In the world of television, age really is just a number. As audiences, we regularly see couples with huge age gaps, and nobody even mentions it! In other cases, full-grown adults play high school students, and we just have to accept that these so-called teens are actually in their 30s. Join us as we look at TV age gaps that are genuinely shocking — either for being huge, or being basically non-existent.
Sasha Pieterse and Shay Mitchell
Let’s kick things off with teen mystery drama Pretty Little Liars. In this super popular show, a clique’s leader goes missing, and a shady figure named “A” threatens to expose its members. At the time the show first aired in 2010, its lead cast was far from school girls.
Well, Sasha Pieterse was actually 14 years old, so that tracks. However, her castmate Shay Mitchell was actually 23 when season one aired! That’s an age gap of nine years for Emison!
Elizabeth Rodriguez and Dascha Polanco
Here’s the first of many parent-child relationships with questionable age gaps on this list. In the world of TV and movies, directors understandably cast people based on their skills and appearance. However, this can lead to parent-child depictions that are essentially impossible based on the actors’ real-life ages.
In prison dramedy Orange Is the New Black, actress Elizabeth Rodriguez plays Aleida, the mother of Dascha Polanco’s Daya. In real life, there’s only one year, 11 months, and six days between them.
Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany
Look, we loved miniseries WandaVision as much as the next person, but did you notice the age gap between the titular couple? This happens lots on screen, where older men are paired with younger women and it’s presented without comment.
In real life, English actor Paul Bettany is 50 years old, while his on-screen wife Elizabeth Olsen is just 32. This gives them an age gap of 18 years. In real life, Bettany’s wife, actress Jennifer Connelly, is also 50.
Kaley Cuoco and Amy Davidson
Now it’s time for a set of siblings with inconsistent ages. On sitcom 8 Simple Rules, popular sister Bridget is supposedly older than straight-A younger sister Kerry. However, in real life, actress Kaley Cuoco is six years younger than Amy Davidson.
As is common on TV, these full-grown adults played children that still lived at home. At the time of filming, Kaley Cuoco was 17, while Amy Davidson was 25. This full-grown adult woman didn’t even play the younger sister!
Cole Sprouse and Lili Reinhart
OK — actor Cole Sprouse has been a kid on TV way longer than seems possible. Firstly, he played little Ben Geller in Friends, then one of the title characters in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. In that show, a 16-year-old Sprouse played a high school student.
However, now over a decade later, Cole Sprouse is still playing a teenager on TV! As Jughead on Riverdale, Sprouse is the oldest cast member that’s supposed to be a teenager. There are five years between him and Reinhart.
Evangeline Lilly and Matthew Fox
Primetime TV likes a love triangle, and sci-fi mystery drama Lost was no different. As is often the case, the show paired a younger actress with two older men. In real life, we’re pretty sure people would address the 10-year age gap between them and their potential partner.
When Lost first started, Evangeline Lily was 25 years old. Her action hero love interest Jack was played by Matthew Fox, who was 38. Meanwhile, cowboy conman Sawyer was played by Josh Holloway, age 35.
Lesley Fera and Troian Bellisario
Sasha Pieterse and Shay Mitchell aren’t the only people on the Pretty Little Liars cast to have confusing age gaps. Troian Bellisario, who plays perfectionist Spencer Hastings, was 24 during the show’s first season. Yep, that’s another 16-year-old on TV played by an adult.
Meanwhile, Spencer’s mom, Veronica, is played by Lesley Fera. When the show premiered, Fera was 38, making her just 14 years older than her TV daughter. Hey, we can’t say we’re all that surprised.
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Darren Barnet
In Mindy Kaling’s coming of age series Never Have I Ever, Canadian actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan played Indian-American teenager Devi. Unusually for these shows, Ramakrishnan was actually 17 when she was cast. By the time the series was released, she was 18.
Darren Barnet was 28 when he was first cast as Paxton, and just a year off 30 when the show aired. There was over a 10-year gap then between the actress and her on-screen love interest.
George Lopez and Belita Moreno
When it comes to casting parents, TV shows are more interested in dynamic, star power, and making sure people look related than their ages. This means that we often get parent-child relationships that make no sense. Just take George Lopez as an example.
On the sitcom, George Lopez’s mom was played by actress Belita Moreno. In real life, there are just 11 years between the stars, so Benny would have had to be pretty young to give birth to George. Yikes.
Ann Morgan Guilbert and Renée Taylor
In ’90s sitcom The Nanny, Jewish fashionista Fran becomes the nanny of three well-to-do children. The show was created by lead actress Fran Drescher and her then-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson, and based on her own life in Queens.
On the show, actress Renée Taylor played Fran’s mom, Sylvia Fine. Her mom, Fran’s grandmother, was played by Ann Moran Guilbert. In real life, there’s just one year between the actresses. Plus, Renée Taylor is the elder of the two!
Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher
We know that sitcom stars Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher eventually ended up together, but the pair go way, way back. Before Ashton was married to Demi Moore (remember that?), he was a TV actor on That ‘70s Show.
Young Mila Kunis actually lied about her age to land her role on the show. She was just 14 years old when she auditioned, and 15 when the pilot aired. There are only five years between Kunis and Kutcher, but those five years count when someone is just 14!
Cory Monteith and Chris Colfer
It’s time for another teen show that’s jam-packed full of adults. Seriously, no one is the appropriate age in Glee, and the kids are all very close in age to their teacher, played by Matthew Morrison.
The most extreme age gap is between Cory Monteith, who played Finn, and Chris Colfer, who played Kurt. These two eventually became brothers, though Cory was 27 when the show first aired, and Chris just 19. Monteith was just two years younger than Morrison, who played Mr. Schuester.
John Cullum and Cynthia Geary
Now, here’s a TV age gap for you. Award-winning Canadian comedy-drama Northern Exposure initially followed a New York City doctor who relocated to a remote Alaskan town. The acclaimed show featured Cynthia Geary as Shelly Tambo, a pageant queen who fell for the town’s much older mayor.
At the time, Cynthia Geary was 25 years old, and John Cullum was 60. That’s right — that’s a real-life age gap of 35 years. In the show, it was even larger!
Ted Knight and Georgia Engel
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was pioneering for its depiction of an independent, working woman. But, that doesn’t mean the show didn’t rely on the old trick of using an older actor paired with a younger actress.
On the show, Ted Knight, who played Ted Baxter, felt that his character was too one-note, and in need of a wife. The wife, in this case, was Georgette — played by Georgia Engel. In real life, these two had an age gap of 25 years.
Miley Cyrus and Jason Earles
Next up is a bizarre age gap that surely could have been avoided! In Disney series Hannah Montana, Jason Earles plays Miley Cyrus’ brother. At the time, the future pop star was a tender 13 years old, while Earles was 28. That’s right, that’s an age gap of 15 years!
Of course, Jason Earles’ advanced age also made him close in age to his on-screen parents. There’s a 16-year gap between him and Billy Ray Cyrus, and a 12-year gap between him and Brooke Shields.
Moira Kelly and Chad Michael Murray
Naturally, teen drama One Tree Hill was also jam-packed full of adults playing high schoolers. One of the show’s main characters, Lucas, was played by Chad Michael Murray, who was 22 when the series began.
Lucas’ mom is played by Moira Kelly, who is just 14 years older than her on-screen son. In the show, Karen is a single mom who had Lucas when she was just a teen. This partly explains the small age gap between the two, but it’s still too small!
Tom Welling and Kristin Kreuk
Hilariously, actor Tom Welling was 24 years old when he played 14-year-old Clark Kent in Smallville. And look, Tom Welling simply does not look 14. However, the showrunners felt Welling had the handsomeness and stature to be Superman, so they overlooked his slightly advanced years.
Tom Welling’s castmate, Kristen Kreuk, was just 18 at the time of filming. By using actors that are slightly older than their characters, TV shows don’t need to stop for actual study breaks!
Leann Hunley and Joshua Jackson
Many TV shows have storylines that feature a teacher and a student in a romantic relationship. In literally every case this is problematic, mainly because teachers are supposed to educate and look out for their students. Also, those students are minors.
In Dawson’s Creek, everyone is famously older than their teenage character is supposed to be. Joshua Jackson was 20 when he filmed this storyline, while Leann Hunley was 43. Now, Jackson is 43, and Hunley is 66.
Tom Selleck and Courteney Cox
Apparently, Tom Selleck was only supposed to make a brief appearance in sitcom Friends. However, because of his and Courteney Cox’s chemistry, they kept the seasoned actor around. This led to an on-screen relationship with a pretty hefty age gap.
There are 19 years between these actors in real life, and their on-screen counterparts also came from different generations. In fact, Selleck’s character Richard knew Monica when she was a baby, and was friends with her parents. Now, that’s all kinds of wrong.
Trina McGee and Rider Strong
Sitcom Boy Meets World aired from 1993 to 2000, and followed the life of Cory Matthews. On the show, Rider Strong played Shawn, Cory’s best friend, and Trina McGee played Angela, Shawn’s love interest. When McGee joined the cast in season five, she was already 28 years old. That’s only two years off 30!
Meanwhile, Rider Strong was just 17 at the time, so over a decade younger than his on-screen crush. This relationship was pretty culturally significant, particularly because an interracial couple was still uncommon on TV.
Robert Bathurst and Laura Carmichael
Period drama is another place where age gaps are pretty common. Think about it — there are always crusty, withered men paired with radiant lively ladies, and never the opposite. In Downton Abbey, there’s a 26-year age gap between characters Lady Edith and Sir Anthony.
In real life, there are almost 30 years between the couple. English actor Robert Bathurst was 53 during filming, while English actress Laura Carmichael was just 24. Unlike some others on this list, the couple does address their age gap in the series.
Estelle Getty and Bea Arthur
It’s time for another on-screen parent-child relationship that wouldn’t work in real life. In The Golden Girls, Estelle Getty played Sophia Petrillo, the mother of Bea Arthur’s Dorothy Zbornak. To play the part, actress, and comedian Estelle Getty spent 45 minutes in hair and makeup so she could look 20 years older than her real age.
Interestingly, there’s only one year between these actresses in real life. Even more interesting is that Estelle Getty is actually the younger of the two.
Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco
In The Big Bang Theory, we’re led to believe that the gang is all more or less the same age. However, that isn’t strictly true in real life. Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard, was 32 when the sitcom started, while Kaley Cuoco was just 22. Perhaps that’s why Penny doesn’t get any of the gang’s pop-culture references!
The other cast members are closer in age to Johnny Galecki. Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon, was 35 when the show started, while Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg were both 26.
Kelly Rowan and Benjamin McKenzie
There are various reasons teen shows don’t cast real teenagers. For one, you don’t have to stop shooting for school work when your actors are adults. Secondly, older actors have more experience, and are more likely to get the job done efficiently and professionally.
Perhaps that’s why 25-year-old Benjamin McKenzie was cast as a teenager in The O.C. His TV mom, Kelly Rowan, was 38 when the show first aired, making her only 13 years older than her supposed son.
Christian Serratos and Michael Cudlitz
On post-apocalyptic horror series The Walking Dead, Abrasita emerges as a couple in both the TV series and the comics. Of course, Abrasita is the couple name for Abraham Ford and Rosita Espinosa, played by Michael Cudlitz and Christian Serratos.
In real life, American actress Christian Serrato was 24 when she started working on the series. Her on-screen other half, Michael Cudlitz, was 50. This works out as a real-life age gap of 26 years. We know it’s the end of the world, but still…
Barrett Doss and Brett Tucker
Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Station 19, set in a Seattle fire station, premiered in 2018. In the show, Barrett Doss plays the energetic and tough Victoria Hughes, part of the fire-fighting team at Station 19. When the show premiered, Doss was 29 years old.
One of Vic’s love interests in the early seasons of the drama was Fire Chief Lucas Ripley. The brooding man in charge was played by Australian actor Brett Tucker, who was 46 at the time of filming. That’s 17 years!
KJ Apa and Ashleigh Murray
We’re back to teen drama Riverdale for another couple with a sizeable age gap. The show, which premiered in 2017, follows Archie Andrews in the small town of Riverdale. New Zealand actor KJ Apa stars as the high school football player, and was 20 when the series started.
One of Archie’s love interests is Josie McCoy, played by American actress Ashleigh Murray. When she first appeared on the show, she was 29 — over a decade older than her co-star.
Justin Chambers and Camilla Luddington
We’re back to the Grey’s Anatomy universe for another couple with an unmentioned age gap. While Jo Wilson and Alex Karev initially bond over their troubled pasts, the medical drama never acknowledges the generational difference between them. Well, except that she’s a resident and he’s an attending.
In real life, actors Justin Chambers and Camilla Luddington have 14 years between them. While we might still think of Karev as a baby surgeon, he’s actually a man in his 50s!
David Schwimmer and Alexandra Holden
Ok, our next two entries definitely do acknowledge their age gaps. In the Friends episode, “The One Where Ross Dates a student,” paleontology professor Ross Gellar goes on a date with his student, Elizabeth. On the show, there were 12 years between this couple.
In real life, there’s a decade between David Schwimmer and Alexandra Holden. Of course, the whole point of Elizabeth as a character was her taboo relationship with the uptight Ross. After five episodes, she was gone!
Jennifer Aniston and Bruce Willis
We couldn’t talk about Ross and Elizabeth without giving a shout-out to Rachel and Elizabeth’s dad. In the episode, “The One Where Ross Meets Elizabeth’s Dad,” Rachel Green also comes upon the dashing dad, played by movie star Bruce Willis.
Apparently, Bruce Willis lost a bet with Matthew Perry, leading to this guest spot. In fact, Willis did the three-episode arc for free. In real life, there are 14 years between the Die Hard star and Jennifer Aniston.
Alexis Bledel and Keiko Agena
When Japanese-American actress Keiko Agena was cast in the Gilmore Girls, she was already much older than her on-screen character. At 27 years old, Agena was to play Lane Kim, the Korean-American best friend of Rory Gilmore. At the time, castmate Alexis Bledel was just 19.
This means that Lane and Rory had a real-life age gap of eight years. Plus, after seven years of the series, Keiko Agena was 34 by the time the show wrapped! Looking good, Lane!
Charisma Carpenter and Robia Scott
And right away here’s another actress that was 27 when she was cast to play a high school student. Well, Charisma Carpenter was technically 26, but she was almost 27! In supernatural drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Carpenter plays Cordelia Chase, a popular student at Sunnydale High.
One of the teachers at Sunnydale High is Jenny Calendar, played by Robia Scott. Going by their real-life ages, these two have only a 16-day age gap between them.
Ed O’Neill and Sofía Vergara
The age gap between Ed O’Neill and Sofía Vergara’s characters on Modern Family is maybe the most well-known of all. In the series, Jay Pritchett is married to the much younger Gloria Delgado, a beautiful Colombian immigrant. The show regularly makes reference to the couple’s large age gap, and what others see as their attractiveness gap.
In real life, Ed O’Neill is 26 years older than Sofía Vergara. When the mockumentary sitcom first premiered, O’Neill was 63 years old, while Vergara was 37.
Liza Weil and Michael York
We return to Stars Hollow for our last surprising on-screen age gap. It’s another of those awful teacher-student situations, so brace yourselves. This time we have Paris Geller, played by American actress Liza Weil, and Asher Fleming, played by English actor Michael York.
When these two get together at Yale, Paris was around 18 years old, and Asher 60! In real life, York was 61 years old, and Weil was 26. That’s a fictional gap of 42 years, and a real-life gap of 35.