When you think about it, it’s surprising that there aren’t more reality shows about hedonistic, wild senior citizens. There’s an undercurrent of sadness, after all, to seeing young people drink their lives away and make questionable romantic choices on Jersey Shore or The Hills. They have entire long lives ahead of them to screw up. The Situation is someday going to need to use those remaining brain cells to run a career. And there is a certain heart-hurting despair in imagining Heidi and Spencer Pratt someday sitting down with furrowed brows, poring over the instruction manuals for raising a baby.
Retired folks, on the other hand, still have lives to live, but all that high-stakes stuff behind them. No future careers to undermine, no pregnancy worries! Assuming health and finances permit, it’s a truly free life, and total freedom is the stuff of riveting reality TV. Which is why it’s surprising, but a good thing, that WE TV got there first, with Sunset Daze, which premiered last night.
Following a core of eight retirees at the Sun City community in Arizona, Sunset Daze—and you’ll just have to forgive the silly title—is dedicated to proving that life, and lust, don’t end at 65. There is, just like on the young-people equivalents we’re accustomed to, a range of personalities and types: a former nun, a golf-cart-driving “matchmaker,” a saucy-mouthed “wild” woman, a 72-year-old bachelor “player,” and so on.
You can guess, from the setup, the kinds of scenarios we’re going to see (yes, hot tubs are involved). And you can anticipate the ironies of seeing elderly people presented in the same kind of risque, flirty reality-show environment as 20somethings long have. But the great thing about the fun, good-spirited Daze is that is neither condescends to its subjects nor treats them as a joke. They’re real people, some trying to start over as singles, others maintaining relationships with family. (We see sweet-hearted Gail, an actress who sports a ’60s flip hairdo, showing up to support her son at a gay rodeo he participates in.) They may be playing roles, to the extent people on any reality shows do, but they’re not feisty-old-bird caricatures.
The fact that these are characters coming to the end of their lives rather than starting out adds a layer of interest and emotion to the show, but Daze doesn’t harp on it. Instead, as when ex-nun Ann overcomes her fears and goes skydiving, the idea of living one’s remaining years to the fullest, and savoring moments to contemplate, is implicit.
And somehow, moments like that—the skydiving, the nights out—seem less contrived than on typical reality shows since, after all, filling days with activities is part of the retirement community experience. In fact, I’m thinking there’s a business plan in this for the media entrepreneur of the future: the reality-TV-based active-adult community. Hey, Rob and Amber need somewhere to spend their golden years.