The Guys' Turn.
by Meredith O’Brien
Dudes . . . did you know that thirtysomething and fortysomething dads don’t have it all that easy these days? The Desperate Housewives, The Good Wife and the divorced mom from The New Adventures of Old Christine aren’t the only ones being depicted on TV right now who are having mid-life angst issues? Two new shows – one a dramedy about middle-aged men who seem to have lost their way, the other a crude comedy about suburban guys in a fantasy football league – put the focus on men, most of whom are fathers who aren’t sure if they should be satisfied with or irritated by their current lot in life.
The more serious fare comes from TNT in the form of Men of a Certain Age. Its biggest star is Ray Romano, who plays Joe, a man who once dreamed of being a pro golfer but now that he’s 47, worries that his aspirations might’ve already passed him by. He owns a party supply store, is recently separated from his wife (her decision, not his), has two kids (ages 18 and 13) and has a gambling problem which hurt his marriage. Now living in a hotel where the highlight of his day is receiving automated 6 a.m. wake-up calls, the pilot episode depicted Joe as feeling disconnected from his children now that he’s not living with them in the family’s home. He’s not the man he thought he’d be.
Joe’s best friends from college who live in the area and whom he sees regularly, are feeling just as unmoored in their own lives as he does. The other dad in the group is played by Andre Braugher (who was excellent in Homicide). Braugher’s performance in the pilot was remarkable for the fact that he was willing to be filmed in his underwear looking, shall we say, unfit. His character, Owen, is a married dad of three, including a baby. Owen has to deal with weight problems and eating issues, diabetes and the fact that he hates his job as a salesman at his father’s car dealership but has to keep the job because his family needs the money. While he was lying in a hospital bed following a diabetic attack, his broken nose bandaged and wearing a hospital gown dotted with Hulk stickers his boys had placed on him, his wife told him he’d have to tolerate his father’s verbal abuse, even when he’s told that he’s an “embarrassment” to his dad.
Ouch. It’s not often that the leading male TV characters on a show are so openly sad and seemingly rudderless. (Mad Men’s Don Draper may be sad and a pathologically unfaithful husband, but at work he flourishes.) I found this pilot kind of refreshing, actually, because recently it’s mostly female characters who, once they hit their late 30s and 40s and have a kid or two, look at their lives and think, “Who the heck have I become and how did I get here?” In her review of Men of a Certain Age, the New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley wrote that the characters are “fragile, sensitive . . . almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” and said the show is “an intimate, womanly look at male bonding.”