Judge Clark Douglas is a man of a certain age.
Our review of Men of a Certain Age: The Complete Second Season, published February 21st, 2013, is also available.
An exploration of the unique bonds of male friendship.
"I'm the fat man!"
Facts of the Case
Joe (Ray Romano, Welcome to Mooseport), Owen (Andre Braugher, Homicide: Life on the Street), and Terry (Scott Bakula, Star Trek: Enterprise) are lifelong friends now entering their late 40s. Time has passed them by rather quickly, and none of the men is where he imagined he would be at this point.
Joe had dreams of being a professional golfer, but now he's a divorced father of two who owns a party supply store and has a severe gambling problem. He'd love nothing better than to re-connect with his ex-wife Sonia (Penelope Ann Miller, Carlito's Way), but she seems to be moving on with her life.
Owen had dreams of living up to the impossibly high expectations of his father Owen Sr. (Richard Gant, General Hospital), a former professional basketball player. Unfortunately, Owen is struggling in his job as a car salesman at his father's dealership and growing increasingly less certain that he'll inherit the family business. As it is, he's barely bringing in enough to support his wife Melissa (Lisa Gay Hamilton, The Practice) and two kids.
Terry had dreams of being a successful actor, but these days he can barely manage to find work in television commercials. In the meantime, he moves from job to job and from woman to woman, doing what he can just to get by.
This is the story of three men attempting to re-connect with their dreams late in the game.
All ten first-season episodes are spread across two discs:
Between 1996-2005, Ray Romano's sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond was one of television's most popular and beloved shows. I never really got around to watching it on a regular basis—I had nothing against it; it just didn't seem like my sort of thing. Still, my parents loved it, my grandparents loved it, some of my siblings loved it…y'know, Everybody Loves Raymond. In recent years, Romano has tried unsuccessfully to launch a career in feature films. Films like Welcome to Mooseport, Grilled, The Grand and The Last Word weren't exactly received warmly (though Romano did have success with the animated Ice Age movies). Going back to television seems like an obvious career choice for the actor, but choosing a show like Men of a Certain Age took guts.
Ray could have easily just worked up another generic network sitcom and coasted on the goodwill generated by Everybody Loves Raymond, but instead he chose to tackle something more ambitious. Men of a Certain Age is one of the most understated and mature programs on television at the moment, standing out as a distinctive piece of programming in the midst of much chaos and mayhem. Nothing against chaos and mayhem, but it's not often you see a program attempt to tackle the small problems of everyday life without adding some gimmick ("They're normal people just like us—but they can read minds!") or at least some high-stakes melodrama. Men of a Certain Age rarely approaches sensationalism of any sort, finding low-key yet compelling comedy and drama in entirely believable (and immensely relatable) scenarios. The closest comparison I can come up with is NBC's very fine Parenthood, though that program does this sort of thing with slightly less skill.
The show's focus is narrow, but moving: this is a program about a very specific type of man at a very specific time of life. They're not rich, but they're not impoverished. They've all "settled" for a certain kind of existence after realizing that what they really wanted simply wasn't going to happen. They're not old, but they can see it on the horizon and it scares the hell out of them. It's the story of three men realizing that if they're ever going to make their dreams (the little ones, forget the big ones) come true, they'd better do something about it right now. It's only going to get more difficult from here. And though the three principle characters are in similar situations to a certain degree, their distinctive personalities cause them to respond in dramatically different ways to the problems they are handed. There are no murders to be solved, no dark secrets hiding in the closet, no car chases or clever catch phrases. It's merely the sad, funny tale of three guys taking a long, hard look at their lives.
Romano has never been better than he is in this show, adding an element of understated desperation to his easy-going demeanor. Perhaps better than anyone else on the show, Romano captures that often-unacknowledged hunger to break free of his dreary existence, often held in check by the realization that he has kids to take care of and real responsibilities. Make no mistake—while Men of a Certain Age certainly sympathizes with the feelings that lead men into mid-life crises, the show is no wish-fulfillment fantasy. It recognizes the honorability of deferring dreams for the sake of protecting the people you love, and the program is all the more affecting for that.
Scott Bakula does good work as Terry, the one with the least real-life responsibilities (no wife, no kids, no steady girlfriend, no steady job) but also the least amount of substance in his life. He's coming to the realization that he's simply getting too old for this stuff, and the lifestyle that once made him look like the ultimately party animal is now starting to look like the lifestyle of a sad old man who never got a life. However, the best performance comes from Andre Braugher, whose more easily externalized desperation has an unfortunate tendency to reveal itself at just the wrong time. Watch the way Braugher's performance adjusts based on who happens to be in the room at the time—his warm and fuzzy interaction with his wife (a superb Lisa Gay Hamilton), his slightly tense interaction with his pals (he seems to slightly resent the fact that he's just not as cool as Joe and Terry) and his angrily submissive interaction with his father (an impressively overbearing Richard Gant). It's masterful work, without a doubt (earning Braugher a much-deserved Emmy nomination).
The DVD transfer is pretty solid, offering strong detail and depth for the most part. Long shots tend to suffer a bit at times, but otherwise I have no real complaints. The dialogue-centric audio is also respectable, getting the job done without making a huge impression. In terms of supplements, you get a pair of pleasant, funny audio commentaries on the pilot and season finale featuring Romano, Braugher, Bakula and Mike Royce. Then you get a collection of extremely brief, insubstantial promotional featurettes: "Men of a Certain Age Overview," "On the Set with Scott Bakula," "On the Set with Ray Romano" and "On the Set with Andre Braugher." Finally, you get a 7-minute gag reel and a handful of deleted scenes.
Men of a Certain Age: The Complete First Season is thoughtful, mature, entertaining television. Give it a look.
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