There comes a time in every man’s life when circumstances turn dire. Our bodies begin to ache; running and physical activities no longer seem as appealing; we lose hair; food becomes a safety hazard; and women exude little, if any, interest in those wrinkles gathering beneath our eyes. I’m 28 years young, but I’ve always feared the big 30. I can only imagine my feelings once I near 40, and then 50. The word “terrifying” comes to mind.
Perhaps that’s why I’m so grateful for TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, a television series that shows mid-life in an optimistic, even grateful light. The aches and pains remain, but they are outweighed by the new experiences the 45+ chapter of life affords. Hit the jump for my review of the first season on DVD.
Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher play Joe, Terry and Owen Jr., three middle-aged men at very different points in their lives. Joe, a recently divorced father of two, runs a party shop and suffers from a gambling addiction. Owen Jr. works at a car dealership where he struggles to fill the shoes of his father/boss (Richard Grant). Terry, on the other hand, has no familial ties, and enjoys life as a bachelor/actor, which allows him to sleep with each and every set of breasts he comes into contact with. The three men grew up together, and now spend their days chatting over problems, dreams and memories of youth. They hike as often as possible, but for various reasons. Joe hikes to ward off stress (and to catch a glimpse of the curvy “fantasy woman” played by Patricia De Leon). Terry hikes as a means of exercise, or recreation. Owen Jr. merely follows Terry and Joe.
Despite their dissimilarities, however, the three men enjoy the type of rewarding friendship that most men (whether they admit to it or not) crave, even need. Separately each man fights the never-ending (oftentimes uphill) battles of life. Together Joe, Terry and Owen Jr. can laugh at each other’s experiences, and provide the inspiration needed to get through the next day.
Romano crafted the series with the help of his Everybody Loves Raymond executive producer Mike Royce, and it shows. The humor on display reflects Romano’s sensibilities; his character in Men of a Certain Age may as well be the remnants of Ray Barone if Debra had ever packed up the kids and left him behind. As typical, the comedian utilizes self-deprecating humor to win laughs, not to mention a handful of penis jokes. The chemistry between him and Bakula and Braugher is believable, exuding a sense of lifelong camaraderie.
Make no mistake, however; this is not Everybody Loves Raymond, nor is Men of a Certain Age a show designed for families. The language exhibited by the character pushes its TV MA-rating to its limits, which might surprise those expecting a rudimentary family sitcom. The jokes are almost always sexual in nature; sometimes the situation even more so, such as when Joe, experiencing his first blind date, struggles to control his “point of no return” with an attractive woman (24’s Sarah Clarke). Or Terry’s encounters with a 25-year old waitress (Superbad’s Carla Gallo), who prefers sex over a lasting relationship. At least Owen has the courtesy to spare his friends (and us) of bedroom misadventures.
Still, the dialogue, while crude, remains realistic and honest. The men discuss familial problems, such as Joe’s son Albert (Braeden Lemasters), who, for whatever reason, gets nervous aboard school buses; Owen’s desires to be liked at his job; and Terry’s yearning for a family.
Through it all, Romano, Bakula and Braugher (whose performance received an Emmy-nomination) shine in their respective roles. I’ve long admired Bakula since his stint on Quantum Leap (those many years ago), and always felt he deserved more in terms of cinematic prowess. Braugher impressed me way back in Edward Zwick’s Glory, and has long provided solid turns in films such as 2000’s Frequency and 1998’s City of Angels. The man can do drama as good as anyone.
Together, the three actors (along with some fine writing) craft an intriguing glimpse into the life of the middle-aged man. The situations don’t always work, as when Terry comes to the aid of his boss by acting as a husband/father during an open house; or Joe’s bizarre overnight experience with his debt collector. Even Owen’s relationship with his father, extraneous in its own right, oftentimes comes across as more insipid than inspired (mainly due to Grant’s one-dimensional performance). The camerawork, meant to convey a “raw” look, oftentimes feels contrived, even unnecessary – we get the extremities of the show through the dialogue, story and performances; the filmmakers do not have to shove it down our throats.
Nitpicks aside, I must admit Men of a Certain Age has me hooked. The show is quite funny, what with the mannerisms and personalities of its stars.
Season 2 is set to start December 6 – I look forward to spending more time with Joe, Terry and Owen. They ease my Gerascophobia.