Men of a Certain Age, with Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula, returns tonight for the second half of its second season (damn you, bizarre TNT scheduling!). And even though it's a solid, funny, relatable, and legitimately touching show, it's been sort of a tough sell: People are full of excuses! What, you hate good shows now?
I didn't like Everybody Loves Raymond.
Join the club. (Or don't! Lots and lots of perfectly respectable humans liked that show.) But Men is nothing like Raymond, despite the overlapping star and producer. It's not just that Men is an hour-long drama — though let's not forget that important difference! — but it relies on a completely different kind of character foundation. A huge part of Raymond was that every character was sure he or she was right, all the time, and thus there was a lot of shouting. But none of Men's three main characters (Romano's divorced party-supply store owner, Braugher's car-dealership owner who is dominated by his dad, and Bakula's womanizing failed actor) are ever convinced he is right, and thus, there's a lot of very human self-doubt and empathetic (if lightly mocking) discussions. Romano's performance is totally different, too, again not just because it's not a mutli-camera sitcom that requires a lot of mugging. He's all sad and achy here, and then sometimes he gently segues into nostalgic-dad mode, and it's lovely.
Oh, boohoo, middle-aged-man problems.
Yeah, it's about middle-aged-man problems. But it articulates and explores those problems with nuance and intelligent consideration, and it doesn't present any easy solutions to those problems, either. Yes, Romano's Joe is freshly divorced and trying to get into some kind of dating scene. But he's also visibly depressed, and he has a pretty serious gambling problem; he's not just cruising for action, he's actually desperately, paralyzingly lonely — which is hardly a condition reserved for the middle-aged. Braugher's Owen bristles against his boss/father, which is, again, not a conflict that exclusively involves fortysomething men. These men aren't superheroes, they're not geniuses, and even the baller member of the main trio, played by Bakula, isn't actually that sexy or charming. They can't solve crimes or save lives or sing or dance. The thing about emotionally honest characters is that they resonate with all kinds of viewers!
I don't like Scott Bakula.
What? Get over yourself.
Does anything even happen on that show?
Nothing crazy, no. But that's its charm. Especially in a summer landscape populated by ostentatious reality-contest shows, glossy dramedy procedurals, and reruns, Men seems particularly refreshing. It has the male-bonding/ball-busting of early-era Rescue Me, but without the overt lunacy and inability to pace stories.
When I see Andre Braugher as anyone other than Frank Pembleton, I feel like I'm cheating on Homicide.
I thought I was the only person who ever felt this way! But Braugher's so good, and Homicide was so long ago. Make room in your heart.
I am too far behind at this point.
Try tonight's relatively accessible episode. Plus, like we said, it's not particularly plot-driven, so you'll be able to catch on quickly. (Also, come on, there have only been sixteen episodes. Just watch them.)
Fine, you have won me over.