At that lunch of serious writers, the rest of the group talked about verb placement and rejection slips from The New Yorker.

But I was at the end of the table arguing with the famous editor from Miami about whether Hope was less irritable when she was pregnant, whether real men actually play Nerf basketball at the office and whether Nancy should forgive Elliot after the affair. The others, of course, were disgusted when they found out we were arguing about TV.But I'm tired of apologizing.

"thirtysomething" is good television, the show I learned to program my VCR for. When ABC sent out invitations for Billy and Ellyn's wedding, for a minute I considered buying a new dress. It's been four years, and I feel like Hope and Michael, Nancy and Elliot, Ellyn-Gary-and-Melissa are a part of my life. They've grown on me.

When my friends get together, we talk about people we know, the bald spots, the kids' names and the extra pounds that thicken waists. "thirtysomething" provides strangers a chance to gossip about mutual friends, this seven-person universe of characters who've achieved first-name-only status.

People continue to say they don't want to watch the whining of a brat pack. They say they don't want to watch faked reality, the minutiae of real life, on their television screens. Those are probably the same people who were addicted to a certain unnamed show where a main character spent a whole season in the shower, the viewers who turned "Hee-Haw" into the longest-running show in the free world, the same bunch who remain loyal to "America's Funniest Home Videos."

For me, "thirtysomething" is a good watch, a show that sounds like good fiction reads. The details may not be technically accurate, but they're true.

Some episodes hit a reality vein, mining issues that fester for all of us, family and getting older, and love and getting older. It's about where the idealism goes when you start to make a respectable salary, about how friendships falter when marriage clutters things up.

This side of "The Simpsons," name one television show where people actually quote from the script the morning after. "If Hope and Michael, the perfect couple, can't make it work, who can?" asked a male friend last season. "Where in the hell is my Billy Sidel?" asked a female friend this season.

It's curious, really, to watch this show, television imitating real life. You can't think too much about the idea or the whole construct starts to turn around on itself, sort of like a pair of mirrors reflecting each other. Is it real or is it Memorex? Is it real or is it television? And to consider the great philosophical question of our time: If Hope and Michael were alone in the forest, yes, they would still whine.

I know this is just television, fictionalized flickers of light. This isn't brain surgery or an environmental protest or war or concert piano or even high school football.

The female characters on the show remain basically neurotic and basically shrill. (Obviously, a problem caused by too many male writers.) The male characters remain planted in Peter Pan-land. Everybody is white and privileged, with all too much time on their hands to invent new neuroses. I'm annoyed, too, by that unending visiting - if your friends really did drop by that often, when would you clean your bathroom? And where does Hope get those perky dangling earrings to match her sweats?

Maybe four seasons is enough. But "thirtysomething" proves to me there's justice in this big, old random world. Hope's thighs got fat. Gary died. Melissa wore black. Michael shouldered all that responsibility. Nancy lost her hair and her uterus, but lived. Nobody gets it all.

I like the fact that the lighting on the show is dark and moody. And I like this: These characters are complicated and layered and brittle and annoying, just like the people I know. Episodes of "thirtysomething" seem laced around two central themes: loss and friendship. Just like literature. Just like real life.