IT’S not like I can pinpoint the exact moment of this paradigm shift, but at some recent point in my life, I went from assuming that everyone I meet is older than me to assuming that everyone’s younger.
Sure, my conclusions could simply be written off as a matter of probability and median age, but they also have to do with attitudes. When I was in my 20s, a lot of the people I met — friends, co-workers — seemed like they had their shit together. Because my shit was scattered all around like a monkey’s, I just figured these people must have lived longer than I had, that they obviously had more time to become responsible adults.
Now that I’m 43, I meet a lot of people who are younger than me — and, alarmingly, they seem to be way more together. I guess I can accept my age and my relative aimlessness — I am a charter member of the slacker generation, after all. What I can’t accept is that I’m older than Bob Newhart.
At least the Bob Newhart I knew and loved, the one I watched every day as a kid, the balding shrink who seemed so adult, the voice of reason amid sitcom chaos.
I was revisiting “The Bob Newhart Show” on DVD a year or two ago and I think his wife Emily made a reference to him turning 40. Forty! How the hell could I be older than Bob Hartley!? Then it happened again, as I watched a sixth(!)-season episode of “I Love Lucy.” There was a reference to Ricky being in his 30s. Huh? I’m even older than Ricky Ricardo?! A guy in black and white?
It’s deeply unsettling — I’m older than the TV characters I looked up to and learned from as a little boy, the people I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m older than Mike Brady, my generation’s surrogate dad, a man who had words of wisdom to impart in any situation. I’m older than Rob Petrie, whose TV-writing job — and wife — looked so awesome. I’m older than Major Nelson, and he was an astronaut! I’m older than Mary Richards when she left WJM. Fuck, I’m probably older than Lou Grant.
I can live with the fact that I’m older than just about all the characters that populate current TV shows — fortysomethings have been a rare sight on TV since “Friends” took over (and even those characters would be considered old if that show debuted today). The casts of ’80s shows like “Hill Street Blues” and “St. Elsewhere” look positively geriatric compared with the casts of today’s hourlong dramas. (I was amazed by the abundance of gray hair in the opening credits of a “St. Elsewhere” episode I watched recently. Try to find one gray hair on “Grey’s Anatomy.”)
But it’s hard to accept that I’ve gotten older than the grown-ups I grew up watching, the wise characters who made adulthood look so appealing to a young boy. I’ve passed them by yet I still haven’t gotten my shit together — no TV-writing job, no family of my own, no nightclub where I can play my bongos. Where’s the tough-but-loving lecture from Mike Brady when you need it?