I cannot tell you the last time I was more geeked to preview a new television series than Men of a Certain Age, TNT's latest original effort premiering at 10 p.m. Monday. This heavily hyped hour unites three of the more sublime performers from our TV happy days: Ray Romano, who's spent most of his five years since Everybody Loves Raymond closed shop creating, shopping, producing and writing this pilot with ex-Raymond executive producer Mike Royce; Scott Bakula, the dashing, omnipresent leading man of shows from Enterprise and The New Adventures of Old Christine to (for viewers of a certain age) Quantum Leap; and consummate actor Andre Braugher, who personified cock-of-the-walk arrogance as Det. Frank Pembleton on Homicide: Life on the Street and more recently made memorable turns in Hack and Stephen King's The Mist.
Men of a Certain Age not only offers (not one, not two, but) three star-level performers sharing the same screen, but also, finally, fellas, it's a series for us. A Golden Guys. Our Sex and the City. Because of the prevailing theories that women ultimately control the remote after sunset and most dudes find their TV bonding experiences in programming like WWE Smackdown or Sunday Night Football, series that explore the intricate nuances of male relationships (beyond chasing chicks) with humor as we enter our middle years are virtually nonexistent. So throughout history, for every Laverne and Shirley, Kate and Allie, Rhoda and Mary, Cybill and Maryanne or Lucy and Viv (more intimate on The Lucy Show than as Lucy and Ethel) for their side, we occasionally may get a Fred and Barney or the bar crew on Family Guy.
So from a man's perspective, the stakes and the expectation levels for this show are improbably high, and I am happy to report that Men is a very likable production. But we want to love this series, not merely like it, and it's not at that level. Not yet, anyway. There is something missing here, a hole at the emotional center of this show that makes it feel like three separate lives whose orbits occasionally intersect instead of three guys who've been best buds since college and finish each other's thoughts with smart-assy nonchalance.
Maybe because Romano was the inspiration for the funniest sitcom of the 21st century, we expect Men of a Certain Age to be laugh-a-minute hilarious. It isn't. You have to work for the comedy here, it's not handed to you, and even after watching three episodes the characters didn't feel familiar enough for me to draw the humor from their situations. Romano plays Joe, a divorcing father of two every inch as neurotic as his onetime sports columnist Ray Barone. (Could Romano really be this weird in real life?) He has shelved his dream of becoming a pro golfer in favor of opening Joe's Party Depot -— a store that sells actual party supplies like balloons and piñatas, not a party store like where you shop — but can't shake the gambling addiction that broke up his family in the first place.
Bakula is Terry, a struggling actor who refuses to forsake his carefree, skirt-chasing college mind-set, working part-time as a temp in a CPA agency while fighting to ignore the nagging sensation that his career is falling victim to his advancing years. But the most fully realized character is Braugher's Owen Thoreau (he even has a last name), an overweight, despondent car salesman working for his overbearing father (the marvelous character actor Richard Gant), who wants him to "prove" he's the man to eventually take over the family dealership. His miserable lot sparks this exchange between Owen and his wife, Melissa (Lisa Gay Hamilton, ex of The Practice), in the third episode:
"I make my living making hardworking people spend more than they have, and they hate me for it."
Melissa: "They don't hate you."
"You're going to look me in the eye and tell me people don't hate car salesmen?"
"They don't hate you. They hate the idea of you."
All three have issues, and they breakfast at Norm's Diner and take long walks in the California hills to talk them through. You'll hear a lot of '70s hits as background, but you won't hear a lot of genuine interaction. But I'm willing to give these Men of a Certain Age some time. No lasting friendships are built in a few hours.
Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
Stop the conspiracy: Jesse Ventura has been a Navy SEAL, professional wrestler and governor of Minnesota. What next? Reality TV host, of course! Ventura bows at 10 tonight as figurehead of the new series Conspiracy Theory on truTV, blowing the lid off a high-frequency project in Alaska called HAARP that reportedly could control the world's weather. "I get to be a detective and seek the truth," he declares. No, he doesn't. This series looks horrible.