He Said/She Said: Men of a Certain Age
- Alex Wainer theFish.com Contributing Writer
- 2010 1 Jan
Television makes its own stars and rare is the actor who can succeed in more than one medium. Three stars who succeeded on television in earlier series have come together in a much promoted new TNT cable hour-long series, Men of a Certain Age. Co-produced by Ray Romano, it also stars Andre Braugher, (Homicide) and Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap, Enterprise). Romano, of course, was the titular star of the classic domestic sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond; Braugher distinguished himself in his complex portrayal as a police detective and Bakula's leading man charisma and boyish charm made him the star of two science fiction series. Thus, the new series, by offering a triple threat of familiar and popular faces should please a large audience. Well, maybe. To illustrate possible reactions to this serio-comic series about three friends each facing his own mid-life crisis, I've enlisted the help of my wife, Judith, who will provide a dueling perspective to mine.
Judith: I was intrigued by this show because of comedian Ray Romano in what was obviously a very different role. It quickly established that this was drama with comic overtones. It had me laughing one minute, and was pulling my heart out the next. Romano plays a man separated from his family due to a gambling addiction. Braugher is a man struggling to support his family by working for his father's car dealership, and Bakula plays a minor actor stumbling from one female conquest to the next. As they reach that "certain age" they find themselves still trying to define their lives, and themselves as men. From the first minute I was gripped by the emotional intensity and raw honesty with which each man's situation was portrayed. In poignant vignettes, the pilot laid out the circumstances of these three friends, and their support for each other.
Alex: I remember when you commented on how much you liked it. I decided to watch it and I couldn't believe I watched the same show. I saw a three guys leading lives of quiet desperation—and I just didn't care about these schlubs. Every episode each of the men has a separate plot line with a fourth following their time together shooting the breeze and complaining about their lives. It's like the show has four subplots and no main plot to engage viewers in much dramatic action. We may like these actors in their accustomed roles, but here it's like we're watching them in their offstage life—and they're as dull as we are. I kept wishing Ray would go back to Patricia Heaton, his three kids, and the nutty parents from his old show. Romano is inherently funny in any line he speaks but here his domestic misery is uncomfortable. Braugher's character is miserable and humiliated and Bakula's bachelor is a clueless Peter Pan.
Judith: Herein lies the difference between men and women. There were no car chases, explosions or time travel. Perhaps women find stories about fathers separated from their families, men trying to establish their own identity while protecting their loved ones, and a man reaping the bitter seeds of a shallow existence… well, interesting!!
Alex: You just like gazing at Scott Bakula's dimples. Television drama has gotten much more realistic with cable shows, like Mad Men and Battlestar Galactica setting new artistic standards. But these shows make the gritty human drama palatable because of the marvelous early 60's setting of the former show or the humanity-threatening epic threat of the latter. Men of a Certain Age is set in present day Los Angeles and the only thing distinctive about it is that it's a basic cable show with more swearing than anything TNT has produced. For me it's too mundane to be engaging.
Judith: After years of ER nursing I find the language to be realistic. My husband in unaware of how most of the world communicates. And yes, Bakula happens to be gorgeous, but the lovely thing is that his character clearly knows this. The show is clearly character driven, with slice of life episodic scripts that allow moments of slow, deliberate awkwardness or pain to pass in real time. No quick cuts to ticking bombs or lovely set designs…just human emotion. In one scene Romano calls his estranged wife to announce he has "quit" gambling. He knows he hasn't and she knows he hasn't. The director lets the scene play out, with protracted silences and palpable tension.
Alex: Well, for a show designed to attract men—of a certain age range, I found it a bit too much like real life to be a weekly draw. I need some sort of compensating pleasure to go with the painful slice of life. And I may not be alone in this; lately its ratings have dropped significantly from its impressive debut, landing in 131st place among cable shows the first week of January. Honey, looks like you've got these three guys all to yourself. I'll be upstairs reading while you're with the boys. And no, I'm not jealous of Scott Bakula.
Judith: Nor should you be! Now, for those viewers who are interested in human relationships and fine acting they will find moments that take their breath away. Amidst the challenges there are moments of triumph (Sorry boys: there are no special effects involved.) However, as these men are dealing with lost youth and watching some of their dreams slip away, it should come as no surprise that some of their struggles involve mature themes. There is a good bit of adult content here so keep the kids away.
And there you have it folks. Two perspectives on one show, a real value for your review dollar! Maybe you should see which one of us is right and try watching Men of a Certain Age and then let me know whether I or the little woman (Judith: make that his better half) is right.
Men of a Certain Age (TV-MA-L) airs Mondays at 10:00/9:00c on TNT. Episodes available on www.tnt.tv and iTunes.
Alex Wainer, Ph.D. teaches media and film at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He is a regular contributor to theFish.com.
Review posted January 18, 2009