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Saturday Letters : 'Something' Familiar

October 03, 1987

I read Howard Rosenberg's enthusiastic review of the new ABC series "thirtysomething" ("New TV Generation Gets Older, Better," Sept. 29). My wife (age 30-something) and I (like Rosenberg, age 40-something) then watched the premiere episode. Boy, were we disappointed!

Sure, the series concept holds worthy promise: a realistic, poignant look at the lives of attractive, articulate people who have just crossed the threshold from the protracted childhood our society affords the educated children of the upper middle class into the responsibilities and ambiguities of adult lives committed to love and work.

It was nice to see Ken Olin again, resurrected after his "Hill Street Blues" character's gruesome death. It was nice to see Melanie Mayron, newly slender, emerge from commercial obscurity after having endowed quiet, gentle films like "Girlfriends" with her considerable charm. The acting and direction were pleasing. The photography was fluid and handsome. But the tale was not worth the telling.

This hopeful new TV show is, to judge by its premiere episode, an abased amalgam of every generational truism and cliche already exhausted by "The Return of the Secaucus Seven," "The Big Chill," "Lost in America" and the comic strips "Doonesbury" and "Cathy." Worse, executive producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick take callous or ignorant liberties in their depictions. None of the characters seem to be as old, even, as 35, yet they are made to speak of memories of civil disobedience and tear gas. But they'd have been no more than 15 or so then, dropped off by their parents to spend a Saturday demonstrating in front of the Pentagon or at the shore of Lake Michigan. You might expect and tolerate such liberties taken with more historically distant events, but not such synthetic telescoping so soon.

And having Hope, the new mother, stay home in a grand old house to tend her baby full time is an amazing distortion of the actual financial situations of most young professionals. For instance, few junior associate lawyers or medical residents can easily keep a wife and baby at home single-handed in today's economic climate. Herskovitz and Zwick must be inspired either by callous convenience or by honest ignorance of the fact that most conventional professions, including advertising, do not reward their young practitioners with salaries and perks as those the entertainment industry routinely disburses.

For all its good intentions, "thirtysomething" is little more than ABC's over-earnest antidote to the shallowness of "Moonlighting." For my money, when I want to observe believable fictitious yuppie lives and loves, I'll continue to watch "L.A. Law," which, within its Bochco-stylized context, treats the conflicts, losses and triumphs of work and relationship with more accuracy and less cartoonish piety.


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