[12/07/09 - 12:18 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Men of a Certain Age" (TNT)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Mondays at 10:00/9:00c beginning tonight)

The network's description: "John Lennon once wrote, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." For three men entering the second act of their lives, those words are starting to hit home in TNT's newest original series, MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE. This wry drama stars Emmy� winner Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), Golden Globe� winner Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Enterprise) and Emmy winner Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street, TNT's Salem's Lot). It marks a return to series television for Romano, who created MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE with Everybody Loves Raymond Emmy winner Mike Royce. The two serve as executive producers, along with Rory Rosegarten and Cary Hoffman. MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE, from TNT Original Productions, is set to debut Monday, Dec. 7, at 10/9c, following an all-new episode of the network's hit series THE CLOSER. The premiere episode is written by Romano and Royce and directed by two-time Emmy winner Scott Winant (thirtysomething). "

What did they leave out? It's probably the most off-brand drama the network has ever aired.

The plot in a nutshell: Life has not exactly gone to plan for fortysomething (or as one will aptly put "forty-mother-shit-eight") best friends Joe (Ray Romano), Terry (Scott Bakula) and Owen (Andre Braugher). Newly separated Joe owns a party supply store, his dreams of PGA stardom long forgotten. Washed up actor Terry still has the charm of his youth but no career to show for it. And happily married family man Owen is slowly being squeezed out of his father's (Richard Gant) auto dealership in favor of a young upstart (Brian White). Thankfully they have each other, or at least what passes for friendship when one is pushing 50: early morning hikes and lunch at Norm's. Bored and frustrated, the guys find themselves slowly becoming more and more resigned to their respective fates.

Thankfully each has their own way of raging against the metaphorical dying the light: Joe continues to slip deeper into his gambling addiction, the very thing that cost him his marriage; Owen tries to reclaim the dignity his father has taken from him; and Terry finds contentment in knowing he at least didn't cave into the demands of society. Said paths however come with their own hazards: Joe provokes his bookie just to see what he'll do if he doesn't pay; Owen's decisions must factor in the future of his wife (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and three kids; and Terry's lifestyle is looking less and less appealing. Ultimately the guys find all they can really hope for is the small victories - the "fantasy girl" saying hello, the douchebag who cut them off getting his comeuppance and putting the young turk in his place - not all of which taste as sweet as they imagined.

What works: Credit Romano, Bakula and Braugher for each playing uncharacteristically against type: Romano's traded in his lovable "Raymond" persona for the sad sack Joe, whose only thrill each day comes from guessing the temperature correctly on his wake up call; Braugher's dropped his noble, firey "Homicide" days in favor of the sickly, overweight Owen, whose future ultimately rests at the feet of his disapproving father; and Bakula has turned his roguish charm into the last vestiges of his character's heyday, his future collapsing in on itself. It's a raw, harsh show to watch as each character opens up their respective veins as the result of a life unfulfilled. And it's not necessarily a whiny, eye-rolling journey either - each only catches short glimpses of what their life has become and struggle to communicate, let alone deal, with what they've seen. To that end "Age" is something of a brilliant exercise: this isn't a topic television has really tackled before, especially in such an earnest, revealing way.

What doesn't: Whether that translates into something worth giving an hour each week remains to be seen. TNT viewers have routinely rejected shows that have stepped outside the procedural box and I can't say if I were a betting man I'd think this one would break that mold. Watching Joe come to the realization that his ex (Penelope Ann Miller) is moving on or his kids ignore everything he says is soul crushing to say the least, let alone seeing Terry suffer through a Lifetime original movie cattle call or Owen wrestle with his diabetes and sleep apnea. As I previously mentioned "Men's" moments of joy are breathlessly short-lived and in their brevity comes even more pathos. All in all, the pilot makes frequent references to the myth of Sisyphus and its relationship to life at middle age. If that's too depressing for you it's best to run away now. If not...

The bottom line: ...brace yourself for surprisingly deep, uncharted waters.

  [december 2009]  


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