A Stop at Willoughby

I happened upon a bootleg of this seminal episode of thirtysomething last night. I was reminded, yet again, how groundbreaking the series was, on so many levels.

This particular episode touches on war, American patriotism, free speech, advertising, and career burnout. It aired in May 1991, in the shadow of the Gulf War, and, in a way that would have been inconceivable in an earlier day—or, for that matter, since—it both called that war into question, and placed it inside the context of a military-industrial-advertising complex.

This all played out against the background of Michael Steadman (Ken Olin) having increasingly severe anxiety about his personal and political role in all this, playing against the unvarnished capitalist Miles Drentell (the brilliant David Clennon).

The part of the episode that hit me the deepest, though, is how Michael and his wife Hope (Mel Harris) touch each other: again, in a way that wasn’t seen on television before, and has seldom been seen since, it is the unhurried workaday touch of mutual affection.

It’s not surprising I was drawn to that, I suppose, because in my own life it is that touch I miss the most.