by Meredith O'Brien
“Just getting through counts for something, doesn’t it?” -- Hope Steadman
The second season of the late 1980s/early 1990s drama thirtysomething  has just come out on DVD and, as with its first season, the tales of married suburbanite parents Hope and Michael Steadman, separated parents Nancy and Elliot Weston and their constellation of tightly-knit single friends still strongly resonate with Gen X parents, particularly when it comes to issue of parents and work.
One of the biggest storylines of thirtysomething’s sophomore season – Michael and Elliot’s small ad agency lost its biggest account as a result of a merger and, when Michael and Elliot couldn’t get a small business loan to cover their operating expenses, their company went belly-up -- could’ve been ripped from today’s headlines, if you can put aside the analog world of typewriters, phones with curly wires looping out of the telephone receivers, as well as the newfangled notion of fax machines. For several episodes, Michael and Elliot lived off their families’ savings accounts and their wives’ part-time incomes while sustaining repeated blows to their professional egos as they attempted to find work.
While Michael and Elliot eventually found well paying jobs as a creative team at a downtown Philadelphia ad agency – where they were required to keep long hours, which became another sore spot -- their wives started to blossom amid the ruins.
Take Hope, who started the season with a toddler, and was finally feeling confident that she’d figured out how to be a part-time environmental journalist and spend the kind of time she wanted to with her daughter, whom she’d placed in daycare part of the week. (The previous season, Hope was reluctant to even leave her baby with a sitter.) At the beginning of season two, however, the biggest conflict she had with her husband was over his desire to have another child and her vehement desire not to mess up the delicate balance she’d so recently struck in her life. “Do you know how good it feels to be back at work?” she asked her husband, saying that now people could stop criticizing her for “wasting her potential.” “. . . I feel like I’m finally taking charge of my destiny.”
Despite her hesitation about how a second child would factor into her new life, Hope acquiesced, quickly became pregnant and then lost the baby almost mid-way through the pregnancy, on the same day Michael got a formal job offer. By the end of the season, while she was still coming to terms with her loss, Hope was able to enjoy more success in her freelance career particularly after she landed a big Sunday magazine piece with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
For Nancy the second season was also marked a great deal of change. Less than a year after her husband shocked her by moving out while they were in the middle of marriage counseling, the at-home mom not only put the finishing touches on a children’s book project she’d been working on with her young son, but she got a job as an administrative assistant at a local arts center. What surprised me, as a viewer who’d previously identified mostly with Hope’s character, was that Nancy’s dilemmas were the ones which struck home with me during the second season, probably because we both worked at home and have more than one kid.
In the eighth episode of the 17-episode season, a book editor told Nancy that if she crafted a few additional book illustrations, the chances were excellent that she could get her book published and placed on the Christmas book list. But there was a tight deadline. When Nancy couldn’t find a sitter for her kids, she attempted to sketch from her home office while the children were home only to have her son – acting out because of his parents’ separation -- make her feel like a callous monster. “You never play with me!” her grade school-aged son Ethan yelled after he’d intentionally poured a green substance onto his shirt, then onto the kitchen floor and, when Nancy was cleaning up the mess on the floor, ran to the front door and threatened to run away. She permitted him to guilt her into playing with him instead of working and, consequently, she missed the deadline and the publisher took a pass on her book. However by the end of the season, Nancy – whom her estranged husband was trying to win back, given that neither one of them could bring themselves to sign the divorce papers – survived a few more book proposal rejections until finally finding a publisher who was willing to give her book the green light.
Twenty-one years later, I’m experiencing similar struggles as I’ve been trying to do a thorough job of editing a manuscript I’ve been working on, all while tackling my regular writing assignments and trying not to feel like the mean mom who isn’t always playing with her kids because she’s almost always on deadline. Just like in that thirtysomething scene, my two boys recently complained, “All you do is work!”
Alongside the serious melodrama, there’s humor too, including an episode where the thirtysomething gals went camping, leaving the then-unemployed Michael and Elliot to take care of three kids, including a toddler and a pre-schooler, while they were simultaneously trying to collaborate on a freelance ad campaign. However, taking care of small children and working is, they soon learned, quite a challenge, and they wound up blowing off the opportunity and creating crazy masks with the kids so they could play pretend. Just this week, I was speaking with a mom, whose three children range in age from infant through kindergarten, who said that when she informed her husband that she was going to leave the kids with him while she attended to a series of tasks, her spouse thought about it for a minute, then remarked, “Well then I won’t be able to get anything done.”
Looking at today’s pop culture landscape, I can find no current TV dramas which capture the gloriously messy and stressful, day-to-day slog of child-rearing, work and marriage as deftly and incisively as this 21-year-old series did. In this case, analog still trumps the digital.
More on MommyTracked about thirtysomething:
Interview with Melanie Mayron  ("Melissa" on thirtysomething)
thirtysomething Stalker. 
Ode to thirtysomething. 
thirtysomething Again.