Shout! Factory // 1988 // 810 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Chris Claro (Retired) // February 1st, 2010
Return to Philadelphia, twentysomething years later.
Once in a while, both the zeitgeist and the lexicon are buzzed at exactly the same moment. When a phrase and the mindset it describes permeate the public consciousness simultaneously, it's a phenomenon. Such was the case with thirtysomething.
When it premiered on ABC in 1987, thirtysomething polarized viewers:
some thought the series, larded as it was with too-pretty-for-real-life faces
lamenting their plights as upwardly mobile urbanites, was an exercise in
self-indulgence -- a whinefest full of upper-middle-class brats who needed to be
swatted with a natural-fiber PBS tote bag full of locally-harvested produce. But
fans of the show thought thirtysomething represented the lives they led,
or at least the ones they wanted to lead.
Now Shout! Factory has unleashed the second season of the show (whose reruns on Lifetime were promoted as "just like life, only with better writers") in a five-disc box. How do the Young Philadelphians fare with the benefit of more than twenty years of hindsight?
Seventeen episodes comprise the second season of thirtysomething, which was truncated due to the 1988 Writers Guild strike:
• "We'll Meet Again"
• "In Re: the Marriage of Weston"
• "The Mike Van Dyke Show"
• "Trust Me"
• "No Promises"
• "First Day/Last Day"
• "About Last Night"
• "Elliot's Dad"
• "Payment Due"
• "Michael Writes a Story"
• "New Job"
• "Be a Good Girl"
• "Courting Nancy"
• "Best of Enemies"
thirtysomething: The Complete Second Season brings viewers back to the City of Brotherly Love for another year of angst-driven introspection. Michael, Elliot, Hope, Nancy, and all the other characters created by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, face fractured marriages, failing businesses, disillusionment, and ennui. Bringing their series to television on the tail end of the era that spawned such inward-peering films as Sayles' Return of the Secaucus Seven and Kasdan's The Big Chill, Zwick and Herskovitz imbued thirtysomething with a cinematic quality through their use -- some say overuse -- of flashback, parody, and literary reference. Whether it's Hope immersing herself in the unfinished memoir of the World War II-era family who once inhabited the Steadman home in "We'll Meet Again," or the Rob Petrie parody, "The Mike Van Dyke Show," in which Michael's conflict over Christmas is depicted as a black-and-white sitcom replete with wacky neighbors, the Herskozwick was nothing if not audacious and daring.
But for all their risk-taking, Herskovitz and Zwick were ultimately trying to get the audience to tune in on a weekly basis to see attractive, privileged people complain about their lot in life through arch, reference-heavy scripts. As one of the first shows of its ilk, it's easy to see how it became a phenomenon. And, as with most phenomena, it's equally easy to see how it rapidly became a cliché. More than twenty years on, it's more than just the hairstyles, eyeglass frames and tie-widths that make thirtysomething show its age.
Despite that age, thirtysomething: The Complete Second Season looks smashing. Working from the original film elements, Shout! Factory has done an estimable job of recreating the mini-movie look that Herskovitz and Zwick brought to the series. The contrast of Michael's muted suits to Elliot's garish ties is even more evident now than when thirtysomething first aired. The crispy Dolby mix is great for the show's often-rapid dialogue and, for fans of pan-flute and acoustic guitar, makes the show's theme resonate.
Further emphasizing the cinematic element of the box is a booklet that lists each episode and provides for each one a credit bed similar to that of a feature film; an odd add-on, to be sure, but one that contributes to the elegant texture of the set. With five creator commentaries from various writers and directors, as well as three featurettes, thirtysomething: The Complete Second Season is a classy set that shows much respect for its source material.
Despite being filled with nattering nabobs of narcissism, thirtysomething: The Complete Second Season is also a good reminder of the elements of the show that worked, primary among them the performance of Patricia Wettig (Brothers and Sisters) as wife, mother, and illustrator Nancy Weston. As mate to Timothy Busfield's (The West Wing) eternally childlike -- and eternally annoying -- Elliot, Wettig's performance as Nancy stood out among the sometimes shrill and whiny performances of such other regulars as Mel Harris (Imagine That) and Polly Draper (The Naked Brothers Band). With her beatific smile and wise eyes, Wetting made Nancy one of the more selfless and sympathetic characters in the thirtysomething cosmos.
Whether you're part of the love-it or loathe-it faction of thirtysomething and its awareness/obsession with soul searching/navel gazing, there's no arguing the show represents a moment in time. It's just too bad that moment took itself so seriously.
Guilty, by reason of kvetching.
Review content copyright © 2010 Chris Claro; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 810 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries