thirtysomething: Tenure

[Ed. note: In the New York Times a couple weeksmonths ago, there was an article about the much-anticipated DVD release of thirtysomething, a “groundbreaking” (not my word) television drama from the late ’80s. By most measures, the show was not a huge success (according to that article, its highest ratings were during the first 15 minutes of a premiere), but it was a critical darling, and “thirtysomething” is now a word in the dictionary. But most importantly: when it came out, as far as I was concerned, it was a stupid-boring show for old people. Except that now I am one of those old people. And so, out of some misguided sense of curiosity, over the next few weeks, I will be recapping the first season of thirtysomething here. 20092010, you guys. Anything can happen. There is no spoon.]

This show is all about GROWING UP, and this week we finally hit upon two of the most fundamental issues that all burgeoning adults face as they say goodbye to their youth and fully embrace their grown up lives: buying an apartment and getting tenure. But first, a picnic!

I like the lady in the background who is puling a Radio Flyer cart with nothing in it. You know how parks are. Anyway, Ellyn is talking about how she thinks it is time for her to bite the bullet and buy her apartment. Hope is like “really? But your apartment sucks.” Good friend! Wonderful friendship! Ellyn is like, “I know my apartment sucks, but I’m thirtysomething now,” or whatever. Meanwhile, Michael and Melissa are siting under a tree in another part of the park (because a picnic is no good unless people spread out for no reason) and Shepard is busy doing MORE SIT-UPS.

Always with the sit-ups that guy. Total sit-up head. Also, is it just me, or is “sit-ups” a really funny name? It was probably invented on Children Name the Exercises Day. That’s also how we got weighty-pushers and runnie-fasties. Anyway, Shepard is talking about how he is finally up for tenure. This picnic is doing a really good job of establishing all of this week’s storylines! The picnics I usually go to we just talk about hot dogs. And NO sit-ups whatsoever.

So, Gary really wants tenure, but he is unwilling to play “the game.” He has principles! Sure. For the most part, his principles seem to be mostly “give nerds a hard time” and “do so many sit-ups.” See, there is this one nerd who really wants/needs an A in Gary’s Stories About Medieval Knights 101 course in order to get into medical school, but Gary is like “do you even know what an epic hero is?”

Good one, Gary. MAKE THEM THINK. Gary doesn’t understand why he should play office politics when all he wants to do is teach young minds about stories about knights! What else do you want from him? He drinks tea in the faculty lounge, shouldn’t that be enough?

Michael comes to visit him on the campus because he wants to pick up some books at the library (?) for his baby daughter (?) because that is just the easiest way to get these two characters together for sure. Some might say it is TOO natural of a scenario. Anyway, Michael says to Gary that there sure weren’t girls like THIS when they went to school, and even the most casual inspection of the girls shows what he is talking about.


But then this guy delivers the bad news:

Gary didn’t get tenure. And the worst part is having to hear it from that guy. Professor Bad News. Gary is like: summer bummer, terrible looking sandwich time:

“Two slices of bread and that’s it, please.” Good thing he tucked a napkin into his shirt, he wouldn’t want to get any bread stains on his clothes. So he is super angry and depressed that he didn’t get the thing that he was acting so aloof and grumpy about in the first place. This show is definitely about adults. He refuses to play ball because, again, he has principles. I’m as unsure what those principles actually are as I am unsure what this shit was all about:

Meanwhile, Ellyn is getting serious about buying her apartment, probably because it gets such good light.

She goes to the bank to get a loan and it’s very comical. Just one of the funniest scenes of someone trying to get a bank loan to buy her apartment ever. “I’ll borrow what she’s borrowing!” Just a classic. (I’d like to make a sarcasm deposit!)

Hopefully the bank will be nicer to her than her friends? Because everyone is seriously super-comfortable giving Ellyn so much shit about how much her apartment sucks? It’s nutso what good friends everyone is being. Hope gives the most withering looks every time, and Ellyn has Gary over to inspect the apartment (?) because when he’s not teaching Sir Arthur Tales 201 he is also a housing inspector? He has the outfit and everything?

But she’s like “what do you think, honestly?” and he’s like “uh, your apartment is super boring.” What? What does that even mean? Where does Gary live? Excitement Estates? Dude wears a painter’s cap for real, his hobby is sit-ups, and he can’t get tenure because he’s too busy teasing nerds.

Michael gives Gary a “serious talk” about how he thinks he’s sabotaging his tenure just so that he never has to commit to anything (ugh) and that it is just time to grow up. Sure, although I think that it’s kind of easy for someone with a house and a wife and a daughter and his own business to tell his friend who is single and living in an apartment and not fully satisfied with certain aspects of his career where it is that he is fucking up. Same goes for Hope and her disdain for Ellyn’s attempts to carve out any kind of responsible and forward-moving adult life for herself on her own terms. Both of them deserve each other, I hope their renovations take YEARS TO COMPLETE.

So Ellyn buys her apartment anyway because Fuck Hope, and Gary decides that he IS a big boy and he IS ready to do what it takes to get tenure. Is that how tenure works? I mean, I feel like when you don’t get tenure, then you don’t get tenure, because there are only so many tenure slots open every seven years or whatever. You can’t just be like, “Oh, turns out I do want it.” But this show gets so many other things absolutely right that I suppose we can allow them this slight fabrication. In every other way it’s basically a mirror being held up to all of our lives.