thirtysomething: Nice Work If You Can Get It

[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.]

Michael and Hope have Ellyn over for dinner. We get a glimpse of some of that classic 1980s FREEZER BURN.

Remember freezers back then, you guys? How they were always so burned? YA BURNT, FREEZER. Ellyn doesn’t notice, though, she’s peeling potatoes like how a normal human being peels potatoes.

Just peeling potatoes here, what? Ellyn takes a break from peeling potatoes to stick her finger into a jar of peanut butter.

You know how it was back then, before Dr. Spoon invented silverware. We lived in cold, dark caves and we stuck our fingers in everyone’s jars of peanut butter while we waited for them to cook us dinner. This was also, of course, before Professor Manners invented any of his classic Manners. In any case, as she slops peanut butter onto her claws and sucks them clean with her sidemouth, Ellyn explains that she has been put in charge of the city’s new arts project.

Well, if she is in charge of the city’s new arts project, then surely they need someone to ADVERTISE that project, right? Why not Michael and Elliott? That is what Michael and Elliott ask each other the next day as their formerly bumbling secretary who they almost fired for being so bumbling continues to bumble it up in Bumble Town.

Michael insists that you can’t beg friends for work, while Elliott insists that is exactly what friends are for. But Michael can’t do it. Hope says he should just ask her. But Michael can’t do it. LOOKS LIKE SOMEONE LEFT THEIR BALLS IN THE ’70S! Hope decides that the perfect way to break the ice with Ellyn over this whole job thing is to invite her to go…grocery shopping…at 10 at night? Hope is weird. Hope does weird things.

Anyway, Ellyn agrees to let Michael and Elliott come to City Hall and pitch their advertising agency to her and her new boss, Nerdy Draco Malfoy (as if there is another kind of Draco Malfoy?).

Michael and Elliott are nervous! They’re a couple of Don Drapers (Dons Draper?) without the talent, effortless cool, or wandering dick. Just kidding, Elliott has a wandering dick. But they are not Don Drapers. During the pitch, Ellyn can’t help but see Michael and Elliott as door-to-door salesmen.

Yikes. Poor nervous guys! Although to be fair, she also can’t help but see her boss’s shirt falling off.

Where did it go? Ellyn, check your pants.

Her boss decides to delegate the decision to Ellyn, and she agrees to give Michael and Elliott the campaign. Right. Just to clarify: this high stakes business gamble is a third-market ad buy from Philadelphia’s City Hall in support of a local advertising campaign for a charitable arts project? Somebody call Roger Sterling in here, we’re gonna need the BIG GUNS. Whatever.

Not that Michael and Elliott can even come up with anything. They spend the rest of the episode struggling to come up with an idea, and failing. Do you remember on this week’s Mad Men when Kinsey lost his idea because he forgot to write it down, and everyone was sympathetic because we’re all creatives here (are we? For the sake of argument, let us say that we are) and we all know the pain of the creative process? Well this episode of thirtysomething was a lot like that, except with way more midgets.

The ’80s were all about midgets. It was really the Golden Age of using midgets in everything. In this case the midgets represent “Fear, Dread, and Anxiety,” but they could really symbolize anything back then. “It’s us, Spandex, Neon Colors, and Diets.”

Blah blah blah. Nothing works. They’re creatively bankrupt! Even pulling an all-nighter doesn’t work! (As if pulling an all-nighter has ever worked?)

Michael and Elliott have so much trouble thinking of an idea for this stupid local arts ad campaign that it drives Michael to an existential crisis involving the Home Shopping Network. Well, first they do come up with a pitch, it’s just a really shitty pitch that involves the catchphrase “Yo, this is my Arts Center.” Haha. Yo. Classic. So Ellyn fires Michael and Elliott. And Michael starts wondering what he is doing with his life and then he can’t sleep and he stays up all night watching the Home Shopping Network and turning it into a central spiritual philosophy for making life decisions. He should probably have written a bathroom book of terrible aphorisms about it. That could have been huge back then. Anyway, he goes to quit the agency because he used to want to be Ernest Hemingway, but Elliott won’t let him quit and points out that Ernest Hemingway committed suicide (the more you know!).

Then Hope comes by and tells him that she is not going to lie to him anymore when she thinks his work is bad (because she lied to him about the Yo thing and said it was not bad when obviously it was very bad) but that she thinks he is a genius usually. A genius? A genius. Maybe we didn’t know as much about geniuses back then as we do now.

Michael goes to Ellyn’s office and tells her that he hates her. And that they are not friends anymore. And that they were never friends. And how he doesn’t understand why you have to be friends with your wife’s friends when you get married. And Ellyn asks if that means that she can’t take him to the emergency room when he hits his head on a diving board. Oh, banter! They decide that they will continue to pretend that they are friends by doing all of the things that friends do. Fair enough. Life Lesson: Learned.

Oh, and then Ellyn goes and fucks Draco in his office. ACCIO LOVE CONNECTION!