An unlikely, low-key addition to TNT’s crime-riddled lineup, “Men of a Certain Age” returns at the same laconic pace as its first season, eschewing big dramatic flourishes in exchange for slowly build-ups, amusing situations and small, bittersweet moments. There isn’t much on TV quite like it — heck, short of French comedies, there aren’t many movies like it, either — but star-producer Ray Romano’s ode to middle-aged angst provides another reason for discerning audiences to really like Raymond, as well as his buddies.
The stakes in “Men” (created by Romano and Mike Royce) aren’t of the life-and-death variety. Indeed, they’re so understated and real it’s surprising just how compelling they can be.
Joe (Romano) is trying to avoid gambling after demonstrating his addiction throughout the first season, while dealing with divorce and raising two kids, including a painfully shy son (Braeden Lemasters) prone to panic attacks.
Meanwhile, struggling actor Terry (Scott Bakula) has taken a job in the auto dealership of their mutual friend Owen (Andre Braugher), who is struggling not only with running the business but with the arched eyebrows associated with having achieved that status by being the boss’ son.
Each thread has its own identifiable elements — from Bakula’s perpetual Peter Pan being forced to contemplate growing up to Romano’s sad-sack stationery-store owner finding an unlikely new dream about qualifying for golf’s seniors tour, making “mind bets” with himself to fill the gambling void. Never has a guy hitting a bucket of balls looked quite so morose.
More than anything, the series’ strained relationships — exposing the petty jealousies and resentments that can ooze into long-standing friendships over time — bring to mind the various chapters in Barry Levinson’s Baltimore movies. In a sense, these “Men” are a bit like what the “Diner” gang might be up to if we got to check in with them a quarter-century later, grown up and disillusioned.
Most admirably, it’s a drama that dares to evolve organically, without overreaching for gee-whiz act breaks. Of the six second-season episodes previewed, the show also gains momentum, saving its best toward the end — a guys’ vacation/colonoscopy weekend (don’t ask) that delivers laugh-out-loud moments as well as quirkier ones.
In doing so, the program has not only provided TNT with a welcome change-up from its crime formula but established Romano as that rare talent who actually has a TV encore in him, after headlining one of the last decade’s most successful sitcoms in “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
Like its vague title, “Men” possesses a certain charm that’s not always easy to characterize, but is, thankfully, easy to watch. And based on season two, the show, at least, is aging quite gracefully.