By Bill Brioux
Most actors try to play younger than their real age. Not so with the cast of The Cool Kids.
The sitcom is set in a retirement home, with David Alan Grier, 62, made up to look two decades older. Grier, who broke out in the ‘90s as one of the sketch players on In Living Color, is joined by Martin Mull (Roseanne, Fernwood 2Nite), Vicki Lawrence (The Carol Burnett Show) and Leslie Jordan (American Horror Story).
Mull is 75 and the others are all in their 60s. Is network TV finally ready for another retirement age comedy like The Golden Girls?
Executive producer Charlie Day thinks so. One of the stars of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Day grew up with The Golden Girls (1985–’92). The 42-year-old told reporters gathered in Los Angeles this summer that The Cool Kids is also about older people who are saying, “Don’t put us out to pasture.”
Co-star Jordan, 63, adds that the sitcom is not really about aging, but about friendship. “It’s about bonding together and doing these outrageous things. And most importantly, it’s silly.”
Amen to that, says Mull, the senior member of the quartet. “First of all, we’re not old,” he says. “We’re very young people with older skin.” Most days, he still feels like a 35-year-old. “The only difference is, when I wake up in the morning, literally, I realize I am driving a used car.”
Vicki Lawrence, 69, is no stranger to playing older than her years. Barely out of high school when she landed a part on Carol Burnett’s classic sketch series, she later starred in her own show, Mama’s Family (1983–’90). There she played “Mama” or Thelma Harper, the mother of Burnett’s character Eunice – even though Lawrence is 16 years younger than Burnett.
On The Cool Kids, she plays Margaret, a new retirement home resident who crashes the “cool kids” cozy little clique. “I think Margaret has probably been around a few more blocks than Thelma, bless her heart,” says Lawrence. “She’s sort of stuck in a 1950s kind of Midwestern time warp.” She sasses right back to the men in the group, says Lawrence, “because she’s running out of runway. So she’s going for it.”
Grier, 62, is the youngest of the four main actors. He originally read for Jordan’s part, but really wanted to play Hank, the main troublemaker among this gang of four retirement home rascals. The Detroit native still keeps in touch with his old In Living Color pal Jim Carrey, saying the Canadian comic always comes to see him whenever he does a play on Broadway. “We run into each other like old school chums,” says Grier.
The Cool Kids flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that TV advertisers only want to sell to 18-49-year-olds. “I’ve never understood that,” says executive producer Patrick Walsh, who feels that demographic doesn’t watch network TV anymore, they watch Netflix. “My parents, my grandparents, are watching network television,” says Walsh.
For fans of classic sitcoms, The Cool Kids also offers viewers a chance to see some old favourites back in action in guest starring roles on the series. Featured in the pilot as one of the retirement home residents is Jamie Farr, 84, who many will remember as cross-dressing Klinger from M*A*S*H.
Executive producer Day hopes to lure others onto the series, singling out Dick Van Dyke and Mel Brooks as two on his wish list. “Hopefully, we get the opportunity to be on the air for a long time and give a lot of people a great opportunity to shine.”