For a long time, many of the best actors wouldn’t dream of accepting a role on a television show. But these days, pop culture experts believe television is as good– if not better—than many Hollywood films. With hundreds of channels and streaming services, this is also a time when there are more influential older characters than ever before. How do these rich multi-faceted portrayals of older adults impact viewers of different generations? Here’s Jenerations Health Education’s top 10 list of the most influential older characters on television this past year:
71-year old Jeffrey Tambor (Maura on the Netflix series Transparent).
Jeffrey Tambor, perhaps known best for playing “Hey Now” Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show is winning awards and shattering stereotypes about how to “come out” as transgender later in life. He’s America’s fictional Caitlyn Jenner, contributing to our nation’s understanding of the challenges and bravery of an older transgender person.
58-year old Jenifer Lewis on Blackish.
While her role is a small one and she’s not on every episode, Lewis’ Ruby gives “difficult mother-in-law” a new meaning. Watching Tracee Ellis Ross play her very reasonable daughter-in-law gives Millennial and Generation X daughter-in-law viewers lessons in patience which could come in handy this holiday season! She might only be 58 years old in real life, but her character also resonates as a doting grandmother of four.
Captain Lee on Below Deck. Who??
If you want to witness how to deal with an eclectic group of one percenters, serviced by a much younger workforce, you need to check out this show. Captain Lee takes charge of a 160 foot yacht, motoring the “rich and famous” around the Caribbean. He not only handles high-maintenance guests on his boat, he must also manage a staff of Millennials taking care of a multi-million dollar vessel. Captain Lee’s exact age is not known but based on his resume we’re pretty sure he’s on the older side of Baby Boomer.
63-year old Mandy Patinkin on Homeland.
Is there anyone who wasn’t heartbroken when Saul and Carrie were estranged this season? While Claire Danes is clearly the star, our disappointment when they weren’t working together demonstrates that our Millennial lead needs her Baby Boomer partner and mentor.
68-year old Joe Morton on Scandal.
Does anyone not get a little nervous when Papa Pope, better known as “Command,” appears on screen? While lots of viewers have been enjoying Kerry Washington play house with The President this season, our favorite moments were when she sparred with Joe Morton. Even viewers with dysfunctional parent relationships must be grateful that their dad isn’t as bad as Olivia Pope’s.
69-year old Ed O’Neill on Modern Family.
While much of the Jay Pritchett character is a cliché (hot younger wife, new father in his sixties), it is enjoyable to watch O’Neill’s sincere and humorous portrayal of a modern-day patriarch to three generations. Since the premier in 2009, it has been gratifying to gradually watch as Jay’s understanding of his gay son increased. This progress in their relationship has kept time with real-life strides in the LGBT rights movement. Who would have thought we’d see the former Al Bundy in such an evolved role.
#4, 3, 2, 1
The cast of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie.
If you have not seen this show, you should make a point to watch it as soon as possible. The ensemble of 76-year old Lily Tomlin, 77-year old Jane Fonda, 75-year old Martin Sheen and 75-year old Sam Waterston are the most influential older characters on television. These spectacular actors remind us that 1) it’s never too late to embrace who you are and 2) older women are the most resilient creatures on the planet. Even though the second season hasn’t yet been released, it’s so good that the third one is currently being filmed.
What do you think of our picks? What other influential older characters on TV would you have included?