Plagiarism in Pop Culture: The Goldbergs (Part Two) Image

Two years ago, almost to the day, we took a look at episode 2 of season 5 of The Goldbergs, an episode entitled Hogan is My Grandfather. In the episode, Adam, seeking to get out of doing a paper, decides to do a documentary on his grandfather’s service in World War 2. Unfortunately, his grandfather doesn’t think his stories are interesting enough (or that it’s a school project) and instead plagiarizes Hogan’s Heroes, landing Adam in trouble with the school.

Two years later, we get to see what happens when Adam is forced to write a paper and can’t get out of it with promises of making a documentary. Rather than buckling down and doing his best, he once again turns to his family and, once again, they land him in trouble for plagiarism.

This time, however, it isn’t his grandfather that’s the issue, instead, it’s his mom. But there’s a new wrinkle in this story. Where, previously, Adam was more or less wholly innocent, this time around he instigated the plagiarism.

So, how does Adam get himself into this jam and how does he get out? The answer is through the usual mix of sitcom hi-jinx and misunderstandings. However, what it has to say about plagiarism, especially academic plagiarism, is perhaps far more interesting.

Content Warning: Spoilers for Season 7, Episode 3 of The Goldbergs (Food in a Geoffy)

The Plot

Plagiarism in Pop Culture: The Goldbergs (Part Two) Image
Beverly going in for noms

As the title of the episode might suggest, Adam’s story is the “B” plot for the episode. The main focus on the episode is Geoff, the boyfriend to Adam’s sister Erica. He opens up a food delivery business, akin to a 1980s version of Uber Eats, and it overtakes his life.

The main plot also leads to a cameo from much of the cast of Cheers, which is why this episode is best known.

The plagiarism plot begins with Adam struggling to establish boundaries with his mother, Beverly. Despite him no longer being a young child, she still treats him like one including her affectionate “noms” that become a breaking point.

Plagiarism in Pop Culture: The Goldbergs (Part Two) Image
The history teacher stands firm

However, Beverly doesn’t back off and instead redirects her energy into being equally overbearing about helping Adam get into college. Adam pushes back but without success and his mom referring to her as his “study buddy”.

In history class, Adam is assigned a paper on Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Adam declines and attempts to make a video. He’s rebuffed and, when he tries to change the subject of the paper, he only gets an even angrier response.

With his back against the wall, Adam decides to exploit the situation with his mom, approaching her as his “study buddy” and persuading her to write the paper for him, which she does with great enthusiasm.

Plagiarism in Pop Culture: The Goldbergs (Part Two) Image
Beverly writes the paper

However, when he gets the paper back, it received a “C” with the teacher pointing out various factual errors in the paper. When Adam shows the paper to his mom, she becomes enraged and goes down to talk to the teacher.

Unfortunately for Adam, during that meeting she lets it slip that she wrote the paper and the teacher moves to change the grade from a “C” to an “F” for cheating. This prompts her to take the case to the principal where things go from bad to even worse as now Adam faces a potential two-week suspension.

The principal offers an alternate punishment, the “shaming bench”, but Beverly refuses, saying that they’d rather take the suspension so she can teach Adam at home. However, the home education falls apart when Adam admits that he was only pretending to want her help and that they were never “stud buds” as Beverly is now calling it.

Plagiarism in Pop Culture: The Goldbergs (Part Two) Image
The dreaded “C”

This breaks Beverly’s heart and, in the next scene, Adam is back at school on the shunning bench, facing the mockery of his classmates and, in the end, his mom. However, the two end up having a heart-to-heart talk about their feelings and patching things up with a new understanding.

In the end, the episode concludes with Adam and his mom moving forward with a better boundaries and everything roughly where it started, setting the stage for the next episode.

Understanding the Plagiarism

Plagiarism in Pop Culture: The Goldbergs (Part Two) Image
At the principal’s office…

The theme of parents struggling to find boundaries when helping children with homework is a classic one in pop culture. We saw it in Leave it to Beaver back in the 50s and in King of the Hill in the early 2000s. It’s a struggle that a lot of parents can relate to, watching a child struggle on an assignment and knowing that you could help them cheat.

However, in none of the stories did the parent really struggle with the decision. In Leave it to Beaver Ward did the assignment for him nearly by accident and both Peggy Hill and Beverly were so caught up in their own issues (Peggy’s flagging writing career and Beverly’s fear of losing Adam) that they were easily swayed into the plagiarism.

Plagiarism in Pop Culture: The Goldbergs (Part Two) Image
The shunning bench

Adam, much like Bobby Hill, knew exactly what he was doing. He even said as much before he did it, telling his grandfather that yes, he was manipulating her into writing a paper for him. But, other than admitting out loud she helped him cheat, there’s no real indication that Beverly wrestled with the decision before or after. Peggy Hill, at the very least, felt a sense of regret and had her own career threatened over it.

The way the story handles Adam is appropriate, at least within the confines of a sitcom. His punishment was always going to have to be more humorous than serious and the shaming bench, even if it makes little sense, is fitting and treats plagiarism with weight while not spoiling the mood. This is true even if it also reminds me a bit of Francine’s dream in the Arthur episode, which had a much more educational approach.

Still, the show has shown that it can handle serious subjects, like plagiarism, with care and still make its jokes. While they may not have done quite as well this time, largely because of how easily they let Beverly off the hook, it was still an overall success. Adam, the mastermind and manipulator, is punished and both him and his mom have to come to terms with the relationship issues that enabled plagiarism in the first place.

The other interesting aspect of the show is how the plagiarism was discovered. Adam’s misdeeds would have flown under the radar if his mom hadn’t been so angry about the grade. This is actually not uncommon, however, it’s usually the student that’s protesting.

It’s interesting how students who cheat often feel as if they are entitled or have earned a good grade, even if their misdeeds only produced a mediocre work. This part of the episode is perhaps more accurate than the writers realized.

All in all, it’s a good episode and one of the better examples of plagiarism being used well in a pop culture environment.

Bottom Line

The first episode of The Goldbergs to deal with the topic did an incredible job for a sitcom. It treated the topic seriously but did so in a way that made no one out to be a villain and, thus, the lack of real consequences wasn’t a major problem.

This episode is different. Both Adam and his mom knew what they were doing is wrong. This is particularly true for Adam, who was deliberately manipulating his mom into cheating for him. However, while Adam faces sitcom-appropriate consequences, his mom does not and is simply forced to wrestle with issues she needed to deal with regardless.

One of the benefits of exploring parents over-helping their children is the chance to look at the culpability of the parent. That doesn’t really happen here. But, as disappointing as that is, it’s hard to call this a bad example of plagiarism in pop culture. Other shows, such as Boy Meets World, handled it much, much worse.

In the end, the show is a missed opportunity on the topic but not a bad portrayal. The show, overall, does well mixing heavy topics and with laughs and it does so here as well.

It’s definitely an episode worth checking out for those interested in the subject.

Further Reading

Want more plagiarism in pop culture? Check out the other installments in this series below:

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