"Everyone gets a turn, and mine's over. I'm okay with that." -ArtieOne of the recurring themes of "Men of a Certain Age" is the fear that Joe, Owen and Terry have, to varying degrees, that their prime is over (probably long over), and that life will be all downhill from this certain age. In "Father's Fraternity," we meet Joe's father Artie(*), who's a man of an even older certain age, and who has a stronger belief in - and more supporting evidence about - his own obsolescence.
(*) Artie was, of course, played by Robert Loggia, who, despite a long and distinguished career - which included some time on "The Sopranos" - always makes me think of either this commercial or this "Family Guy" scene. I suppose it's a testimony to Loggia's gravity and coolness that the orange juice people would think of him for such a weird ad.
And, of course, we see Artie in contrast to a story that's heavy on Owen Sr. One father has given up on his vitality, while the other will let you pry it from his cold, dead fingers. And that's had mixed results for the two adult sons. Joe, who never had a father standing in his way, runs his own business, but lost his grip on his family, and Artie's retreat from the world gives him one more thing to be anxious about. Owen, meanwhile, is stuck in a state of perpetual post-adolescence, just waiting for the old man to let him take over the dealership, but it's unclear whether he'd be ready if Owen Sr. walked away, or if he only seems inept half the time because he knows he's stuck as a lackey.
And in the strongest Terry story to date, we get a sense that a lack of any kind of male role model has led him to his own empty life, which makes him undesirable even as a Big Brother two days a week. A lot of this season has been about Terry getting smacked in the face with how the rest of the world sees him, and this was a particularly hard smack. (In contrast, Owen's son got off easy bonking his head on the doorway when Terry's attempt to show up the Big Brother administrator failed.)
If Scott Bakula got his best dramatic showcase of the series so far (albeit in the usual understated "MooCA" style), then the filming of the commercial was Andre Braugher's comic masterpiece. Because we know from his other roles what a gifted and charismatic talker Braugher can be, it's especially funny to watch him portray the many, many, many ways Owen could be terrible on camera. And after seeing the guy swallow one humiliation after another from his father, it was nice to see an episode where Owen Senior and Junior were able to come to an accord: Jr. agrees that his dad isn't that ashamed of him, and neither man wants Owen to have a starring role in the commercial, and the compromise (complete with the "scrappy" salesman poking his head into frame at the end) was a clever, funny touch.
If I had an issue with "Father's Fraternity"(**), it's that it felt like the Joe and Artie story wrapped up a little too neatly. Because the show works in a low key with low stakes, it's been able to get away with either small victories (Owen gets the permit, Terry chooses to not help his old flame cheat on her husband) or half-victories (Joe has to drive Albert to the golf tournament). Artie rediscovering his self-worth and sense of purpose by the end of the hour was too much, too soon. I know that a part-time job at a big box hardware store isn't that important in the larger scheme of things, but for him to go from the half-asleep zombie we met at the beginning of the episode(***) to the Feech La Manna-ish go-getter ready to fix his own damn sink at the end was abrupt. Our three leads have been taking baby steps all season, while Artie (admittedly a guest star whom the writers didn't have as much time to work with) practically leaped out of his lounger and into a new life.
(**) And by that, I mean an issue other than the way the episode liberally bent the laws of time and space so that Joe's "upstate" father could so easily come down to work at the party store, the Big Brother offices would be open on a Sunday morning, etc., etc. All shows have to mess around like this for storytelling purposes, and it doesn't really bug me, but it felt particularly noticeable in this episode for some reason.
(***) Just as a sidenote, I love how quick Joe's kids are to dive into their cell phones - and to not interact with the adults around them - whenever given the opportunity. Then again, as a dad of a young kid who will one day want a phone of her own, maybe I should be horrified.
What did everybody else think?