What All Those “Girls” on TV Teach Us about Aging

If you want to know why we see so few fully realized female characters over 50 on TV, look no further than the shows about women under 35. We don’t need characters over 50 to help us work out our aging anxieties! Our twenty- and thirtysomethings on Girls2 Broke GirlsNew Girl, and The Mindy Project have it covered, thanks. It’s hard to imagine that any human with a reasonably comfortable life has ever loved aging but we seem to have arrived at a particularly fraught crossroads when it comes to our attitudes about getting older. Nowhere is this fear more apparent than in the current crop of shows about young women—or, as many of them emphasize via their titles, girls.

The Mindy Project addresses this topic more than any other—possibly because creator/star Mindy Kaling is softly satirizing every anxiety forced upon modern young single women (similar to the way Tina Fey did on 30 Rock).  The Mindy Project pilot episode really went after the main character’s angst about aging. In it, Mindy’s dream guy leaves her for a younger, dumber woman. When she’s later interrupted by a call from work on a hard-won date, she snaps, “Do you know how difficult it is for a chubby 31-year-old woman to go on a legit date with a guy who majored in economics at Duke?” In a particularly telling detail, Kaling’s character is on a date with a guy played by Ed Helms, who is 38 in real life while Kaling is 33. Bereft, she ends up falling into bed with her coworker, who shoots down her proposal that they hold off on sex, saying, “I’m not going to want to sleep with you in your 40s and 50s.”

More recently, The Mindy Project has added its sole older-woman character, an elderly medical office receptionist who doesn’t understand computers and otherwise barely seems to comprehend anything going on around her. Maybe this is just one more way Kaling, who was a writer and cast member on The Office by age 24, is working out her fears about whether her own relevance can last another several decades. On the other hand, 2 Broke Girls, which is otherwise not half as clever as Mindy Project, has the late-20s main characters starting their own cupcake business under the odd mentorship of a fabulous, if often incomprehensible, Eastern European immigrant named Sophie, played by 51-year-old Jennifer Coolidge. While Sophie’s is in some ways the butt of the joke, so is everyone on this show—and Sophie gives as good as she gets. She also has a rollicking sex life with the girls’ diner coworker, Oleg.  

All of these shows could use more Sophies: older women who offer the younger ones guidance, support, and a vision of life beyond 40. New Girl doesn’t have that, but it has offered perhaps the most balanced perspective on aging among the 30-ish-girl shows.  One episode had Zooey Deschanel’s character, Jess, and her male roommates freaked out by a group of twentysomethings who move in down the hall and baffle them with their hipster clothes and names and lingo. The new kids mention they’ll be having a party, but Jess and company probably won’t want to come because, “It’s just going to be a bunch of young people.” The key difference here from the other shows: Jess and her three male roommates deal with aging on equal footing. While a later episode addressed Jess considering freezing her eggs, it did so with an appropriate level of alarm. It’s a legitimate issue for any woman in her 30s who wants kids but doesn’t want them now, but nothing Jess, in her early 30s, needs to panic about.

HBO’s phenomenon Girls takes us one step further down the aging anxiety spectrum, perhaps because its titular ladies are so very young. Fresh from college, the four women at the center of the show have (thankfully) yet to fret about their sell-by date. They’re too worried about figuring their current lives out. They are literally still “girls,” a fact underscored beautifully during the first season with Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) making very adolescent “dream boards” and fretted over losing her virginity. They may make us feel old by comparison, but they also have an important message for any of us over 25: Getting older kind-of rules if it gets you out of the nightmare that is your early 20s. As 51-year-old blogger Sharon Greenthal wrote, “I don’t care if I’m decades away from the audience the show is trying to reach—it’s reached me anyway. I have high hopes for Hannah and her friends—that after they feel it all, they’ll be happy.”

I don’t know if I’m as optimistic, but here’s to hoping—and thanking creator and star Lena Dunham for making us all feel better about ourselves, whatever our age.

by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
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4 Comments Have Been Posted

Confession: I really like 2 Broke Girls

Disclaimer: The race stuff if awful and they should be held 100% accountable for it. But I would argue that the Big Bang theory and a lot of other shows also do really racist humor (still no excuse).

However...... 2 Broke Girls passes the Bechdel test in every episode. It shows two women working together to accomplish a non-man centered task. Compared to the, only partially tongue in cheek, boy crazy mindy project (which I also like). Yes, they have Sofie, and they idolize Martha Stewart instead of denigrating a self-made women entrepreneur. A few episodes back they even had a mean, older, successful aunt and the story didn't turn out "oh if only she had learned to love!" but instead was "It sucks that she is a Bitch but it is awesome that she is so successful."

In conclusions, I wish it was better, (so so much) but I like it.

It's also refreshing to see

It's also refreshing to see an Eastern European woman on television who isn't depicted as a sex worker/victim/femme fatale trope. Or EE men who aren't mob members or evil spies. Nope, we flip burgers and clean your hotels and scratch out a livelihood for ourselves like any other immigrant group. Sophie and Oleg are still stereotypical, but definitely an improvement. The only other New York City-set show that showcased this much diversity in its main cast was the sadly-underrated sitcom "Whoopi."

Oh, Whoopi!

I'm going to try to find that online to watch. I remember it a little but need a refresher.


If Zooey Deschanel's character is in her "early 30s" this is the perfect point to freeze her eggs.

Statistically, the number of genetic and epigentic issues inherited by a baby pretty much skyrockets after the mother hits 35 (before pregnancy, of course). Not as much as it does for say, the 40s, but it's pretty much THE point at which biologists agree is the cutoff for "ideal" ovum health.

If she's freaking out about it, yeah that's still over the top... but a decision to freeze her eggs itself is NOT a bad one, it's a perfectly reasonable one, because she's catching them at a point where they're still fairly healthy. Freezing your eggs at 30 and then using them at say, 36... well, that just makes sense. It actually allows you to delay it an extra year or two or three or four, without having to worry too much about a higher risk.

I'd also like to add: the same holds true for men. Men in their forties or older who become biological fathers, stand a much higher risk of their child developing issues that range from autism spectrum disorders to schizophrenia. It's not just ova that can pick up epigenetic tags or genetic damage over the years; it's <i>everybody</i>'s gametes.

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