April 28, 2010

USA: In 'Daze,' you're never too old for childish things

. WASHINGTON, DC / The Washington Post / Arts & Living / Television / April 28, 2010 TV PREVIEW Hank Stuever previews WEtv's 'Sunset Daze' By Hank Stuever, Washington Post Staff Writer Deep within that fiercely gated community known as the state of Arizona, eight senior citizens who live in a comfortable retirement enclave have submitted themselves to the indignities of reality television on WEtv's wretched new series "Sunset Daze," where we learn that old people are just as shallow as the rest of us.
"Sunset Daze" is a new reality series that follows a feisty group of senior citizens living in one of the country's largest retirement communities. The series debuts April 28 at 10 p.m. ET on We TV. Launch video player
Which means their blind dates also involve the tacky quasi-tranquillity of hot-air balloon rides; they, too, live in a world where skydiving is the surest path to self-determination; where groups of women get louder and bawdier in direct relation to the size of their margaritas and the sparkle of their blouses; where Jacuzzis roil and bubble like chlorinated vats of aphrodisiac; and where you're never too old to regard the presence of television cameras in your everyday life as a sort of long-awaited entitlement. Here in Sun City (reportedly one of the world's largest retirement communities, outside Phoenix in Surprise, Ariz.), they're good at this -- a little too good. They've mastered the stagey repetition of reality TV's easiest tropes, as "Sunset Daze" makes clear that Nana and Peepaw are along for the national narcissist ride, too. They know the drill: If you shake it a little and play along, your show will get renewed, which ought to help with the whole fixed-income problem. They must have been watching a lot of "Real Housewives" between bridge games. Oh, but these seniors aren't Barcalounger-bound grandparents, as "Sunset Daze" continually reminds us. In Wednesday night's double-episode premiere, producers veer away from casinos, undetected tumors, big diapers, depleted retirement accounts, neglectful children and emergency 911 beepers worn about the neck. We are not here to gripe about taxes and Obamacare, no siree. Fundamentally, "Sunset Daze" is about unleashed libidos. It has long been a curious feature of modern popular culture -- from ribald birthday cards to Rodney Dangerfield's entire oeuvre -- to squeeze some laughs out of the fact that elderly people have sex, or would like to. America loves a dirty grandma, whom we egg on until she actually goes there, and then we are repulsed, scandalized. Thus the show opens with its star, Sandy Miracle Jones, a 68-year-old widow with Heidi Montag's hair and Heidi Montag's nothing else. Instead of belonging to the Red Hat Society, Sandy has chosen to align herself with the facetiously named Blue Thong Society. She's decided it's time to date again, telling her lady gaggle that she's grown tired of "BOB" (her "battery-operated boyfriend"). While shooting skeet at the local rifle range (every last event documented in "Sunset Daze" feels entirely arranged by the producers), Sandy gets a little hubba-hubba for Mark, her Eastwood-esque shooting instructor. After a blase balloon ride with another paramour named Dick ("I've been trying to get into [Sandy's] pants for five or six years," he tells us), she finally gets up the courage to ask Mark over to her place, to grill some steaks. And by "grill some steaks," she means grill some steaks. But don't fear, elderphiles: The entendres double every 30 seconds in this place. If it could let go of the demands of being just another bad reality show, "Sunset Daze" could possibly become a revealing documentary about the present mood of America's AARP set. Some of the characters have potentially deeper thoughts and concerns, including Ann, 61, a former Catholic nun who is worried about her husband's impending blindness, and Gail Leibovitz (age "70-plus"), a nice Jewish mother whose hairdresser son devotedly styles her fiery-red Lesley Gore flip 'do every Saturday morning while they chat. The camera never lingers enough to convey any sense of true narrative or emotion; it is too transfixed by quips, sass and sexy liver spots. About halfway through, "Sunset Daze" might be a helpful way to get your bearings on who's actually old now. After a decade or more of genuflecting before the "Greatest Generation," it's interesting to do the math and realize that a fair number of "Sunset Daze's" characters come after that -- they are too young for World War II and too old to have burned draft cards and bras. Instead of belonging to some sepia-toned ideal of the past, they come to us as people who matured and lived most fully in the 1970s, mainly. They are wrinkled hedonists from the Me Decade who've washed ashore in the Me-Me-Me! Decade. Now it all makes sense. [rc] Sunset Daze (one hour, two episodes) premieres at 10 p.m. Wednesday on WEtv. © Copyright 1996-2010 The Washington Post Company