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Reality TV, 65-and-Over Version

Who wants to watch some Jews in Arizona?

Jenny Merkin
April 30, 2010
The cast.(NYT)
The cast.(NYT)

WE TV’s Wednesday night premiere of Sunset Daze, the new reality show set among older folks (several of them Jewish) in the quintessentially Sun Belt town of Surprise, Arizona, introduced me to my new BFFs. Somehow I related to these senior citizens more than my contemporary buddies on The Hills and Gossip Girl.

I met Sandy, a 68-year-old widow who is open to dating but still has a “battery-operated boyfriend just in case I need to fill some needs.” Then there was Gail, who confessed: “I’m a little nuts.” And finally, Ann, a 61-year-old former nun whose goal in life is “about trying anything” and “feeling no restrictions.” Emphasis on former, I guess.

There are rules to my newfound friendships, which flashed across the screen at the first episode’s opening:

Rule #1:“Don’t act old. Retirement doesn’t mean you’re dead.”
Rule#2:“Sex, like wine, gets better with age.”
Rule #3: “It’s never too late to find true love.”

Sandy, compelled by her friend Joanne, decides to re-enter the dating scene after spending an appropriate time grieving for her husband. The two ladies (hardly biddy-like with their beautifully colored and styled hair) go to a shooting range, where Joanne urges Sandy to be set up. Sandy astutely comments: “It’s kind of scary because you really open yourself up to the unknown, y’know? The fear of possible rejections … he better not have bad teeth. Does he have his own, do you know?”

Sandy is smitten with Mark, their hunky shooting instructor, but gives Joanne carte blanche to pick someone for her. After trolling around in a state-of-the-art golf cart, Joanne picks Dick S. for Sandy’s first foray back into a life of romance and flesh-and-blood paramours. Dick S., an engineer, was once arrested for poaching geese and prefers blonds (which Sandy luckily is, and honestly, which guy doesn’t?). Their first date is spent on a balloon ride, orchestrated by Joanne, but Sandy laments that the blind date isn’t with Mark.

Episode 2 chronicles her pursuit of Mark from when she asks him out (before approaching him, Sandy states: “You’re at a certain age where you think it would be less scary, but it’s not”) to their first date, where they grill at her house.

But there is more than just romance on Sunset Daze. There is, in the case of Gail Leibowitz, extreme kookiness. Gail is a former actress who has moved to Arizona to be closer to her son, Cary. Cary does her hair once a week in a style that she says is from 1966. She greets her reflection: “Hello, gorgeous!” a la Barbara Streisand. As they make dinner, Cary says, “First you stir the potatoes, then you take a thorazine.” Gail joins Cary and his partner, George, at a gay rodeo they organize. Gail is a hit: “Everyone loves my mom,” Cary explains. “She’s irreverent. She’s a New Yorker!” (He might as well be talking about me!)

Ann, the former nun, is dying to make up for missing “the real moments of life” while “trying to be someone I really wasn’t.” She and her husband, Jon, are trying to make every moment count as they race against the clock of Jon’s failing eyesight. They choose to go skydiving, until it turns out that Jon is too overweight to do it and that people have actually died jumping thousands of feet out of a plane. But Ann still takes the plunge, so to speak, and survives to tell the tale.

The final character viewers meet is Jack Zells, who has been divorced three times and was particularly shattered by his most recent one. “Nobody goes into retirement expecting to be alone,” he explains. Jack has been dating Kathleen for a year, but is incapable of getting any real commitment from her. They attend a singles party and he hopes that they will leave the party as a couple. Jack tells her he loves her and doesn’t get any sort of response. He powwows with the guys—Mort, Bill, and Bruce—at Archie’s Deli, which is described as “kinda like Cheers.” The guys tell Jack his relationship with Kathleen is unlikely to go anywhere, and Mort tells the camera he thinks Jack is “a schmuck” for pursuing it further. We’re all schmucks this way sometimes.