It happened for the first time a couple of years ago when I turned on the television and stumbled upon a nondescript sitcom on network TV. The actress, who appeared to be in her late 40’s, was playing the television mother of an actor who looked to be in his early 40’s. I was confused when I heard the actor refer to her as “mom,” but then I realized that it was just another example of Hollywood’s insane ageism, particularly directed towards women—even actresses playing mothers to 40-year olds can’t be over 50. In order to continue watching, I somehow needed to reconcile that the “mother” had to be roughly eight years old when she gave birth to her “son.” And I couldn’t, so I turned the TV off.
Currently there are a number of shows on television where the real life age differences between the actresses playing mothers and the actors playing their children is scant to nonexistent.
There is a 16-year age difference between Sarah Chalke and her television mom, played by Elizabeth Perkins, on How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life), and the show’s entire premise is about how annoying your mother is when you have to move back home and live with her, post- divorce. But how annoying is your mom really going to be when you are so close in age? Moms are annoying when a real generational divide exists.
Another example is the 15-year age difference between actress Holly Marie Combs and her television daughter, Lucy Halle, on Pretty Little Liars. Yes, it’s physically plausible that Combs’ character gave birth at age 15. But teenage pregnancy is not the focus of the show. The minimal age gap becomes a distraction.
A new ABC television comedy pilot up now for possible pick up, Keep Calm and Karey On, stars Jane Seymour, who plays the television mother of Kelly Preston but is only 12 years older than her in real life. Likewise, there is an 11-year age difference between Sofia Vergera and her television mom, Elizabeth Pena, on Modern Family. An even more extreme example is the 3-year age difference between Mitch Pileggi (age 61) and his onscreen television mom, Judith Light (age 64), on the remake of Dallas, which forgoes the necessary make-up or wigs that would make the relationship look even slightly plausible.
I live in Tinseltown. I get that Hollywood is trying to sell us a fantasy, but what kind of sick fantasy is this—a 3 year old giving birth? Aside from being ageist, misogynistic and sexist, the trend also happens to be cringe-inducing to watch. Plus, it makes for really bad storytelling, pulling the viewer out of the narrative and incentivizing her to turn her television off.