TV Land’s new reality series has the sort of premise that makes you think, “This could work if it was well-executed, but there’s no chance in hell it will be.” Five senior citizens arrive at a Big Brother-style compound believing they’ve been cast in a reality show about maintaining a youthful lifestyle,. Five young people (the show calls them “juniors”) arrive thinking they’re the stars of a fun new spring break series. Instead, they’ll all be living together, trying to bridge the generation gap as they learn from each other and come to accept their differences.
Our first hint that this will not be an entirely sincere social experiment comes when we hear the voice of our narrator and realize it’s Dennis Miller. His smarmy voice-over sets the tone for the highly structured and manufactured shenanigans to come. The five participants over the age of 70 include Shirley, a spry 83-year-old former showgirl, Arthur, who insists he’s known as “Double A” on the racquetball circuit (of which he’s one of the founders), and Lou, who I’m pretty sure was one of Jerry’s uncles on Seinfeld. The under-30 crowd includes Mike, who probably grew up dreaming of a gig on Jersey Shore: The Next Generation, Andree (“If I wasn’t attractive, I couldn’t imagine my life”), and Angelina, who seems out of place because she actually may be a genuinely complex human being.
After the various participants finish freaking out about the fact that they’re going to be living with either horrible wrinkly old people or horrible sex-having young people, it’s time to establish some easy stereotypes for cheap laughs. Each group is given $500 to go shopping; while the oldz are buying practical items like cleaning supplies, the young people are piling their cart high with junk food. (Although Angelina does have a thoughtful moment where she considers buying some adult diapers for her senior roommates.)
Next up is a challenge, like all the competition-based reality shows have, except this one doesn’t appear to have any prize or point besides “Old people don’t know who Brangelina is” and “Young people don’t know the Civil War happened before World War II.” It’s a quiz show called “Bridging the Gap,” in which the old folks are asked questions about current pop culture and the young people are asked about things they should have learned in third grade history class. It’s sort of frightening, really; it’s not so bad that Andree identifies a photo of Lucille Ball as “Betty Garland,” but Mike truly thinks World War II came first and Sam can’t identify the president who led us out of the Depression. It brings to mind George W. Bush’s poignant question, “Is our children learning?” When Double A is able to identify the Jonas Brothers (they stayed at his hotel during a racquetball tournament), it looks like the seniors may have the edge, but somehow the juniors come back and win. Win what? I still don’t know.
Although the premiere doesn’t offer much hope that Forever Young will amount to much more than a hack comedian’s “young people drive like this, but old people drive like this” routine, the second episode airing tonight is slightly more promising. There’s another challenge, but this one pairs up one junior and one senior for a scavenger hunt in which each must successfully use the technology of the other. The jokes are still way too obvious—the oldz struggle to read the screens on their GPS navigators while the yoots search in vain for the Enter button on their manual typewriters—but at least there’s some interesting interaction between the generations. Lou and Andree, who are in the lead most of the way, seem to be hitting it off nicely until they reach the final task and Lou proves to be completely computer illiterate, while Angelina and Shirley trade insults the whole way.
But the only “real” moment in the entire hour doesn’t come until the very end, during the fireside chat that concludes each episode. Angelina, who has put up a sarcastic front throughout the two episodes, breaks down while admitting that she’s gay and fears telling her mother the truth. Her roommates young and old comfort and encourage her, and for one brief moment, Forever Young lives up to its potential as genuine emotion breaks through the smug artifice. If the series can follow the example set by these last few minutes, it may amount to a worthwhile endeavor, but right now that seems about as likely as an 80-year-old man recognizing the Jonas Brothers.
One other enjoyable moment: The old folks learning how to play beer pong. It sounds like a scene out of Cocoon III, but in practice, it was a hoot.
Seriously, 80-year-old Eugene knows what sexting is, but Mike thinks World War II preceded the Civil War. We’re doomed.