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TV Review: Men of a Certain Age – “Hold Your Finish”

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TNT’s Men of a Certain Age brings its second, far too short, season to a close with “Hold Your Finish.” The men all face new challenges. Joe (Ray Romano) competes in the Senior Golf Tour, and after a bit of luck, makes it to the next round. Terry (Scott Bakula) quits his job as a car salesmen to pursue directing as a new career path. Owen (Andre Braugher) is disturbed to learn Owen Sr. (Richard Gant) has decided to sell the dealership, after Owen has been working so hard to dig it out of the debt his father left it in. What is next for these guys?

Poor Owen keeps getting set back over and over again. He tries to do things his own way when taking over the business, but the nasty surprise of deep debt that his father leaves him prevents him from doing much. Then Owen embarks on a new marketing strategy of cheesy commercials and free car washes to lure potential customers onto the lot. He even comes clean with the staff, letting them know exactly what is going on with the company. Owen Sr. doesn’t approve, but Owen knows he has to be his own man and do something, or it’s not likely Thoreau will survive. It is too early to tell if it’s working from a business stand point, but Owen has certainly made a positive difference to the people working for him.

Then Owen Sr. decides to sell to their biggest competitors. It’s a huge blow. A personal insult to Owen, a sign that his father does not approve of what his son is doing, and wants to protect his name from any further mistakes. It’s a vote of no confidence against Owen’s business strategies. It ignores how hard Owen is trying; the long hours put in apart from his family. It’s a genuine slap in the face, pulling the rug out from under Owen’s career. And Owen Sr. telling his son he will make sure he is taken care of financially is even worse, an extra insult implying that Owen cannot provide for his wife and children. Owen may choose a different path than his dad, but his decisions are just as valid.

It’s not fair. The growth Owen has shown as a man and a professional over the two seasons of Men of a Certain Age is phenomenal. Owen once didn’t care about selling cars, but now he does. He proves to his father that he is worthy of taking over the business, and now that he has, he gives his all to keep it going. Even the final confrontation of “Hold Your Finish,” when Owen calmly goes to his father and lets him know how much he wants to keep working on the business is an improvement over the earlier, hot tempered fights the duo enganged in. Owen has matured, even if Owen Sr. has not. It’s unclear whether it’s enough for Owen Sr. to allow his son to keep the business, but signs are hopeful as the episode comes to an end.

There is Emmy talk for Braugher, and how can there not be? His performance is nuanced, with much depth, and plenty of growth over the series. It isn’t a showy part, but it does allow for some heavy drama and deep pathos. It’s easy to forget that Owen is not a real person, with the level of art and realism Braugher commits to him. It’s worthy of any awards anyone would like to give. There are others doing as well on television today, but few, if any, who are better.

Terry has undergone just as dramatic a shift, himself. When introduced, Terry is lazy and has trouble holding a job. He says he is an actor, but he rarely gets any work in that field. He sleeps with a variety of women, mostly far too young for him, but that works, because he’s looking for sex, not love. This season, that all changes.

Terry reconnects with Erin (Melinda McGraw), a woman he did a series of commercials with many years ago, who is now a school teacher. Terry feels all kinds of feelings for a girl that he never has allowed himself to have before. It’s a bit of a rocky adjustment, and they take a break, but soon enough Terry is asking her to move in, and she accepts. They have a really nice emotional bond, and she makes Terry want to be a better person. Suddenly he sees the value of hard work, and what pay offs it can bring. He fully, sincerely commits to her.

This change in Terry extends to his professional life, as well. He works very hard for Owen, and becomes a top car salesman. He is the one that suggests that cheesy commercials that are soon bringing people to the lot. Which is why when Terry suddenly quits to become a director, it is possible to believe him when, as he tells Erin, this time it’s different. He wants to be a director, something he finds himself good at while doing the commercials. It’s a creative outlet that actually has paying work he may be able to get, and uses his talents. It’s something he really wants to do, instead of just bring home a pay check.

Erin is hesitant, as she should be, to believe Terry. But Terry says he will only give it a year, and he has also begged for his landlord job back to help support the couple financially. These are things the old Terry would never do when chasing a dream, and show that the maturity he is gaining is sticking. He wants to do something he loves, but he is also willing to sacrifice to get it. It’s a new leaf, and one welcome.

Of course, Bakula, a veteran of screen, knocks the part out of the water. It’s funny to see him play an out of work actor, when Bakula himself has had a pretty good career. Yet, he is able to play the cheesiness and sincerity in unexpected ways that really sell the part. This is a series he will be remembered for, with good reason.

Finally, there’s Joe. He has some struggles in season two, as his attempts to be a good friend to Manfo (Jon Manfrellotti), who is dealing with cancer. But that connection drags Joe back into the world of gambling. Joe successfully pulls himself out once more, but not before angering Manfro, and losing his friendship. Overcoming that particular obstacle, again, is good, because it clears Joe’s head up to do what he really wants to do: golf.

As Joe begins the Senior Tournament qualifier, the focus is on the game itself. He has an early stumble with a penalty, which shakes him. But then he comes back in spectacular fashion, and only falters again on the final hole. Luckily, a well timed rain shower causes others to screw up more, and Joe ends up, albeit backwardly, making it through to the next round.

And that’s when it’s clear that Joe’s golf story is no longer about golf. Not only does Terry show up to offer his support, but both of Joe’s children, Albert (Braeden Lemasters) serving as caddy, and Lucy (Brittany Curran), following as a spectator, are ecstatic to see their father do well. The plot is really about how Joe realizes his kids still love him, and what that does for his self image, which desperately needs help at this point. The sweet victory as the kids cheer as another man misses a hole, and dance around Joe with excitement, is worth for more to him than any trophy or big finish. Joe is a family man, which he sometimes finds difficult to perform as, but his kids mean the world to him. Seeing they care about him the same is the real victory.

This is why, at the end of the episode, Joe is able to bring himself to call Dory (Sarah Clarke). Despite messing up his relationship with her, Joe is ready to try for another chance. He may deserve it, considering how far he has come, and the correct choices he keeps making, and she seems to see that. Joe is proving he is not a bad guy, but like everyone, has some things he must overcome. It will be a constant battle throughout the rest of his life to stay on the straight and narrow, but as “Hold Your Finish” ends, Joe is doing well.

Who would have thought that sitcom star Romano had such gravitas in his repertoire? Yet, after a mere two years, Romano has permanently destroyed any pigeon hole the comedian may have been stuck in. He holds his own against two dramatic heavyweights, and makes it look easy. It’s enough to spark regret for ever doubting him. With creator credit to his name, too, Romano has made something wonderful in Men of a Certain Age. Hopefully, it will run for years to come.

Men of a Certain Age has not yet been ordered for a third season, but if the universe is fair at all, it will get one.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com