“The Cool Kids,” a new sitcom on FOX, stars an ensemble cast of characters residing at Shady Meadows Retirement Community. The official, published premise of the show is “Three guy friends in a retirement community are the top dogs until they’re blown out of the water by the newest member of the community, a female rebel who’s ready to challenge their place — it’s high school with 70 somethings.” As an aging services marketer, this show was sure to catch my eye. Recently, I sat down and binged the first several episodes, looking at it from not just an entertainment perspective, but also in light of my experiences with senior living.
The show’s cast includes some well-known comedic actors — David Alan Grier, Martin Mull, Leslie Jordan and Vicki Lawrence. Even the team members of the community are well-cast, including Artemis Pebdani as Allison, the community’s executive director, and Charlie Day as Chet, one of the maintenance technicians. This gave me high hopes for a funny, insightful show about life in a senior living community. After watching the first three episodes, I’m staying positive but am also mildly perturbed.
Let’s start with the positives. The program does have some pretty funny moments, showing just how unique and interesting life at a community can be. It does a good job of capturing some of the internal politics that occur when people live in such close proximity. Sure, there are some of the expected jokes, but if you look beyond the low-hanging fruit of easy laughs, the show has the potential to poke some good-hearted fun at the world of aging services. Unfortunately, the reliance on the easy laughs is where the writing takes a nosedive.
The first few episodes contain nearly every “old person” comedy trope in the books, up to and including the urn of a deceased friend falling, breaking and spreading ashes everywhere. There are many references to senior sexuality, making the male characters seem like lechers. Meanwhile, when Margaret shows signs of sexuality, she’s immediately shut down because of being “too old.” Of course, there are jokes about medications, aging in general and life in the community. I was especially disappointed in the portrayal of the community’s management as being iron-fisted and deaf to the needs of the residents. This isn’t the kind of portrayal aging services professionals need.
In the end, the show has some real potential, but the writing and direction of the early episodes rely too heavily on expected comedy. The characters aren’t shown as well-rounded people; rather, they’re given singular motivations that vary only a little with each episode. I could easily see how this show could become something special and unique, like “The Office” was for corporate America or “Parks & Recreation” was for public servants. But until the writers, directors and producers take a fresh look at aging, the show is going to be doomed for its use of age-old gags that haven’t aged well at all.