When the siblings of Five Sisters Productions needed stars for their new comedy Web series, “Old Guy,” they tapped their parents.
The five sisters — including Jennifer Burton, a Harvard graduate and Tufts University professor — released episodes of the series throughout the pandemic, with the final installment to debut May 28 on YouTube. Burton created the show with her sisters — Ursula, Maria, Gabrielle, and Charity — years ago but never publicly showcased the project. The series follows Harry (their father, Roger Burton), a senior with a robust acting career in the 1950s who attempts to hop back into the industry. There, he finds himself being frustratingly typecast into mature roles.
Clocking in at roughly 20 minutes total, the mini-series is a humorous take on ageism in the media, said Burton in a phone call last week.
“A lot of scripts had narrow ideas of what it meant to be older,” she explained. “Older people were always a comic joke for younger characters — a punchline. This show expresses that concern without making it a lecture.”
“Old Guy” was filmed in 2013 as the sisters’ passion project, said Jennifer. However, for years, the family was overwhelmed with their parents’ health concerns and their own busy careers, delaying its release. The sisters — who also act, write, and produce — have made appearances in shows including “The Office,” “Shameless,” and “Fargo.” Their Santa Monica-based production company is also behind feature-length indies and mini-docs, like “Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens,” “Half the History,” and “The Happiest Day of His Life.”
These past few months, Jennifer enlisted the help of Tufts film students to edit the series together. An episode has been released every Thursday since April 23. Without the pandemic, Jennifer said they may have marketed “Old Guy” to a larger platform, but they wanted to get the episodes out as soon as possible — mostly because the lesson behind the show is fitting for the era of illness we live in.
“Ageism is such an incredibly important thing to think about right now — how it shapes behaviors, policies, and even the way we interact with the virus,” she said. “It’s so clear that there is this unspoken devaluation of the diversity of experiences in the older population.”
The show is inspired by the real-life pursuits of the Burton sisters’ parents. Gabrielle B. Burton attended the American Film Institute, where she won AFI’s Mary Pickford Prize for top screenplay, at age 56. Her husband, Roger, went with her to Los Angeles after a lengthy professional run as a musician and psychologist. His acting credits included “My Name is Earl,” “Monk,” and the Doctor Who spinoff “Torchwood." Both delved into their artistic passions relentlessly until the end of their lives in 2015 and 2018, respectively.
Hopefully, audiences will walk away knowing the active lifestyle her parents had near the end of their lives is the norm, not the exception, said Jennifer.
“Life doesn’t stop when you’re older,” she explained. “And our society at large shouldn’t discredit these people the way they do.”
Stream all six episodes of “Old Guy” at youtu.be/fzbK9mooI70