December 7, 2009

new show review: men of a certain age

TNT's new drama (dramedy?) Men of a Certain Age premiered last night to the tune of 5.4 million viewers - quite a decent run for a cable net. And most of the critics have good things to say. I've been looking forward to this new show for a while - good timing for something new as we enter the winter hiatus. And I'm a sucker for those extended promos they've been showing at movie theatres. The big screen gets me every time. Let's get to it.

Starting with the cast, which is basically a television dream team - a collection of veterans from a line of ultra-successful shows. First, Ray Romano as Joe, the lonely, separated father of two teenagers, who's living in a hotel and has a gambling problem. Scott Bakula as Terry, the chick-magnet unemployed actor. And Andre Braugher as Owen, the bitter, but happily married father of three young ones.

The three went to college together and are now settling or unsettling into their late 40s. We first meet them on the way to take a morning hike together - a daily ritual. Joe hits a possum in the road and struggles to decide whether to take him to the vet. Instead, he runs over the animal twice more to put him out of his misery. Low and behold, the possum gets up an walks away. I've never trusted possums.

Throughout the day, we learn about each of the guy's day jobs:

Owen is a frustratingly underachieving car salesman. He works for his unsupportive father, who picks this day to tell Owen that he's an embarrassment, and he will not be passing management of the business over to him - one of his reasons being Owen's need to self-administer diabetic insulin shots during the work day. Truly heartbreaking scene.

Joe owns and operates a party supply store where he has a practice golf course set up in the back room. He did a couple rounds on the "mini tour" trying for professional golf back in the day. We also learn that debts from his gambling problem are owed. Although it's hitting all of them, Joe has the most outwardly obvious midlife crisis going on. He measures the amount of weight he loses when he pees (record is 2.5) and stresses over not being able to read the ketchup bottle label, among other things.

Terry is temping at an office where he shows up at 12:30 and refuses to own a cell phone. "Those things are just a phase." It's obvious Terry gets by on cool. But cool doesn't do much for him when he shows up at a "cattle call" for a Lifetime movie role, obviously frustrated and confused about where his career has gone. He's befriended the local young barista Annie, played by Carla Gallo, who you'll recognize from shows like Mad Men and Bones. Looks like we'll be seeing more of her.

[Sidenote: Just saw a preview for Southland premiering on TNT on January 12th. So glad the show found a home on this network! Seems like a perfect fit.]

On the next morning's hike, Owen has a diabetic seizure and collapses. The boys rush him to the hospital, but not before failing to belt him in, which results in a nose breaking against the dashboard. The boys chose not to tell Owen that detail, but are utterly incapable of telling a coherent lie. I found that scene pretty hilarious (and realistic).

The episode ends on a sad note for Joe. Feeling guilty for lying about Owen's nose, Joe calls his wife to tell her what happened. He asks her what to do and slips in that he's quit gambling. It's obvious that she's tired of it. Later, he meets a debt collector outside of the store to pay some gambling fees. With a full envelop in his pocket, Joe claims he doesn't have the money. After realizing the collector won't be getting violent, Joe produces the money. I think maybe he wanted to be punished thinking this would discourage the habit? In the words of the unscary collector, "You're a little weird Joe."

Owen's ending is a bit more hopeful. After a talking-to from his wife, Owen realizes he can't quit his job while supporting three young children. He returns to work with an renewed determination and literally pushes down the competition. Owen might be my favorite.

In the end, Joe asks the unscary debt collector to help him "take care" of the possum. They find him dead, and Joe builds him a little grave. Gotta love when the story comes full circle.

It's obvious this pilot was all about introducing us to the characters and setting the stage for our window into this difficult stage of their lives. I need to watch a few more episodes to get comfortable with them, but I like what I'm seeing so far. This is a refreshing change from the typical aging sitcom dad (sorry Ray) that we've seen over and over. It's a dark show, but I did laugh out loud a few times. I know there's a lot more to be said about each of their journeys, but I'll keep it here for now. If you didn't see it, check out a rerun on TNT this week and let me know what you think!

Favorite lines:

Joe: Saw my ass in the mirror the other day.
Terry: Yea, how was it?
Joe: Not good. Got like an extra crease where there wasn't one.

P.S. Is Ken Jeong is everything now?


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