Top 10 Fan-picked thirtysomething Episodes

As we celebrate the thirtieth birthday of thirtysomething, I have been trying to think of fun ways to discuss the show. Of course, one way is my new book thirtysomething at thirty: an oral history which will be released on June 7th. You can pre-order it from this website. The book lets the actors, directors and writers talk about the episodes. But what about the fans? I thought it was time for you to have your say. I put out the word for fans to send me their top 5 episodes. I gave each vote a weighted number, 10 points for #1 and 2 points for #5. The votes have been tallied. Here are the top 10 episodes voted on by you, the fans, and this time there is no electoral college to mess things up.
Let the countdown begin:
10. Happy New YearWritten by Richard Kramer Season 4 Episode 72
Michael and Hope have a New Year’s Eve party and all but one of the group attends. This episode, according to writer Richard Kramer, is his tribute to the James Joyce novel, The Dead. Richard told me about the challenge and the gift of writing an entire story that had to stay in one set, the Steadman household. I am not surprised this is a fan favorite because this episode shows all of our friends together. It feels like family. The problem is, death is hanging over everyone. Nancy is not in this episode, but her cancer lingers over every smile that Elliot (Tim Busfield at his very best) shows. He tries just a little too hard and we can feel his sadness. I loved getting to talk to Richard about this episode because I totally disagree with him about what this episode means, but I guess he gets to win because he wrote it.
9. Fighting the ColdWritten by Joseph Dougherty Season 4 Episode 77
Another gathering at Hope and Michael’s house where death is an uninvited guest. Viewers were put through an emotional roller coaster the week before this episode aired. Now the show comes to a cold, cold place where everyone has to deal with the loss of Gary. This is another episode that takes place in one set; we have everything we need here. Joe Dougherty says this is the best directing he has ever done. It is some of the best directing that anyone has ever done. The way this episode handles flashbacks is spot on. The set looks cold and we feel the pain that Susannah is going through. Patricia Kalember gives a great performance in this one.
8. StrangersWritten by Richard Kramer Season 3 Episode 44
Last week I wrote an entire blog about this episode. You can read a detailed explanation of this episode here. This episode mattered to people because it displayed homosexuality just like it showed everything else on thirtysomething – just how it is in real life. Television and America needed to be told to start facing AIDS and homosexuality back in 1989. I am hopeful it doesn’t need to be told those things today, but it probably does. Love is love is love is love. As I mentioned in the blog, it is the Melissa story that is truly moving in this fan favorite.
 7. Tie: Michael Writes A Story Written by Joseph Dougherty Season 2 Episode 34
 
Michael Writes a Story is very pivotable in the journey of Michael’s life. He is out of work and decides to take a stab at writing. It doesn’t play out as he hoped. In the meantime, Miles Drentell is offering Michael an offer he can’t refuse, a job. The juxtaposition of art and commerce collide to tell a story that, for me, is the most personal. After seeing how high this ranked, I must not be alone. This is a fun episode to watch the first time, but the second and third time, you start to see how much this decision changed the Steadman family.
Closing The Circle – Written by Richard Kramer Season 4 Episode 80
In Closing the Circle, Michael’s life is changed because of forces outside of himself. Everyone else has moved on from Gary’s death. This episode brings to a close the story of Gary/Susannah/Michael. An unlikely threesome of people who were all headstrong. I am never a fan of ghosts on television. When people ask me why, I always say because thirtysomething did it right, so no one else should even try. When I interviewed Richard Kramer, who also directed this episode, he said the above shot was his favorite. It shows how alone Michael feels at this moment. The end of this episode breaks my heart every time. I have told Richard that no man has made me cry as much as he has.
6. Tie: Ellyn’s Wedding – Written by Jill Gordon Season 4 Episode 79
Just when the show was at its darkest point, they give us the highest peak of happiness in the series. Ellyn and Billy get married. This episode is structured as a fun flashback that tricks us and plays with our expectations. But it is the end musical montage that sticks with me. Director Scott Winant designed the ultimate wedding montage set to the Ray Charles classic, “Come Rain or Come Shine.” I don’t see how anyone can watch Polly Draper’s acting and not cry at the end of this episode. After having so many sad cries, we needed a happy cry so badly at this point in the series.
We Gather Together – Written by Susan Miller and Richard Kramer and Edward Zwick Season 1 Episode 6
 
My guess is fans of the series watch this episode every Thanksgiving, hence it ranked high on the list. The gang gets together for Thanksgiving while Hope stays upstairs and looks at pictures. One thing that ties all of these top episodes together seems to be the feeling of friendship. This is the first episode in the series that really showed us that they are actually a family, not just friends. That theme grew deeper and deeper as the series continued. What could be more familiar than gathering together at Thanksgiving with our loved ones?
5. The Go Between – Written by Joseph Dougherty Season 3 Episode 61
The two part story about the take over of DAA begins here. This episode probably has the most plot of any in the series. We have watched Michael and Elliot grow in the business world since the pilot. This episode brings all those moments to a head. The cliff hanger ending of Michael firing Elliot is shocking as he sits next to Miles, the heir apparent. When I was doing research for the book, I found out they were supposed to win and Miles was supposed to leave the show. At the last minute, Marshall said, “Are we crazy? Why would we lose Miles?” Good choice.
4. Arizona – Written by Susan Shilliday Season 3 Episode 59
Not that anyone asked, but this is my all time favorite episode of thirtysomething. Michael and Hope visit Hope’s parents to celebrate her parent’s anniversary. This put our favorite couple trapped in a house where they can’t escape each other. This is where we see the cracks in their marriage, magnified by the watchful eye of Hope’s mother, the wonderful Shirley Knight. This was the last episode written by Susan Shilliday and the last episode that Edward Zwick directed for the series. I guess when you hit perfection you get out. I like to say this episode is an hour of what marriage is really all about. If you have forgotten this episode, go watch it again and thank me later. The fact it ranked #4 I guess means, you haven’t forgotten it.
3. Therapy – Written by Susan Shilliday Season 1 Episode 11
I feel like I could spend the entire paragraph just writing about how this is only the 11th script for this series. This episode is so good it should be much later in the series. One of my greatest honors in writing the book was the fact that I got to interview Susan Shilliday. Her scripts are so personal and well written. This episode finds Nancy and Elliot working on their marriage in therapy. The arguments between the characters are so real that viewers forgot that they were watching television. You know how I said I can’t stand ghosts on TV, well that goes double for shows that use a therapy session. If you can’t do it as well as this episode does, then don’t even bother. Also, the “B” story, Ellyn’s tattoo, is the best use of a “B” story. If anyone ever asks me to teach a class on television, I will use this as an example of a perfect script.
2. I’ll Be Home For Christmas Written by Richard Kramer Season 1 Episode 9
I consider this the first great episode of thirtysomething. It isn’t that the first 8 aren’t good, they just aren’t to the level that the show develops to. In this episode we really see who Michael is, we see how important family is and we learn about Melissa and Michael. I watch this episode every Christmas and cry. I always think that when Melissa steps out of the shadows, I won’t cry. Not this time. I can hold it in . . . but nope, I cry. This is my favorite Richard Kramer script. It came in second place with a bullet. No doubts, no ties. This is obviously an episode that the fans cry at too. It’s Hanna-claus. Happy Pagan Ritual.

AND THE #1 FAN EPISODE IS . . .

1. Second Look Written by Ann Lewis Hamilton Season 4 Episode 76
There are some twists that we just don’t see coming. There are moments of television that will live in us till we die. Second Look is one of those episodes. This episode came in first place by a ton. It crushed everything else. With a script that handles death so simply, direction by Ken Olin that doesn’t give the viewer a moment to prepare and acting from Patty Wettig and Timothy Busfield that is just heart breaking, I am not surprised this is the number 1 pick. Cancer, death, friendship, loss and love. This episode has it all. Here is an excerpt from thirtysomething at thirty from writer Ann Hamilton about how she was chosen to write this script.
Ann Lewis Hamilton: Ed and Marshall were very democratic in how they would hand out big scripts. It was kind of the luck of the draw that I got to kill Gary. My dad had died ten years earlier and I never liked on television when death is too Bergman. I wanted to write about the simplicity of it. I wanted people to say, “Gary’s dead. Gary’s been killed.” When my father died very suddenly of a heart attack, there was not a lot to say except, “My father died.” It was the simplicity of the lines that I really like. -Except from thirtysomething at thirty
 Great list of episodes. Thanks for voting everyone. There is one thing I want to point out. Every list submitted by a fan had 1 episode on it that no one else voted for. Think about that. Everyone has that one episode that only they love. I think that speaks volumes about the series. So while episodes like Nancy’s Mom or Undone or Her Cup Runneth over might not have made the top 10 list, they received votes by fans who love the series. Next week’s #thirtysomethingthursday is going to be huge. Tune in and see what I have in store for you. Be sure to pre-order the book, thirtysomething at thirty, at this site to get the free postcard of the front cover and for me to sign it.
SCOTT RYAN IS THE AUTHOR OF THIRTYSOMETHING AT THIRTY:AN ORAL HISTORY and THE MANAGING EDITOR OF THE BLUE ROSE MAGAZINE. FOR MORE INFORMATION from Scott Ryan Productions CLICK HERE.

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3 thoughts on “Top 10 Fan-picked thirtysomething Episodes”

  1. All fantastic episodes!
    I love every show!
    It was a time in my life where I had my son on 1987 and my daughter in 1991.
    I don’t see it as whiney or bitchy
    I see it as real life, an era of young married life. The shows touched on every aspect of a middle class working couple climbing the ladder if life.
    Very talented writers, actors, everyone behind the scenes who work hard but never an honorable mention, and thankful the producers who picked the series!
    Just love the shows and the stories the have brought to the table!

  2. Thank you Scott, for putting this and your book out there for everyone that loves thirtysomething. I am trying to contain myself waiting for this book! The top ten episodes are spot on, even though a few weren’t in my top 10 – that is how it is with this show, you try to pick the “best” or “favorite” episode and you may end up with a ton of crossed out episodes because who can pick just 10? It may be easier to ask which were our least favorites….. but then again, I doubt very much that there would be many of those!! I was 25 when it first aired, and now at 55, I love it even more! I pull out my DVD’s every once in a while for a thirtysomething marathon and my family knows better than to bother me!! Thank you to all the writers, directors, producers, actors, etc. for all you have done! (I feel like I’m accepting a Golden Globe Award!!). If it wasn’t for all of you and your immense talent, we would have never had the new friends/family of thirtysomething you so graciously gave us!!

  3. Great list, Scott! Doesn’t it feel like we’re talking about old friends? Everything I needed to know about life I learned from watching thirtysomething. I can’t wait to read Susan’s interview ;). Thanks for the shoutout “it’s Hannah Claus! Happy Pagan Ritual!” It’s not Christmas at my house until I say those words! Great work, Scott! I can’t wait to get your book.

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