In Men of a Certain Age Ray Romano and his producing and creative partner Mike Royce have given us something a little unusual — streaks of realism. It’s a drama about three 40-something-year-old men, college friends who are still in each other’s lives. Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond, Ice Age) is Joe, freshly separated, neurotic as hell, and thinking about dating. Owen is played by Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street, House). He’s an out-of-shape diabetic family man who is floundering at work, drowning under the pressure of having his father for a boss. Terry, an aging but still handsome single actor who does more yoga and office temping than acting, is played by Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Enterprise).
So can the writing stand up to the talent of the cast? Yes, but it might have to grow on you.
It is not a happy-shiny show. It’s not easy to watch someone like Romano struggle with actual problems. He’s a gambler. After being separated, his first “date” is with a new bookie. He downplays the gambling issue with his friends, who don’t believe him anyway. Watching Romano like this makes us squirm, almost hoping that any second now he’ll roll his eyes and holler for “Debra!!!!!” But Ray Barone fans take heart — this new character is no heel. He cares about road kill and even more about his kids and treats his employees at his party supply store decently.
It’s also strange to watch the man we remember best as quantum leaping Sam Beckett or trekking Captain Archer act like a womanizing, New Age ne’er do well. Bakula’s Terry may be a bit of a narcissist, but then he says something endearingly offbeat — “cell phones are just a fad” — and we really can’t hate him.
Playing Owen is quite a nice shift for Andre Braugher. We’re used to seeing him doing his smart/stern/controlled gigs as he had in his stint in Homicide: Life on the Street, or his role earlier this season as House’s psychiatrist. In MOACA he is oh-so-human as he indulges in “angry eating” and then tries to shed the pounds and lower his A1C by hiking with the guys. And as we see the source of that anger, those moments resonate as truly depressing; we’ve been there too, again and again.
It’s clear that Ray Romano is not pandering to that golden egg – the younger half of the 18 to 49 demographic – and that’s laudable. The soundtrack is strictly '70s, the pop culture references reach back decades (Mannix, anyone?), and there are a few too many mentions of ointment application. Of course, it’s been shown that there actually is disposable income in the market that he and Royce do target, the creaky, leaky, and cheeky group of boomers ages 45 and beyond.
Men of a Certain Age examines and celebrates not only aging, but the sheer mediocrity of our lives, lives full of the expected frustrations, and the unexpected joys. And that will target any demographic.
Premieres Monday, December 7 at 10:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on TNT.