thirtysomething: Whose Forest Is This

[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.]

It is a good thing that we are almost finished with the season, because we’re running out of characters to share a crisis with. Boy, this show sure does love watching someone go through a personal crisis. Usually, of course, it is Hope or Michael who are taking turns having a crisis. But sometimes it is Elliott and Nancy! Or Ellyn! And even Michael’s dad had a crisis. And then Michael’s brother had a crisis. And don’t forget about when Melissa had a crisis! And when Shepard had a crisis! So this week’s episode was kind of amazing when it opened on Elliott and Nancy’s son, Ethan. EVEN THE CHILDREN ARE HAVING NERVOUS BREAKDOWNS!

So Ethan is having a dream that involves walking through the forest.

Good dream! But suddenly he turns a corner and now he is in a nightmare (about walking through the forest).

Then a monster attacks him and he wakes up screaming. Nancy comes running in, but Ethan doesn’t want anything to do with her. He wants his daddy, for some reason. Someone should just tell him that his daddy is kind of annoying. Anyway, the monster, it turns out, is a metaphor for divorce. Oh boy, here we go.

Meanwhile, Elliott has officially moved into the most hilariously awful Bachelor Pad.

He wears his shoes in bed because he’s not married (or an adult?) ANYMORE! What a clown. This week, Elliott is trying to decide whether or not it is too soon for him to go out on a date. That is literally the caliber of question you would find on one of those on-line pop-up ads about mortgage refinancing that is like “Who’s Paris Hilton Is This? Click Here for a $50 Chili’s Gift Certificate!” Yes, Elliott, considering that you left your wife (to whom you remain married) and two children three weeks ago and are staying in an SRO on Skid Row, and have not even developed the type of independence that allows you to recognize that you can be free as the wind and still TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF BEFORE YOU GET INTO BED, it is too soon.

Back at the house, Nancy is having a lot of trouble with Ethan, who divides his time equally between painting monsters, playing on the computer, and ignoring Nancy. To be honest, this part of the show was actually pretty realistic, and kind of difficult to watch, because no one wants to see a sad child struggling with divorce. That is like watching a cute little puppy struggling with divorce. Although, for every emotional reality of the show, they made sure to present us with something that was equally unrealistic. For example, Ethan’s paintings:

Oh yes, a child definitely did that. Right after he graduated from art school and became an entry level assistant set designer in a Hollywood Props Department. Anyway, Ethan is lashing out because his mom doesn’t know some story about a prince that Elliott used to tell him before he went to sleep and Nancy doesn’t know the story, so Ethan calls her stupid, which is hilarious. First of all, if my child ever called me stupid, he would find out. He would find out. I would never hit my child, but there are things you can do. He would out, is my point. In my house, you show respect. Second of all, Nancy should not take it so hard. As we will find out soon enough, the story about the prince is who is stupid. Not someone who doesn’t know the story. The word for those people is “lucky.”

Meanwhile, Elliott just doesn’t understand what everyone’s problem is.

Oh Elliott. It’s so weird how you try and abandon your family in order to start eating pizza in your shoes on the bed and “getting it wet” and then your family is like “we wish you would show us that you cared about us.” It’s like, what? How is Elliott the bad guy here? Oh right, Elliott is the bad guy here. At one point, Ethan asks Nancy if Elliott left because he hates Ethan, so Nancy calls Elliott and is like “I think you need to come over tonight, because Ethan thinks you hate him,” and Elliott is like “BUT I HAVE A DATE TONIGHT!” Mr. Cool Dad. At first he promises that he will take Ethan to school in the morning (oh how fun) and take him to a movie later. But eventually he decides on the smartest middle ground solution. He goes over to the house to remind Ethan that he loves him, but only for five minutes, BECAUSE HIS DATE IS WAITING IN THE CAR.

I’m surprised that Elliott didn’t have to cancel his date in order to go pick up an award from MENSA. Also, check out the hot piece of action! Who WOULDN’T leave their wife and children for some of that?

Meanwhile, Nancy has finally learned the story of the prince, and this allows her to reconnect with Ethan. And also to solve all of his concerns about the divorce. And banish the monsters that are tormenting him. Huh. I guess the story about the prince is pretty good after all. It helps that the monster has a New Jersey accent (seriously) and loves hamburger barbecues.

Elliott sneaks in the house one night and eavesdrops on Nancy putting Ethan to bed. Again, if I was ever separated/divorced and the other person quietly snuck into the house and hid outside my child’s bedroom like some kind of nightmare creep, they would know. They would know, adult-style. But Nancy finds him there, and instead of screaming and calling the police and/or a heart-attack ambulance, she tells him that he is a good father. Wait, he is? How is he a good father if he is not even good at eating his own lunch?

As someone who has a lot of close friends that he cares about intensely, this show’s insistence that good friends are entirely comfortable putting their heads in each other’s crotches if a story is funny enough, and wiping the drips off their shirts at the office like they are all little babies who made a boo-boo, is just NO. Anyone who tries to clean sauce off of my clothing will be DEFRIENDSTERED. I am an adult! I clean my own messes.

NEXT WEEK: the pet dog has an EMOTIONAL CRISIS.