May 4, 2010

AUSTRALIA: Men of a Certain Age

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MELBOURNE, Victoria / The Age / Executive Style / May 4, 2010

All Men are Liars
Men of a Certain Age

Over the lifespan of this blog, many commenters have expressed a frustration with the way men, particularly fathers, are portrayed on television and in the media. At best they're depicted as unattainable, stolid clichés or likeably clueless goofs; at worst they are distant, dastardly or deadbeats.

While it's a little premature - the show is yet to air in Australia - there is hope a comin' and it's being delivered from an entirely unexpected quarter - Ray Romano, the US comedian best known for his work on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond ...

Romano's latest venture is an hour-long comedy drama airing on TNT in the US. It's called Men of a Certain Age and, what's really surprising, is that it's superb television.

Though I'd never encourage readers to download illegally via peer-to-peer software ... ahem ... until Channel Nine (which I believe owns the rights to the series) decides to air it, this might be the only way you can see the show, unless you buy the DVDs in the US.

The series follows three life-long friends - Joe, Owen and Terry - who are all about to turn 50.

Joe (Romano) is a slightly neurotic separated father of two who is regularly told he's a little weird. He owns a party supply store, has a gambling addiction and is far less annoying than Romano's former sitcom persona.

Owen (Andre Braugher from Homicide Life on the Streets) is an overweight, diabetic, used-car salesman, husband and father of three who works for his dad, a former professional basketball player.

Terry (Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap) is a New-Agey actor, who smokes dope, works temp jobs and bangs everything that moves, usually much younger women.

The show is basically about their lives, their conversations and their issues and, while that might sound dull or worthy, it's actually funny, touching and inspiring.

US critics were just as surprised as I was by the show's quality with the Los Angeles Times saying it was "a miraculously good show about a stage of life that is too often either ignored or overplayed".

The New York Times says it is "not violent, exciting or fast paced, but the series has a quiet charm of its own: it is a believable, sharply observed portrait of ordinary men who, through all-too-common bad breaks and missteps, feel that they are backsliding".

And The Washington Post says it "proves a powerful yet mercifully amusing experience - bittersweet, poignant and wise. It's not just a series, but something of a tonic".

Post critic Tom Shales started his review of the show saying "there's something rare and wonderful about Men of a Certain Age and yet it keeps seeming either vaguely or highly familiar. That's partly because the new TNT series treads ground already trod into mush by previous movies and TV shows - although that turns out not to matter".

Mostly the show is about finding dignity in your day-to-day life and the characters are so well drawn, written and acted that you often feel you're a fly on the wall watching three real friends' lunchtime chatter.

Sure the show hits some false notes, but they are few and far between.

The thing I like most about Men of a Certain Age, though, is that the men are all kind, without being sops or saccharine, and they all have very real failings you feel could bring them undone any tick of the clock.

And you don't have to be 40 to enjoy the show - I think young guys will enjoy it just as much, and can certainly imbibe the wisdom of taking their chances when they get them.

I'd like to think we could make a drama series like this in Australia - shows such as Love My Way and Showtime's criminally unappreciated Tangle certainly illustrate we have the writing, directing and acting talent to pull it off.

Until that time, keep an eye out for Men of a Certain Age. [rc]
                                                                                                                                                                              
Sam de Brito has spent more than
a decade writing for TV, film and
newspapers. He writes a daily blog
All Men Are Liars for
THE AGE



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