Archive for Sunday, August 30, 2009

Baby Boomer angst is back in DVD form

August 30, 2009


Some people called it That Show About Yuppies Who Whine. But for many loyal viewers, particularly baby boomers, “thirtysomething” felt like a burst of refreshing honesty on ’80s network television, a show that dared to highlight the difficulties of balancing marriage, career, parenthood and friendships; in other words, the stuff of life.

But here’s the funny thing about watching “thirtysomething: The Complete First Season,” released Tuesday on DVD ($60): what seemed groundbreaking about this drama back in 1987 — the sexual candor! the heated arguments between spouses! — plays now like pretty standard, albeit still compelling, television. And that’s a testament to the thirty-something’s place in American culture. Glimmers of the show’s almost cinematic approach to capturing upper-middle-class angst can be seen in many influential series that followed it, from “Sex and the City” to “Mad Men.”

As for the charge about the characters being too whiny, well ... yes, they do have a tendency to sweat the small stuff. (Really, Hope and Michael, you’re fighting about a washing machine now?) But, again, even those dips into occasional self-absorption seem a little ahead of their time. I mean, these days, everybody complains “thirtysomething”-style about how hard it is to be married and a parent, only now they do it on mommy blogs and via Facebook updates.

Fortunately, the creators and cast members — a good number of whom participate in the DVD’s robust extras — had a sense of humor about the criticisms often lobbed at their show. During one of the collection’s several featurettes, for example, we learn that cast members (and real-life spouses) Ken Olin and Patricia Wettig had T-shirts made for their fellow actors that said, “Skinny White People From Hell.” (“I still have mine,” confesses Melanie Mayron, who played the single, artsy Melissa.)

Those fun little anecdotes are what will make fans extra happy to finally get their hands on this DVD. (The hold-up on releasing this collection, as frequently happens with older television shows? Acquiring the necessary music rights.) While the eight commentary tracks, which feature audio from many of the show’s stars, writers and co-creators Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, are only occasionally enlightening, the aforementioned featurettes do a marvelous job of telling the back story of “thirtysomething.” During the half-hour “A Conversation Between Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick,” for example, the men who gave birth to the series confess that they had little interest in launching a television show, and only pitched the concept to ABC because they were paid to come up with something. “We literally said to each other, ’What could we (pitch) that we would like if we had to do it, but would be certain to fail?”’ Herskovitz recalls.

Obviously “thirtysomething” didn’t fail. In fact, it still works remarkably well as a piece of relatable, well-acted and adult television, a program that was more than just a whinefest.

As story editor, director and producer Richard Kramer puts it during a bonus feature about the show’s cultural impact, “thirtysomething” was “about the problem of trying to be a good man or woman in an impossible world. And there’s nothing about being a yuppie in that.”


David Lignell 8 years, 4 months ago

Waaaah! Waahh! Waahhh! So far the only ones whining are you two. (The boomer googles the other generations and wonders what the difference is between astrology and those who generalize about generations. Give me a break, but not literally, please.)

slowplay 8 years, 4 months ago

Sorry Jack it's not the baby boomers, but their kids that are causing the very problems you've mentioned. Most of the BB's were born between 1946 to 1956. The BB influence started ending in the 90's. The next generations influence began with the's and continues today. Now they are wondering where their retirements have gone, how they can live off social security and hoping Medicare is still available over the next 15 years. Their kids (30 - 50) are the greedy ones. Granted, the values the BB's instilled (or not) in their kids are coming back to haunt them.

beatrice 8 years, 4 months ago

Kids these days! Little ingrates! Don't they know that we gave them the technology that makes their very existence worth, well, you know, existing for? It was the Baby Boomers who brought you the cell phone, the video game, and the internets ... but does this make these kids happy? Noooooo!

Geez, it isn't like we are leaving it up to you to take care of a bankrupt economy, a massive debt that even your children won't be able to pay off, or a dying, over-populated planet.


... um, oops. Sorry about that. As you kids say -- "My bad!"

So, who is gonna join me to go see the new Woodstock movie? Sock it to me!

Linda Endicott 8 years, 4 months ago

Oh, yeah, nobody ever used drugs before the boomer generation...and nobody younger than the boomers ever uses drugs now...

And all the kids now are pure as the driven snow, and they never, ever, engage in sex without the benefit of marriage...and since none of them apparently can have an independent thought, they have to blame all of their loose morals on somebody else...

Like no girl who is now a great-great granny never got felt up in the rumble seat of a model T...

I don't recall ever hearing about somebody being shot and killed because they owned the latest Beatles album...

Get real...

Linda Endicott 8 years, 4 months ago

No, they just brought it out in the open, and didn't care who knew...but they had been going on for generations...the "dirty little secrets" of many a family...

And the more recent generations don't have minds of their own? They have to do the same things?

Guess it's okay if you can try and blame it on someone else, huh?

David Roberts 8 years, 4 months ago

I for one--speaking as a Gen-X'er--would like to avoid blaming any single generation for the messes we will be facing. Believe me, there will already be a strong tension between generations as the full impact of past decisions and policies are revealed. Further, I don't think any generation currently alive will come out looking like a rose on this one.

jonas_opines 8 years, 4 months ago

agno : "They used to want free sex and drugs; now, they want free drugs and sex."

golf clap. Well played, sir, well played.

Linda Endicott 8 years, 4 months ago

Sounds like you've had your brain fried already, Jack...

I didn't do drugs in the 60s and 70s, actually...not every child of the boomer generation did, you know...and not all boomers were hippies, either, which seems to be the main sub-culture you're talking about...

I wasn't actually talking about drugs at all in the last post, but...I'm sure you've read about all those travelling salesmen, dating clear back to the 1850s, maybe earlier, who sold their little bottles of "tonic" to the masses...tonic which was frequently just booze with flavoring to hide it, or morphine, cocaine, whatever, mixed with other things to make it taste good...addiction to drugs existed long before therer were even any laws against possessing those drugs...

Isn't it your generation that is so gung-ho on legalizing every drug known to man?

My last post was actually about sex,'re speaking as if teenage pregnancies never happened before the boomer if abortion never existed before if no other young people in the history of mankind ever had hormones and urges and sometimes gave in to, it must have all been the boomers that started it...

What a victim mentality you have..."oh, poor, poor me...I was conned by the boomers into having sex and doing drugs, and I was helpless and have no will of my own to stop myself"...

Get a life...

slowplay 8 years, 4 months ago


It's a lot easier to blame others than look at oneself. To generalize and stereotype the "boomers" is ludicrous. I spent the 60's in Vietnam and I have little reference for what Jack's talking about. It seems the 80's and 90's (x generation) were a lot wilder than what I remember of the 60's and 70's.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.