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Aged to (Near) Perfection: 'Men of a Certain Age' Hit Their Prime

by Maureen Ryan, posted Dec 6th 2010 4:40PM
I apologize for posting this review of the second season of 'Men of a Certain Age' (10PM ET Monday, TNT) later than I'd planned. The cancellation of 'Terriers' threw a monkey wrench into the middle of my day.

But perhaps that sad news gives me a chance to tell keenly disappointed 'Terriers' fans that there's another show out there that is quite good at examining the lives of men past the first flush of youth, a show that spends quality time on the ins and outs of real friendship.

Even if you've never seen 'Terriers,' or indeed the first season of 'Men of a Certain Age,' you're likely to find something to enjoy in the second season of 'MOACA,' which expertly mines both comedy and drama from life's awkward transitional passages.

When you think about it, 'MOACA' could be quite dark, given its subject matter. Ray Romano's character, party-store owner Joe, is trying hard to master the gambling addiction that got the better of him after his painful divorce. Family man Owen (Andre Braugher) faces multiple conflicts on the professional front: His father is supposed to have retired from the car dealership where they both work, but Owen's dad is conspicuously still sitting behind his impressive desk.

Owen and Joe's good friend, Terry (Scott Bakula), is sometimes just one more workplace headache that Owen has to deal with. Terry recently joined Owen's dealership as a salesman, and the jockeying and hazing that ensue appear to be a bit more than either man bargained for.

Yet 'MOACA' wears all these problems lightly. When Joe messes up with the women he's dating, it's a little sad but it can be kind of amusing. Out-of-practice Joe taking dating advice from a skilled Lothario like Terry, which transpires during one of the trio's frequent lunches, is like a civilian taking driving lessons from a NASCAR champion. Something is bound to go smash.

But as co-creator Mike Royce said in a recent 'Talking TV' podcast interview, there's always hope that these guys will learn from their mistakes. And this season, 'MOACA' has found a way to give those small but closely observed story lines about dating, work hassles and relationships more momentum. Unlike the rest of TNT's drama lineup, which has a strong procedural bent, 'MOACA' will never feature a dead body or someone flashing a badge. But there's more of a sense of narrative tension than there was in the first season of the show, which sometimes meandered without a clear destination.

The comedic elements of the show often come from the characters' embarrassments, but 'MOACA' is no 'Curb Your Enthusiasm.' As funny as the latter show can be, nobody expects 'Curb's' Larry David to ever learn anything -- in fact, that might be the entire premise of that HBO show.

But after Terry makes a series of cold calls to old flames, trying to get them to consider buying new cars, you get the sense that he may try to treat women a little better in the future. He'd have to be a moron not to, after hearing a dozen variations on the line one ex throws at him, "Who better than you at getting people to buy something that's completely unreliable?"

These three guys need a place to decompress and process their daily lives, and they do that in those delightful and perceptive diner scenes, which are frequently the high point of any 'MOACA' episode. The guys have an easy, shaggy banter that is part posturing, part therapy and part confessional. And those scenes are all the more impressive for being, according to Royce, "98 percent scripted."

All three of the 'MOACA' actors are able to shift fluidly among the many modes they're called upon to display. Romano, an increasingly impressive dramatic actor, makes Joe heartbreakingly vulnerable in some moments and as clueless and dorky as his own teenage son in others. Bakula beautifully plays the aging playboy who knows he's about to become a parody of himself and is smart enough to want to avoid that. Bakula never lets you forget that Terry's an actual person, not just a smooth operator with an overly highlighted haircut.

It's still quite amazing to see the commanding Braugher in his role as a paunchy, put-upon, middle-aged dad dealing with middle-management pressures, but Braugher pulls off the role with ease. His silent looks of deadpan surprise and irritation are one of the most enjoyable things about this relaxed yet increasingly assured show.

The slogan for 'Terriers' was 'Too small to fail,' but if anything, the stakes on 'MOACA' are smaller than they were for private detectives Hank and Britt, who faced real danger at times. On 'MOACA,' the stories revolve around whether Joe can wade back into the dating pool without feeling too preposterous, whether Owen can manage his father's exit without injuring either man's pride, or whether Terry can actually stick with a job for more than a week -- and find a relationship that lasts longer than his lunch break.

None of those things are a sure bet, but 'MOACA's' clever, compassionate observations about these flawed men make the show itself a winner.

NOTE: As Royce noted in the podcast, 'MOACA's' second season will air in two separate six-episode chunks. Six episodes will air from now though January, then the show will return in the middle of 2011. Listen to the podcast if you want more of an explanation of why that is occurring.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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I am offended by the language used in this show. When did it become ok for this kind of languange on regular tv? I am not going to watch this or any other show that allows crude language or material.
If this is what men of this "certain age" are like, then women may as well give up. Very disappointed in TNT for allowing anything and everything on their network. Are you guys really that desperate for people to tune in? You are hoping that men without morals or standards will flock to you? Well, that may be all you get.

January 05 2011 at 1:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I like that Braugher had the guts all along to age his characterizations as he aged. All the rest have to do is follow his lead. Romano may be the loudest and Bakula the prettiest, but Braugher is simply the best, as ever he was.

December 07 2010 at 2:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Been a fan of Andre Braugher since Homicide:Life On The Streets & I like Scott Bakula and Ray Romano so I watched this show last season. Now I'm a 35 year old guy but I found this show to be too depressing. It wasn't a bad show but just couldn't get into it at all and I tried. Not every show is for everyone I guess.

December 06 2010 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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