It’s tempting to judge thirtysomething Stories, an anthology of TV scripts by nine writers of thirtysomething, as a collection of interrelated short stories, but that’s unfair. Although the show’s scriptwriters are mining the same territory of contemporary life as writers like Ann Beattie and Bobbie Ann Mason, they’re working in a genre with its own merits — and its own restrictions. In lesser hands, the rigid format of these scenes from the lives of Hope and Michael Steadman and their friends — each script is broken into four acts with inflexibly timed commercial breaks — might constrain creativity. But the best use that formal structure to their advantage in surpassingly inventive ways.
All nine scripts have their strengths. The pilot by creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick skillfully sets up the show’s emotional boundaries of ambivalence, longing, compromise, and doubt, and subsequent teleplays explore the waxing and waning of religious belief, mortality, and sexual desire without resorting to melodrama or overkill. Which isn’t to say that the book will create many converts; anyone who hasn’t watched the ABC series will be mystified by such lines as ”Nancy smiles that peculiar Nancy half-smile.” But fans can take pleasure in supplying the absent elements of these tersely written scenes. To call these scripts ”stories” may be to bend them out of shape, the book’s title notwithstanding. But by the time readers have drifted through this collection’s subtleties, it’s clear that thirtysomething’s writers are skilled architects of drama, and these teleplays make fascinating blueprints.