52 Shows, 52 Weeks: #21 thirtysomething

This is the first time I’ve allowed myself to write about a show I haven’t made up my mind about yet.  I’ve been watching thirtysomething for about three weeks now.  I’m almost done with the second season, which means I’m almost halfway through the show, and I just have no idea how I feel.  Obviously, I don’t hate it or I would’ve stopped watching it by now.  I started watching it because I had read a lot about it and my mom used to like it a lot.

The show does remind me a bit of my mom.  Hope has a lot of clothes and hairstyles my mom wore in the 80s.  She fiercely defends her decision to be a stay-at-home mom, even though no one seems to be attacking that choice.  Hope makes some jokes that my mom would think are funny, and I can even recognize some of my mom’s lines coming out of Hope’s mouth.

Hope and Michael are the centerpiece of the show.  All the other characters are positioned based on their relationships with Hope and/or Michael.  Like Dawson on Dawson’s Creek, Michael is the star and perhaps the most annoying character.  There is some pretty stiff competition for annoying, though, and Michael may only seem more annoying because we as viewers spend so much time with him.  Hour after hour of screen time is devoted to Michael’s struggle to act like a grownup.  He feels like a fraud because he has this adult job in advertising, but he wishes he were still in college playing at being a writer.  It’s definitely what we call a “first world problem.”

Last week, I was telling a friend about how I can’t stop watching thirtysomething and feeling restless, and she said, “You’ve probably appropriated the ennui that all of those characters have.”  Duh.  Except for Nancy, who seems to realize the pointlessness of giving into the discontent until it becomes an obnoxious restlessness, none of these characters can managed to be satisfied with their lives as they’ve constructed them.  Hope can’t decide if she wants to work or be a stay-at-home because, really, she wants to do both.  Elliot feels tied down by his wife and kids because he is just a big kid himself.  Gary won’t play politics, i.e. go to meetings and participate in his job, at the college where he works so he is denied tenure and instead of working to make sure it doesn’t happen the next time around, he goes looking for a new career.  Melissa is torn between being a free-spirited artist and her not-so-secret desire for a husband and children.

And then there’s Ellyn.  Ellyn is Hope’s childhood best friend, and she is my favorite.  For the first twenty or so episodes, I didn’t have a favorite character.  I found them all equally cloyingly introspective and (you guessed it) restless.  Then, toward the end of the first season, Ellyn says something that caused me to realize she is my favorite.  She is dating this guy named Steve Woodman, whom she always refers to as “Woodman,” and the subject of marriage and children comes up (as it so often does on this show).  To indicate how preposterous the notion has struck her, Ellyn says something like, “What?  I’m gonna marry Woodman and raise a bunch of Woodpeople?”

Side note: The weird way that Ellyn has of calling her boyfriend by his last name gets resolved in my favorite episode so far, the last episode of the first season, in which Woodman just says “I have a first name, you know.”  From then on, Ellyn calls him “Steve.”

Ellyn works at City Hall, but I’m not sure exactly what she does there.  She boasts that she has a master’s degree in public administration so I imagine she does something that involves administering to the public.  The rest of these people have creative/artistic jobs, but Ellyn has a job at City Hall, the sort of job I could never have.  She works too much, which is another trait I could never exhibit.  So far, she remains uninterested in any particular man’s desire to be in a relationship with her.  In these ways, yes, she is like all the other woman from all my TV shows.  Ellyn is more difficult than the others, though.  She can be spiteful and doesn’t always honor the friendships the other characters show her.  She makes selfish, short-sighted decisions.  She has an ulcer.  Perhaps she isn’t different so much as more real than the others in that she is forced to suffer the consequences of her workaholic, emotionally detached lifestyle.

I told the internet that I started watching thirtysomething to help myself figure out how to be in my thirties, which will happen starting in August.  It was intended as a joke, but I think I really was looking for something, at least a sign that everything will be OK on the other side.  It’s a good thing I know real people who have survived turning thirty because if all I had for examples were these clowns on thirtysomething, I wouldn’t make it to my birthday.  I’d die of a massive anxiety attack first.

Given all the complaints I have about thirtysomething (and I haven’t mentioned the fashion because the 80s have already been indicted for that), I am feeling sillier and sillier for continuing to watch it.  Why can’t I stop?  At this point, I do want to see it through to the end and find out if these people ever resolve their inner turmoil.  Maybe that’s enough of a reason for a summer frolic with a TV series.  And I’m starting to get used to the pervasive, rolling ennui that makes the characters appear to be involved in a collective mood swing.