Monday, December 21, 2009

Men of a Certain Age, "Mind's Eye": Joe & The Fat Guy

A review of episode three of "Men of a Certain Age" coming up just as soon as I pretend I'm the king of Croatia...
"Whatever I am... what if he's worse?" - Joe
If "Mind's Eye" had contained nothing but that wonderful David Simon Worlds Collide moment where Owen (aka Frank Pembleton from "Homicide") met the older customer (aka Stan Valchek from "The Wire") looking for The Fat Guy, it would still be my favorite episode of this young series so far(*).

(*) In the morning, you'll see my list of the best shows of 2009. At one point, it was going to be two separate lists of 10 - one for new shows, one for returning series - but I couldn't quite come up with 10 new shows I was totally happy with, while the returning shows list was getting overstuffed, so I combined it into one list of 20. But if this show had been on the air for even a few weeks longer in the year, I think it would have been a strong contender for a spot at the back of the hypothetical new shows list. Four just didn't feel like enough.

The show is always about the three guys facing the uncomfortable truths of their certain age, and those truths were particularly uncomfortable for them in "Mind's Eye": that Owen's job makes him (and others) miserable, that Joe's son has inherited the anxiety that makes Joe so unhappy, and that maybe Terry envies his settled-down friends more than he wants to admit.

The Owen story was the definite highlight of the three, allowing Andre Braugher to combine the shlubby everyman quality of his performance so far with a bit of cocky Pembleton flash. And who doesn't dream of a chance to reinvent their job so they only have to deal with the fun stuff (hugs, smiles, moving up the sales leaderboard) with none of the headaches (awkward negotiations, customers resenting you, pressure from the bosses)?

The only part I didn't quite understand - and, admittedly, I'm ignorant about how a sales commission job like this works - is why Owen's check for the month would have been that low. I get that he was making sales below market value, but his total sales were way up, and it wasn't like he was letting the dealership take a loss on any sale. Wouldn't the volume of sales compared to a normal Owen month lead to at least a comparable check, if not a slightly better one? Or does Owen's dad have the ability to give Owen a lousy check just to spite him for not playing by the dealership's rules?

While Owen's resentment of Terry would keep him from ever admitting it, he was playing a role as The Fat Guy, just as Terry winds up role-playing as the family man home-buyer, and Scott Bakula had fun playing off of guest star Cynthia Watros, and at showing Terry's dawning realization that the role would be a lot more fun if it were real.

And Ray Romano continues to do some really interesting, small dramatic work as Joe deals with the parental nightmare of having passed his worst qualities on to one of his kids. I liked that Joe's big speech in the parking lot didn't really fix anything - that we cut from what should be this big inspiring moment to Albert riding in the car with his dad (which no doubt will lead to more teasing from the other kids, and therefore more anxiety). It rang true, and it was funny at the same time it was sad.

Even though "The Closer" aired its last episode of '09 tonight, there's a new "Men of a Certain Age" next week, which I guess is TNT's way of seeing how the show can do without its flagship series as a lead-in.

What did everybody else think?


GersonK said...

Wow, somehow I completely missed Valchek. But I was hoping the "do you like me" conversation with the customer would turn into an interrogation, even if it would made no sense. But once again, we do have Andre Braugher being measured by a poor metric on a white board.

I'm not sure how car salesmen get paid either, but surely Owen should, so why was he surprised by the check? I think you may be onto something with the spite.

Pamela Jaye said...

I was really happy. In fact, I was deep into Owen's storyline and I was very happy. (I wasn't sitting there waiting to see Scott).

I was watching Joe's scenes and also happy.

Of course watching Terry's scenes made me ecstatic.
My friends call it drooling. They say I don't do it. But every now and then... I can't help being happy just to look at him.

During Mr & Mrs Smith, they had a Suburban episode (they called it The Suburban Episode) and this was taking me back. Even if no one was a spy. In fact, maybe because no one was a spy - even if they *were* still acting.
The episode of Chuck reminded me of the M&MS Suburban episode (I don't watch a lot of spy things, so if this is a common theme, well, not to me) so much that it hurt: how much better it was done on Chuck.
I'm feeling better now.

And yes, the angst - which is *not* the word I want - that's always going to get to me.

At least one good song (and really, they need to put out a soundtrack)

And thru most of the ep, I'm worrying Owen's dad is going to ream him out for selling low. I guess I forgot about commission. OTOH, I just wasn't up to doing that haggling thing myself the one time I bought a car - so I bought a Saturn. I miss my first Saturn.
It's possible that Owen's dad could pay him low, after all, it's a shititocracy, but I don't think he did. Owen was surprised at his check, but he wasn't angry.

I also enjoyed Joe's wallpaper of his kids, and some other little thing that will come back to me later.

Three eps in, I'm happier every week.

Oh, the other thing - when they are hiking, I just love seeing that much of LA (is it Griffith Park?) Sometimes it' distracts me, even from Scott.

Question of the week - what are these guys' last names?
Owen Thoreau? Joe T? Terry... Oddest thing I've noticed on TV since I realized in the first 4 eps of Reunion that I didn't even know *who* had been murdered.

Happy camper here. Maybe I will go make my glass half full. Do you think Joe's glass is ever half full?

knocsucow00 said...

I'm guessing that there is the invoice price that the dealership pays for the car. Then the dealership has to bump up the price to some sort of "base price" so they can pay their operating costs.

Then any sale over that base price would be split in some % between the dealership and the salesman.

I'm guessing Owen was selling the cars at a basically the base price, so while he was selling cars in volume making some money for the dealership (but not as much as Owen's dad would like on selling 20 cars as his "you are a damn idiot" look showed), he wasn't actually making any money off commission.

Anonymous said...

Another critic said they thought this episode was the strongest yet, but to me this was the weakest. I enjoyed the Owen storyline, but the other two felt pretty inconsequential. And I'm not sure what high school Joe's son attends, but at every school on planet earth the coach would have told him to either get on the bus or have just left him there.

@colleen_byrne said...

I just love this show. I'm around the same age (51) and even though they're guys, I can relate to so much of their lives.

It's just such a great mixture of laughs and thoughtful moments. And Ray Romano's performance is a pleasant surprise. I really enjoyed his story with his son tonight.

I hope the show sticks around. I'll be watching.

Andrew said...

Anon - not sure why you thought the other two were inconsequential. Those two storylines went pretty deep into the thoughts and feelings of the characters, and we got a better understanding of how they may truly be without the shell of their buddies.

I like the show and thought this was the best episode to date. Unfortunately, I haven't seen a whole lot of print around the 'Net on it, so I feat its long-term outcome.

Tyroc said...

This episode felt slighter than the others -- lighter in tone and I guess less depressing. All well done and interesting to a point, but I do wonder if they're going to introduce a larger drama or story arcs with higher stakes of some sort, or whether it's going to stay focused on the small moments. If it is the latter it will still be interesting and well done I'm sure, but I do wonder how long it will sustain my interest.

WhatTheFDidIDo said...

I enjoyed the first two enough, but I really, REALLY liked this one. Ive almost gotten to the point where I just like hanging out with these characters for one hour a week. Which is kinda weird since Im a 22yr old single college student. I initially didn't think the show would be my cup of tea, and probably wouldn't have watched it if it weren't for Alan's review column and the fact Andre B is in it.

Interestingly I heard that Andre B's role was originally written for Wendell Pierce, but he chose to work on "Treme" instead.

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed the three episodes of this show but I have to say I'm still trying to figure this show out and I'm not sure how long I'll stick with it. It seems to be missing something. It has funny moments (mostly in the banter between the guys) but it's definitely not a comedy. It has small dramatic moments but it's also not really a drama. I guess you might call it a "dramedy" ala Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, for instance. This show is light on the drama and on the comedy, though, and I fear it will go the same route as Studio 60. I'm just not sure how long three guys talking about middle-aged angst can hold my or anyone's attention. Like Tyroc I'm wondering where they are going to go with it longer term as this formula will almost certainly get a little stale after a few more episodes... Will they try to ramp up the drama and turn it into more of a serialized soap opera (ala Desparate Housewives)? I hope not. Fortunately with Ray Romano at the helm that would seem unlikely. More likely that it tilts more to the comedic side and becomes something more akin to Modern Family. Now THAT I would watch.

BillyJacksGhost said...

Agree with the take that Owen shafted himself by selling the cars at a discount and ripped his commissions to shreds.

I also thought it played into an overarching ironic theme of winning, but losing.

Owen wins the sales contest based on volume, but loses based on his take home pay.

Terry wins an "Oscar Meyer" hotdog for his acting job for helping his boss sell the house, but loses because the actress he developed a rapport with already has a boyfriend. He also stabs himself in the heart with his faked love for home and family.

Albert, Joe's son wins a place on the golf team, but becomes a loser (probably in the eyes of his teammates) when he can't get on the team bus.

Joe wins because his son won a spot on the golf team using his "Mind's Eye" visualization strategy, but loses because he realizes his son is also "quirky" like him.

From the last episode ending: Joe won the $2K bet, but loses because he realizes he's hooked back gambling big again after telling his wife and waiter at the hotel restaurant, and his employee that he really doesn't gamble.

So are these guys winners or losers? Interesting issue.

But, Terry went from a loser after his confrontation with the first dick driver to a winner/hero (like Billy Jack) when he hijacked the 2nd dick's car and rode off ("One tin soldier rides away").

Maybe this show is a little "too deep" to survive?

JanieJones said...

I enjoyed each of the story lines last night, particularly Owen's. I liked that he was "King for a Moment." I also liked when he told his wife starting next week he was going back to make 17 yr. old's cry. Obviously, if he kept up the routine, his commission checks would not be able to sustain the family. I do not know if the commission check was spiteful or it was based on the prices he sold the car, etc.
I enjoy Andre Braugher, "letting it hang out." Many actors would not let their body be exposed on camera if they weren't in tip top shape. The whole "fat guy" line was amusing. He capitalized on this information when people came looking for him, "Otis", "stocky", "fat guy."
I enjoyed Terry's "glean of a realization" that perhaps he might like a life different than his.
I continue to be impressed with Romano's subtle dramatic acting at times.
BJG's-interesting observations regarding the men and and if they are "losers."
Right now, I'm enjoying the show. I like some of the deeper moments.
Also, Anon 12:20 am-I don't how old Albert is but you would be surprised at how certain schools deal with children and different issues now as opposed to even 20 years ago. I don't think a high school football coach would tolerate any type of weakness but things have changed. Some coaches would rather have their kids focused even if it means allowing a parent to intervene. Mentally, if a kid is focused, instead of fretting, he/she is going to do a better job in his/her position. Also, Albert obviously did not give much thought that he may be subjected to ridicule for driving with Joe instead of the team.
*I got a laugh at the men discussing the creams that they use.
I don't care that "The Closer" is not on next week, I will definitely be tuning into "Men." I hope others (who enjoyed the show thus far) follow suit.

Jay said...

This was definitely the best episode yet. I enjoyed the first one. Thought ep. 2 was a little weak until the end, but this one was strong throughout.

I still don't really like Scott Bakula's character all that much. Mostly because I just don't like the actors playing actors thing. But, as a single 41 year old with no kids, I did identify with him last night for the first time.

Anonymous said...

I'm not in the car biz, but years ago I dated a salesman. Their commission structure was something like this - whatever profit the dealership made, the salesman got a third.

So in the example of the 17 yr old girl, I think the difference between what the father wanted to spend ($15K) and what he spent (17.K) was $2500. So...that meant an additional $825 to Owen for making the sale at that amount.

There probably is more (or less - deductions for draw or car demo or franchise fees or whatever) to it that this, but that is what I remember.

BTW, I really am liking this new show!

Tom said...

This is a very well-written and acted show. I think the theme of this episode was given away in the title: the show dealt with the emptiness of willing (or "visualizing"). Just picturing happiness will not bring you happiness. Each of the characters 'visualized' a better life for himself in this episode, and none of them were satisfied. Cold hard reality slapped them each in the face.

I wonder if a comedy about loss and regret can make it on TV. I sure hope so.

BillyJacksGhost said...

Tom, your take that the "the show dealt with the emptiness of willing (or "visualizing")" is a good one.

Ironically song they played at the ending is "Willin’, written by Lowell George and performed by Little Feat. So willin' is not enough for happiness.

I been warped by the rain, driven by the snow
I'm drunk and dirty don't ya know, and I'm still, willin'
Out on the road late at night,
Seen my pretty Alice in every head light
Alice, Dallas Alice...

Unknown said...

I am quite liking this show and I didn't think I would.

Henry said...

I agree that Andre Braugher's storyline was the best one of the episode. Terry's storyline didn't really go anywhere (I could see Watros' character's boyfriend coming) and Joe's storyline also didn't really seem to go anywhere. What happened to Terry's young barista "girlfriend"? Or "the fantasy woman"? Or Joe's ex-wife?

I particularly liked Owen's line in response to Terry's yoga suggestion: "Yoga's gonna make my ass stop itching?" Or the closing line of the episode. And I liked the scene with the balloon hitting the target and Joe's co-workers.

Pamela Jaye said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Daniel Novakovic said...

A great episode and the other reference to Homicide, with the erasing and rewriting the numbers on the white board, made me smile

LA said...

I can't believe how much I love this show.

Ray Romano is friends with a quirky and bizarre guy here on Los Angeles morning radio (KROQ). I sincerely wonder if his character is based on Bean or if Bean and Ray are friends because they are two freaky peas in a strange pod.

Unknown said...

I'm enjoying this show more every week and this week's was terrific. It's a small show with small moments but, for me, they're getting all those moments right. The regret, the sadness, the resignation that middle aged men feel are all here and all done perfectly but so are the small joys- making a stranger happy, your son making the golf team, etc.

Pamela Jaye said...

I've read all the posts. If there's anything else wrong with my comments, let me know.

re: story arcs and cancellation and the like:

this is a 10 episode series.
of course, if people like it and TNT approves of *how much* people like it, then there would be... what I assume would be a second season.

I was kinda bummed when I looked at Twitter Monday night and no one was talking about it, but apparently that was a glitch and when I went back
there were about 165 new tweets. (used to be buzz, now it's tweets)

The ratings for the premiere were (huge for cable?) the second week was
down from 5.4 million to 4.something (but still higher than The Closer)
Someone must be watching it.

I love story arcs, myself, but as it is, it is what it is, cause the
show (if not the post production) has already wrapped and, I've heard,
Andre went back to whatever part of "the east" he lives in.

The only thing that could be bad would be if TNT just decided not to air the 10 eps they have. But has TNT ever done that with one of its shows? I have no idea.

Of course I'd love a second season, and I guess it's possible to arc in 10 eps. I'm not sure though, Is this the kind of show that can arc?
when it's described by viewers as "spending time with" these guys? I don't know.
I'm just really happy. Good writing, good promotion, I almost dare not say good ratings. I'm no longer the kiss of death to TV shows, but...

Big S Ranc said...

Owen's line about going back to making little girls cry was the punchline to the whole show! I like this show more and more each week.

dez said...

Ray Romano is friends with a quirky and bizarre guy here on Los Angeles morning radio (KROQ). I sincerely wonder if his character is based on Bean or if Bean and Ray are friends because they are two freaky peas in a strange pod.

Nah, Joe's not nearly as freakish as Bean. Unless he starts talking about Pluto and Clyde Tombaugh!

I'm liking this show a lot and will continue to tune in (don't watch "The Closer," so that has no effect on my viewing). As pointed out already, they do get the small moments right, and Owen's story was great. Like Joe's and Terry's stories, too.

"And the Oscar Meyer goes to..."!

Mike f said...

Love this show, really enjoy all three actors...not every show has to be lost or sons of anarchy or mad men...this show is a more relaxed, less ambitious but very enjoyable change up on my DVr

my favorite "new to me" shows of 2009 are...

Sons of anarchy
party down
white collar
vampire diaries
the league (vastly improved from 1st episodes)

Was let down by nurse Jackie, hung, the good wife, v, flas forward

Unknown said...

Love this show. Agree with Big S Rane that Owen's final line about going back to making little girls cry next week was great. This was definitely the strongest episode so far.

I feel like Scott Bakula is the weakest of the actors--he's not totally convincing me that he's a loser. Maybe hanging around with the other two guys will improve his acting, but he has to be willing to make his character look like a jerk, which I think he's having a hard time with. He's too used to playing the good-looking hero. He could take some lessons from Jon Hamm, I think.

Mark Gilman said...

Couple of quick comments. I'm really beginning to love this show. My wife doesn't care much for it, so I watch it a lot after everyone has gone to bed (thank you DVR!). I always find myself laughing out loud and the stupid things these guys do and say (which makes me wonder why she doesn't like it?).

I like the show best when Bakkula is on the screen, but Andre Brougher's willingness to be the fat guy and sit there in his tighty whities on national TV gives him the "give it up" award for artistic bravery. Good for him. Great show, can't wait to see more.