I first saw thirtysomething in October 1988. I was 25, I’d been back in London as an adult for two years (having last lived here as a child) when my father died suddenly in NZ. The last time I’d seen him was at the airport in Auckland in June 1986 and, my mother and sister and I all sobbing, dad leaned over and said “You have to go now, she (ie my mum) can’t take this any more.” Our sister had died 5 years earlier and mum had had a heart attack from grief at just 60, so I knew that dad didn’t just mean she couldn’t keep crying, he meant I had to go. I kissed them again, turned and left. That was the last time I saw my father alive.
I borrowed money and flew to New Zealand for his funeral. I can’t remember at which point in the trip this happened, I can’t even remember if it was before or after the funeral, after I expect, but I was staying in Auckland with my mates Sandra and Dazee and they loved this new tv series which I hadn’t seen. We sat down to watch and it was the episode when Michael’s father dies. They were mortified, I think I burst out laughing, but maybe I burst out crying. Anyway I loved thirtysomething.
So, following Amie’s great suggestion for one of my 55 Joys, I found it on YouTube and watched the first episode, which I’ve never seen before.
They look like children. Michael and Hope and Elliot and the rest of them, they look so young. The actors were older than me when I first watched and now they look like babies. Everyone is white, everyone is straight, everyone is able-bodied, everyone is rich. Even the ones who think they aren’t. Especially them. It’s very slow, theatrically so. It has an oddly obvious soundtrack, even though it’s written by the brilliant W. G. Snuffy Walden. Michael is wearing braces. Melissa is wearing braces. Hope is insanely thin for a woman who says she has post-pregnancy weight. The male characters are way more sexist than I remember. The woman are still doing the babies or career thing. Still. They spend the last ten minutes acknowledging they’re so lucky and complaining anyway – the 80s version of #firstworldproblems.
And yet …
I know why it felt special. The plot was about feelings. Being friends. Being lovers. Being married. Bring friends and being married. And even though they seemed really grownup, really adult, they still talked about feeling lost, about the big and the small things that matter, all the time, at any age. How we feel.
Episode 1 even passes the Bechdel test. Just.
(Also, Ellyn’s voice is still the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard on tv.)
I think the reason those American characters with their houses and mortgages and proper jobs and cars and marriages and children seemed so absurdly grownup is that my life was a lot more like this in the mid/late 80s…