Judge Gordon Sullivan prefers to be of an uncertain age.
Our review of Men Of A Certain Age: The Complete First Season, published November 15th, 2010, is also available.
Welcome to the prime of your life.
Cary Grant retired from acting at the age of 62, partly to provide stability for his newborn daughter but also because he grew increasingly frustrated with the roles he was playing. As an older man, he was finding it increasingly difficult to get starring parts that didn't involve him being opposite a woman a third his age. I wonder what he's make of older actors now. On the one hand, there are a lot more kinds of roles available to actors of all ages, but on the other hand there are still a lot of expectations that actors will play certain parts depending on their age. Bucking this trend, Men of a Certain Age presents an unlikely portrait of three middle-aged men struggling with their lives at the moment they should be finally settled. It's an affecting blend of comedy and drama with some very fine performances.
Men of a Certain Age is the story of three middle-aged friends. Joe (Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond) still wants to be a professional golfer (and to get his wife back). Owen (Andre Braugher, Thief) works for his father at a car dealership but isn't sure he can (or should) inherit the business. Terry (Scott Bakula, Star Trek: Enterprise) wants to be an actor but has trouble meeting his day to day obligations. Appropriately, Men of a Certain Age: The Complete Second Season builds quietly on the first season, and rather than offering any kind of season-long arc instead lives the day-to-day world of these characters as they navigate the sometimes-difficult path to their desires.
Men of a Certain Age gets major points for underplaying its hand. Lots of TV and movies have given us portraits of struggling middle-aged men in the last decade or so. Will Farrell has largely built his career out of playing older dudes who willfully refuse to grow up. Men of a Certain Age goes the opposite way. It's like the anti-Eastbound and Down. Whereas Kenny Powers is (or was) an exceptional individual who gets the world handed to him because of his exceptional status, the Men of a Certain Age are much more ordinary guys who want to have at least some of the rewards that Kenny enjoyed, even briefly.
Men of a Certain Age, though, is a sitcom at heart, and unlike Eastbound it doesn't require the exceptional to work (though the similarities in plot are there, from the desire for sports glory to the difficulties surrounding a car dealership and the need to reconnect with an old flame). Men couches all of these desires in the everyday. There's none of the outrageously ridiculous behavior of Kenny Power. Nor is there the kind of "Wah, wah, wah" lowest-common-denominator sitcom humor either. The show balances on a keen edge, showing us these tragic figures with their dreams deferred while also presenting us with plenty of opportunities to laugh at them.
The other thing that Men of a Certain Age has going for it are the performances. Everyone is great, but the leads are especially wonderful. If everyone was on autopilot this kind of comedy/drama mix would fall hopelessly flat, but every one of the actors is willing to play both the serious and comic moments with equal dedication. There was always something put-upon about Ray Romano in Everybody Loves Raymond, and he takes that to tragic dimensions here. Scott Bakula plays the older party animal with great pathos, and Andre Braugher moves subtly from the man afraid of disappointing his father to the confident husband of a loving wife without missing a beat. The frequent guest cast are also up to snuff, from Penelope Ann Miller's turn as the ex-wife to Jon Manfrellotti as Joe's former bookie.
There is of course the nagging feeling with a show like this that we're still somehow supposed to care about the crises of men who refuse to grow up. While Men of a Certain Age isn't as egregious as Eastbound and Down, it's still a bunch of guys who can largely blame themselves for their trouble, and it occasionally gets difficult to feel sympathy for them. Films like Wild Hogs demonstrate there's still loads of interest in the midlife crises, but only a near-flawless execution keeps this show from seeming like another indulgent look at dudes who should have just grown up.
This second season trumps the previous set in terms of DVD quality as well. The 1.78:1 transfers are standard broadcast quality. They're clean and bright across the board, with no significant compression problems. The Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are a bit like overkill with the dialogue-driven nature of the shows. However, dialogue is always clear and well-balanced and the surrounds get a workout now and then. Extras include commentaries on every episode, a pair of featurettes, deleted scenes, a music video, and a gag reel.
Men of a Certain Age sets itself apart from much of what passes for sitcoms these days. This second season shows positive potential for growth, and fans will appreciate the attention to detail in the presentation and the extras.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
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