Men of a Certain Age” might not be a perfect fit for TNT, a network that has enjoyed much of its success with meat-and-potatoes procedurals. By contrast, series co-creator and star Ray Romano’s TV return has the bittersweet sensibility of an independent film, following three unlikely buddies — college pals whose divergent paths appear to be leading them apart — as they barrel down on turning 50 and struggle to cope with modern expectations of manhood. Although the focus is ostensibly on men, this promising dramedy will need the fidelity of women to reach TV’s equivalent of puberty.
Of course, with its look at a trio of guys who graduated from college roughly 25 years ago — each at a different stage in his life — “Men” will speak to men, too, assuming that many of them (other than critics) can be bothered to watch something with the understated tone of a French comedy. It’s no wonder the project started at HBO before TNT gave it a home.
Romano plays Joe, a newly separated dad, who runs a party supply store. He’s also haunted by personal demons, as is family man Owen (Andre Braugher), who works as a car salesman at his stern dad’s dealership; and seemingly carefree actor Terry (Scott Bakula), whose easy conquests of women and aversion to commitment prompts Owen to accuse him of having a “Peter Pan thing” going.
The longtime chums still go hiking together, perhaps, but have less and less in common. When they do hang out, their breezy banter reflects the comedic chops of Romano and co-creator Mike Royce (another “Everybody Loves Raymond” alum), expressing concerns about physical ailments and other indignities associated with middle age, while debating about trifles like whether anybody should be expected to know the term “Sisyphean.”
After screening three episodes, “Men” hasn’t broken much new ground, necessarily, but it’s good company. The strongest chords come from the always splendid Braugher, playing a guy who hates his job and resents his demanding father but must endure both on behalf of his not-entirely-supportive wife (“The Practice’s” Lisa Gay Hamilton) and kids.
As writer, producer and star, Romano has given himself a role that stretches beyond his sitcom-dad image but not so dramatically as to be his “Razor’s Edge” (sorry, Bill Murray fans). He’s still sort of a sad-sack schlub, only one without the comfort of an understanding wife to anchor him.
Foremost, the series tackles a relatively weighty question about what constitutes masculinity in today’s often-confusing day and age — making its use of the Beach Boys song “When I Grow Up to Be a Man” over the opening credits particularly appropriate.
“Men” isn’t a great series yet, but it has the assets to grow into one. And in the interim, watching it certainly isn’t a Sisyphean task.