Formative TV Experience No. 8: Fuzzy-Haired Creative Basketcases
When I originally watched Thirtysomething, I glossed right over the themes about stay-at-home moms, marital stress, the ad biz, etc. No, I was about to graduate from college, so I consumed the show instead as one massive tone poem about the lives of Melissa and Ellyn, the single chicks in the ensemble. This was pre–Sex and the City, mind you: There were no other grown single women on TV. And these two were so vibrantly portrayed, so funny, with such great dialogue — which somehow didn't clash with the fact that they were also terrifying case studies in pathology: Melissa the needy Cathy cartoon and Ellyn the intimacy-impaired workaholic mistress type.
Melissa was particularly fascinating/horrifying to me, given her artsy dreams and moussed frizz and unfortunate leanings toward oversize overalls. Rewatching this episode, I realized I'd completely forgotten the whole plot about Michael and Hope's date night but remembered word-for-word Melissa's hilarious lyrics for the musicals of Sophie's Choice and The Sorrow and the Pity. The whole sequence between her and Gary was like a horror movie about dating, with flaky Gary doomed to be Melissa's fateful hookup. If I remember the episode correctly, it ends with them sleeping together and having nightmares about wedding cakes, then blowing up into a huge weepy falling-out over his inability to stop being a manipulative, shoulder-rub-demanding, elbow-patch-sporting professorial cheeseball.
I could never really sort out the show's strange mixed messages: It mocked Melissa's smug friends nicknaming her "poor Melissa," but that also really seemed to be the way things were — she was poor Melissa because she was single and needy, the same way Ellyn was an ice queen because she was childless and had enough free time to do aerobics. It was baked into the wedding cake.
Given my tendency to confuse people and the characters they play, I'm so happy that Melissa Mayron grew up to become a successful director of television shows, including In Treatment, a natural descendant of the talkety-talkety classic on which she made her name.