TNT's new one-hour dramedy Men of a Certain Age premiered last night, and turns out, watching men worry about getting old is sorta fun. Why hasn't there been a show like this before?
Men of a Certain Age portrays three men in their late '40s: Joe, an unhappily divorced dad who owns a party store and has a gambling problem (Ray Romano), Owen, a happily married father of three who struggles with diabetes and his disappointed father, who is also his boss at a car dealership (Andre Braugher), and Terry, a down-on-his-luck actor forced to work as a temp and go on humiliating auditions (Scott Bakula.) All three characters, so far, are good guys that you root for, so that makes this show original right off the bat. Anti-heroes are so played out on TV, and while the men on Men of a Certain Age have faults, no one is an asshole. And yet the show is still funny! Can you even imagine that being a show? As The Awl pointed out this morning, these guys "are each other's nontourage."
Pilot episodes are usually very awkward affairs, what with all the condescending expository dialogue required to explain the characters' back stories and motivations to an apparently idiotic audience, but this one was different. Men of a Certain Age takes its time and rewards a careful viewer with running themes ("Sisyphean") and callbacks, and ties everything together so neatly and astonishingly at the end that it feels like the TV version of reading a really good short story in the New Yorker (which is where, until now, I got all of my information about the inner lives and struggles of middle-aged men).
What's unique about this show is there is no cool guy, and there is no bad guy (maybe Owen's father/boss, but that's a complicated relationship.) There's no Turtle, there's no Samantha. These characters are either no "type" at all, or they're all the same type: sad sacks. And women aren't the villains either. No, on this show, the struggle is man versus nature and man versus himself — the villain is the messiness and humiliations of daily life and the ravages of age. Just like real life.
Men of a Certain Age succeeds as a dramedy by employing a clever trick: the characters get into situations where real danger is threatened, but the threat is revealed to be nonexistent. It does the same thing when everything seems like it's going to be okay, like when Owen tells his wife he doesn't want to go back to work ("I'm forty mother shit eight years old!") and she takes a deep breath and tells him she'll support him no matter what...and then quickly comes to her senses and takes it back. ("Woo, that's not true. It just came out!")
The last scene ties the episode up so well that it could stand alone as some sort of oddly-short TV movie in a parallel universe, yet we want to see much more from these characters. The clip above, from one of the show's first scenes, is exemplary of the show's mix of dark humor and subtle pathos — those "half-squished bugs" Joe mentions? I think we know who he's really talking about.