Judge Patrick Bromley may be a married man, but this show looks nothing like his mind.
An honest marriage can survive anything…except the truth.
Ostensibly designed as the male counterpart to HBO's hugely successful, female-friendly sex-com Sex & the City, Mike Binder's The Mind of the Married Man set out to capture the non-single, non-estrogen set. Sadly, the show was never able to fully find its footing and was cancelled after two seasons. Should viewers give the series—newly released on DVD—a second look?
Facts of the Case
The Married Man of the show's title is Micky Barnes (Mike Binder, Minority Report), a Chicago newspaper columnist who, along with his wife Donna (Sonya Walger, late of the toothless American remake of Coupling), has just become a parent for the first time. As if that recent development hasn't complicated his life enough, Micky is forever finding ways to make things difficult for himself—usually by paying far too much attention to his own libido and immature desires. He spends much of his time lusting over his beautiful and spunky new assistant, Missy (Ivana Milicevic, Vanilla Sky, Just Like Heaven, in a performance that should have made her a big star), and figuring out how to sneak off to the massage parlor. Too make matters worse, Micky is forever finding himself pulled in opposing directions by his two married best friends: the smooth-talking, indiscretion-prone Jake (Jake Weber, Leo), and the saintly Doug (Taylor Nichols, Barcelona, Boiler Room).
The ten episodes that make up The Mind of the Married Man—The Complete First Season break down as follows:
• "The Mind of the Married Man (Pilot)"
• "The Secret of the Universe"
• "The God of Marriage"
• "Time on the Lake"
• "Anywhere, Anytime"
• "Wonderful News"
• "Just Thinking of You"
• "When We Were Nice"
• "Lay Down Dancing"
• "Cold Splash of Truth"
Mike Binder's short-lived HBO series The Mind of the Married Man is a clear precursor to this year's The Upside of Anger; it's a kind of bridge between the writer/director's former and current work. Binder's past credits—the Big Chill-at-summer-camp nostalgia fest Indian Summer (pleasant, endearing, but immensely forgettable); The Sex Monster, a sex-com with far too little emphasis on either; and the Damon Wayans superhero spoof Blankman (I won't even bother)—hint at little of the sophistication or depth Binder would demonstrate with Anger. It's not only his best work to date, but one of the best films of 2005. And, while Married Man doesn't achieve the same kind of success as that film, it's easy to draw a straight line from one to the other—both present us with a number of very flawed, very human characters.
While The Mind of the Married Man doesn't exist entirely in murky moral waters, it isn't afraid to take the occasional plunge. The series has clear-cut ideas of what's right and what's wrong, but (unlike the majority of half-hour TV comedy) it seldom comes down to one or the other. It's a lot like real life in that way, where there aren't always obvious heroes and villains—it's basically good people who sometimes find themselves doing bad things. Jake, who obviously represents all that is dark and unfaithful in Micky, isn't wholly reprehensible: he says he loves his wife and children more than anything and, though his behavior often suggests otherwise, we believe him. Even Micky's wife, Donna, is shown to have flaws when she could potentially be seen as getting a pass; she's victimized simply by being married to a dishonest wimp, and therefore falls into the "good" camp. And, truth be told, Donna is one of the most likeable and respectable characters on the show, flaws and all. Some of that has to do with the fact that the series is written from a guilty male conscience, in which women are either the objects of unhealthy lust or the boss and ballast for men who are otherwise adrift—and nowhere is that more true than with Donna. The real reason Donna walks away with the show, though, is Sonya Walger's tough, sexy performance. She's the kind of woman you hate to screw up with.
The series loses its way roughly halfway through the season (and is unable to get back on track, even in its second season) when it loses sight of the central conflict—that Micky is a man trapped by his own selfish desires, reveling in fantasy but imprisoned by reality. Besides allowing itself to get bogged down by too many tangential subplots, Married Man loses its sense of maturity and becomes almost slavishly single-minded about Micky's fall towards infidelity. The supporting cast remains strong and finds compelling shades to their characters, but Micky slips further and further away—it becomes almost impossible to root for the guy. What begins as a fairly light, yet sticky and substantial half-hour comedy becomes too boyish and juvenile for its own good.
The 10 episodes making up The Mind of the Married Man—The Complete First Season are spread out over two discs, with five shows appearing on each. They're presented in their original full-frame television aspect ratio and with excellent picture quality, doing justice to the series' first-rate cinematography. The audio presentation is fine as well, with the 2.0 stereo track doing a nice job of balancing dialogue with always-inspired musical selections. The music, in particular, is worth noting; at a time when shows like The O.C. and Grey's Anatomy are lauded weekly for their use of pop music, these DVDs demonstrate that Married Man was ahead of the pack.
Though there are only a handful of extras included in the set, they're far better than the average TV-on-DVD bonus features. There's a total of about twenty minutes of deleted scenes, nearly all of which are just as good as those that made the final cut; most were cut for time purposes, but they often flesh out character and story details and are worth taking a look at. Also included is a pair of commentary tracks (one on the first episode of the season and one on the last) by Binder and Walger, whose conversations range from production history to behind the scenes stuff, personal anecdotes to theorizing why the show never caught on. Binder tells the story of how the show was set to premiere on September 11th, 2001, and how he was actually doing a promotional interview on Good Morning America which was interrupted when the World Trade Center was attacked; he's not making excuses for the show's failure so much as pointing out that it may have been doomed from the start. The dynamic between Binder and Walger is actually pretty similar to the dynamic between their characters, and it's easy to see how they achieved such an easy chemistry on screen. Their talks cover a lot of ground, making for a fascinating exploration of the creation and failure of a television series. It's a fun listen.
Though darker, richer, and funnier than a lot of half-hour comedies on TV, The Mind of the Married Man is not without its share of problems. After all, I've been married for about a year and half now, and this Married Man looks little like myself—or any married guy I know, for that matter. Surely, the minds of married men consist of more than wanting to sleep with other women, and Binder's show might be too quick to forget that.
Despite some reservations, The Mind of the Married Man—The Complete First Season is found Not Guilty.
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