thirtysomething, Adventureland, Duplicity – DVDs for 8/25/09

Without a doubt, Criterion delivers the goods for the best of this week’s DVD releases, with the high art of Chantal Akerman’s masterpiece of modernist cinema Jeanne Dielman and the wildly energetic grindhouse art of Nikkatsu Noir Japanese crime cinema, both of which I review in greater detail elsewhere on my blog. But that’s not all the week has to offer.

thirtysomething: Yuppie TV goes gold
thirtysomething: Yuppie TV goes gold
Television has always seemed a little behind the times, which is why the launch of thirtysomething (Shout! Factory) was embraced with such passion in 1987: it reflected the lives of young professionals starting families in their thirties. The credits roll suggests an ensemble show, but it’s really centered on young marrieds and new parents Michael and Hope Steadman (Ken Olin and Mel Harris), with friends, family and professional colleagues orbiting around their family (among them Timothy Busfield, Polly Draper, Peter Horton, Melanie Mayron and Patricia Wettig). [NOTE: I was admonished by a friend who insisted that the series was indeed an ensemble show, which I’m sure it did evolve into. I never saw it when it was on TV but based on the episodes I watched on the DVD, the first season pivoted on this couple and they dominate certainly the first half of the season at least.]

Created by director/writer/producer team of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, it was drawn in part from their own lives, balancing careers and parenthood, managing expectations with compromise, wondering why it isn’t as simple as it looks on all the rest of the sitcoms and family dramas on TV. Yes, it’s yuppies dealing with the same problems their parents faced, but it also avoided contrived melodrama and clichéd situations to confront the frustrations that real people faced in lives that were never as easy as they looked or as happy as they were supposed to be. It was a success because audiences recognized themselves in it, but it was a hit because they targeted the audiences that advertisers like best.

21 episodes on six discs in a box set of three thinpak cases plus a very nice collection of supplements. Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick chart the development of the show’s creation in an animated thirty-minute discussion. The cast and writers join in for the retrospective documentary From thirtysomething to Forever, interview featurettes and commentary tracks on nine episodes. And the ten-minute “Cultural Impact” is no self-congratulatory reflection but a look at the changing face of the TV audience and the show’s place in the social conversation. Also comes with a very nice episode guide packed with stills and short essays. In short, everything the show’s fans could want for a TV reunion. Continue reading “thirtysomething, Adventureland, Duplicity – DVDs for 8/25/09”

New review: Adventureland

Adventureland (dir/scr: Greg Mottola)

Adventureland is more than just a chintzy theme park outside of Pittsburg, where college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) spends a summer trying to save money for graduate school. It’s the real world adventures of life in the space between college and independence, that place where you think that you’re an adult but have yet to live outside of the bubble.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart

Greg Mottola’s semi-autobiographical coming of age comedy is as smart and perceptive as they come. It could be Superbad four years later, where the smart kid has embraced college and left his high-school world and identity far behind. College grad James reads poetry for pleasure, has been accepted to post-grad journalism school at Columbia and plans a summer bopping around Europe with his college buddies. Until his parents break the bad news: Dad has been demoted (this is the pre-downsizing generation) and the once upper-middle-class lifestyle loses a prefix. The European summer romp becomes a working vacation and he’s pulled back into the working class environs that he thought he left behind. If he’d given it any thought at all, that is. James hasn’t been all that aware of class and it’s clear that he got through college without a part-time job or work study. He’s unqualified for any job but Adventureland, a rickety park just a few notches above a county fair midway, and he’s sized up immediately by the park manager (Bill Hader, behind a mustache that deserves its own screen credit) as a “games” man, working rigged games in the midway, where “nobody wins a big-ass panda.”

Continue reading “New review: Adventureland”