Thirtysomething

thirtysomething

1987 - United States

thirtysomething was a seminal drama series that emerged as a defining television narrative for the Baby Boomer generation, particularly targeting the elusive, high-spending demographic known as "Yuppies." This group was perceived by U.S. networks as the holy grail of advertising revenue during the show's original run from 1987 to 1991. The creators, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, skilfully crafted a series that delved into the intricate personal and professional lives of a close-knit group of friends, navigating the complexities of adulthood in Philadelphia.

The series followed the complexly interwoven personal and professional lives of a group of upwardly mobile friends - two couples and three singles, living and working in the city of Philadelphia. Michael Steadman was initially a creatively successful advertising executive working closely with his best friend, Elliot Weston in a high-profile agency, before they eventually broke away from the company to form their own business partnership. Michael's wife, Hope Murdoch Steadman, an ambitious graduate of Princeton, had set aside her career in publishing in order to raise their newly born baby daughter, Janey, while Nancy Weston, was a former 1960s "Flower Child" who had lost touch with her artistic aspirations amid the practical challenges of raising two children. Her character highlighted the internal conflict between past ideals and present realities, a common theme for many in her generation. Alongside the couples, the series also explored the lives of three singles: Gary Shepherd, a free-spirited college professor and Michael's oldest friend; Melissa Steadman, Michael's self-centred and romantically frustrated cousin; and Ellyn, Hope's childhood friend who grapples with loneliness and confusion in her career-driven life.

thirtysomething

thirtysomething excelled not only in its character development but also in its thematic depth. thirtysomething was renowned for its ability to interweave humour with serious discussions on a variety of issues. The characters often engaged in lengthy debates about their perpetual emotional turmoil and their relentless pursuit of personal dreams, regardless of the impact on those around them. This focus on self-absorption and the prioritization of success and wealth over traditional values captured the essence of the 1980s, a decade often criticized for its materialism and self-centeredness.

The writing and production quality of thirtysomething were consistently excellent, contributing to its critical acclaim. The series earned ten Emmy Awards and sixteen additional nominations, a testament to its impact and popularity. The ensemble cast delivered uniformly outstanding performances, bringing to life multi-dimensional characters that viewers could both empathize with and critique. Despite their often-unattractive traits, the characters' vulnerabilities and personal growth endeared them to the audience.

Michael Steadman, portrayed by Ken Olin, was a particularly compelling character. His evolution from a successful ad executive to a struggling entrepreneur reflected the uncertainties and risks associated with career transitions. His relationship with Hope, played by Mel Harris, was a central element of the series, exploring the dynamics of marriage, parenthood, and the balancing act between personal ambitions and family responsibilities. Hope's journey, from a career-oriented woman to a stay-at-home mother questioning her choices, provided a nuanced look at the challenges faced by women in balancing career and family during the 1980s.

thirtysomething

Elliot Weston, brought to life by Timothy Busfield, and Patricia Wettig's portrayal of Nancy Weston offered another layer of complexity to the series. Elliot's struggles with professional dissatisfaction and personal infidelity were contrasted with Nancy's battle with cancer, providing some of the most poignant moments in the series. Nancy's artistic reawakening and her fight against illness resonated with viewers, highlighting themes of resilience and self-discovery.

The single characters added further depth to the narrative. Gary Shepherd, played by Peter Horton, embodied the countercultural ideals of the 1960s while grappling with the realities of adulthood. His relationship with Melissa, portrayed by Melanie Mayron, explored the complexities of love and friendship. Melissa's journey as a single woman in her thirties, seeking love and professional success, reflected the broader societal expectations and pressures faced by women of that era. Ellyn, played by Polly Draper, represented the career-driven woman struggling with loneliness and the desire for personal connections.

thirtysomething stands out for its ability to reflect the concerns and preoccupations of a generation. Its exploration of themes such as career versus family, personal fulfilment, friendship, and the search for identity resonated with viewers, making it a cultural touchstone. The series' blend of humour and drama, coupled with its sharp writing and expert production, created a compelling and authentic portrayal of life in the 1980s.

In turns amusing and emotional, well written, sharply acted and expertly produced,  thirtysomething was a high quality drama series, which accurately reflected the particular preoccupations of a glossily self-obsessed decade.

Published on February 6th, 2019. Written by Humar for Television Heaven.

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