After next week's episode, TNT's excellent Men of a Certain Age will go on hiatus until summer—so now probably isn't the best time to beg you to give the show a shot. But when I like a show and the mood strikes, you'll be the second to know (as soon as I'm done lecturing my cats on how Ray Romano has successfully transformed into an Emmy-caliber dramatic actor).
Last night's episode, "And Then the Bill Comes," was a perfect example of how Men of a Certain Age works. Instead of outing gay characters, bringing a natural disaster into town, or relying on other hackneyed plots that never actually happen in real life, MoaCA combines simple storylines with well-defined characters—and the result is incredibly authentic.
Take, for example, a scene from last night in which Joe (Romano) struggled with the question of whether or not to visit an acquaintance—not really a "friend"—who'd just been diagnosed with cancer. The problem is, the "friend" was his former bookie, Manfro, and Joe's trying to give up gambling. Further complicating matter was the sad fact that Manfro didn't really have any other friends, and the guilt really began to pile on Joe.
Sure, not all of us have had to confront someone dying, but we all have that acquaintance who wants to be our friend just a little more than we want to be his. Eventually Joe did visit Manfro and then something funny happened. While most dramas would turn on the waterworks and reduce the scene to a cliched, babbling mess, Men of a Certain Age delivered an understated, poignant chat between two guys dealing with the crappy hand they've been dealt. They talked about life and death in their own language: sports and betting. Manfro explained that chemotherapy will give him a five-percent chance improvement in survival, and asked Joe if he liked those odds even though he'd suffer through the side effects of diarrhea, vomiting, and eyebrow loss. Manfro's frankness and lack of woe-is-me whining caught Joe off guard, and at that point we were witnessing two guys just hanging out. The scene suddenly wasn't about cancer and dying; it was about friendship and enjoying existence.
As an outsider looking in, Men of a Certain Age almost serves as a guide to better living. We're seeing three grown men deal with everyday situations just as we would. There's no pretension, no preaching, and no bulls**t. With its earnestness and emphasis on staying in the real world, Men of a Certain Age is so relatable and familial that we feel guilty for not sending it a Christmas card.
The program also features incredible acting from Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula, who carry the difficult task of playing the parts of normal people—a job that's way harder than wearing the face of a cutthroat lawyer, a masked superhero, or a flamboyant vampire. And if that's not enough, take a listen to the soundtrack, which mines the 1970s and dusts off neglected hits like Ricky Nelson's "Garden Party" or The Faces' "Ooh La La."
From top to bottom, Men of a Certain Age is a warm, likable achievement that will probably continue to go unnoticed by the masses. But if you're a fan of real-life dramas like the similarly underwatched Friday Night Lights, don't miss it.