Tuesday, November 24, 2009

thirtysomething in retrospect

I have been working my way through Season 1 of "thirtysomething," a series which divides friendships just as much now as it ever did.

For every one of my dear friends who enjoys vampires, space travel, Middle Earth, and Lost, there is a show about whiny self-sabateurs that love just as much.

Dr A said to me, in her literary criticism
professor's assessment, "I think we have found the difference in our ages."

Yes, one's attraction to thirtysomething is driven to some degree by the age they were when they originally watched it, but it is not that simple.  Plenty of people exactly my age (23 when this show came on the air) would rather shave their in-laws than impose these people on themselves.

But we are not talking about them.  We are, as always, talking about me.  ("Deal with it, Michael," says my inner Stedman)

I have tried to encapsulate what attracted me to this show, and for me it holds up Plus.  Plus the crazy hair and the fashion show, the "hippy" flashbacks which I had not remembered, and which i think are anachronistic.  If this crew is thirtysomething (Melissa, the youngest, says she is 31 in the pilot) then they were born in 1948 at the latest, and this crew is not 39.  They are 36 at best, I will say, which would make them born in 1951 and just barely Flower Children.  But I'll play along.

Thirtysomething premiered the same year Cagney and Lacey went off the air.  Out with the brown, in with the pinstripes.  I chose this cast photo because both Michael and Eliot are wearing their signature pants.  This is Ellyn's best hair, and she had some nightmare hair.  Sadly missing: Nancy's butterfly hairclip.  That did not catch on.  Combs, yes, randomly placed binder clip, no.  But Michael and Eliot will wear these pants every day like cartoon characters.

I had just moved to the big city to begin my Adult Life.  This program became my manual of how not to be, and how to deal with those who were.  In my life, I do not encounter many of the undead, or Hobbits.  I do, however, encounter Hopes and Michaels, and very many Garys (Garies?) in my day-to-day.

Understand that as much as I loved-loved this program, I hate these people as much as anyone does.  I do not want to be at dinner with them, much less in a marriage.  And yet they are us, aren't they?  Their fights are not clever, their expressions of love are awkward. Their compliments back-handed.  This is not Aaron Sorkin -- who we love, and whose characters we want to be like because they always say the right things, with footnotes and hyperlinks.   This is not Edward Albee, all shreiks and scotch, and giant Pronouncements.

This is Zwick & Herkovitz.  They wrote Family; they will eventually bring us My So-Called Life.   They know that the harder we try to say the right thing, the worse it comes out.
It makes us uncomfortable just to watch.  We grab our hair and moan, and flop back on the bed.  Just...like...Michael.

Recently an NPR reviewer gave the thirtysomething boxed set a so-so review -- admitting that the show finds it stride after a few choppy starts, but rolling its radio eyes at some of the plotlines (Michael keeps cancelling squash!  Janie doesn't want to nurse!).  Later in the series when the plots get bigger and ickier (just like life - the new Boss is an asshole!  Nancy has cancer!) our characters have not learned much that lets them handle these problems any better.


You are one of these.  You are all of these.  And you are surrounded by them.  Maybe you don't need another hour to see it in front of you, but it is cheaper than analysis (with suspenders and shoulder pads).

Hope: peaked too early, experiencing her first real hardship: ordinary life
Michael: aspired to the Madmen life of his father's generation without knowing how hard the old man had it
Eliot: married too young to his first girlfriend
Nancy: aspired to the domestic life of her mother's generation without realizing she hadn't married her father
Gary: very sad the 60s are over, even though he was a teenager during them
Melissa: very sad the 80s are over, even though she appears to deny it
Ellyn: resents living in the shadow of her best friend, but won't move on
the kids: the center of everything and completely ignored


  1. So true, so true. I remember when I turned forty mourning, "But 30's was so cool! They don't have a TV show called 'Forty-Something'!"

    I couldn't imagine going from a decade worthy of a whole television series to just "over the hill" (aka "everything after 30-something.")

    Nice post!

  2. I was always madly in love with Gary. Does that make me Ellyn?


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