thirtysomething: Competition

[Ed. note: In the New York Times a couple weeks 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.]

This week’s episode opens with a game of Lazer Tag!

Aww! Lazer Tag! Remember, you guys?

Pew pew! Pew pew pew pew! One time, a surprisingly few years ago, I went to one of those lazer tag centers where you play on a lazer obstacle courze, or whatever, and there were these kids who clearly just hung out there all day and leeched onto paying customers’ games. They played during our session and just demolished everyone, using, like, fucking, mirrors hanging from the ceiling and stuff. They literally took back the towers. Did you know that there are semi-pro lazer tag players out there? In a post 9/11 world? Mysteries are all around us.

Anyway, all during this episode, Michael and Elliott are constantly playing games. You know how it is at an advertising office. This is just like on Mad Men when Don Draper would constantly pull out the stick and hoop and be like “hark, Lady Peggy, it’s time to loosen the weary chains of existence for a brief spell!” Total gameheads these two. Got 2 keep it loose!

But you see, the games that these gamers are always gaming is actually a metaphor for COMPETITION, which is also the title of this week’s episode (clever girl!). Well, I guess they are not so much a metaphor for competition as they are an example of competition. Anyway, Michael and Elliott want to land a big account with someone’s stepdad.

Look at that guy! Total stepdad. “I know I’m not your father, but you still have to listen to what I say when you’re living in my house.” Anyway, Dr. Stepdad runs a bigger and better advertising agency? Or he owns a soft drink? I don’t really understand what is happening, but he’s about to not give them the account when Elliott manages to convince him to take a chance on the Game Boyz without even getting any flop sweat on him. But now Michael is upset, because he wanted to be the stepson and now Elliott is the stepson, and Michael is kind of a dick. Like, I understand the competitiveness thing and how they both need each other but they’re both scared that the other one is going to pull ahead and leave the other behind, but some of the things that Michael says out loud! I guess it was a different time in the ’80s. You could shoot a man just because he deserved it, or whatever. And it is true that Elliott and the stepdad become very very close. Some might say like family. The stepdad laughs at all of Elliott’s jokes, and he barfs whenever Michael opens his mouth. And now he and Elliott are having secret dinners and sending each other exotic Swedish tennis shoes (Swedish tennis shoes! This show has its finger on THA PULZE!) and Michael gets so mad that he yells at Elliott and the stepdad hears and gives him a total stepdad look.

Uh oh! Stepdad is steppissed!

So Michael is literally having a meltdown because apparently he is a little tiny baby boy who’s nervous that his diaper is going to beat him at laundry basketball. Elliott, meanwhile, is the same doofus as always, just trying to hold everything together. He challenges Michael to a round of office-doorway-nerf-hoops and Michael starts clearly getting way to proud of his ability to “slamdunk” a child’s toy through a four foot-tall hoop. And he ends up getting so aggressive that he PUTS ELLIOTT IN THE HOSPITAL!

Is this show just a mirror? On life? At the hospital, the boys express all of their hopes and fears, the way one does at the appropriate point in the narrative arc. It turns out that the stepdad DID offer Elliott a job at his firm (YOU HAVE BEEN DUCK PHILLIPS’D!) but Elliott turned him down. And Michael almost cries. Grow up please, Michael!

Meanwhile, Hope and Nancy spend the whole episode trying to set up a computer, which is obviously great. Total Hackers. At one point, Nancy is literally overwhelmed by the word “database.”