The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Greg Sheri­dan

Ihave a com­plaint. (Now that’s some­thing un­usual for you — a colum­nist with a com­plaint.) The past two sea­sons of that bril­liant Brit se­ries Last Tango in Hal­i­fax lost their way. It re­mained su­pe­rior tele­vi­sion, but it welshed on the prom­ise in its premise, that life — in­deed love and ro­mance, and the glis­ten­ing fas­ci­na­tion of com­plex hu­man­ity — re­main alive for folks in their 70s and be­yond.

The 70s now are an es­pe­cially fruit­ful and promis­ing decade. A huge num­ber of peo­ple are func­tion­ally fit in their 70s. Al­most ev­ery­one of that age has their ail­ments, but most are mo­bile, in­de­pen­dent and with­out any cat­a­strophic loss of brain power.

It might be ex­ag­ger­at­ing to say 70 is the new 50, but I re­mem­ber read­ing a CS Forester crime novel from the 1930s in which a sus­pect was de­scribed as be­ing in her 50s but still quite “ac­tive for her age”.

But I di­gress. The first se­ries of Last Tango was one of the best things I have seen on TV for many a long year, and I wrote about it at the time. The plot con­trivance was that Alan and Celia, two wid­owed mid-70s folks, who had briefly been sweet­hearts 50 years ago, meet up again and in­stantly de­cide to marry, much to the cha­grin of their re­spec­tive fam­i­lies.

The first se­ries was a cracker as many shades of this ro­mance — and es­pe­cially the fine sense of charm in the re­newed ro­man­tic love of the cou­ple in ques­tion — were ex­plored.

The sec­ond se­ries was not quite as good as the fo­cus shifted away from Alan and Celia to their re­spec­tive daugh­ters, Gil­lian and Caro­line.

The third se­ries was a two-part spe­cial and con­tin­ued the drift so that there was no doubt that Gil­lian and Caro­line had be­come the se­ries leads.

TV ex­ec­u­tives surely cal­i­brated all the com­mer­cial dy­nam­ics and, splen­did as the whole thing was, de­cided there was in­suf­fi­cient de­mand for a full third se­ries. But most de­press­ing is their ap­par­ent con­clu­sion that love and life for peo­ple in their late 70s — as Alan and Celia are by se­ries three — is just too thin to sus­tain long-form tele­vi­sion.

It has seemed to me for a long time that pop­u­lar cul­ture was just about to em­bark on a love af­fair with the 70s to 90s. In the 1970s ev­ery­thing was about youth. As we baby boomers rocked into our ma­tu­rity, mid­dle age be­came the dom­i­nant group in pop­u­lar cul­ture.

But baby boomers are no longer the nu­mer­i­cally dom­i­nant co­hort. And per­haps they are rather in­clined to deny that they are get­ting into their 70s and 80s.

What­ever the rea­son, while we’ve had some no­table pop­u­lar cul­ture treat­ments of th­ese lat­ter decades of life, they haven’t be­come nearly as main­stream as I thought they would. Movies have been bet­ter than TV — you can’t ig­nore Clint East­wood.

In cast­ing Derek Ja­cobi and Anne Reid as the sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian leads, Last Tango set a stan­dard the other ac­tors couldn’t reach. The whole cast is good but none is re­motely as scene steal­ing and com­pelling as the two se­niors. It is dis­ap­point­ing that even with such mag­nif­i­cent act­ing re­sources, TV couldn’t rise to the idea of a whole se­ries around two peo­ple of that age.

There have been some older-folk Bri­tish sit- coms, As Time Goes By and One Foot in the Grave — both of them highly amus­ing in their way, but they be­gan with cen­tral char­ac­ters much younger. Vic­tor is re­tired early in One Foot and his wife still works full-time. The same with Lionel and Jean in As Time Goes By.

You do now tend to get at least one older per­son in most fam­ily dra­mas and sit­coms, even if they are of­ten con­fined to stereo­types (ec­cen­tric habits, health is­sues, and so on).

Pop­u­lar cul­ture of­ten ig­nores big chunks of so­ci­ety. For the long­est time there was an ab­surd white­ness to most Aus­tralian, Bri­tish and Amer­i­can TV. That has been pretty much solved, but other gaps have arisen.

Since the end, a decade ago, of what had been a roar­ing suc­cess in the Amer­i­can se­ries 7th Heaven, about a sym­pa­thetic Protes­tant pas­tor and his fam­ily, there have been al­most zero de­pic­tions of re­li­gious fam­i­lies.

Anti-Chris­tian bias is nearly ubiq­ui­tous, but why ne­glect the roar­ing se­niors?

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