thirtysomething: “Second Look” airs, February 19, 1991
Originally published February 19, 2015.
I was just shy of my 21st birthday and a college dropout who couldn’t hold a job but who could hold onto unhealthy relationships. I spent my days watching TV and movies and regularly wondering if things in life were going to be okay. My favorite show at the time was thirtysomething, which was surprising. Most nights, I either slept in my car or on a friend’s couch – not necessarily “homeless”, but certainly “unrooted”. thirtysomething, on the other hand, was all about roots. Baby boomers with spouses and children and careers and mortgages. They were vulnerable and filled with angst, and viewers either loved them or hated them. I loved them. It was cinematic TV: brilliant characters, realistic mise-en-scene, angular cinematography worthy of Citizen Kane-era Orson Welles, great acting. It was a cinephile’s dream, and despite not being able to relate to the characters on any appreciable level, I really grew to care for the characters. In the show’s final season, one of the female characters was diagnosed with cancer. She spent the season undergoing chemotherapy and contemplating her own mortality. It was a theme through the season until midway through the season, when Nancy had her final cancer surgery and after an episode of worry and consideration about life and death, she was pronounced cancer-free. The characters gathered at the hospital to celebrate. As friends arrived and the celebration increased, they found out that the one missing friend – Gary, the whimsical college buddy turned English professor who had finally married and had a child – had been killed in a car accident. I remember watching the show in disbelief. I’d experienced the unexpected death of characters I liked before, but this felt different. Unexpected is one thing; this was a complete sucker punch. Because the entire episode had been about how people deal with looming mortality. Cancer diagnoses, by their nature, cause this kind of thinking. But it’s a “cause and effect” thinking. There was no “cause” for Gary’s death; he died as a result of living an everyday life. Gary’s death was a testament to the cruelest part of life – that sometimes, no matter how hard we fight it, we can never be prepared enough for the cruelty that life brings.
- The cast of thirtysomething reflects on the show on NPR’s Talk of The Nation