I was driving in the car listening to the ever mournful, melancholic tunes of Paul Buchanan (more of which another time) when I thought to myself -‘ he must be one of us, the ‘Thirty Something’ generation’..
If you are of a certain age and began to put down roots, leave your youth behind and maybe have kids at the turn of the 80’s/90’s you will know what I am talking about. Maybe the first prime time TV series to really take seriously the doubts and dilemmas of heterosexual couples coming of age in a world without the fixed and certain points of religion, cold war politics, prescribed gender roles and a lifetime’s employment in the industries of the post war boom
With filmic production values, gorgeous lighting and carefully scripted scenarios that consistently tugged at the heartstrings without avoiding the darker sides of the thirty something life – illness, death and parents.
Hope and Michael were the central couple that we followed through the visscitudes of parenthood and the new work situations that the Nineties were starting to explore – such as advertising ,where even the physical layout of the ‘office ‘ spoke of the ‘new man’ and the breakdown of old certainties of hierarchy and restraint (the basketball net hanging from the wall so Michael and Elliott could hang out and get creative) . Elliot and Nancy provided the counterpoint to the beauty and gloss of the prime couple and in the wings Melissa with her sub Madonna goofiness masking unmet yearnings and ,last but not least, Gary who had yet to reconcile himself to ‘the man’ and outwardly nurtured a semi coherent ,rag tag hippiness that Michael and Elliott secretly wished they had maintained.
We followed them on their oddysey , for that is what the programme makers were claiming for the transition from late youth to adult hood – a modern day journey of self discovery that would allow us to better understand how to find love and fulfillment in a world that held few clues and even less role models.
Naturally those claims were over stated – it was TV drama after all. But nevertheless it did speak to those of us who were wrestling with some of the same issues and dilemmas and it arguably gave birth to a medium and a language that could allow for the exploration of that set of problems.
Sure, the existential angst portrayed on the screen was and still can be caricatured as just another set of rich kids gazing at their navels while overlooking he all too obviously privileged lives they led.
But it was more than that ! Not for nothing was it made by a production company called ‘Bedford Falls’ , with each episode’s credits ending to the refrain of ‘buffalo girls’ (..’and dance by the light of the moon’ – from the movie ‘its a wonderful life’ if you havent got the clues!) . And the perfectly pitched theme tune from ‘Snuffy’ Walden who not surprisingly went on to write the theme tune for the West Wing. (in which of course ‘elliott’ appears!).
It was clearly a successful formula and spawned many imitators such as ‘Cold Feet’, but its true succesor was in fact the West Wing in which our two couples d two singletons at last find a government of pleasant yet steely liberals ready to remake America in their image.
And of course it gave birth to the very phrase ‘thirty something’ , which has since been adapted to ‘any decade something’ and entered the modern English language.
The real shame is that the series has never been released on DVD and we only have our memories and in my case an old ‘tape’ of one episode (one of the most touching).
But maybe the real challenge is to bring the cast back together for ‘fifty something’ and let us who would be ‘their’ age recognize through a new set of fictional and yet at the same time all too real predicaments ways in which we can come to terms with our kids growing up, our parents dying, our friends retiring and our dreams being fulfilled or not. I can think of no TV series that has taken as its central theme such a set of issues. I believe that those of us who came of age as partners and parents through watching and reflecting upon ‘ThirtySomething’ would be all too ready to tune in and take stock.