TV critic of a certain age has hope for TNT's Men of a Certain Age
But even though I’m a proud, card-carrying 44-year-old media critic, I’m not completely sold on TNT’s admirable look at three middle-aged guys facing their middle aged-ness at a time when certain other shows – yes, Courteney “Cougar Town” Cox, I’m talking about you – insist 40 is the new 20.
(If that’s true, why are so many new things sagging now than then? Or is that sharing too much?)
At least, co-creator Ray Romano has found a quirky and worthy new project, four years after the finale of his blockbuster CBS sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. Originally developed for HBO, it’s an ambitious dramedy about three pals from college who remain tangled in each other’s lives while nearing the big 5-0.
But it’s also something much more -- a bold stroke from a comedy talent whose on-the-surface insecurities often leads Hollywood to underestimate him. Turns out, the greatest pleasure here comes from watching Romano begin his own second life as a performer, while other comics in his position are tackling challenges like hosting game shows and developing reality TV (Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey and Jeff Foxworthy, that’s you).
Romano’s Joe is a typically neurotic 40-something owner of a party store who marriage was wrecked by a destructive personal habit I won’t name here. Living in a hotel and struggling with leftover feelings for his ex, he’s almost in a daze, wondering how his life turned sideways while regaling his buddies with observations like how much weight he loses after urinating (his record: 2.5 pounds. And it's based on something romano has noticed in rea life).
Scott Bakula is Terry, a free-spirited actor and womanizer who never made the big time, moving through bed partners too quickly to realize what it’s costing him, emotionally. Andre Braugher is Owen, a put-upon husband working for his own dad in a family-owned user car dealership, struggling in a job he’s not good at for a father who has lost confidence in him.
Like many series, it gets better as the episodes progress and the writers get a stronger handle on the characters. Joe’s first new date, told in flashbacks during a lunch with his pals, is the series’ strongest bit among the five episodes I’ve seen; the first three episodes are interesting but not yet compelling.
As the show debuts at 10 p.m. Monday on TNT, here’s this critic of a certain age’s take on what works and doesn’t:
What They Got Right – Romano is the strongest and most surprising card here handling the role’s dramatic turns as well or better than the comedy (turns out those Emmy nominations for acting weren’t a fluke). It’s a pleasure to watch a TV show with actors who don’t seem one step out of high school and 40-something characters who often feel mentally just like they did at age 20, even if their bodies don’t agree.What they Got Wrong – Too much stuff in the early episodes is depressing – we are deluged with Joe’s existential troubles, Terry stuck in bit parts and bad temp jobs, Owen humiliated by a younger colleague and his wife challenging his father in the office. We folks of a certain age may struggle a bit as life progresses, but we also want to see that there’s light – and fun – in knowing a little more at 40 than 20.