Given TV’s preoccupation with younger demos, the concept behind “Twenty Good Years” — two 60 year olds deciding to attack what they have left with gusto and not “just mark time” — is somehow thrilling, a throwback that stands apart by daring place these “Golden Guys” front and center. Even if the material is a trifle slight, pairing of John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor brightens matters, serving up smiles if not outright guffaws. Whether this works is anybody’s guess, but credit NBC with thinking outside the (Census) box, giving aging boomers a chance to go loudly into the night.
Created by Marsh McCall and Michael Leeson, series owes an obvious debt to “The Odd Couple,” with John Lithgow — tapping into his otherworldly, “3rd Rock From the Sun”-type willingness to indulge in over-sized gestures — providing the perfect foil to Tambor’s cautious, buttoned-down pal.
Seemingly at the height of their careers — Lithgow’s John is a surgeon, Tambor’s Jeffrey a judge — their 30-year-friendship finds both at something of a crossroads. John is prodded into semi-retirement (not terribly convincingly), while Jeffrey faces pressure to marry his domineering girlfriend (guest Judith Light).
Upset over being shown the door at work, John arrives at his own birthday party smashed, telling his very-pregnant daughter (Heather Burns) that she looks “ferocious and round.” He then seizes on the notion that it’s time for him and Jeffrey — given three divorces, John’s only successful adult relationship — to grab life by the horns and do “something that scares us” every day.
It’s certainly a fertile premise, and in Lithgow the show has a star that plunges in with reckless abandon — beginning with the very teeny Speedo he models in the premiere. And while the two haven’t previously worked together (hard as that is to imagine), Tambor proves an extremely comfortable counterweight — an analytical Eeyore that has to be dragged along, sometimes literally, to use the “212 vacation days” he’s accrued.
Show’s biggest drawback initially is that there’s minimal support beyond the central duo, with only John’s daughter and Jeffrey’s rather bland son (Jake Sandvig) to back them. Theoretically, the two will be off on various adventures, and while it should be fun to see them stare down new thrills, there’s room for skepticism as to how long that can be sustained.
Nevertheless, “Twenty Good Years” has two gifted comic actors at its core and a timeslot that cries for patience if NBC is ever to reconstitute something approaching an old-fashioned comedy block. And without hoisting too much weight onto Lithgow and Tambor’s shoulders, in success this series will strike a much-needed blow for gray(ing) power — which, in a business that so blatantly practices ageism, would be good new for everyone, however many good years they might have ahead of them.