As I settled in to watch TNT’s new series, “Men of a Certain Age,” starring Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula, I was struck by a thought: when’s the last time TV offered us an hour-long about guys that was just about guys? The last one that leaps immediately to my mind is ABC’s “Big Shots,” which came and went within the span of a few months in the fall of 2007, but that series springboarded off the premise that all four guys were CEOs. Not bad a concept, perhaps, but by upping the income bracket of the characters, you’re significantly cutting into the number of people who can relate to it. How about a series that’s just about average guys doing average guy things? When was the last time we got one of those?
Beats me, but we’ve got one now…and it’s good.
The press release for “Men of a Certain Age” kicks off with the classic John Lennon lyric, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” and although it’s been quoted plenty of times, it’s decidedly apropos for this series, which explores the lives of three guys in their 40s – one single, one married, one separated and likely headed for divorce – as they begin to examine who they are, how they got where they are, how the future looks, and what they can do to change it. If the acknowledgment that there are indeed things in their lives that need changing sounds like a spoiler, think about your own life and consider whether or not there’s anything you might like to change about. If there isn’t, then I envy you, but I can’t say the same, and I seriously doubt if I know anyone who can. At the very least, none of these men of a certain age can’t.
Joe (Ray Romano) was apparently once on the verge of becoming a professional golfer, but that career avenue never really took off for him, so now he owns and runs a party store. He’s a father of two kids, but he and his wife are separated, and they’re in the difficult period where they’re both pretty sure that it’s over, but they’ve been married so long that the idea of taking that next step and re-entering the dating pool is something they’re approaching with trepidation.
Why is the marriage over? Well, that’s pretty much Joe’s fault: he’s got a gambling problem, and although he seems to be able to get it under control once in awhile, he’s pretty bad about backsliding, and with his depression about the separation…well, let’s just say that he and his new bookie are already on a first-name basis. Anyone who’s ever seen even a couple of episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond” probably won’t be surprised to hear that Joe’s a little neurotic at times, but it’s a trait that really works within the context of this character. as he’s trying to figure out the intricacies of his children as they grow up (particularly his son, in whom he’s seeing the development of some of his own neuroses), worrying about how hard it’s going to be to go on a date for the first time in two decades, and basically learning how to live his own life for the first time in 20 years.
Owen (Andre Braugher) is overweight and out of shape, which means that he fits right in with the rest of the salesmen at the car dealership where he works. He’s not what you’d call a great salesman, but nor is he awful at his job, even if he does have a lack of dedication to it. All in all, it probably wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t the son of the man who owns the dealership, but since he is, his dad is forever trying to avoid the appearance of impropriety, making sure that Owen has to work just as hard as every other salesman. As you might well expect, Daddy Dearest ends up overcompensating, making for an often tense relationship between father and son.
All things considered, Owen would just as soon chuck the job, but he’s got a problem that many Americans will no doubt recognize: he’s got bills to pay and a family to provide for. At one point, he tells his wife that there’s no way he can go back to work, that he’s going to find something else, and like a good wife, she tells him that she’s behind him. Unfortunately, two seconds later, she has to admit that, although she loves him dearly, she’s lying. He’s stuck with working his shitty job, and that’s just the way it is. We see his shoulders slump in defeat…and, boy, can most of us relate to that feeling.
And then there’s Terry (Scott Bakula), who’s the kind of guy that you simultaneously love, loathe, and pity: you love him because he’s a great friend and fun to hang out with, loathe him because he’s handsome, single, and gets more tail from younger women that you probably would even if you were single, and pity him because he’s in his late 40s and, for as happy as he seems to be on the surface, is clearly destined to realize sooner than later that he’s all alone.
What’s worse for Terry is that, unlike Joe and Owen, he doesn’t even have a steady job. He’s a professional actor and has been for many years, but like most of the actors in Hollywood, he spends more time going to auditions than he does actually working; as such, he makes ends meet by working as a temp, where he’s reminded every day how transitory his position is. Does he want to settle down? If so, he’s not admitting it to his friends, and even if he does, it goes so much against his nature that he probably wouldn’t know how to go about it, so in the meantime, he just keeps temping, keeps going to auditions, works out in his significant amount of free time, and, of course, plays the field for all he’s worth.
Joe, Owen, and Terry all feel like the kind of guys you probably actually have as friends, and they make decisions that feel real, such as when Owen stumbles upon an opportunity at the dealership to be a nice guy and have the customers like him, only to realize that nice guys get a hell of a lot less commission. There’s just one thing you should remember: don’t go into “Men of a Certain Age” expecting it to be funny just because Ray Romano’s in it. When these guys get together, they talk, and sometimes they say funny things. But they also say awkward things, serious things, and even seriously depressing things.
That right: they’re just guys being guys. And damned if that isn’t enough to make for some great TV.