Patricia Heaton might know a thing or two about second acts. After The Middle, the second show she's starred in for nine seasons, Heaton, age 61, entered a period of self-reflection, pondering exactly what she wanted to do next.
"My kids are pretty much out of the house...and I was feeling a bit at sea not knowing what I was doing," the two-time Emmy winner told journalists at the Television Critics Association press tour this summer. "I'm no longer a full‑time mom, and I don't have a job as an actress, and I very much felt the things that a person like Carol would feel of 'Who am I without these things?'"
The Carol she's referring to is, of course, the medical intern she plays on Carol's Second Act, CBS'snew entry in the pleasantly widening field of comedies about starting life anew at age 50-plus. Maybe it's the Grace and Frankie effect, but that Netflix series, along with Fox's short-lived but admirable The Cool Kids and the award-winning The Kominsky Method answer a growing demand from viewers who want to see comedies that aren't always centered around a group of 20-somethings sharing an apartment. On Carol's Second Act, Heaton's Carol Chambers has finished raising kids, divorced her husband, retired from teaching and looks to embark on a new adventure: becoming a doctor. The only wrinkle is that she's 50, which makes her the eldest intern at Loyola Memorial Hospital and thusly the de facto mom-in-charge among co-workers half her age.
Still, her will to keep evolving is aspirational, especially when women her age might "traditionally be expected to retreat or to become less visible," executive producer Emily Halpern said. "We thought, let's put her center stage and put her in an environment where her age is actually her strength." Almost everyone fantasizes about a road not taken in life, but Carol actually gets on it, even if her ambition earns her some strange looks and ageist jokes at work. In the pilot, Carol gets flack from her young co-workers Daniel Kutcher (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) and Lexi Gilani (Sabrina Jalees) as well as from her no-nonsense boss, Dr. Maya Jacobs (Ito Aghayere) — usually for being too chatty, too prying, or too mom-ish. But they soon realize that Carol's life experience and nurturing instincts are exactly what the team needs.
It's perhaps the perfect next character for Heaton, who said she sees her own desire to keep growing as a natural part of herself. "I think it's an internal thing that you're born with," she said. "You want to go out and challenge yourself and put yourself in scary positions to see if you can do it."
Carol's Second Act premieres Sept. 26 at 9:30/8:30c on CBS.
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