Zach had just watched the 1980s TV show "Thirtysomething" for the first time and wrote an essay on it. He thought it would be good for Ad Aged. He sent it to me, and I agreed. Along with Zach's bio, his piece is below.
My career in advertising started like so many before me: Deciding between a copywriting internship at Ogilvy or working at a campground in Big Sur.
After realizing the campground was thirty miles from the nearest Chinese takeout spot, I delayed my return to nature for a sprint into advertising. My first accounts were working on NASCAR and Citizens Bank. On my first day, I learned people actually watch and care about NASCAR. On my fourth day, I was forcing my family to turn off an old Columbo episode for the battle at Talladega. They still haven’t forgiven me.
I worked at Ogilvy for the next six years, and in that time worked with mentors and friends who took the time to teach me the secrets of advertising. My favorite secret? Always sit on an email for at least the amount of time it’d take to eat a sandwich before sending.
After Ogilvy, I worked at Pereira O’Dell. I went from working in an 11-story building in Hell’s Kitchen to a one-floor shop with gorgeous chandeliers in SoHo. I loved it. Everything happened fast and you had to wear more hats than Jackie O.
I’m back at Ogilvy now and trying to take with me all the wise words my old mentors left me with. Always find the other Jews in the room. Always know the ins-and-outs of your coworkers jobs as if it’s your job too. Always find the free food in the building. Check, check, check.
A Thirtysomething Watches ‘Thirtysomething’
Thirtysomething Years Later
By Zach Buckner
When we have kids, do you want to have a bris," Rachel, my girlfriend, asked me.
Why can’t they just do it at the hospital?”
“You trust a doctor over a mohel? Gotta have a mohel,” I said.
“Where do you even find a mohel?”
“I can find us a mohel by tomorrow afternoon. We’re in Brooklyn. We can get mohels my ancestors only dreamed of,” I said.
“Would you want to raise your kids Jewish?” Rachel asked.
“Let’s see what Michael and Hope do,” I non-answered.
Like so many episodes before this, ‘Thirtysomething’ and all its chaotic, Boomer bliss was wedging itself directly in the middle of my relationship. Here I was, thinking we were going to passively watch a forgotten 80s classic, and instead it’s become a launching pad for the soul-deepening, relationship-defining conversations Rachel and I have been circling around for years.
Is it possible to continue growing alone as you deepen your relationship? Eliot isn’t so sure. Is marriage just slow asphyxiation for women as they juggle between what they want and what’s expected of them? Hope would like to have a word. Can backwards suspenders be a look? Melissa says yes.
A little background for the uninitiated. ‘Thirtysomething’ was a slice-of-life drama that aired on ABC. It debuted on September 29, 1987, and focused on seven thirtysomething friends as they tackle life and all its joys, uncertainties, and mundanity. There’s married couple, Michael and Hope, the linchpins of the show. Michael, Jewish, self-righteous, and reserved; Hope, a social worker turned stay-at-home mom with eyes and judgments that pierce through hearts and pantsuits. There’s Elliot, Michael’s advertising partner, with a goofy kid-like sensibility who acts first and regrets later; Nancy, Elliot’s wife, a pushed-aside, suffering artist. Ellyn, Hope’s romantic, ambitious best friend who works for City Hall. Melissa, a quick-witted, aspiring photographer, fashion sage, and Michael’s cousin. And then Gary, golden Bjorn Borg locks, equal parts charm and flakiness, English professor, and Michael’s best friend. Over four seasons, creators Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz throw our cast into a gauntlet of loss, love, grief, sickness, infidelity, casual sex, serious flings, and conversations centered on gender roles, gay rights, AIDS, hippy idealization, and yuppie conformity.
I was 110 days old when the season finale of ‘Thirtysomething’ aired on Tuesday, May 28, 1991. My biggest needs revolving around apple juice, naps, and my mom – who at 10 P.M. on that Tuesday night would be ignoring my juice-induced cries to see how her favorite thirtysomething Philadelphians faced their future. And now, 32 years and 4 months later, I’m cranking up my DVD/Blu-Ray player, skipping through ads for other forgotten 80s TV shows, and saying goodbye to my Boomer friends.
Watching ‘Thirtysomething’ is like a trip to the past. Literally. It’s not available on streaming services, so the only way to watch it is by buying or renting the DVDs. Unsure if I wanted another bulky DVD set to collect dust on my shelves, I rented the first season from my local library. I’m pretty sure I put the first ever hold on ‘Thirtysomething’ in the history of my library’s existence.
I didn’t expect ‘Thirtysomething’ to crash into my life and become a focal point for my conversations with coworkers, friends, family members, strangers, barbers, bartenders, and, most importantly, a tool to strengthen my own relationship with Rachel.
How is it a show by Boomers starring Boomers for Boomers would help us realize we’re ready for marriage and all mysteries that come with it? It’s ‘The Big Chill’ extended into four seasons, I thought. Not a mirror showing us our past, present, and future.
Let’s start with the basics. Like Michael and Hope, I’m Jewish and Rachel isn’t. She was raised Evangelical turned Episcopal, while I grew up Reform Jewish complete with a Bar Mitzvah and countless Rodney Dangerfield jokes ready to be fired off on command. Faith, religion, and how to balance the two have been recurring conversations of ours well before we started ‘Thirtysomething.’
What did being a Jew mean for Michael in 1987? A lot like what it means for me in 2023. A struggle to define, a blanket always nearby.
And what’s it mean to be with someone who isn’t Jewish? Does getting a Christmas tree make me a traitor? When I told my mom we were getting a tree, she responded with, “WHAT!?” It could’ve shattered mountains and split babkas. She followed with her trademark Brooklyn, Jewish escalation: “You’re not converting, are you?” I can’t help but wonder how she reacted to Hope and Michael having the same conundrum thirty years earlier. After Michael’s initial dismissal, he comes back with a tree and Hope surprises him with a menorah.
I know this doesn’t seem like major stuff, but like all of ‘Thirtysomething’ the action is an acceptance. After my own mini freak-out over our tree, Rachel and I shopped for a menorah. It lights up the corner of the room the tree doesn’t reach. Because ‘Thirtysomething’ isn’t about overtaking or overpowering. Whenever characters try it, they regret it. It’s about doing our best to hold everything at once. The endless push-pull to understand each other, toe the always moving line.
Watching ‘Thirtysomething’ makes me emotional and scared. It came to me like a secret passed between generations. A forgotten relic mentioned in passing by parents, aunts, and since laid-off older coworkers. I’m terrified of getting older. At 32, I already feel aged out of my industry. I regale younger coworkers with stories of advertising campaigns devoid of TikTok ideas like a Town Crier traveling through a square. Layoffs are a given. They swirl through like a hurricane that devastates every six months. I’ve seen talented writers and designers in their fifties and sixties laid-off via Zoom, Teams, and text. People with so much more to give, so much more to teach.
‘Thirtysomething’ is absolutely of its time. There’s big hair and bigger shoulder pads. Reagan undertones and failed hippie overtones. Everyone can own property, have families, and not worry about foreclosing on their homes. And yet, in each episode truths from the comically small to the brutally big emerge – from finding first babysitters to second look cancer screenings. There’s still so much to learn from it.
I don’t want ‘Thirtysomething’ to wash away into the Content Sea. Every few years, a retrospective piece like this pops up but then the old makes way for the new. It’s shaped and strengthened my own relationship. And once people get past the suspenders, colorful ties, and puffy hair, it could help them too. Or it could annoy them to no end. Both responses were the norm for the initial run of the show and are valid now depending on who’s watching.
Rachel and I haven’t figured it all out. We still don’t have a definitive answer for how we’ll raise any future kids. Maybe they’ll get a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Maybe they won’t. We’re still working on balancing our own individuality within our deepening relationship. If we’re ever struggling with work, sex, kids, friends, parents, religion, I know the perfect septet of thirtysomethings to help us get there.