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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Men of a Certain Age (TV Review)


"Or, how people keep going."  That perhaps should be the subtitle of this show.  Or maybe, "Ray Romano Can Act."  Or, "I Wish Peter Boyle Was Still Alive To Be On This Show."  Mostly because Peter Boyle is a god among men.

This little show is critically acclaimed, and I'm about to acclaim it more, so bear with me.  I'm not even the target demo for it, but I watch it every week.  It's not especially remarkable...the filmmaking is competent, the stories are mostly boilerplate, and the music choices are a bit too on-the-nosey sometimes.  But I keep coming back for the acting.  Oh, the acting.  It's really top-shelf, and there's a reason for that.  It has to be.

Men of a Certain Age focuses on three men, roughly of the "past middle-age, pushing 50" variety.  They all happen to be close friends, and live in beautiful sunny Southern California.  There's Joe (Ray Romano), the divorced father of two and recovering gambling addict; Terry (Scott Bakula), the single and philandering failed actor; and Owen (Andre Braugher), the family man and car dealership owner with daddy issues.

Let's go in order of greatness here:

1.  Andre Braugher is the shit.  He's always been the shit, and always will be the shit.  Talk about technique and emotional power.  I really don't think there's any doubt that Braugher always brings the goods, and as Owen he's crushing it...through subtle choices that lesser actors would easily fumble.  Plus, not much vanity in his performance.  Here's a guy who has no problem being fat around the middle, and making it work for him because that's what the character would look like.  He also was the voice of Darkseid in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, which is soooooooo dope.

2.  Ray Romano is handling his business.  Not only as a showrunner (this is his and Mike Royce's project after all), but as a lead actor with an extremely difficult part.  Now, full disclosure, I've always liked Ray.  Even on Everybody Loves Raymond, which I still catch from time to time (usually to see a little Boyle action, because that guy is a goddamned hero), although it is very much a standard sitcom.  One of the better ones, for sure, but still pretty run of the mill.  And see, Ray could have just done ANOTHER one of those silly little disposable sitcoms.  It would have been easy and I'm sure he was flooded with mediocre scripts that would feature him as a wacky dad, or a wacky cop, or a wacky accountant, or some such bullshit.  But, he decided to challenge himself and write an hour long comedy/drama with indie-film sensibilities that he had to be SURE no one would watch.  And then he went ahead and gave himself the hardest role, AND cast great actors to surround himself with because it would help THE SHOW.  Yeah, you could say my respect for this guy went up a notch.  Plus, he got to feel up Patricia Heaton in her straight-up MILF phase, so big ups to him from Jamaica, Queens.

3.  Scott Bakula, switching it up to fiction from science fiction, does a solid job.  Listen, I love Bakula and the guy gets a free pass for life thanks to Quantum Leap, but unfortunately he's the weakest link here.  I'm not saying he's bad, but he's just serviceable.  I guess on a show like Quantum Leap, he had a chance to shine because he's surrounded by different actors every week of varying quality (not counting Dean Stockwell, who rules) and his stint in the Star Trek universe worked for him because can you name another damn person from Enterprise?  Thought so.  Here he's simply alright, and that's enough.  He certainly gets the "failed actor" mentality...and his character answers that question, "How long will you convince yourself that a dream is attainable?"  A really, really long time is the answer.  Something tells me that there are millions of guys like Terry in LA, still waiting and hoping and living in cheap one bedrooms and shtupping waitresses from the local diner because that's the only shtupping available.  And, every once in a while he'll really hit it out of the park, with a gesture or glint in the eye that shows you he knows what he's doing.

So, the acting is good (bordering on great), right?  How does the actual show hold up?  Pretty well...it's interesting enough to keep me coming back.  Plus, they certainly get the right supporting actors (Robert Loggia, Jon Manfrellotti, Penelope Ann Miller) to hold up the show.  The pace is great, because it has settled into that weird period in life when everything seems to go really slow, until it doesn't.  And, the fact that someone is writing and producing a show about 3 guys turning 50?  You will NEVER see that again in this youth-obsessed world, and you should because, homies, we ALL gonna get there someday.

Give this one a chance, and you won't regret it.  A simple television show, with enough honesty to fill your garage.

Men of a Certain Age: A-

-Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer

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