Spotlight on “Ill Be Home For Christmas”

   Guest blogger: Author Lisa Mercado Fernandez

As a thirtysomething aficionado, even after thirty years, when given the opportunity to share my thoughts about one of the 85 episodes, my mind frantically begins to flip through mental photographs. I can see images and moments like stills in an old box and once I have the photos in focus the story quickly comes to mind. So the very concept of picking one over another to share my thoughts has become a rather arduous task. The question is not which one do I do but rather which one should I do first?

I settled my inner turmoil with my favorite episode. As impossible as it is for me to pick favorites from a series that continually delivered excellence in writing, acting and directing in just about every episode, I am forced to select one to start with.

I’ll be Home for Christmas.

No shocker here, this one has been a favorite for many fans for years. This is the first episode to give insight into Michael Steadman and who he really is. thirtysomething revolves around a magnificent ensemble of fine tuned characters whose intertwined lives are so beautifully written and portrayed. Like all of us, I have a favorite character and we could all sit down at a Starbucks and argue for hours about why we feel our character is our favorite, but one thing we can all agree on is that thirtysomething is truly a series about Michael Steadman and the world according to him.

Through the first few episodes we have seen Michael the doting husband, the new father, the loyal friend, the business partner and entrepreneur, but in this episode we peel back a few layers to see a more intimate side. Michael the insecure and conflicted man with jealous and creative urges that have been quietly stifled deep within.

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We are introduced to a driven and ambitious side with a thirst to succeed even if it means using others along the way. At the same time, we are shown a humble man who eventually can admit his failures and will part with his will for the ones he loves, in this case Hope and Melissa.

Richard Kramer so meticulously created some of the most eloquently written and memorable scenes of the entire series just in this episode alone. We get to see Melanie Mayron at her finest.

Since this is probably being read by fellow aficionados I will forgo doing any kind of recap and rather clarify my picks for the pivotal moments that make this episode so unforgettable.

I’ve always felt that it was a nice touch to have a pregnant aerobics campaign as the current account for Michael and Elliot especially for a Christmas episode. With pregnancy being a time of great waiting, it befits this episode perfectly since both Michael and Melissa seem to be waiting for acceptance and affirmation.

Michael’s disregard for Melissa’s schedule and failure to give her notice for the necessary photo shoot indicate his lack of respect for her talent and a general disbelief in her ability to be a successful photographer.

Although Melissa and Michael are cousins there is a slight discrepancy towards their faith and acceptance of Christmas.

While Melissa welcomes Christmas as a holiday, comically using a Barbie doll at the top of her tree and introducing her to Gary as Lauren, Barbie’s Jewish friend, Michael looks within to examine his adolescence and Jewish heritage.

I love that Gary is extremely introspective in this episode. I’ve often said, when discussing the series, that Gary is the Linus of the group. He is Michael’s inner voice – out loud. While Elliot attempts to persuade Michael to use Melissa’s first shoot, Gary is the one who calls out Michael’s real issues for his apparent disregard to Melissa’s work and feelings. Michael’s hidden desire to be a writer is exposed for the first time, and we the audience have an immediate aha moment thanks to Gary’s incessant prodding.

When Melissa casually mentions to Michael and Hope about meeting Andy Aronson and his implied interest in her work, Michael scrutinizes her assuming that she is being naïve about his motives.

Thus begins the tension that later explodes magnificently in Michael’s office. Elliot and Gary have front row seats to the Melissa and Michael stand off. I don’t know how many takes that portion took to film or if the director Robert Lieberman allowed any creative freedom in the scene, but it is brilliant. There is almost a crescendo in the tension and delivery between the two characters. Their banter is uncomfortable and almost cruel and for a moment we forget that we are watching two very talented actors at work and not the cousins they portray.

Here is an excerpt from thirtysomething at thirty by Scott Ryan. This section is from the chapter about I'll Be Home For Christmas:

Ken Olin (Michael): Everything shifted in that episode. Rob Lieberman came from a very different film background. They wanted the director to bring their own sensibility to the episodes. He was a hip, contemporary commercial director. He brought this vibe to the episode. It was really liberating for me. The struggle for me was how do I bring this character to life when I am not in synch with what Ed and Marshall wanted? They wanted a quirky type of performance. Rob really helped, we had a great relationship.

Richard Kramer: We really blew the lights out with that. When I was writing the fight scene for Melissa and Michael Ed said, “Take it as far as you can.” I remember Ken and Melanie shaking on the set after doing it because they were so overwhelmed by finding this in their characters.

Melanie Mayron: Rob had two cameras and they had the longest lens he could find which meant the cameras were really far away. It felt like it was just Ken and I on the set. The crew was back where the cameras were. When he said action we just went for it. It was like being on stage. We could play it as big as we wanted to the balcony because the people were sitting far away on the other side of the orchestra pit. It was the only time we shot the show that way.

from - thirtysomething at thirty: an oral history published by Bear Manor Media and Scott Ryan Productions.

As Michael’s conflict increases so does his guilt. As Christmas nears, we see Michael battle within himself and questions what is right. Ashamed with his behavior and embarrassed by his actions he reveals his greatest side. The side we shall see throughout all the episodes to come. Michael, in the end, will always do what he feels is right. We tend to always see the fight within us all. He brings Melissa’s photographs to the gallery owner, and he surprises Hope with a Christmas tree with once again, Gary’s help. And as good prevails, after trying to correct his mistakes and an attempt at making things right, Michael is rewarded in the end. As he enters his home he finds Hope and Janie waiting to light a menorah and Melissa, his loving and forgiving cousin waiting to embrace him and welcome him home.

Lisa Mercado Fernandez is the author of The Shoebox and The Eighth Summer. You can check out Her website for more blogs and books. She has been a thirtysomething fan since the beginning. Her photo collection is used in thirtysomething at thirty.

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2 thoughts on “Spotlight on “Ill Be Home For Christmas””

  1. Nicely written review. Also my favorite. I always thought it had “O’Henry” overtones. The best television I’ve ever seen.

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