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Thirtysomething Sequel: How Will This Landmark Show Tell Our Story Now?

ABC has just greenlighted the return of thirtysomething, the show that encapsulated our angst about finding the balance among marriage, career, and kids. How do you think the characters have fared as they enter sixtysomething?

Where were you when thirtysomething premiered in 1987? Were you thirty something yourself? Maybe you, like the characters Micheal, Hope, Elliott, Nancy, Ellyn, Gary and Melissa, were worrying at various times about your career, whether you’d get married or have kids, or if you were already married with kids, how you would make all of that work together.

A lot of time has passed since those characters became part of our life. In fact the show itself is thirty something. Now, because every form of entertainment that ever stirred the Nielsen meter during our formative years must come back to us, thirtysomething is returning to ABC, with a new name, thirtysomething(else). At least four of the original cast members will be back: Ken Olin (Michael), Mel Harris (Hope), Timothy Busfield (Elliot), and Patricia Wetting (Nancy). The original creators, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, are on board too, leading the gang into sixtysomething territory. Anyone want to take bets on when a remake of Friends will drop?

During its four-season run, the show was often slammed for the characters’ self-absorption, but now in the age of social media when people become millionaires just by filming themselves eating crab legs, that charge seems laughable. Depending on where you were in life, the show could seem deeply relevant or insufferably whiney. But one thing for sure, it encapsulated “white people problems” before that term had even been coined.

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What to Expect

So, what will the avatars of our youth be up to now? I’m sure there will be plenty of jokey comments about Viagra and hot flashes. I imagine a whole episode centered on Hope’s dithering over whether to let her hair go gray. The kids in the original show are now thirtysomethings themselves, which is the irony and the pathos. The Goon Squad has come for a visit, as Jennifer Egan would say. We are aware of the passage of time in a way that squeezes our heart.

If the show aims to be true to life, the kids will have delighted and disappointed their parents in plenty of ways. The lives of Michael, Hope, Nancy, and Elliot will not have unfolded as expected. They will have grappled with bitterness, questioned their worth, and the values of society.

I have no idea how the new plot will unfold, but this is what I wish for the characters, and for anyone in the same general age group. I hope they now have perspective. I hope they will see that the worries that engulfed them then–vetting babysitters and lack of REM sleep–were small blips on the radar screen, compared to the bigger concerns of adolescence and launching children into productive society. There is a huge world beyond one’s own belly button, or more precisely, umbilical cord.

I wish that they know the value of their friends, and how they will help them through all that comes next. And I truly hope they will have discovered something to pull them forward, to excite and challenge them at this time of life, and that they’ve found some sort of peace and kept their sense of humor, which let’s face it, are some of the best outcomes any of us can have at this point.

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By Jeannie Ralston


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