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thirtysomething: Couples

[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.]

Hope and Michael get home from a dinner with Elliot and Nancy, but clearly something is wrong. Michael is like “do you want to talk about it?” And the babysitter is like “what are you doing home at 10 o’clock?” That is pretty early to be home from a dinner, even if something awful happened. But it was the ’80s, so there was probably a military curfew and a mandatory black out at night to befuddle the Russian warships. Dinner started promptly at 4:30 and it ended promptly at 5:00. Anyway, it turns out that Hope and Michael witnessed Elliot and Nancy having a terrible fight! He may or may not have twisted her arm! The babysitter is unimpressed. She could have had a date if she had known they were going to be home by 10.

Next time, plan your witness to domestic violence ahead of time, please!

Anyway, what follows is basically the Rashomon of 1980s middle-class white couple romantic despair. Everyone remembers the fight differently, and the fight is replayed from everyone’s perspective. Who is telling the truth? IS THERE EVEN SUCH A THING AS THE TRUTH? thirtysomething was the Charles Sanders Peirce of primetime melodrama.

A few things we do know: the four of them definitely went to dinner. Eliot definitely exchanged at least two sentences with the hostess. The four of them definitely went back to Eliot and Nancy’s house. Nancy definitely attempted to perform some of her trademark baton twirling routines. Eliot definitely got angry and went into the kitchen. Eliot and Nancy definitely came back into the living room screaming at each other. Nancy definitely got upset and stormed out, and Eliot definitely said “You don’t walk away from me,” or “Don’t you walk away from me,” or “Please don’t walk away from me,” or variant. But the rest of the details are lost to the emotional fog of memory. For example, what did the hostess at the restaurant even look like?

Memory is fickle! Either that, or the hostess is a SHAPESHIFTER! They should have known better than to go to dinner at Merlotte’s. Anyway, the rest of the evening plays out similarly.

Eliot remembers Nancy doing her baton twirling routine seductively for the benefit of Michael, Nancy remembers doing her baton twirling routine clumsily and as an innocent party trick, Michael doesn’t seem to remember anything from the evening whatsoever. And they all remember the ensuing fight having varying degrees of violence. Eliot just remembers feeling hurt and pleading with a relentlessly unforgiving shrew. Nancy remembers Eliot being a drunk and spiteful monster. Hope thinks Eliot aggressively pulled Nancy’s arm, Michael doesn’t remember that at all. But what is clear is that Nancy and Eliot are unhappy!

(Uh, no duh, emember how Eliot cheated on his wife in the PILOT?)

So Elliot pours himself into his work, delivering the “Carousel Speech” of the ’80s.

A couple of Dons Draper, those guys.

Meanwhile, Hope and Michael are mostly happy in their marriage. But that makes them worried that one day they will be unhappy! Michael is like “why are we OK and they’re not OK?” Well, Michael, because you’re four separate people, two separate married couples, and you’re all make believe. It just makes more narrative sense! (Also, Michael and Hope argue the whole episode about whether or not Michael helps enough around the house, cleaning up and such, but SPOILER ALERT they resolve it. I could go on if you’d like? You want me to keep talking about the laundry fight?)

Hope has offered Nancy their house to host a birthday party for their daughter. But first, they have to find the best birthday entertainment.

Haha. Children’s birthday parties in the ’80s were apparently a lot more intense and INSANE than I remember. Also, what did a “I’d Rather Be Killing Terrorists” t-shirt even mean in 1987? That guy really hated what Hamas was doing to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

In the end, Eliot dresses up in a pirate costume. Nancy remembers why she fell in love with him in the first place. But is it too late? It might be too late. Anyone who watched this show in the last 22 years probably knows whether or not it is too late. But the rest of us will have to wait and see!

P.S. This was actually a really great episode.