Men of a Certain Age -- TV Review

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," Henry David Thoreau wrote. But desperation, quiet or otherwise, can be the stuff of superior drama, as demonstrated by Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" and countless other works.

Add to them "Men of a Certain Age," a brave choice by TNT. Those who gravitate to this engaging show will be rewarded with the kind of substantial, thoughtful fare more often reserved for theater audiences. Plus, there are outstanding performances.

This is a bromance, but not the kind that has turned that word into a synonym for superficial and artificially macho. Just the opposite. "Men" has layers of insight and lays bare the vulnerabilities and frustrations that haunt three lifelong friends, each of them closing in on the big 5-0.

Ray Romano, who co-created and co-wrote the pilot with Mike Royce, plays Joe, owner of a party-supply store and the father of two teens. Although separated for two months, he still can't believe his marriage is over and that it's time to move on. One likely reason for the split, a gambling addiction that undoubtedly will wreak greater havoc in a future episode.

Andre Braugher co-stars as Owen, married and a father of three. He sells cars at his father's dealership, though he doesn't like the work and is not good at it. With five mouths to feed and a never-ending home-renovation project, he figures it's too late to do anything else.

Then there's Terry (Scott Bakula), a lifelong bachelor and aspiring actor. He has almost nothing to show for years of auditions, and the single life is starting to wear on him.

The title of the show suggests a cultural squeamishness about the consequences of aging, and for good reason. For these guys, this is the last hurrah, their final chance to be and do what they imagined they might. Now they must reconcile that with the reality of their situations.

One would expect honest and convincing performances from Braugher and Bakula. Braugher is an Emmy winner, and Bakula conducted an acting clinic on "Quantum Leap."

Romano, on the other hand, famously played a character based on his stand-up comedy and not unlike his real-life persona. Here, he goes far beyond anything he showed audiences in "Everybody Loves Raymond." He is all anxiety and insecurity as his character struggles to redefine himself in a world he wishes in vain would not change.

The premiere benefits from the clear vision of director Scott Winant. It is as much about studying character as telling stories. It has a different and more deliberate rhythm from most other series. For some, it might take patience, as well as viewing the second episode and the third, to get the full impact.

Traditionally, character-rich, emotionally probing dramas mostly appeal to the female demo. If there is an exception, this is it.

Airdate: 10-11 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7 (TNT)
Production: TNT Original Prods.
Cast: Ray Romano, Scott Bakula, Andre Braugher, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Richard Gant, Brian White, Kwesi Boakye, Brittany Curran, Kyle Davis, Penelope Ann Miller, Patricia De Leon
Executive producers: Ray Romano, Mike Royce, Rory Rosegarten, Cary Hoffman
Producer: Victor Hsu
Director: Scott Winant
Writers: Ray Romano, Mike Royce
Director of photography: Sharone Meir
Production designer: Joseph P. Lucky
Editor: Kevin D. Ross
Music: W.G. Snuffy Walden
Set decorator: Karen Agresti
Casting: Wendy O'Brien
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