My earliest memory of "Thirtysomething" was when I was in my single digits and my parents were watching a drama about all the complications of adulthood. Now, watching "Thirtysomething" with fresh, older eyes I certainly see what it was that drew my parents in week after week. "Thirtysomething" could easily be classified as just another drama about young couples facing their daily lives, but what sets this series (which, remarkably, only ran for four seasons - given the legacy of the series, it feels as if it ran longer) apart from dramas that try and fail is the double edged reality of its story line. On one hand, it is the observation of heavy, complicated, exhausting moments, while on the other hand it's a first hand look at wonderful, life-defining moments that carry you forward and that impart a sense of self. "Thirtysomething" still stands as one of the great dramas to truly capture the essence of young couples (and a few singles) just trying to get by as happily as possible.
The series follows the lives of several adults in their thirties embarking on changes good and bad in the Philadelphia suburbs. There's Michael Steadman (Ken Olin) and his wife, Hope (Mel Harris), who recently had a baby and are learning to adapt to the new life in their home - as well as the way it effects their relationship. Michael's colleague, Elliot (Timothy Busfield) and his wife Nancy (Patricia Wettig) add another layer to the series as a married couple who reveal they have marital problems (including Elliot having an affair) and try to work on their issues. Adding some lightness to the series are Michael's best friend, Gary Sheperd (Peter Horton), Melissa Steadman (Melanie Mayron) and Hope's best friend Ellyn (Polly Draper) who must come to understand the changes Hope is going through. What's so great about "Thirtysomething" is the fact that the characters are multi-dimensional, focusing on their love lives, their internal struggles, their having to make compromises in work and in life, and more.
In any other hands, "Thirtysomething" could have been overly sentimental or indulgent, but creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (who went on to produce "My So-Called Life" and create "Once and Again") manage to put together a strong, well written, smart, touching, humorous series that doesn't romanticize growing up and taking on responsibilities, but rather wholeheartedly embraces it. While the cast at the time was roughly unknowns, they came together as a believable group of thirty-somethings who created a great deal of on-screen chemistry as friends and as couples. Without their ability to deliver the lines honestly and embrace the roles, the series would have suffered and the characters would have come off far less likeable and believable. Ken Olin (who most recently went on to produce, direct and act in "Brothers & Sisters") stands out as Michael, and his real-life wife Patricia Wedding (also on "Brothers & Sisters") makes Nancy an enjoyable character to watch. Though, it's Horton as laid back Gary Sheperd and Draper as Ellyn, who really steal the show and make "Thirtysomething" the well-rounded series it was and continues to be.
The second season of "Thirtysomething" begins with Hope and Michael discussing whether or not to have a another baby - and they're not the only people who face the idea of having a baby. Meanwhile, Nancy and Elliot continue with their divorce, and Nancy starts dating someone new. The good moments of their relationship prior to their divorce are revealed in glimpses in the episode, "In Re: The Marriage of Weston", which is especially moving. Relationships aren't the only focus in season two, as Michael and Elliot's company starts to encounter financial difficulty and they are forced to find new work. With the problems centered around their work, the relationship between Elliot and Michael is put to the test in season two. Additionally, by the second half of the season, a new character is introduced named Miles Drentell (David Clennon), who runs a successful advertising company - only he isn't anything like Michael and Elliot and his presence in their life causes a lot of upset.
Meanwhile, Gary starts to get serious with new character, Susannah (Patricia Kalember), although she doesn't sit well with any of his friends. Ellyn becomes overwhelmed by her work life, as well as her relationship, which leads to an ulcer. Melissa starts to find new success while learning more about herself and her wants. There are several great episodes here that, once again, define a generation while remaining relevant today. The episode, "The Mike Van Dyke Show" is a wonderful example of the shows ability to leave a lasting impression as Michael envisions life as a black and white sitcom. Another memorable and well-written episode is "First Day/Last Day", which plays out the beginning of the work relationship between Elliot and Michael at the same time their current business is closing. And in "Deliverance" Hope, Ellyn, Nancy and Melissa go on a camping trip where they learn new things about each other and themselves, including some things they aren't too happy to discover. With several memorable and extremely well-written episodes in Season two, it's no wonder that the show still resonates.
Television isn't the same today and the great series of the late eighties and nineties are a thing of the past. Hopefully one day series will return with as much emphasis on character and good storytelling that defined a generation of television viewers, until then you can't help but be grateful that series like "Thirtysomething" are finally available on DVD to watch and watch again.
• Season 2
22 2-01 06/Dec/88 We'll Meet Again
23 2-02 13/Dec/88 In Re: the Marriage of Weston
24 2-03 20/Dec/88 The Mike Van Dyke Show
25 2-04 03/Jan/89 Trust Me
26 2-05 10/Jan/89 No Promises
27 2-06 17/Jan/89 Politics
28 2-07 31/Jan/89 Success
29 2-08 07/Feb/89 First Day / Last Day
30 2-09 14/Feb/89 About Last Night
31 2-10 28/Feb/89 Elliot's Dad
32 2-11 07/Mar/89 Payment Due
33 2-12 21/Mar/89 Deliverance
34 2-13 04/Apr/89 Michael Writes a Story
35 2-14 11/Apr/89 New Job
36 2-15 25/Apr/89 Be a Good Girl
37 2-16 02/May/89 Courting Nancy
38 2-17 16/May/89 Best of Enemies
VIDEO: "Thirtysomething" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame by Shout Factory and the results are quite good. Sharpness and detail are not exceptional, but for a series from this era, the show does look somewhat crisper and clearer than expected. Some slight wear is occasionally seen on the elements and a bit of shimmering is seen, but the majority of the show looked clean. Color appeared natural and accurate, with no smearing. Overall, this is a very fine presentation of the series that should please fans.
SOUND: The show's stereo audio offers clear dialogue.
Commentary for "We'll Meet Again" with Director Scott Winant and Writer Richard Kramer. They discuss how the episode was intended for the season one finale, but ended up being the first episode in season two. Winant and Kramer bring to light the process of making the episode and several obstacles they faced, including paring down the content to make a cohesive script. There are moments of silence here, but there are several pieces of information that are interesting and worth a listen for fans.
Commentary for "The Mike Van Dyke Show" with Marshall Herskovitz and Scott Winant. It's great that commentary was include for this episode, as it was one of the more entertaining episodes considering it was a new approach to telling the "Thirtysomething" story. The commentary here is fantastic with a lot of detail as to why and how the episode was developed. I think one of the best things mentioned here is how they wanted the show to evoke realty, and how there's a messiness to the characters (from they way they interact to the way the sit) that makes them more real. This fact is something that makes the show so memorable. Commentary is worth a listen as it offers some interesting insight and thoughts about the show and process.
Commentary for "First Day/Last Day" with Director Peter Horton and Writer Joseph Dougherty. They talk about how the episode was gutsy for them to make, including trying out new directing styles and their experience working on the series. They talk about the struggle the script originally caused due to the several flashbacks, and the changes that were made to make it work and ultimately become a terrific episode. Despite some moments of silence, the commentary is worth a listen as they make some great points about the pacing of the series and how it was willing, unlike so many series now, to spend time with events as they unfolded.
Commentary for "Michael Writes a Story" with Writer Joseph Dougherty. Dougherty starts off by saying the episode breaks rules by writing about writers and their process. Thankfully, the risk paid off. Dougherty offers a lighter approach to the commentaries with a sense of humor, while also delving into the idea behind the episode. What makes this commentary refreshing is the fact that he's willing to point out what scenes don't work and why. Worth a listen.
Commentary for "Be a Good Girl" with Director Richard Kramer and Melanie Mayron. The discussion touches on several things from directing (including cast members who wanted to direct), writing, character and more. The commentary takes some time to get going, but it eventually picks up. They start to think aloud more and start talking about the realty of working on the show and what that meant to each of them.
Commentary for "Best of Enemies" with Writer Joseph Dougherty. Again, Dougherty offers an interesting and often humorous commentary full of information including how season two was originally longer, but was held off due to the 1988 writer's strike. Since this episode was Dougherty's first episode he directed, he talks about how he approached it differently with less shots than usual, good luck charms, and learning more about the directing process. Once again, he's willing to critique certain scenes which is interesting, especially to hear how he would change them.
"Mad Ad Man: Miles Drentell" a sixteen minute look at the character Miles Drentell, including interviews with David Clennon. Clennon, Ed Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, and Joseph Dougherty. A decent look at a character that was unlike the other "Thirtysomething" characters, but became a part of the series. Interviews touch on how they began to write for Clennon's rhythms, how Miles brought new, outside problems for the characters, and the decision to keep and develop the character for more than few episodes. The interviews are interesting, especially Clennon who is the majority of the feature. He talks about what it was like playing Miles and how his character was eventually brought back for the series, "Once and Again".
"The Metamorphosis of Miles" David Clennon shares rough footage he has of the dailies from "Thirtysomething". This is interesting because Clennon first shares the footage of how he intended to play Miles, down to certain mannerisms and actions, as well as a possible background story. He then goes on to share footage from after he changed his performance. The fact that both before and after footage are shown and information about the changes are discussed makes this feature an interesting addition to the DVD set.
"Inside the Outsider: Susannah Hart" a fourteen minute look at the addition of character, Susannah and the reasoning behind adding her to the show, as well as the process of incorporating her character into an already successful dynamic. Actress, Patricia Kalember remembers auditioning for the role, despite being nothing like Susannah and the effort to bring her to life. This is a nice feature that manages to examine the character's many layers.
"W.G. Snuffy Walden on the Music of Thirtysomething" Walden discusses the music for the series and how it was influenced from the 60's folk music and how it had a simplicity to it that told a story. He tells the story of getting the job writing music for the series. Walden plays some of the songs intended for the series and talks about writing for different scenes. This is an especially great addition to the DVD because it's a look at the music behind the series, and Walden's creative process that brought to life a sound that clearly defines "Thirtysomething".
Final Thoughts: Fans should be pleased with this excellent second season release of this wonderfully acted, superbly written drama. Highly recommended.