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'Men' Certainly Ages Well
December 4, 2010  | By Ed Bark
 
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TNT's best-ever drama series -- the show that defies all conventional wisdom about what should work on TV -- finds its way to Season 2 Monday night.

Amazingly, Men of a Certain Age (10 p.m. ET) has nothing to do with fatalities, legalities or life-saving medical procedures. Its three middle-aged central characters -- Joe Tranelli, Owen Thoreau Jr. and Terry Elliott -- are a party store owner, a car dealership manager and a fading actor turned car salesman. Not a lot of made-for-TV jeopardy there, in times when all 12 of CBS' drama series are either crime- or courtroom-related.

Created by Ray Romano and Mike Royce, Certain Age makes for a fine mess of male angst. But no one's in a fetal position just yet. The midlife struggles of Joe (Romano), Owen (Andre Braugher) and Terry (Scott Bakula) are relatable without ever being overbearing. A little whining is permissible but only in short bursts. These aren't pathetic sad sacks. But yeah, they do have issues.

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Joe, a newly divorced father of two, has curbed his enthusiasm for sports gambling and hopes to join the senior pro golf tour. In real life, Romano is an avid swinger/putter, so he looks pretty good with a club. His Joe's Party Depot is of increasingly less interest to him.

Owen, married with two young sons, is striving to be an effective bossman at the dealership his domineering dad (Richard Gant as Owen Sr.) built from the ground up. His newest employee is Terry, who still finds it relatively easy to get laid. Meanwhile, his acting career has fallen down and can't get up.

The three of them otherwise go on weekly hikes and hang out not at a bar, but at Norm's diner. This allows for ample banter and grousing, with Joe newly embarrassed by the reading glasses he needs to decipher the menu.

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Terry is chided about his "bang-zoom" sex life, but protests that "I don't bang-zoom." Joe's re-entry into the dating world and its attendant bedrooms is aided by a chance meeting in Monday's Season 2 opener. Owen and his wife, Melissa (Lisa Gay Hamilton), remain happily if sometimes fitfully married. She wants to re-enter the work force; he doesn't know if it's time yet.

The touch remains light, but never farcical, throughout the new season's first two episodes. Bakula's Terry initially resonates a bit more than his mates, particularly in a second episode that has him enduring dealership slings and arrows from a ridiculous old commercial that lately has gone YouTube viral.

TNT is owned by Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., which also runs TBS. And it's clear there's a product placement deal in place with Chevrolet. Twenty new Chevy Cruzes currently are part of a contest giveaway on TBS' Conan. And a Cruze also has a bit part in Monday's episode of Certain Age.

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Romano, whom virtually everyone knows from Everybody Loves Raymond, has succeeded in fashioning quite a second act for himself. Not that his increasingly sturdy dramatic acting is any threat to the likes of Sean Penn or Johnny Depp.

Still, the ways in which Certain Age charms and disarms are a major accomplishment in the current prime-time scheme of things. Weekly tales of three life-challenged middle-aged men would be laughed out of the programming suites at CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox. What's the hook, how 'bout the crooks, whose life is threatened, who's being two-timed, where's the heat? In short, how the hell do we sell this thing?

Romano and TNT have found a way, drawing a robust-for-cable average of 4.2 million viewers per episode for Certain Age's first season. All of TNT's seven other first-run dramas are about cops, docs or freelance vigilantes. The lone exception remains exceptional.

GRADE: A-minus

Read more by Ed Bark at unclebarky.com.


2 Comments

 

Shauna said:

My husband and I are in our mid-30s and both really enjoy this show. We have some pretty wide ranging tastes in our tv watching, but we can both agree on this one. All the actors are likable while still being human and fallible and although neither of us can actually relate to being middle aged men, the stories are pretty universal. The acting is good, the stories are solid - humorous and touching, and it's light without being shallow. We're really glad to see it back on.

Comment posted on December 6, 2010 2:51 PM


Mac said:

MOACA is must see viewing in our house of two. Take note NBC (and the rest) but,in honesty, we are almost out of that "middle age" and into the next chapter (but not quite Betty White), so you are right; we don't fit in your demos. And even for free, we ain't driving a stinkin' Chevy (the only irritant of the show). This show is amazing! Great writing where the little things matter as much as the plot. All three stars gets bows here, but an added curtain call for Andre Braugher who walks a fine line that hits home personally. Nice to see him spread his wings. Not a hero or super human,he's just human and that is more than enough for fixed viewing. And what a soundtrack! Besides the use of a lesser known Beach Boy classic for a theme (remember themes?), Monday's show used Simon & Garfunkel's "El Condor Pasa" (one would think a tough choice for song clearance, but Simon didn't write it, so maybe that's how it got on cable TV). "I'd rather be a hammer than a nail" - may be the trio's anthem this year, on many levels.

Comment posted on December 8, 2010 5:42 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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