'Men Of A Certain Age' - The Best Humanity Has To Offer
November 17th, 2010 10:37am EST
“Men of a Certain Age” must have been a tough sell. I imagine if anyone other than Ray Romano had gone into a TNT pitch meeting and attempted to sell the network on the idea of three middle aged men contending with real life problems, they’d be laughed out of the office and told to come back when they had vampires or singing teenagers.
Thankfully Ray Romano was behind “Men of a Certain Age” and was able to use his considerable talents to bring this truly delightful show to the airwaves.
On paper the show seems like it would be something of a snore fest. I mean, even the cover art for the DVD features the three principals sitting at a white table drinking water. Exciting. Actually, the only knock I have against this show is the lack of “excitement.” The show is content to earn little moments, because that’s what life is. And the show is better for it.
There’s Joe (Ray Romano), who’s 49, five months removed from a divorce, nursing a gambling addiction, a son with a social disorder, and a dream in the back of his head of being a pro golfer, as well as other neuroses. Typically hearing the words “addiction” associated with a character evokes an eye roll. But fret not, this aspect of Joe’s character is handled with a deftness and humanity that is far too rare.
Scott Bakula returns from outer space to inhabit the body of Terry, the “aw shucks” out of work actor. Of the three principal characters, Bakula probably has the least amount of depth, as his over-the-hill but still a playboy lifestyle has been done many times before. This isn’t to say he’s clichéd, just his particular plot is sometimes a touch predictable. However, there are great moments for this character involving self betterment and maturity, and his antagonistic relationship with Owen, the third principal, is a pleasure.
Speaking of Owen, he’s played as prideful, confident and a bit sensitive by Andre Braugher. He contends with diabetes, the stress of a home renovation, two boys and a baby girl, and working at a highly competitive car dealership under the thumb of his perfectionist father, Owen Sr. This 21st century Oedipus complex is the source of most of Owen’s conflict in the show, and it's sometimes a mite melodramatic, but the inner workings of the dealership are handled with a nuance that leads me to believe there is a former salesman or two on the writing staff.
You’re not going to be left on the edge of your seat wondering any of their fates, however. There’s no car accidents or sudden revelations of hidden siblings. Instead you grow attached to the characters. You want them to be happy. For Joe to find love, for Terry to get it together, for Owen to sock the ever loving hell out of his father.
The show is great at giving you just enough morsels of triumph. Life isn't a series of big moments. Life is having an actual heart to heart with your son and thinking something might have actually gotten through. Life is working at a dealership and giving a guy a deal that effects your commission because you want someone to like you for once. Life is struggling to fix your habitual tardyness. Life is little victories and little defeats.
The perfect example of this is in the wonderful episode “The New Guy” where Joe's ex-wife takes a date to a school fund raiser. Owen has the unfortunate task of running recon, while Terry is getting macked on by a very attractive, married, woman. The crisis grow naturally. Owen is mad at Joe's ex for having a date so soon, then gets mad at Terry for actively considering sleeping with a married woman, willingly being a home wrecker. All of these occurrences are natural and nothing feels shoe horned. Nothing feels like it's a bunch of guys sitting at a writers tabling saying “Well what if the guys...” “How about one of them...” “In a special episode they...”
The defeats resonate too. Every time Joe places a bet, every time Terry acts selfishly, every time Owen eats a candy bar or eats his hat at the dealership for the security of his family, we identify. We've all been there. That's the beauty of this show. We've been there.
The best episode of the season, “Go with the Flow” depicts Joe recounting the triumph of his first date in 20 years to his friends the next morning, the show at this point has introduced us to these characters, won us with the subtle writing and understated performances, and kept us interested via great camera work. This episode blew my socks off.
This is the first episode to really upset the status quo, to change the dynamic of things and it paid off beautifully, how many times have we recounted a story of a wonderful date to our friends, unable to stop smiling because maybe, just maybe, she's the one.
The episode is framed with Joe telling the guys about the day, the date, and everything that occurred in between, and by the date's conclusion, you want to stand up and cheer and pump your first. Embarrassingly enough, I did.
If you like any of these actors, or enjoy “The Wire” “Friday Night Lights” , or even older shows like “The Larry Sanders Show” or “Lou Grant”, you'll want to watch this show on DVD. In fact you'll want to watch it twice. Or three times like I have. You'll want to tell your friend to watch it. You'll want to watch it with your girlfriend or your mother or someone, anyone that wants to share in this very human, very honest, thoroughly touching and entertaining Television Program.
Photo Credits: TNT television.