"Crazed Drug Dealers, Kindly Housecleaners, And Their Elderly Relatives"
I’ll have longer thoughts on Breaking Bad when I finish the first three seasons. But when drug kingpin Tuco Salamanca shows up with his aging uncle, the first thing thought that came to mind was, “Huh, this reminds me a bit of Raising Hope.” One of the things I like best about that show, though it has a wacky initial premise (nice boy knocks up murderess headed for death row, raises the kid with his extended family) is that it’s a really touching look at what it’s like to have your relationship with your parents reversed by the advances of age and Alzheimer’s. Maw Maw’s very sharp and funny when she’s lucid, but she’s also often vulnerable, the second child in the household, and her condition forces the young people in her family to end their protracted avoidance of adulthood.
Similarly, it’s kind of funny that a wildly erratic drug kingpin would keep his fairly incapacitated uncle around — and if Tuco had lived, I would have loved to see Don Salamanca use the bell attached to his wheelchair to order up some retribution for the man who mocks him for knocking a plate over. But I actually think it’s not that unrealistic. In the past, the parents or older relatives of sitcom characters generally lived independently and popped in occasionally for wacky antics. But today, the combination of rising health care costs, people whose retirement savings aren’t recovering as fast as their retirements are approaching, and the impact of dementia as the population lives longer, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more shows with characters whose older parents and relatives live at home or nearby, and who require some kind of care or attention.
I don’t know if this means we’ll evolve away from sitcoms focused on hip young groups of friends in urban environments. But I do think that we might see more shows that are more multi-generational, and more interdependently multi-generational. I didn’t much like Tuco as a character (I’m torn between the fact that he seems like an incredible stereotype, and my sense that Breaking Bad is just cycling through storylines way too fast, especially given the show’s realistic timeline), but I would have liked to see that interaction as more than a one-off, especially giving that Don Salamanca still has pull. There are a lot of implications to longer life spans, be it need for care or slower turnover in family and business hierarchies, and they open up rich emotional storytelling territory.