When TNT greenlit the hour long dramedy, Men of a Certain Age, co-created by Ray Romano and Mike Royce, I’m sure there were many critics thinking it would be a disaster. The lovable funnyman Romano doing drama? The intense Andre Braugher trying his hand at comedy? This show had some people raising their eyebrows and thinking, “good luck, TNT.”
But the show turned out to be one of the bright spots of last year’s TV season. As TNT gears up for the show’s second season premiere in early December, the entire first season has been released on a 2-DVD set. In revisiting those episodes, I was reminded at how refreshing it was to watch a show aimed at middle aged men that actually portrayed the characters in the show like real people.
I often bemoan the fact that so much of television is about cops or doctors or cop doctors, or cop doctors who also serve as lawyers.In Men of a Certain Age, the main characters have exciting jobs like party store owner (Romano), car salesman (Braugher) and washed up actor (Scott Bakula, the third lead). There’s nothing glamorous about what they do. So what exactly is the show about? It’s about life. Each episode focuses on the three characters equally. The guys often meet up in their favorite diner or go for walks in the foothills, but then they split off and we get to follow three separate plots.
Joe (Romano) is the party store owner. He’s the father of two great kids and recently separated from his wife. The reason for the separation? Joe hid a gambling addiction for years and the deceit caught up with him. Now he’s living in a motel trying to sort through the mess. His wife has decided to move on, dating other people. Joe slowly comes to the same decision. Romano is excellent, especially when depicting the self loathing and struggles of an addict. Those of us only familiar with his comedic side were all pleased to see Romano play dramatic and do it well. Episode 2, “Let it Go,” features some of his finest acting.
Owen (Braugher) works for his overbearing father’s car dealership. He hates his job. Hates it. It sucks the soul out of him, but he can’t quit because he has a wife and three kids to support. Throughout the season, Owen must come to terms with his father and get control of his health. He’s overweight and eats horribly. Braugher gives a brave performance, allowing his girth to hang on out, unafraid to hide the fact that he, too, as an actor, has put on considerable weight since his slender days on Homicide: Life on the Streets.
Finally there is Terry (Bakula) an aging actor who’s best years are behind him. He still gets bit parts on TV, but the roles are getting smaller and smaller. The guy has charm and can entice a woman half his age into his bed, but Terry feels that there’s something lacking in his life. He hates to admit it, but he looks at his friends’ lives and sort of wishes he could settle down. When he takes on the job of an apartment super, he thinks it will be an easy gig that will allow him to hang out and act like a twenty year old. He quickly finds that this isn’t the case. By season’s end Terry makes an important career decision that will change the tone of the show in season two.
All three men come to terms with their limitations and have to accept that their lives may not have turned out the way they’d hope they would. But they all realize that they have good lives. They may not be masters of the universe, but at least they have good families, and they have each other to lean on.
Men of a Certain Age isn’t intense and draining; it’s light on its feet and skillfully mixes the comedy and the drama to make for a great alternative to the procedurals on the broadcast networks or the dark dramas that appear on FX and AMC. If you haven’t seen the show, you can get through the 10 episodes of season one rather quickly, preparing you for the next batch of original episodes that begin airing on December 6th. Bonus features on the DVD are minimal: deleted scenes, a behind the scenes featurette and commentary.
Men of a Certain Age: The Complete First Season is available through Amazon.