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thirtysomething: But Not For Me

[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’s cousin and Hope’s friend, Melissa, is at the house taking baby photos and talking about her upcoming date. Her camera, of course, is an ancient film camera that used a chemical process to render an image. These would then be printed out in a type of cave that was called a “dark room,” and either “mailed,” which is an ancient form of communication, or hand-delivered to Hope, which is sort of like sending an image text except that instead of sending an image text over the phone you put an image into someone’s hand using your hand. In the first five minutes of the episode references are made to sundried tomatoes, the Iran Contra affair, Ann Taylor, and shoulder pads. No reference is made, however, to how hideous Melissa’s shirt is.

thirtysomething is brought to you by Popple Corp.

This week, it’s all about dating and romance and how the astroturf (’80s!) is always greener. Hope is jealous of Melissa because Melissa is young and free and still being courted by men. Melissa is jealous of Hope because Hope “has it all” (it all being a husband and a baby, which, as we all know, is the only thing women have ever and will ever want). All Hope wants is a little excitement back in her life. Which is fair. But it’s weird that she doesn’t also want a little not-anthropomorphizing-her-baby-to-replace-normal-human-conversation in her life.

It’s weird when babies talk without CGI mouths. The world used to be a very dark and scary place!

Melissa’s date is a guy who she met through the pharmacist. Sort of. She got his pills by mistake. LOL. “I take them for cramps, I don’t know what he takes them for. But it’s more than I’ve had in common with the last 10 guys I’ve dated.” They’ll probably get married. Before the date she needs 40 dollars, so she…gets Michael to take her to the advertising agency’s office? And he takes 40 dollars out of a filing cabinet? Huh? I mean, I know they didn’t have hover-ATMs yet, or Jet Bucks, but if she had to borrow money from Michael, why couldn’t he just give her 40 dollars? Why did they have to drive in the middle of the night to his office and take the 40 dollars out of petty cash?

The ’80s were weird.

Meanwhile, Gary Shepard met a hot grad student in the hardware store.

They make grad school jokes about how Emily Dickinson didn’t write about fixing a leaky kitchen sink or something, you know how grad school jokes are (they are the worst), and he agrees to come over on a Saturday night to repair her plumbing, if you know what he means. He is going to stop up the leak in her plumbing, grad school style.

So Melissa leaves on her date and Michael stays at the office, adjusting the straps on his suspenders and calling his wife to role play asking her out on a date. “Ooh, pretend that we’re in college and ask me out slower. Slower.” Meanwhile, Melissa’s date is a bust! Oh no! It turns out that the weird guy from the pharmacist whose pills she got by mistake just wanted his pills. Oh, you mean the prescription-grade painkillers? It’s weird that it didn’t work out. So Melissa goes to the bookstore to drown her sorrows, and immediately another guy hits on her. And not just any guy, this guy:

It’s that guy! From the stuff! Anyway, after hallucinating about her college professor (as one does in a romantic situation) she decides to go out with him, but then it turns out that the books he is buying are all weird! Classic dating disappointment! Wasn’t Weirdo Book Guy an episode of Seinfeld? Then Gary Shepard, Melissa’s ex-boyfriend FYI, appears out of nowhere and rescues her. Oh, it turns out that his hot plumbing date didn’t go so hot. It went the very opposite of hot. It went COMICALLY COLD WATER IN HIS FACE.

But also she had a boyfriend. Literal and metaphorical cold showers. Gary drives Melissa to her house and that is almost that, but then it is not that at all. She invites him in for coffee and he asks if she has decaf. He seems like a lot of fun. Always being pissy about squash and loving decaf coffee. Total Party Hound. Anyway, they drink wine and eat microwave (’80s!) pizza and reignite that old flame, but obviously Melissa is worried because she has spent five years in therapy trying to get over Gary Shepard. They make plans to hang out the next week and Gary leaves, but then he basically drunk dials from a pay phone right outside her apartment and is like “I’m lonely, let’s make some terrible decisions together,” and so he spends the night, where they both have dreams about getting married and Gary apparently sees marriage as being locked inside of a giant crib with another giant baby in a dress.

Meanwhile, Hope and Michael’s perfect date night is ANYTHING BUT PERFECT. First the fancy restaurant where Michael made reservations didn’t write down their reservation. They are very snobby and comically European because it was the ’80s and that was how stereotypes of restaurants were on television. Then they lost their valet ticket and had to pay 12 dollars (12 dollars! For you history buffs, 12 dollars in the ’80s is the equivalent of 17,000 dollars today) to get their car back. Then the movie theater was all sold out except for a 4 hour movie about Hitler! It’s weird that they didn’t just leave the movie theater right away and do something more fun since they rarely get a date night and there are a million more or at least equally interesting and engaging things to do with another human being than see a movie, but that wouldn’t compound the narrative dilemma of “bad night.” Then, after the movie, they go to the parking garage and find that Michael left the lights on and the battery is dead! How do you even leave lights on anymore? FORGET IT, JAKE, IT’S ’80S PROBLEMS TOWN. That costs another 70 bucks, and Michael is just fuming. But then the next morning he and Hope have sex. Phew.

Gary and Melissa wake up together and Melissa wants to get breakfast. Gary is like “I’ll get breakfast, you just stay here. Stay here and do not bother wondering why it is taking me so long.” Melissa waits, but eventually she does start wondering what is taking him so long. What is taking him so long is that instead of bringing breakfast back to her, he has brought breakfast to Hope and Micheal’s house, where he announces that they have a new Sunday tradition of having breakfast together. I’m sure that everyone is on board with your crazy new insistent and intrusive tradition, Gary. But uh oh, Melissa shows up too. And when she sees the bagels, it’s just about all she can handle. Hope and Michael make themselves scarce while Gary and Melissa argue about their troubled history, the romantic mistakes that adults make, crazy sidesweep haircuts, and who has the best bolo tie. And then there is this:

In the ’80s people cried on their food constantly.