The Mind of the Married Man

HBO proves that not everything they touch turns to gold with "The Mind of the Married Man," an overblown take on the sexual predilections and peccadilloes of a trio of ribald Chicago newspaper columnists. Much as it might appear to have the ambition of being a male "Sex and the City," it does not have any of that show's strengths.

Micky Barnes - Mike Binder Donna Barnes - Sonya Walger Jake Berman - Jake Weber Doug Nelson - Taylor Nichols Missy - Ivana Milicevic Randall Evans - M. Emmet Walsh

The networks can rest a little easy right now: HBO proves that not everything they touch turns to gold with “The Mind of the Married Man,” an overblown take on the sexual predilections and peccadilloes of a trio of ribald Chicago newspaper columnists. Much as it might appear to have the ambition of being a male “Sex and the City,” it does not have any of that show’s strengths — character, plot, reality.

The HBO series starring Sarah Jessica Parker succeeds in its universality: seemingly every viewer can associate with the psychological and sexual turmoil of the four thirtysomethings navigating the Manhattan dating scene and attempting to succeed in their respective businesses. Of paramount importance, however, is how that universality extends to Parker’s character Carrie, the woman with whom most every female viewer sees as herself. It’s the circle of friends who fit the roles of Amanda, Samantha and Charlotte.

For men, or at least ones who see their lives reflected in sitcoms, the pole setter is “Seinfeld,” a comic world in which Jerry is the immutable I — and for every Jerry there’s an Elaine, George and Kramer. When we meet Micky, Jake and Doug — and it’s quite obvious the audience is supposed to nod in recognition of these guys — one can only turn to an old Seinfeld riff: Who are these people?

“Married Man” belongs to Mike Binder, who has so many credits on the show that one wonders if he’s signing for deliveries as well. His key trio, not to mention his wife in the series (Sonya Walger as Donna), are painted with broad stereotyped strokes, placing sex at the core of their being. I have a libido, their every thought exclaims, therefore I am. Just once, you’d think they’d talk about the Cubs or their jobs or booze.

And then there’s the unrealistic setting for their jobs. The men are columnists for a newspaper in Chicago that has lavishly overspent on them, providing them with offices, assistants and enough cash to wear sharp suits everyday. Reality: Carrie Bradshaw is a columnist who owns a laptop, types in her bedroom and wears T-shirts.

Binder plays Micky Barnes, a man who has everything — a wife, a baby, a great job, friends, celebrity — but his lust for his new adoring assistant, Missy (Ivana Milicevic, who watched Jerry throw a game of tennis in a “Seinfeld” episode) clouds his ability to enjoy his life.

His friends function as the cartoon devil and angel that appear on the protagonist’s shoulder. Jake Berman (Jake Weber) is the philanderer who tells Micky to follow his lead: He calls a stunning “computer technician” into his office for repairs, which involved oral sex; and then, in episode three, starts having sex throughout the building with a new reporter with a fetish for public places. The meek buddy Taylor Nichols (Doug Nelson) emphasizes the merits of marriage workshops as demonstrated on videotape.

Show suffers from it’s obviousness. There’s not one moment of ambiguity in which one character stops to see the other side nor a sense that, as is the case in Edward Albee’s play “Three Tall Woman,” the hint that we’re seeing three sides of the same person.

The premiere is by far the dodgiest of the first three and as the series progress, the writing starts to get bit sharper but Binder makes a fatal error. The wife he seems to have so many problems with gets increasingly more complex and delightful. Sonya Walger is undeniably attractive — and after the first seg most people will stop asking why does she have to be British even though it’s not used to any effect — and her Donna is smart, conversant and alternately a good lover and mother. He in turn posits his deficiencies and troubles onto her; most married men, singles ones, too, will want to know why he treats her the way he does and why he has such a hard time communicating at even just a basic level.

HBO is, for the first time, going head-to-head with the broadcast nets in the fall with two series, “Mind” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David’s series that just gets funnier and wittier and drier as it goes along. (“Curb’s” second season debut follows “Mind” at 10:30 before moving to its regular timeslot of Sundays at 10:30 p.m.) David’s genius, long ago, was to cast Jason Alexander in David’s partially autobiographical character of George Costanza. In the second episode of the new season, it’s a delight to watch David take offense at characterizations of George, some of which are made by Alexander himself in a guest stint.

David, in his own series, shows the depths to which he will personally plunge; “Seinfeld,” for all its angst and self-centeredness, didn’t go into the dark corners that “Curb” willfully excavates. Binder, who has directed, acted in and written a string of forgettable movies and TV shows, could learn from David, specifically the fine-tuning of a character. He might have been well served to handle one or two fewer chores on this series, making it easier to separate the real man from the “Married Man” and, down the road, he may need to.

Initial episodes are all well directed and lensing is top rate. Characters lack earthy Midwest characteristics and the newspaper, bars and homes could be in any major city east of the Mississippi.

Popular on Variety

The Mind of the Married Man

HBO; Tue., Sept. 11; 10 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by HBO. Executive producers, Mike Binder, Michael Rotenberg, Stu Smiley; co-executive producers, Gregg Feinberg, Bob Nickman, Ritch Shydner; producers, Jack Binder, Scott Stephens, directors, Mike Binder, Roger Nygard, Danny Leiner; writer, Mike Binder; music, Larry Groupe;casting, Sharon Bialy. 30 MIN.

Cast: Micky Barnes - Mike Binder Donna Barnes - Sonya Walger Jake Berman - Jake Weber Doug Nelson - Taylor Nichols Missy - Ivana Milicevic Randall Evans - M. Emmet WalshWith: Kate Walsh, Doug Williams, Bobby Slayton.

More TV

  • T.J. Dillashaw, right, kicks Cody Garbrandt

    Disney Plans UFC Broadcast for FX

    UFC matches will return to FX  – but not on a permanent basis. ESPN has been showing preliminary bouts to UFC pay-per-view events for the last while on ESPN and ESPN2, and then showing the main card on its ESPN+ subscription video service. In September, the early lineup will air on FX, which the UFC [...]

  • George RR Martin

    George R.R. Martin Says HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Ending Won't Influence Future Novels

    Geroge R.R. Martin is sticking to his original plan when it comes to the future of “Game of Thrones.” In an interview with The Observer, Martin claimed that HBO’s controversial ending for the series would have no affect on the endings of the last two novels. “No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t change anything at all,” [...]

  • Listen: 'Pennyworth' Producer Talks Delving into

    Listen: 'Pennyworth' Executive Producer Talks Delving into Alfred's Backstory

    Bruno Heller may have served as an executive producer on the Batman-inspired series “Gotham” for the past five years, but it’s actually real-life people (not superheroes) that intrigue the producer the most. It’s for that exact reason that Heller’s newest series finds him exploring the origin stories of Batman’s butler Alfred in the Epix drama [...]

  • "Trust Issues" - Dylan and Lizzie

    'Instinct' Canceled After Two Seasons

    CBS has canceled “Instinct” after two seasons. Series creator Michael Rauch announced the cancellation Friday on Twitter, writing, “I’m very sad to relay the news that @instinctcbs won’t be renewed for a 3rd season. We will double up this Sunday and our season/series finale will be Aug 25.” Rauch also thanked series stars Alan Cumming [...]

  • Maisel Day

    My Mostly OK Maisel Day (Column)

    When Amazon announced its first-ever Maisel Day, I was intrigued. For one day, Aug. 15, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fans and Angelenos (fangelenos?) could hit up various restaurants, theaters and retailers throughout Los Angeles for special deals, all at 1959 prices. Among the gems: $2.50 makeovers, $0.99 pastrami sandwiches and $0.30 for a gallon of [...]

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

  • TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley' Final

    TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley's' Final Season Sets October Premiere Date

    In today’s roundup, “Silicon Valley” returns to HBO on Oct. 27 and Quibi greenlights a new cooking competition show “Dismantled.” DATES The fifth season of Netflix‘s “Peaky Blinders” will premiere on the streamer Oct. 4. The newest season will continue to follow one gangster family in the lawless streets of Birmingham, UK during the midst [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content