The good news is older actors are working all over the place, if by “all over the place” you mean CBS.
The bad news...
Let’s start with the good news. Because in this context, there are only three choices – working, not working and dead. And the other two are depressing.
I shall stick to comedies, which I dipped my toe into recently as I occasionally do to see what is happening without me. I will not be doing that again soon. Because my personal “Laugh Meter” watching those shows recorded, “I think my personal ‘Laugh Meter’ is broken.”
(On the one-hour drama side, there is Tom Selleck (72), who is beginning to resemble Mount Rushmore. Not literally, but they are approaching the same weight. I do not know whether Tom Selleck has had Botox treatments, but I dare him to wiggle his eyebrows Magnum P.I.-style to prove he hasn’t. And that’s it - two gratuitous insults, and “out.” Serves him right; the man kicked his once competitor Best of the West into oblivion. End of retributive diatribe.)
And now back to the subject at hand.
Judd Hirsch – 82 – Attaboy, Judd! – co-stars in Superior Donuts, respectably holding his own against a formidable comedy foil, Jermaine Fowler.
Elliot Gould – 79 – add (at least) five years for being married to Barbra Streisand – appears in 9JKL. As does
Linda Lavin – Holy Cow! – 80?
George Segal – 83 – appears on The Goldbergs.
James Brolin – 77 – add (at least) five years for being married to Barbra Streisand – although not at the same time as Elliot Gould – appears in Life in Pieces.
Selecting just five venerable actors, still trodding the televisional boards.
(Note: Not all of these shows are on CBS, most likely because there was not sufficient room on their schedule, and the actuarial tables called for a sensible “amortizing the risk.”)
I have seen all of the above-mentioned actors do better work – except for Judd Hirsch, who remains startlingly consistent, having, improbably, not lost a discernible “step”, either in timing or in “attack.” (Edging out Linda Lavin by a nose, which she may possibly have had worked on and now regrets it, if just in this narrow competitive context. Boy, I’m just a regular “Mr. Snarky Pants” today.)
Still, all of those Senior thespians – and I dare you to say that three times fast – provide professional performances, nobody “phoning it in”, everyone commendably giving their all, although the material they have been provided to work with is unilaterally beneath the capacities they have previously exhibited. (Except for, perhaps, Brolin, who, save for his excellent “cameo” in Pee Wee’s Great Adventure, reached the top of his abilities co-starring in Marcus Welby M.D., where his most demanding ”stretch” as an actor was riding a motorcycle. I’ve got to stay out of these brackets. I am losing my reputation as “a real ‘Sweetie Pie.’”)
Employing older actors in TV series – great!
I just sighed. Because it is simply “the way it is”. And I don’t like “the way it is.”
Fictional portrayals, in every aspect of actual life…
As my old grandpa might say:
As an analyst, Dr. M cannot bear watching a show where psychotherapy is depicted – with the exception of The Sopranos; there are exceptions to everything – because, as she inevitably explains –
“It’s not like that.”
Police officers, watching televised “procedurals” –
“Yeah, like you could get a subpoena in an hour, and an autopsy in a day.”
You get what I’m drivin’ at, right?
Dentists: “Nobody gets numb that fast. If I ‘went in’ that quickly there’d be screaming, and suing.”
Plumbers: “Where do they get ‘butt cracks’?”
Member of Any Ethnicity You Can Imagine: “I don’t know one person who talks like that.”
Real old is not close to how they portray it on television.
Claims a, now, certified expert on “old.”
Old people are working. But they are playing buffoons.
(What a fascinating word – “buffoon.”)
With TV-“old” you get “types.”
You get “warm.” You get “distant.” You get “gruff.” You get “cuddly.” You get “regularity” jokes. You get, “We’re still doin’ it” jokes. You get “dithery.” (“Where’s my glasses?” – “They’re on the top of your head.”) You get “philosophical”, but it’s annoyingly shallow. (Of the less than Platonic “You gotta role with the punches” variety.) You get manipulatively passive-aggressive. (Often emanating from Jewish mothers. Which, by the way, my “people” are hardly immune to the “Cliché Epidemic.” And with so many Jewish comedy writers…
JEWISH COMEDY WRITER: “We’re kind of actually more assimilated.’”
No. Or maybe. But what they are really doing is going for “easy laughs.” Earning, from me, none, with this dubious strategy. Maybe they need old writers, to deliver “the genuine article.” Or maybe they don’t. Because there are too many “What’s that’s”, as in “What’s that bump on my nose?” – featuring precautionary visits to specialists.
Bottom Line: But whoever writes it needs to internalize this:
From a personality standpoint, old people – like all people – are everything. Sitcoms lazily “scratch the surface” of that “everything.” Leaving wincing stereotypes in their wake, explaining, if younger audiences buy into those stereotypes, the painful paucity of visits.
Reliable “Rule of Thumb”: Whatever people were like when they were younger is essentially what those people are like when they are older. Only heavier, and with less hair.
Old people are people. Not single-attribute caricatures.
Sure, it’s great to see these talented actors still working. It would be spectacular, however, if they portrayed “old”, and not “TV old.”
But to get “funny” from that, the writers would have to assiduously “go deeper.”
No need to do research.
Just ask the performers on the show.