by Meredith O’Brien
After I wrote up my suggestions as to what new TV fare  could entertain you this summer, I spent some quality time watching the newly released thirtysomething season three DVD set  and thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you’re looking to delve into some meaty, moving meditations on what careers, parenthood, sexual malaise and cancer can do to a marriage, I heartily recommend you spend some time with Hope, Michael, Elliot and Nancy.
This was the 1989/90 season of thirtysomething where Michael got a big promotion at the ad agency, Hope got pregnant with baby number two (after having had a miscarriage in the second season) and flirted with a man with whom she was working, where Gary and Susannah had a baby and where Nancy Weston learned she had ovarian cancer soon after she let Elliot move back into the house. And, I’ve got to tell you, while watching this emotionally raw season, I personally gleaned loads of insight from these episodes with their stands-the-test-of-time observations about life in the ‘burbs.
Take, for example, what happened with the show’s central couple, Hope and Michael Steadman. They had two rather difficult episodes which suggested that all wasn’t necessarily well on the home front. The first was called “Love and Sex” in which Hope and Michael struggled with their unnerving realizations that they weren’t as sexually attracted to one another as they used to be and missed that spark, that intense emotional connection they used to have. Everyday life -- attending to the demands of a toddler, trying to get pregnant with a second child and having two careers – sapped their desire for one another and made them fret that the other had “checked out” of the marriage.
In another episode, they traveled to Arizona to attend Hope’s parents 40th anniversary party and were gripped with fear that they were slipping away from one another, that Michael was being swallowed up by his work – which Hope was convinced had permanently changed him as he was becoming more “corporate” – and that Hope, pregnant with their second baby, was becoming emotionally connected to a man with whom she was working on an environmental project who’d kissed her. The two clashed over how much of a toll his executive-level job was taking on their family and marriage, while Hope, feeling the need to assert herself and her needs, openly toyed with taking a job in another city because she didn’t want Michael’s job to dictate their entire lives. They confided in one another that they worried they wouldn’t make it to their own 40th wedding anniversary.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was the unmarried couple, Gary and Susannah, who worked in low-wage professional jobs, lived in an apartment where there was insufficient heat and hot water and were completely stressed out over how much quality daycare for their baby cost and how long the waiting lists were. While Gary was initially an at-home dad in his daughter’s first few months, he decided he needed work although the teaching gig he got didn’t pay well which caused strain between him and his good buddy Michael who, after being named the creative director of his advertising company, had suddenly become financially comfortable, though the Steadmans’ house was still a falling-down mess.
Despite the overarching storyline about what happens to a marriage once it’s severely strained by work and children and life, most folks remember this season as “the one where Nancy got cancer.” When I first watched these episodes, I remember thinking that Nancy’s cancer consumed the show. But 20 years later, I realized that that wasn’t so. The cancer thread was well done and didn’t suck up all the show’s oxygen, though it did win Patricia Wettig, who played Nancy, an Emmy, one of three she netted for her work on this series. She delivered a measured portrayal of how an at-home mom who’d been left by her husband to care for their two children, managed to resurrect herself, get a book published, get a job and flourish on the dating scene. When Nancy eventually reunited with her husband Elliot, she learned that she had cancer and had to resurrect herself from the ashes once again. Timothy Busfield’s depiction of Elliot -- who tried really hard to be strong for his wife and to assuage their children’s fears about their mother possibly dying -- was heart-rending.
One bit of trivia about season three: Brad Pitt made a small appearance as the boyfriend of Hope and Michael’s babysitter. His name was Bernard, and Hope was jealous that Bernard and her babysitter were so hot for one another (they had sex on Hope and Michael’s sofa) while Hope was feeling rather lukewarm toward her husband.
Now that I’ve finished watching the third season, I absolutely cannot wait for the fourth and final season of thirtysomething to be released on DVD. That’s the only season I didn’t see the first time around because when it initially aired I was busy finishing up my senior year of college . . . in what seems like a lifetime ago.
Did you watch thirtysomething the first time around? Do you have a favorite episode?
Also on Mommy Track'd about thirtysomething:
- an interview with Melanie Mayron 
- Ode to thirtysomething
- thirtysomething Stalker