Mother knows best — and don’t dare think otherwise around Beverly Goldberg, the laugh-out-loud funniest character on network TV.
On the surface, the matriarch of “The Goldbergs,” a sitcom based on the creator’s real-life upbringing in ’80s small-town Pennsylvania, is every kid’s worst nightmare, a pampering parent who treats her three teenage children as though they’ve just been toilet trained, assaulting them with a steady barrage of kisses, compliments and casseroles.
But she’s no softy.
Mess with one of her babies and she’ll come after you with all the wrath of Liam Neeson in “Taken.”
“The thing I love about Beverly is that everything she does is motivated by love,” said Wendi McLendon-Covey, who plays the role with unbridled furiosity. “She takes her job as a mother very seriously, the way other people take the part of a CEO of a corporation. She reacts first and thinks later.”
She points to an upcoming episode in which she goes on the warpath with her youngest son’s school after he’s forced to take remedial Spanish, not realizing that her tirade is coming across as borderline racist.
Goldberg’s defensive nature isn’t being fabricated. I know from personal experience.
I wrote a column last year about dimwitted dads on sitcoms and referred to the sitcom’s father, Murray Goldberg, as a “loudmouth lump.”
Within hours, the show’s creator, Adam F. Goldberg, sent me several messages on Twitter, sharing his mother’s wrath for the dig at her late husband.
“I’ve got a very angry mom,” he wrote. “You wouldn’t like my mom when she’s angry.”
McLendon-Covey, 45, didn’t meet the real-life Beverly until halfway through the shooting of the first season. Fair to say, they have a much friendlier relationship, although the portrayal is by no means an impersonation.
“It’s not like she gives me notes,” she said. “I use the real-life experiences of Adam and his family as a point of departure, but my TV version of Beverly Goldberg is going to be different.”
‘Reno 911!’ and ‘Bridesmaids’
McLendon-Covey’s breakthrough certainly didn’t occur overnight.
The California-bred actress started by taking classes at the Los Angeles-based improv group the Groundlings and watched as her classmates, who included Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Oscar-winning writer Jim Rash, discovered stardom.
“I knew I was just as good, but I didn’t think I could keep being surrounded by these success stories,” she said. “I was ready to throw my head shots over the bridge.”
Then in 2003, she landed a part in Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!” as deputy Clementine Johnson, a trashy officer who never met a recreational drug she didn’t like. Wiig and her writing partner, Annie Mumolo, also wrote a scene-stealing part for her in their 2011 hit, “Bridesmaids.”
Hollywood players began to take notice, including “Curb Your Enthusiasm” regular Jeff Garlin, who wrote a part for her as his wife in a sitcom he was writing for ABC. The series never got picked up, but Garlin wound up being cast two years ago as Murray in “The Goldbergs.”
“She’s so good that when I’m in scenes with her, I forget that I’m acting,” Garlin said. “I become the audience, and then when it’s time for me to say my lines, I just sit there. She blows everybody away.”
The demand for McLendon-Covey continues. She’ll soon start shooting the feature film “Army of One,” directed by former “Seinfeld” writer Larry Charles and co-starring Nicolas Cage as an ordinary citizen who goes on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
She also hosts ABC’s “Repeat After Me,” the Tuesday night series in which she prompts celebrities, via a remote ear piece, to say inane things to strangers.
But it’s Beverly Goldberg who has really put her on the map and made her one of the most relatable characters on TV — whether you want to admit it or not.
“Oh, my gosh, I get tweets and direct messages from mothers all the time saying their kids are calling them Beverly,” she said. “They say, ‘I’m a smotherer and I’m proud of it.’ When you look around, there’s a Beverly in every family.”