My earliest memory of “Thirtysomething” was when I was in my single digits and my parents were watching a drama about all the complications of adulthood. Now, watching “Thirtysomething” with fresh, older eyes I certainly see what it was that drew my parents in week after week. “Thirtysomething” could easily be classified as just another drama about young couples facing their daily lives, but what sets this four season series apart from dramas that try and fail is the double edged reality of its story line. On one hand, it is the observation of heavy, complicated, exhausting moments, while on the other hand it’s a first hand look at wonderful, life-defining moments that carry you forward, that impart a sense of self. “Thirtysomething” still stands as one of the great dramas to truly capture the essence of young couples (and a few singles) just trying to get by as happily as possible.
The series follows the lives of several adults in their thirties embarking on changes good and bad in the Philadelphia suburbs. There’s Michael Steadman (Ken Olin) and his wife, Hope (Mel Harris), who recently had a baby and are learning to adapt to the new life in their home - as well as the way it effects their relationship. Michael’s Colleague, Elliot (Timothy Busfield) and his wife Nancy (Patricia Wettig) add another layer to the series as a married couple who reveal they have marital problems (including Elliot having an affair) and try to work on their issues. Adding some lightness to the series are Michael’s best friend, Gary Sheperd (Peter Horton), Melissa Steadman (Melanie Mayron) and Hope’s best friend Ellyn (Polly Draper) must come to understand the changes Hope is going through. What’s so great about “Thirtysomething” is the fact that the characters are multi-dimensional, focusing on their love lives, their internal struggles, their having to make compromises in work and in life, and more.
In any other hands, “Thirtysomething” could have been overly sentimental or indulgent, but creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (who went on to produce “My So-Called Life” and create “Once and Again”) manage to put together a strong, well written, smart, touching, humorous series that doesn’t romanticize growing up and taking on responsibilities, but rather wholeheartedly embraces it. While the cast at the time was roughly unknowns, they came together as a believable group of thirty-somethings who created a great deal of on-screen chemistry as friends and as couples. Without their ability to deliver the lines honestly and embrace the roles, the series would have suffered and the characters would have come off far less likeable and believable. Ken Olin (who most recently went on to produce, direct and act in “Brothers & Sisters”) stands out as Michael, and his real-life wife Patricia Wedding (also on “Brothers & Sisters”) makes Nancy an enjoyable character to watch. Though, it’s Horton as laid back Gary Sheperd Draper as Ellyn, who really steal the show and make “Thirtysomething” the well-rounded series it was and continues to be.
While some may argue that “Thirtysomething” offered too much drama, you can’t help but feel it was more than that with every viewing. There are layers here embedded in the writing, in the acting, in the directing and music that leave a subtle sense that you know these characters and in knowing them you understand them and root for them when they strive so hard to do what’s right, even when they fail. Television isn’t the same today and the great series of the late eighties and nineties are a thing of the past. Hopefully one day series will return with as much emphasis on character and good storytelling that defined a generation of television viewers, until then you can’t help but be grateful that series like “Thirtysomething” are finally available on DVD to watch and watch again.
VIDEO: "Thirtysomething" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame by Shout Factory and the results are quite good. Sharpness and detail are not exceptional, but for a series from this era, the show does look somewhat crisper and clearer than expected. Some slight wear is occasionally seen on the elements and a bit of shimmering is seen, but the majority of the show looked clean. Color appeared natural and accurate, with no smearing. Overall, this is a very fine presentation of the series that should please fans.
SOUND: The show's stereo audio offers clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: The first season release of “Thirtysomething” offers several episodes with commentary including commentary on the “Pilot” episode with Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick. When Herskovitz and Zwick do comment they do offer some pretty interesting tidbits, but there are several moments of silence, which is expected after years passing without watching the series. The commentary is a nice commentary that offers an interesting look back on decisions that were made, what it was like making a new series, the writing and filming style, and the overall feeling of watching the pilot again.
Other episodes that include commentary are: “I’ll be Home for Christmas” with Mel Harris and Melanie Mayron; “Therapy” with Timothy Busfield, Ken Olin and Patricia Wettig; “Competition” with writer Joseph Dougherty; “I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love with a wonderful gynecologist” with commentary by director Scott Winant; “Whose Forest is This” with commentary by Timothy Busfield and writer Richard Kramer; “Nancy’s First Date” with commentary by director Ron Lagomarsino; “Undone” commentary with Joseph Dougherty and “Born to be Mild” commentary with Mel Harris and Director Ron Lagomarsino. Several of the commentaries have a lot of lapses of time without any comments. It truly feels that they’ve come back to the series for the first time since it aired and are absorbed in what they’re watching. Still, when they do speak, the often offer interesting insights into the filming style, comment on the characters, and especially on the clothing of the time.
“A conversation between Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick” - The two sit together and talk about how they remember the show and things taking place. This is a decently paced feature that has the men going over the memory of starting “Thirtysomething” and all that entails from getting the deal to make the show, casting, creating a writing style and filming style for the show, the effect on their career of having a hit show, and their reaction to getting “Thirtysomething” on the air. A very nice feature with small insight into what it took to bring this cultural hit to life.
“From Thirtysomething to Forever” - Divided into two parts “Beginnings” and “The Following Year” is a making of feature that interviews the cast and crew about the show as well as the experience of being a part of “Thirtysomething”. It then goes on to address the news of being picked up for a second season and deciding where to take the series from there. Fans of the show should enjoy this feature with lots of interesting interviews and behind-the-scenes information.
“The Couples” focuses on Michael and Hope as well as Elliot and Nancy and the development of their characters during the series. Opening with a look at the storytelling style and continuing with cast interviews, this is a lovely look at the characters that shaped “Thirtysomething”. Another feature, “The Singles” focuses on Gary, Melissa and Ellyn in similar style to “The Couples”.
“The Writers” interview several of the people who wrote for “Thirtysomething”. “The Directors” interviews the directors. Both features also offer cast and interviews about the writing and directing style. These are especially appreciated features since it’s not often that the writers and directors get the same kind of feature-time as the actors or the overall series.
“Cultural Impact” is an interesting look at how the thirty-something demographic was a key target audience when “Thirtysomething” was created and how advertisers wanted to reach the yuppies (young urban professionals). What makes this so interesting is the fact that the press started to assume “Thirtysomething” was designed based on this fact and labeled as a yuppie show because of it. We also get a look at how “Thirtysomething” effected the look of commercials and the way a generation was partially defined. While brief, it’s definitely worth a look.
Final Thoughts: Fans should be pleased with this excellent first season release of this wonderfully acted, superbly written drama. Highly recommended.