Review: Men of a Certain Age - Pilot (series premiere)
by Jason Hughes, posted Dec 8th 2009 3:10AM
(S01E01) I'm not even sure what I just watched. Here was a show about guys being guys, and yet there were no sexual exploits, and no drinking, watching sports or tinkering with cars. It's as if someone took all the stereotypes about men and threw them out the window. Instead what we got was a raw and honest look at manhood.
It was a revelation. More importantly, it was wonderful.
Ray Romano joined forced with one of his Everybody Loves Raymond cohorts, Mike Royce, to write and develop Men of a Certain Age. As if that wasn't a strong enough pedigree, he got the likes of Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula to join him as the three men at the centerpiece of this exploration of middle age.
The obsession in television is with that coveted 18-49 demographic, but in catering to that, networks have been skewing younger and younger over the years. It's actually a refreshing turn that a show featuring Romano (51), Bakula (55) and Braugher (47) even got greenlit. Even better, it throws away any and all expectations and is a show about the everyday mundane existence of these characters.
What wonderful characters they are, too. In just one episode, we got deep into their hearts and souls to find out what makes them tick. Only Terry (Bakula) remains a bit of an enigma, but his character has that free-spirit thing going for him. Unlike the other two, Terry isn't settled down with a wife and kids; he instead chooses to live his life one experience at a time. He seems genuinely happy both at work, when he bothers to show up, but he's carrying the anxieties of having been a former celebrity, of sorts, unable to find work acting now.
Joe (Romano), on the other hand, is a former golfer turned business owner, who's struggling to deal with the aftermath of his broken marriage. While we know he has a problem with gambling, we don't yet know if that had anything to do with the dissolution of his marriage. But he's still trying -- trying to be a part of his teenage kids' lives and trying, in vain, to reconnect with his wife. He's also living in a hotel room; a place he's been at long enough to have memorized his daily wakeup call recording.
The most ordinary life belongs to Owen (Braugher). He works as a salesman at his father's dealership, awaiting the day the old man will finally retire and hand the business to him. He's also an overweight, out-of-shape Type II Diabetic. He eats out of anger and frustration, and through the course of the episode we can see that his father is the primary cause of that. When his father told him that he was an embarrassment, your heart just fell apart. That's a hard, hard man.
But the most tragic, and so beautifully authentic, moment came when Owen told his wife that he was going to quit the dealership and do something else. He just couldn't take it anymore. You could see that while she loved him and wanted desperately to support him in his time of emotional need, it just wasn't possible. Two kids already and a new baby, they needed him to work. Quitting just wasn't an option. He needed that job, so he needed to grin and bear it.
How many shows would do that, and yet in the real world, we do it all the time. I know I've had to stick with work that I didn't like because the family needed the money. Getting by is doing just that. In the middle class, there's often no room for true happiness, just compromise. It was refreshing to see him throw himself into his work, though, making the best of a bad situation.
The thing that works about Men of a Certain Age is that I believe in these characters. I can buy into their long friendship based on the mundane and ridiculous conversations they have. I believe in their struggles, and I'm beginning to understand their personality quirks. By the time Joe was traipsing through the woods looking for that possum he'd run over three times by then, I was no longer surprised to see him doing it.
I do think those lighter moments are necessary, though, as this is painting a pretty bleak picture of middle age. I'm not quite there yet, but if this is all I have to look forward to, I might as well kick the bucket now. I know they're just establishing the foundation of this friendship and the lives of these characters, but I'm hoping for more of those flashes of humor and lighter moments in upcoming episodes.
It seems like this show has been kind of coming in under the radar in the press, though premiering behind The Closer is about the best thing that can happen to a TNT show. And while it may not seem like it on the surface, I think Men of a Certain Age is every bit as sexy and groundbreaking as the top shows out there.