Thursday, November 19, 2009

Something to Look Forward To:

Men of a Certain Age

by BeansTalk's Managing Editor

TNT's latest original series, Men of a Certain Age, is absolutely not only for men, whether of a certain age or not. Rather, the series -- which stars Andre Braugher, Ray Romano and Scott Bakula as long-time friends adjusting to the "wrong" side of middle age -- is an affectionate epiphany of self-awareness, denial, friendship, stagnancy and growth, holds plenty of appeal for both men and women.

None of the members of this strongly bonded trio are where they hoped or wanted to be, at this watershed time in their lives. Yes, there are the "age-related" one-liners that permeate the television promotionals, but those are merely accents to what proves to be (at least in the first three episodes) a richly woven tale, not just of the friendship, but of each man's struggles. The "struggles" are carefully presented, wholly credible and offer profiles of men who you might now -- and like quite a bit.

Men of a Certain Age has, in abundance, something that many stories struggle with: a consistent tone. Here, the blend of humor and pathos is warm, embracing and intuitive. The credit surely goes to writer Romano and his Everybody Loves Raymond writing partner, Mike Royce. Still, MOACA can owe quite a bit of its passionate punch to the wonderful acting and chemistry of the three leads. There's no posturing, no scene chewing, no attempts to out-act each other, but only to present the story.

Braugher is diabetic family man Owen, father to two young boys, married to no-nonsense stay-at-home-mom Melissa (Lisa Gay Hamilton). Uptight Owen's a used car salesman, part of a fleet who work for the big boss, who also happens to be Owen's gruff, hard-to-please father Owen Sr. (Richard Gant). Owen finds himself in a meanly executed competition with the smooth Marcus (Brian J. White). Owen Sr. overcompensates his son's position on staff by frequently putting Owen "in his place," as Marcus curries favor with the boss, in a smarmy attempt to step ahead of Owen for a coveted managerial position.

Romano is separated (and likely to be divorced) Joe, who owns a large party supply store and resides in an extended-stay motel. He's a self-effacing father to two teens, a boy and a girl. Joe obviously hopes to reunite with his wife Sonia (Penelope Ann Miller), but he is battling an addiction that is cited as the cause of the couple's separation.

Joe's compulsion, the core of his troubles, is an inspired bit of plot. Of the three companions, it is Joe who is easily the most likable, whose sense of levity extends to his business. In his pique-cotton polo shirt and khakis, Joe wanders somewhat aimlessly among the favors and balloons, absorbing the barbs from his young staff, who loathe the pop classics Joe pipes into the store.

Joe is very well-characterized by Romano, whose quips are delivered with the actor's trademark dour vocal intonations. You like Joe. You can't help but like him. Joe's self-deprecation belies a frustration so deep, he has yet to actually verbalize it to his friends, or probably even acknowledge it to himself. Joe is the first of the friends to openly discuss age-related issues that make the others cringe, so the very fact that he indulges his dark side only when alone, surely signals danger for him, but he takes great care to compartmentalize his activities.

Rounding out this trio, who met in college, is Terry (Scott Bakula), a perennially struggling actor, who is only recognized by office mates -- he's a temp -- for his late-night infomercials and commercials. Terry's the group's "ladies man," dating women certifiably in the next generation, including the local coffee shop's barrista, Annie (played by Carla Gallo -- who may know her as Daisy from Bones or the porn star from Californication).

Each of the stars have had their starring heyday on network television -- the four-time nominated, two-time Emmy winning Braugher with Homicide, Gideon's Crossing, Hack, Thief and a stint on House; the 10-time nominated, three-time Emmy-winning Romano, with his hugely successful nine-year run on Everybody Loves Raymond, and finally, four-time Emmy nominee Bakula, whose extensive TV work includes the long-running Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise. (BeansTalk note: Bakula also plays one of our now all-time favorite recurring characters, "Papa Jeff" on The New Adventures of Old Christine.)

TV series frequently package together a group so that the initial pitch to the networks may sound like an opening to a tired joke, "So there's this repressed African-American used car salesman, a depressed Italian-American guy on his way to a divorce, and an aspiring actor hanging on to his one-time hunkiness by his fingertips..." but Men of a Certain Age is refreshing, fun and thought provoking.

Men of a Certain Age premieres Monday, 7 December 2009, at 10 p.m. on TNT.