thirtysomething: Business As Usual

[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. 2009, you guys. Anything can happen. There is no spoon.]

When we open this week, Michael is making oatmeal really badly.

How do you ruin oatmeal? It is such an easy thing to make. Children can make oatmeal. And what is that bottle of ketchup doing there? He just puts a bunch of oats in a pot of oil and ketchup and then lets it boil for hours. Yum. Is this some kind of metaphor? About Iran Contra? The ’80s were different. Anyway, he is telling Hope about how he used a connection at work to score some awesome THEATER TICKETS (remember theater? It was the Pet Rock of entertainment formats) because his dad is in town, and he wants to impress his dad. “My son, the theater audience member!” That is what Oedipus is all about: taking your dad to the theater and yelling at your stepmother.

There Is Something Wrong With Michael’s Dad’s Head.

Oh man, toupee jokes. The ’80s were really the Golden Era of toupee jokes. Nowadays, of course, we are living through the Enlightenment of toupee jokes. Man is the center of the toupeeniverse.

Anyway, pretty quickly, Michael learns that his father is very sick with the cancer. He takes his dad to lunch, and his dad is like “fried chicken sounds good, but I have cancer, so I’ll have a chef’s salad” or something like that. He explains that he’s undergoing chemo, and Michael asks “chemotherapy?” No, Michael, Chemo-POTATO.The toupee is to hide his bald head from the chemotherapy. Except that he mostly just looks like a normal balding man of his age?

Yikes! Cover that up! By this logic, the cancer doctor is also very very sick.

Michael’s dad gets so sick that he can’t even make the trip back to Chicago, and he has to stay in a hospital in Philadelphia. And thus begins Michalel’s struggles with an adolescent’s questions about the meaning of life. I mean, look, losing a loved one is incredibly personal and unquestionably very very very hard, but Michael is like “what’s the point of even having attachments to people if you are just going to die one day?” What? Come on, Michael. You are thirtysomething years old. Put the bong down, Chief. At one point he refuses to hug his daughter because one day he is going to die? We’re going to need a bigger World’s Best Dad desk toy from Sharper Image!

It is a touching episode, I guess. End of life scenarios are common and relatable and DRAMATIC. It’s just that Michael is such a clown sometimes.

Besides, the whole reason that we love people is so that we can talk way too closely right into their faces. Closer. Closer. Perfect.

So Michael is basically an asshole to everyone because he is sad. Especially to his stepmom, Linda. Because if there is one Important Life Lesson that these characters refuse to learn, it is that other people have emotional lives of their own, and not everything is about What Happens To Hope Or Michael Or Elliot At Any Given Time. People were so selfish and self-absorbed and stupid back then. I’m glad that we finally won the Great 1998 War on Selfishness.

Sometimes this show is almost too realistic. Like how moms are always playing with their babies in dark bathrooms?

Forget it, Gabe, it’s Hopetown.

The subplot this week is about how Michael and Elliott spent $6,000 making mock-ups of a new logo for organic milk, or some shit, on spec, in the hopes of landing a big client, but then it turns out their logo is like another company’s new logo, so should they sink more money into this risky plan or should the do the safe thing? Because if there is one thing that a somewhat depressing show about people getting sick and dying needs it is a boring ass story about a fucking office.

In the end, Michael invites his father to come live with them. I’m sure this momentary display of generosity and selflessness will be overshadowed in a few moments by a borderline nervous breakdown when Michael realizes that someone rearranged his stonewashed khakis or whatever, but for one brief moment, Michael stops being such a you know what.

Next week: Competing fad diets! Probably!