Many memorable older characters have been showcased on the small screen over the years—Aunt Bea on “The Andy Griffith Show,” Martin Crane on “Frasier,” Abe Simpson on “The Simpsons,” even Grandpa on “The Munsters,” to name a few. However, until recently, only a handful of shows featured lead characters who are considered “older.”
That trend is beginning to change, as more shows have been created with central characters who are well into their 60s and beyond. And the best part is they’ve been big hits! It seems studio executives may finally be realizing that interesting, well-acted older characters bring viewers of all ages.
The list below are six shows that highlight in the best ways all the nuance and wisdom age brings:
The phenomenal success of “The Crown” isn’t just because it’s a juicy, drama-filled tale of the British royal family (many of whom are alive today, making the viewer feel as though they’re getting the inside scoop about familiar people). Much of its appeal is due to the complex and fascinating portrayals of Queen Elizabeth (played by Emmy winner Claire Foy, Emmy winner Olivia Colman, and in upcoming seasons, Imelda Staunton) and Prince Phillip (played by Matt Smith, Emmy winner Tobias Menzies, and, in upcoming seasons, Jonathan Pryce), who age throughout the series. “The Crown” gives you their deeply personal stories beyond their roles as the figureheads of the Church of England and the United Kingdom.
Downton Abbey (PBS, Netflix)
The bingeable series “Downton Abbey” is about an upper-class family in England in the early 20th century. It has the requisite beautiful young women and handsome, charming young men wooing each other and wearing beautiful clothes while they ride horses and, in the case of the staff, make elaborate meals and gracefully serve the lords and ladies of the home. However, it’s the older cast members who are the most compelling characters, particularly Maggie Smith, who won two Emmys for her portrayal of Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, and Jim Carter, the wise and loving butler whose job made him the heart of the home.
The Golden Girls (Hulu, Amazon Prime, Network TV)
“The Golden Girls” broke so many rules when it debuted in 1986. The characters said and did many things that would have been censored if they’d been spoken or done by younger actors, and that laid the groundwork for funny, emotional and highly relatable episodes that older people – and viewers of all ages, really – love to watch over and over. The show won 11 Emmys, including three of its four remarkable leads—Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan.
Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
The key to any good TV show is in the cast, and “Grace and Frankie” is the perfect example of that. Emmy winner Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, two legendary actresses with fantastic chemistry, lead the cast of this contemporary twist on “I Love Lucy.” The odd-couple pairing of the uptight and perfectly dressed Grace (Fonda) and the pot-smoking, laid-back Frankie (Tomlin) is both funny and touching. They grow to become deeply attached while sharing a home, and their obstacles as older women, including memory lapses and health scares, ground them even as they make us laugh.
The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
Alan Arkin and Emmy winner Michael Douglas play longtime friends navigating the challenges and ravages of getting old, including illness, loss, financial challenges and complicated families. Norman Newlander (Arkin), a wealthy Hollywood executive, has long conversations with his dead wife, who appears on the show in his imagination. At the same time, Sandy Kominsky (Douglas) is an acting coach who finds obstacles to success and happiness everywhere he goes. Their long-term friendship is the one thing both of them count on to keep their lives manageable, and their frank and funny conversations are relatable for any age.
Last Tango in Halifax (Netflix, BBC1)
Two widowers in their 70s, Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid), reconnect 60 years after they first met as children. Their unrequited love is sparked again, causing dismay and disruption for their families, who couldn’t be more different. As Alan and Celia’s relationship grows, their grown children and grandchildren deal with problems in their lives. “Last Tango in Halifax” has been praised for its realistic dialog and characters.