There’s nothing quite like kicking your feet up and tuning into your favorite television show after a long day. And while it often seems like TV and movies are narrowly focused on telling the stories of young people, we love these five shows in part for their portrayals of older characters. From public stories of defending the nation to personal stories of dealing with heartbreak or falling in love, these are a few of our favorite TV shows featuring older actors.
“Grace and Frankie”
Netflix’s breakout comedy series “Grace and Frankie” stars critically acclaimed and award-winning Jane Fonda (78) and Lily Tomlin (76), who form a friendship against all odds after learning that their husbands have fallen in love and want to get married. Upon receiving this news, the two are forced to live together and work out their differences. The show also features Martin Sheen (76) and Sam Waterson (75) as Grace and Frankie’s husbands. You can watch the first two seasons whenever you want on Netflix.
In real life, “Grace and Frankie” also brought the important issue of unequal pay to the public eye. When Fonda and Tomlin voiced their concerns that the supporting male actors were making just as much as the female stars per episode despite having less screen time.
Starring Claire Danes as CIA officer Carrie Mathison and Mandy Patinkin as her mentor Saul Berenson (63), “Homeland” is a political thriller that follows Carrie and Saul’s endeavors as they fight threats to national security. While Patinkin has taken on numerous roles including Broadway productions, animated films and voice acting, there’s nothing quite like watching him play a powerful CIA agent straddling the line of what is right versus what is easy as his role of mentor gets increasingly complicated.
The show has won numerous awards including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series and the Golden Globe for Best Television Series. Patinkin himself has been nominated for both Emmys and Golden Globes for his work on the show. You can catch the season six premiere January 15th on Showtime.
While the doors of “Downton Abbey” may have closed at the end of last year, they certainly didn’t close in our hearts. In addition to its complex plotlines incorporating historic moments like the sinking of the Titanic, the series also featured an outstanding cast across a wide age range. Maggie Smith (81) was perhaps the most notable character in the series and received praise for her role as the cunning Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Besides being a fan favorite and staple on the show, Smith was also one of the most quoted characters of the the show and got to close out the series with a now famous last line, “If only we had the choice.”
The show has garnered critical acclaim since it began and is PBS’ most successful drama series to date. You can still catch Downton Abbey on Mondays, as well as watch the whole series from start to finish online.
“Call the Midwife”
Another British import, “Call the Midwife” is a showcase for several talented older actresses. The show follows the work and personal lives of a group of midwives in London’s East End in the 1950s. The group is led by several Anglican nuns, including Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt, 80) Sister Evangelina (played by Pam Ferris, 68), who teach the younger midwives. Though Sister Monica Joan has memory loss, she remains an important part of the community, and many episodes deal with how others respond to her symptoms.
The series is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth. And while Vanessa Redgrave (79) only appeared on screen in one episode, she narrates the series as the voice of Worth, looking back on her experiences during that period. Redgrave has continued to narrate the show even after it departed from Worth’s memoirs and the younger version of her character left the show.
“Call the Midwife” touches on some of the challenges that can come with aging with both humor and compassion, while also portraying the older women as smart, skilled medical practitioners. “Call the Midwife” is currently in its fifth season on PBS, and you can catch up on past seasons on Netflix or on DVD.
“Jane the Virgin”
The CW’s “Jane the Virgin” has been getting a lot of attention thanks to its successful adaptation of the telenovela genre to English-language television. This show, which is loosely based on a Venezuelan telenovela, skillfully combines zany comedy with heartfelt drama in its story of a young woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated. As the grandmothers of the titular Jane, Ivonne Coll (69) and Rita Moreno (84) get to play their roles both for laughs and for more emotional moments. Coll appears in every episode, while Moreno has appeared as a recurring guest. (For more on Moreno’s career, read our Respect Your Elders post about her.)
This show regularly touches on intergenerational relationships, as Jane, her mother and her maternal grandmother live together and discuss everything from their love lives to their finances. With the third season beginning on the CW in October, you may want to catch up on the first two seasons on Netflix or on DVD now.
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