I reviewed TNT's "Men of a Certain Age" in this morning's column, so go read that if you haven't already, and then I have a few specific thoughts on the pilot coming up just as soon as I dick around with karma...
I wrote in the column about how strong Ray Romano's dramatic work on this show is, but there were plenty of nice, low-key comic moments, from Joe's deadpan, "Oh, no, they don't taste good" after Owen spit out the berries to Joe's self-justifying "It's the humane thing to do" as he keeps backing over (and over) the possum.
Andre Braugher has the heaviest storyline in the pilot, and I say that not just because of all the references to (and glimpses of) his extra pounds. If there's one thing we're used to from an Andre Braugher character, it's him as a man at the height of his powers, which Owen most definitely is not. Over-extended at home, note in remotely as good shape as his best friends, treated like crap by his dad - this is not the Braugher I'm accustomed to, outside of the period right after Frank Pembleton had his stroke. But he plays it wonderfully, as you might expect. The big scene, where Owen's dad calls him an embarrassment, has Braugher largely shot either in shadow or behind, but he only needs a little bit of daylight to show everything.
But if you watched "Homicide," you also know that Braugher can be very funny, and he bantered well with both of his co-stars, and also had a nice bit of physical comedy near the end where Owen hip-checked his way to a potential customer to show his dad some assertiveness.
Scott Bakula has the most predictable character, and the least to do in the pilot of the three leads, but he manages to somehow seem both relaxed and weary at the same time. Plus, his storyline brings in Carla Gallo as Terry's barista pal Annie. And as an "Undeclared" fan, I never object to more Carla Gallo.
Not a lot happens in the pilot, as it's mainly about establishing who these three guys are. But don't necessarily expect a ton of plot going forward. It's not that kind of show. I will say, though, that the series gets progressively better over the five episodes I've seen, as the characters get deeper, and as Romano and co-creator Mike Royce get more used to the format.
Some other points:
• The "Everybody Loves Raymond" connection goes beyond Romano and Royce to include Jon Manfrellotti, who played Ray Barone's buddy Gianni, and here plays Joe's possum-hating new bookie, Manfro. These two guys obviously work well together, and the Joe/Manfro relationship will be a good source of comedy (and surprising insight) in upcoming episodes.
• In terms of the crew at the dealership, don't get used to Ken Jeong, who obviously shot this pilot before he got cast on "Community" (and likely before "The Hangover" came out, because his quote would have shot way above basic cable drama bit player after that) and isn't in any of the other episodes. Do, on the other hand, get used to both Richard Gant as Owen's dad and Brian White (aka Tavon from "The Shield") as star salesman Marcus.
• Also get used to Michael Hitchcock (from all the Christopher Guest movies) as Dave, Terry's boss at his temp job.
• The F-word is the only one of George Carlin's words you can never say on television that you can't actually say on basic cable, which is why Owen and his wife toss around the awkward phrase "forty-mother-s--t-eight."
What did everybody else think?