TV Review: ‘Men of a Certain Age’ Promising But Off to Dull Start

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CHICAGO – The mid-life crisis of the modern man is mostly about ego - as the body goes downhill and the role of the alpha male is supplanted by a new version of himself, men kind of fall apart as they realize that their peak has arguably passed. Why would such an individual experience make for intriguing drama? Using the mid-life crisis as a jumping off point for drama would require some seriously well-drawn characters, the kind of guys who you root to come to terms with passing over that hill. “Men of a Certain Age” does not yet have those characters. Television Rating: 2.5/5.0
Television Rating: 2.5/5.0

Stars Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula are undeniably talented actors who have all found massive success in television on shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Homicide: Life on the Street,” and “Quantum Leap,” respectively. Watching them play characters in decline, one can’t help but think of the vibrant ones they played in the past and it adds a layer of familiarity to the roles that helps develop the drama. The casting of “Men of a Certain Age” is the main reason to watch it.

Men of a Certain Age
Men of a Certain Age
Photo credit: Alan Markfield/TNT

Executive Producer Romano gives himself the most interesting character in Joe, a party store owner and gambling addict going through a divorce while living in a hotel. His two life partners on the road to 50 (and on the hiking path trying to get in better shape, drinking while watching basketball, grabbing some lunch, etc.) are family man Owen (Braugher) and actor Terry (Bakula). Owen struggles with health concerns and a horrible job while Terry still thinks he’s twenty-two as he tries to bed coffee shop workers.

Men of a Certain Age
Men of a Certain Age
Photo credit: Alan Markfield/TNT

The best of “Men of a Certain Age” shows glimpses of Alexander Payne’s work (“Sideways,” “About Schmidt”) like in a great bit where Romano’s character lies to a bookie and tells him he doesn’t have the cash he owes him just to see what he’ll do next. When the characters and their arcs can avoid cliche, these three actors are more than talented enough to make the material work and the show almost comes alive.

Sadly, the writing too rarely does rise above cliche. “Divorce Guy,” “Family Guy,” “Denial Guy” - all three of the leads in “Men of a Certain Age” not only feel like stereotypes but, in their pursuit of dramatic realism, are too boring to register above those well-defined roles. Ask yourself if your neighbor’s mid-life crisis would be interesting before you tune into “Men of a Certain Age”. Beyond the skill of the actors portraying them, these characters just aren’t interesting enough to be memorable outside of the show’s running time. USA’s slogan has been “Characters Welcome.” TNT’s appears to be “Characters Better Not Wake the Neighbors.”

Having said that, Romano, Braugher, and Bakula are undeniably talented enough to occasionally elevate the material off the page and probably develop a minor following on TNT. With a cast this strong, there’s always the potential that the writers will develop their voice as the series progresses. The three episodes sent hint at a show still finding its feet and one that could potentially develop into a great show instead of a merely average one. Each episode is better than the one before. If the writing staff can find a way to pump up those Payne-esque moments, the ones that feel both identifiable and original, and pull back on the stereotypes, TNT could have a certain hit.

‘Men of a Certain Age’ debuts on TNT on Monday, December 7th, 2009 at 9pm CST. It stars Ray Romano, Scott Bakula, Andre Braugher, Lisa Gay Hamilton, and Richard Gant. content director Brian Tallerico

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