Melanie Mayron, Polly Draper
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
mbibing in the second season of “thirtysomething” brought me to a minor revelation: I like this show because it makes me love a group of characters who, on the surface, I feel I should dislike. The reason? These people are dirty, or rather, there’s nothing clean about their lives. After thoroughly digging on Season One, I was interested, but not exactly eager, to check out the winding road it would continue to go down. If you picked up Season One and didn’t care for it (it’s hard to believe anyone would outright hate it), then there’s nothing here that’s going to change your mind. On the other hand, you may have viewed Season One and thought, “OK, that’s enough. I’ve sifted through the time capsule once and there’s no need to go for seconds.” You’re probably right. If this was just enough for you on the first round, why bother with another helping? My TV-watching life wouldn’t have suffered any irreparable damage without seeing Season Two, and yet there’s no denying that once again the show sucked me in. “thirtysomething” is good writing and acting, and while there’s no shortage of either on TV today, you can never have enough of both.
This season contains only 17 episodes, down from Season One’s 21. Why? Would you believe there was a WGA strike in 1988? How soon we forget, even in the face of constant reminders. Regardless, this wasn’t a case of a season cut short, but rather a case of it getting a late start (it didn’t kick off until December of ’88), so the creators were able to craft the arcs they would’ve otherwise unveiled, albeit with a shorter amount of screentime.
Season Two is driven by breakdowns. Early on, Elliot (Timothy Busfield) and Nancy (Patricia Wettig) proceed with their divorce – an entire episode is dedicated to it; heartbreaking fare, and a thorough exploration of the dissolution of a marriage. There’s also the complicated breakup of Ellyn (Polly Draper) and Woodman (Terry Kinney). This is marked by Ellyn being less than forthright in their dealings with one another, so much so that she becomes difficult to sympathize with – a theme which pervades the season. It must have been a bold move back in ’88 to make a central female character so unlikable; kudos to Draper for her portrayal. But the biggest breakdown of the season occurs over the closing of Elliot and Michael’s (Ken Olin) advertising business. In many ways, this is the pivotal event of the season, as it not only splits the two friends, but also the major backbone of the show. The idea of yuppies in the ‘80s starting a business, only to see it quickly fold, is probably one of the more daring moves “thirtysomething” made during its run, especially since they eventually end up working for the man.
In this case, the “man” is Miles Dentrell (David Clennon), a slick ad exec who’s exactly the sort of person any TV viewer loves to hate. Apparently, Clennon was memorable enough in the role that creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick brought him back years later for another series, “Once and Again.” Watching Elliot and Michael “settle” is reason enough to check out this batch of episodes, because it resonates.
Far be it from me to characterize the season as heaping loads of angst, because there are some positive bright spots, particularly in the case of Melissa (Melanie Mayron), whose photography career is on the upswing. So much so that no less than Carly Simon desires her services (and, yes, Carly makes a memorable appearance). Somewhere in between it all is Gary (Peter Horton), who, having been denied tenure at his college, decides to look for a career in the social services arena. There he meets an insufferable woman (Patricia Kalember) whom he impregnates, and then intends to make a better person. Crap. I’ve just lost over half my readers, assuming I haven’t lost them prior.
Look, either you’re onboard the “thirtysomething” DVD bandwagon at this point or you’re not. Let’s hope more are than not, so Shout! issues the remaining two seasons. This isn’t the greatest show ever made, but taken in the context of when it was made, it remains landmark television. And if, like me, you were a young ‘un in the ‘80s, this show will speak to you.
Special Features: This set isn’t anywhere near as loaded with goodies as the first, and maybe that’s why I docked it a half a star – but probably not. The extras on Season One encapsulated “thirtysomething” as a concept, so there was no need to repeat bonus material for this set. Maybe the real reason I subtracted a half a star is because it isn’t as important that you see this season, as it is that you see the first. If you liked that one, this will follow. Here we get six episodic commentaries from both onscreen and behind the camera talent (though mostly the latter.) There are also three featurettes entitled “Mad Ad Men: Miles Dentrell,” “Inside the Outside: Susannah Hart,” which is a look at Patricia Kalember’s character, and “W.G. Snuffy Walden on the Music of ‘thirtysomething’.” There’s also a booklet enclosed, but it isn’t as insightful as the Season One book. In fact, mine was missing the middle four pages. Hopefully that was an anomaly.