My Life and Times is a half-hour drama about Ben Miller, an 85-year-old man living in a nursing home in the year 2035. Each week, Miller narrates a story about a different time in his life — this week, it’s the birth of his first child; in subsequent episodes, he’ll tell us about marrying his wife, Rebecca (St. Elsewhere’s Helen Hunt), the stock market crash of 1987, and what it was like to celebrate New Year’s Eve in 1999.
Here, in short, is a program that looks back at our present and immediate future. It’s a tricky, clever idea for a show, and in its star, Tom Irwin, My Life and Times has the right man to pull it off. Irwin is a Tony award-winning stage actor, a graduate of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre company, and he brings a fresh intensity to series television. Each week, the 34-year-old Irwin sets up the evening’s plot as the aged Ben Miller, and it’s a measure of Irwin’s skill that, very quickly, you forget there’s a young man under all that makeup.
The show was created by executive producer Ron Koslow, the shameless romantic who also gave us Beauty and the Beast. Beast frequently sounded as if it were written by a bullpen that included Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Barbara Cartland, and in the opening moments of My Life and Times, Koslow himself has taken pen in hand to write the lines that will begin the series each week: ”I’ve loved and lost and lived to love again,” says old Ben. Not winded by that tongue twister, he continues, ”The one thing I know is: Life is an adventure, and you’ve got to hold on and let it carry you away.”
Well, My Life and Times certainly does get carried away sometimes — there are entirely too many scenes in which Irwin is required to make his eyes well up — with sadness, happiness, rage. This guy Ben has an epiphany every 10 minutes or so. But plopped down into a TV schedule full of cheap laughs and cheaper chase scenes, the good acting and honest emotionalism of My Life and Times is welcome. Then too, this show offers the ultimate assurance for kids growing up now: If it takes place in 2035, that means there won’t be a nuclear war for at least another 44 years, right?