most mundane things, then of course you’re going to have a good time going on vacation. But if that’s the only time you can have fun, then you’re going to be disappointed. If you need constant excitement, don’t get married because that’s just not how real life is.”
I don’t think I’ve hit my stride yet. I’m patterning my career trajectory on Betty White.
In terms of her career, McLendon-Covey says she would love to have her “Walter White” from Breaking Bad type of role. “Which is not to say that I don’t love comedy. But I love those sinister characters that you end up loving for some reason. It’s not just that they’re horrible people, but perhaps they have noble motives in there somewhere,” she says. McLendon-Covey feels like she’s just about to hit her stride. “I don’t think I’ve hit it yet. I’m kind of trying to pattern my career trajectory on Betty White. So if I don’t really make it big until I’m in my 60s, that’s all right because I’m going to work until my early 100s if I can!”
A version of this article was originally published in February 2018.