How do you keep a comedy about “Men of a Certain Age” from being little more than a recycling bin for Viagra jokes and midlife crises clichés, where the guys pull all kinds of stunts to prove they’ve still got it?
You make it a dramedy, and focus more on drama of character than on three “Old Dogs” looking to howl one more time. You make it an anthology show of sorts where the men’s situations and temperaments are slightly different: one married, one separated, and one terminally single. And you don’t focus solely on male-female relationships at mid-point in life.
Instead, you bring a hand-held camera and capture everyday work relationships not unlike “The Office,” and you make sure that there are plenty of choker shots and extreme close-ups to create a sense of intimacy. Then, just to be sure, you give it the kind of pacing that comes closer to an indie film than a sitcom.
And, of course, it helps to have scripts from Ray Romano and Mike Royce, who previously collaborated on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
This TNT drama-comedy—which indeed puts the drama first—stars Romano as Joe Tranelli, a recently separated father of two who has the ambition of making golf’s senior pro tour. The other men of a certain age—which, by the way, is late middle-age—are his college buddies who live in the same town and who get together periodically.
Owen Thoreau Jr. (Andre Braugher) is the son of a famous ex-NBA player who works at a job he hates, managing his father’s sales staff at the car dealership Dad bought with his earnings. The salesmen and service department guys provide an “Office” vibe—subtle, slightly off-center, but somehow true. Then there’s Terry Elliot (Scott Bakula), who’s had a more difficult time shedding the frat-boy mindset and “growing up.” He’s only now realizing that the womanizing and the single life he’s led has led him to a time in life where he has nothing to show for it . . . and the proof? He’s forced to take a job as a salesman at Owen’s place of business, where he’s ripped on unmercifully by the existing sales staff.
Don’t look for a big narrative arc, because Romano and Royce are going for a slice-of-life feel, with as much of an emphasis on “real time” as you can get within the constraints of a 43-minute episode (which allows for enough commercials to fill out the hour). Their problems are small, but in everyday life the small problems that average people face have big repercussions. Joe has a gambling addiction in his backstory and some issues with trying to be a good father; Owen is a diabetic who’s stressed by his job and knows he shouldn’t bring that home to his family; Terry is an actor who never made it, but, like the ladies man he was in college, keeps dating younger women.
Season 2 begins with Owen’s father (Richard Gant) retiring and leaving Owen in charge, though he’s never far away. Joe is marveling at how women at the country club who never gave him a look before are suddenly flirting with him. “How do they know? Do I like exude a vibe that says I’m newly separated?” he wonders. And the laid-back Terry, used to doing things his own way, tries to fit in at the car dealership and finds an unlikely mentor in the senior Owen Thoreau. His backstory includes a disastrous stint as an apartment complex manager, so this feels like a last chance to get his act togther.
Twelve Season 2 episodes are contained on three single-sided discs and housed in a standard size keep-case:
“If I Could I Surely Would”—Joe tries to get himself back in shape on the golf course; Terry learns to use his acting skills to sell cars; and Owen struggles with leadership issues at the dealership.
“Same as the Old Boss”—Owen tangles with the service manager, while Terry becomes the butt of his coworkers jokes when they find an online video of one of his old commercials, and Joe struggles to find a practice schedule.
“Cold Calls”—Joe finds himself dating two women at the same time, while Terry bets a coworker he can sell more cars in one day; Owen, meanwhile, tries to get his father to stop undermining his authority at the dealership.
“The Bad Guy”—Joe learns something about his teenage daughter, and Owen gets a surprise of his own at a car convention. Terry is approached about a TV commercial he did years ago.
“And then the Bill Comes”—Joe gets bad news about a former bookie, Terry starts to appreciate the 9-to-5 lifestyle, and Owen takes a huge step to resolve the tension between management and the service department.
“Let the Sunshine In”—Terry’s announcement that he’s getting a colonoscopy on his 50th birthday prompts the other guys to get one, and they go to Palm Springs to make a weekend out of it.
“The Great Escape”—Joe decides to spend time with his former bookie ahead of his medical treatment, while Terry and Erin (Melinda McGraw) take their relationship to another level and Owen gets an offer from a rival dealership.
“The Pickup”—Joe does a favor for his former bookie that could have a lasting effect. Meanwhile, Terry struggles with his love life and Owen tries to mediate a feud between salesmen.
“Can’t Let That Slide”—Joe’s friendship with his former bookie grows complicated; Owen installs hidden cameras at the dealership; and Terry’s date-night is a disaster.
“A League of Their Owen”—Owen takes over the Thoreau dealership softball team right before the season opener against a rival dealership. Joe’s dad comes to visit and brings a new girlfriend; meanwhile, Terry’s relationship troubles come to a full boil.
“Whatever Gets You through the Night”—Owen and Terry make a commercial together, while Joe tries to get his party store and his life back on track.
“Hold Your Finish Image”—Joe’s big day, the senior tour pre-qualifier, finally arrives; Terry discovers a new dream/passion; and Owen talks about the future of the dealership with his dad.
Though “Men of a Certain Age” was well received by critics, apparently the audience share wasn’t big enough, because the show wasn’t picked up for a third season. Yet “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” remains. Somewhere, Ray Romano is pulling out his thinning hair.
Though there’s a ton of noise on blank-wall backgrounds and some heavy grain in other spots, but by and large the picture looks good for a DVD. Colors and skin-tones are true-looking, and the edge detail is decent for standard def. “Men of a Certain Age” is presented in what appears to be 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with subtitles for in English for the hearing impaired. No surprises here, though the audio quality is more consistent than the picture.
A full-color insert gives detailed descriptions for each episode, while on-disk there’s a brief featurette, “The Bitter/Sweet 50,” a brief gag reel, a Scarpula Rap Video, some behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, and, the big surprise, an audio commentary for every single episode. I personally don’t care to hear commentaries for TV shows unless they’re classic episodes from classic or controversial shows, but they’re here for whoever wants them. Romano and Royce appear on every one, with appearances by writers Lew Schneider, Ken Blankstein, Sian Heder, and Tucker Cawley, producer Bridget Bedard, and actor Joe Mankrellotti (who plays the bookie).
There’s so much phoniness on TV—especially, ironically, on reality shows—that it’s refreshing to come across a drama-comedy that feels authentic. There are no wild plot arcs here. “Men of a Certain Age” trusts that life’s daily problems are enough complication for most people, whether they’re living it or watching it.