I’m reminded of this random, happy memory because TV Land, in attempt to court fortysomething, Gen-X viewers like myself has replaced long-running sitcom, Hot in Cleveland—which likewise concerned four older, single ladies rooming together and, of course, also starred the inimitable Betty White—in favor of shows that’ll better “get” me and my MTV-weaned ilk. Case in point: Younger, debuting tonight, which makes me wonder how TV Land’s strategy to target my demographic with its nostalgia-steeped programming is so out of whack with what we (or at least I) really want.
© TV Land
Younger stars Broadway veteran Sutton Foster as a 40-year-old stay-at-home mom who woos her way back into the workforce by pretending she’s 26. Foster’s open face and amiable air are like catnip, especially to any self-respecting theater dweeb, and any show produced by Darren Star, creator of Melrose Place and Sex and the City, is one I’m apt to log some serious couch time watching. There’s just one problem: to an actual 40-year-old, Younger‘s premise is depressing as hell.
In the teasers for Younger , nothing bums me out more than the sight of 27-year-old Hilary Duff, co-starring as Foster’s office galpal, looking as lacquered as a magazine ad with her cascading ombré tresses and sinewy upper arms, her sharp cheekbones delineated with a war paint-like slash of peachy-pink blush. That kind of over-processed appearance is one I no longer care to pursue, even while watching a fictitious character my own age.
One scene even makes a joke of Foster’s unwaxed nether regions, prompting another Gen Y character to disdainfully remark, “Oh, it looks like my mother’s—.” The promo cuts out right there, so the punchline pretty much sounds like, “I’m too old for this sh—.”
© TV Land
And I am. While it’s completely possible that Younger will turn out to be lighthearted and delightful, it’s also strange that a feel-good network would bank on bringing in the 40-to-50 viewership with a show that derives at least part of its humor from making fun of them. TV Land execs have said they’re striving for “edgy,” but they may have missed the mark and wound up with something many of us will find exhausting.
Which brings me back to Betty White. If TV Land wants to reach Gen X viewers by allowing them to, as one TV reporter put it, “luxuriate in the sitcoms and television style of their youth,” why take Betty White out of your secret sauce? Canceling Hot in Cleveland because it doesn’t jibe with fortysomething viewers and their sense of nostalgia strikes me as, firstly, a mathematical error. Don’t we all worship The Mary Tyler Moore Show? Didn’t everybody—man, woman, young, old—watch The Golden Girls in its heyday? (The same goes for White’s Hot in Cleveland co-stars. In my preteen years, I wanted to grow up to be Valerie Bertinelli on One Day at a Time. I still want to grow up to be Valerie Bertinelli.)
The week after The Golden Girls premiered in 1985, I vividly remember my older relatives sitting around the dining room table jawing over how provocatively funny the show was. In fact, that pilot was where I first heard the word “prostitute,” uttered by Bea Arthur’s Dorothy in one of her many sarcastic one-liners. Betty White’s sweet dunderhead Rose Nylund, however, gave the show its beating heart. Her slow-witted pauses were like perfect little balloons set aloft, waiting to get burst by another’s dagger-like comeback. That’s what The Golden Girls was, to my memory—the look on White’s face as it sat deliciously perched in the set-up of a joke.
On talent alone, Betty White holds a spot in our collective nostalgia, but she’s also so much more. In her whip-smart persona, wistfulness and aspiration intersect. She is edgy but timeless, an icon of reinvigoration and reinvention who, it’s relevant to note, appeared in her first movie at age 40 and didn’t create the role of Sue Ann Nivens until she was 51. Whether she’s guest-hosting SNL, getting ready to “freshen up my drunk” on Hot in Cleveland or rendering lunkhead actor Chris Evans palatable to a whole new fan base in the blink of a People’s Choice Award, she exemplifies that there’s always so much life left to live and to love.
Come to think of it, that might be the only way to justify TV Land’s decision to take her off its roster. As watchable as she is, Betty White ultimately doesn’t make me want to veg out on the couch. Like all those times I listened to her through my apartment wall, she makes me want to pick myself up off the sofa and get out there.