thirtysomething: Therapy

[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.]

Marriage is hard, you guys. You probably didn’t know that. But even if you did know that, you could probably use a 45 minute painful reminder about it. Says thirtysomething. This week’s episode is a painfully “honest” (whatever that means, you guys know that TV is all make believe, right?) look at a marriage on the rocks. And I will admit that this episode is pretty well acted, and depicts a human relationship that you don’t see on TV very often. Except that there’s a reason you don’t see it on TV very often. Because who on Earth wants to see this?

Anyway, the episode opens at Michael and Elliott’s office, where their wives and children have joined their staff to celebrate Elliiott’s birthday. Michael and Hope naturally get inappropriate about their sex life (in front of his employees? Perfect. It’s good there was no such thing as The Law back in the ’80s) which leads Elliott and Nancy to immediately talk about how they openly hate each other and how Nancy wants to go to couples’ therapy. Uh! For as realistic as this episode’s depiction of Elliott and Nancy’s emotional turmoil seems to be, it is not very realistic when it comes to what people are willing to talk about out loud in front of a group of strangers and/or colleagues and/or friends and/or employees. Even now I think there is a certain stigma around couples’ therapy (the stigma is often referred to as “terrible failure”) and there was certainly this stigma in the Ancient 1980s. But you know how Nancy is: she is just so open and honest. And adenoidal.

I really can’t stand Nancy’s voice. She can never seem to decide between a whine and a babyish lisp. Pick one, Nancy! They are both equally terrible!

Michael and Hope promise to keep Elliott and Nancy’s search for a good couples therapist secret by immediately telling people. Haha. Well, it serves Elliott and Nancy right. They are the ones who placed the burden of fixing their stupid broken marriage on their friends in the first place. And besides: now they have a couples’ therapist!

“I hear a lot of accusations, but not very much responsibility being taken.”

So it all worked out, kind of.

Throughout the rest of the episode, there are scenes of Elliott and Nancy in therapy (which I am starting to think is why this episode is titled “Therapy”) and it is all very searing and brutal or whatever. It is also hilarious. Not because of the actual dialogue or anything, but because knowing a little bit about how television/film production works, you know that they had to shoot all of these scenes in a row to maximize the efficiency of having the lights in the right place and the set decorated and everything. So they just kept having to change their hilariously ugly sweaters.

Meanwhile, during a game of Scrabble (of course), Michael spells the word “tattoo” and this sends Hope and Ellyn into fits of laughter…because one time…when Ellyn was 16…she got a tattoo. HUH? I have played a lot of Scrabble in my life, and never has someone’s turn caused me to have Proustian reveries of nostalgic memory. (Also, Michael points out that the word is not worth very many points, but it is “arty and creative.” Shut up, Michael.) Anyway, Ellyn is embarrassed because the secret tattoo that she only remembers she has during board games is on her butt. Sure. She makes Michael swear not to tell anyone.

But he immediately tells the dudes. You know how dudes are. They love to play basketball and gossip about completely unrelated things. Dude Time in Dude Town!

Seriously, this whole plotline is so bizarrely contrived and shoehorned into each scene. Like, out on the paint (basketball terms, look them up) the guys are talking about how they wish they could go back to being 16 again, which is a normal enough conversation. And then Michael just goes “you know who is different now than they were when they were 16 insofar as when they were 16 they got a tattoo but they probably wouldn’t get a tattoo now as an adult?!” WHAT? What is it with these guys and playing games? Put anyone on this show into a point-based competition and they start saying a bunch of fucking nonsense.

Ellyn finds out that everyone knows about her tattoo, and she is so mad and embarrassed because now her new boyfriend knows about it, even though she has done everything in her power to keep it from him, or something. But in the end, it turns out that he is aroused by her butt tattoo, so I guess it all worked out in the end? Let us hope that it worked out to such a degree that we never have to hear about it again.

Back at Elliott and Nancy’s house, they are both making attempts to be nicer to each other. Nancy opens a bottle of champagne and tries to give Elliott sex, because he is always complaining about sex. And Elliott takes the kids to the park and gives Nancy some space, because she is always complaining about space. But in the final shot of the show, Elliott reads a book.

Yikes, a book? They’re probably divorced now. Who knows what is going on with them. I hope the rest of the season is just constant scenes of them yelling at each other in couples therapy. NOW THAT IS WHAT I CALL MUST SEE TV. (In clinical terms, this is known as sarcasm.)