Monday, December 07, 2009

Men of a Certain Age, "Pilot": A crease too far

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, not 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?


alynch said...

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

I'm reasonably sure that you can't say cunt on basic cable either. You can't say motherfucker either, but that one's just a variation on the F-word proper.

Pamela Jaye said...

I promised myself I would stop watching clips and promos. Apparently I did that too late.

This is the reason I have such severe spoiler allergy. (well, also, TNT looks just plain crappy here. Was it our channel, or the photography on the show? If Scott Bakula is going to look this good on TV, I would like to actually be able to see it)

Still, as you noted, Owen's hip check was cool, Terry's standing O lead-in at the audition was funny/sad, liked the girl knowing he was asking her out, and Lisa Gay Hamilton, also good.

So much of the rest was either, well, not Scott, or already seen, that I was actually watching twitter talk about it.

Oh, and I liked the music (but even the opening credits had been spoiled for me)

Of course I'm going to watch it again (at least once tonight) and see if I can pull up the brightness on my DVR.

Looks like a lot of people twittering liked it

Pamela Jaye said...

I think perhaps asshole is verboten too, as I keep hearing asshat. but perhaps that's Network.

Derek said...

Ray Romano is to Men of a Certain Age as Zach Braff is to Garden State.

JanieJones said...

I actually really enjoyed the pilot, more than expected. It was a nice set-up for a start of a show, getting to know the characters a bit.
I wanted to knock out Owen's father when he said-about him being basically a failure.
Braugher did an excellent job in that scene as I would expect.
I wasn't surprised to hear him not wanting to return to work. However, at 48, what would he do now to support his family and the addition and schools? His father didn't even come to see him in the hospital. I laughed when he knocked Marcus aside to talk to the potential customers.

Ray Romano's character, Joe, was good at establishing some of his peculiarities/addiction with the gambling telling his wife that he quit, when he just sat out a game of online poker. I could feel his character's loneliness trying to connect with his separated wife. Trying to talk to the children in our speedy wireless electronic age can be very frustrating for a parent, while trying to connect/talk to your children.

Bakula's story line was more predictable but I felt his weariness too.

Good to see Gianni as Manfro. Owen and Manfro's entire exchange, including the rebuilding of stones, was amusing.

All three actually appeared to weary from different life experiences (which I hope we will learn about).

There were definite light moments.

I look forward to watching this show next week.
*I was happy to see The Closer but became bored quickly and perked up for Men.

Rob S. said...

In the days leading up to this, I'd been calling the show "Desperate Houseguys," expecting something considerably more lighthearted. I didn't get what I expected, but I wasn't disappointed, either.

These desperate houseguys are a lot more desperate, aren't they?

Arlo J. Wiley said...

Romano was very good.

The rest...well, Braugher was all right, but Bakula was annoying, and the whole thing was predictable and run-of-the-mill.

"Mothershitter" really stuck out.

Hope it gets better, though.

Scott said...

Who was the co-worker with Scott bacula who told him about the cattle call? That guy looked so familiar but I don't know his name or what he's from. Mother shit sounded incredibly weird as a curse, I agree with all of you

Byron Hauck said...

Getting caught up with Sons of Anarchy a couple weeks ago, I read all your posts on that. And didn't you go into great detail that what words can or cannot be said is left up to the advertisers?

Tyroc said...

Much much darker than I expected, but the voice of the show felt fresh.

I went into it liking all the leads so that helped, too. I was a huge fan of "Homicide", a decent fan of "Quantum Leap", and not at all a fan of "Everybody Loves Raymond Except His Wife the Horrible Shrew Who Will Yell at Him for 22 Minutes". But I always liked Ray himself, and adored his scene in the not so great "Funny People", so I'm in for a few.

Henry said...

I liked aspects of the pilot (Terry being a stud and landing every woman he comes across; Joe and his dealing with the party store employees; Gianni from Everybody Loves Raymond showing up as a bookie), but it didn't quite jell completely. Will Joe's thing with the "fantasy woman" go somewhere, or will he go back to Sonia? I dunno. I'll give this show a wide berth. A couple more episodes and I'll reserve judgment.

Kensington said...

Okay, I'm in. It hits uncomfortably close to home for me on many levels, but that's also why I'm embracing it, I guess.

What did everyone make of Joe telling the bookie that he didn't have his money. Was this just another example of Joe's compulsion to push the edge. Did he just have to know what would happen if he didn't pay off his bookie?

It was an interesting moment; I just didn't quite understand it.

Karen said...

not at all a fan of "Everybody Loves Raymond Except His Wife the Horrible Shrew Who Will Yell at Him for 22 Minutes".

Oh my gosh, you mean it wasn't just me? I could never understand how that show was supposed to be so family-friendly when it presented the most horrific marriage on network television.

LDP said...

I liked the pilot a lot, but isn't the music wrong? If these guys are in their late 40s, as I am, then the music of their youth -- at least the good stuff -- came from the Ramones, Springsteen, Talking Heads, etc., not Neil Sedaka and Bachman Turner Overdrive.

PrJoolie said...

I'm thinking this is a guy's show. I only made it to 10:30, and gave up. Though I like the actors well enough to check in again in a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Not bad. I'll watch it again (especially since there is so little on TV worth watching right now).

I'm not sure what to think of Braugher's character. Are we supposed to think he's being screwed over by his father or is he just a lazy screw up? It looked to me like he was irresponsible and lazy as he was late for a mtg, sleeping at his desk, and had no idea how the dealership did in March. But then he said he worked his ass off (and really seemed to mean it) and that his numbers were just as good as anyone else's. It seemed to me, at least from this episode, his father is right to question him as the choice to take over.

I found it telling that Ray Romano would take chances with a bookie he just met by telling him he didn't have any of the money. It seemed like he wanted the bookie to hurt him perhaps b/c he felt he deserved it for his past mistakes that put his life where it is. Or, maybe he just wanted to fee something even if it was pain. His character seemed very subdued and depressed and maybe a beating would provide some excitement or snap him out of his funk.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with Romano and the smoking hot girl he keeps running into. She is gorgeous.

Brandy said...

I wanted to like it going in, so I was predisposed. But I liked it more than anticipated. I didn't love it but I'm along for the ride.

Rob S. said...

My feeling with Romano & the bookie is that he wants to stop gambling, and saw getting beat up as some kind of aversion therapy.

Anonymous said...

The cinematography seems a bit too edgy for the material, no? All the frame-ups, zoom-ins, and quick cuts were distracting. Is this "Traffic" or "Wild Hogs"?

Jay said...

I liked the show quite a bit. I can relate to a lot of it.

Not sure I like Bakula's character so much. A bit of a cliche character to me. And kind of a Hollywood celebrates Hollywood character. Oh it's so tough for us. Cattle calls, auditions, the struggle. But, we're so damn cool and hit anyway and we still get the date with the hot chick at Starbucks that you can't get. Not all that original.

But, Ramano and Braugher are both terrific. I think if I were starting any kind of show, comedy, drama, dramedy, dark drama like The Shield, whatever, I would ask Braugher to be on the show.

Also, drop the "mother-shit" it's stupid.

Tracey said...

@Kensington: I think he was trying to see if this was the kind of guy who would have you roughed up if you didn't pay him off. The kid who gave him the number implied that the bookie might, and once Joe saw that the bookie just called his mother and whined, he paid him.

I'll have to give this some more time. I'm not overwhelmed yet, but I wasn't cringing as much as I feared. There were definitely some familiar things in here: Joe staring at his face as he brushed his teeth really struck a chord; speaking from experience, I can tell you that brushing your teeth shows all your wrinkles, and forces you to look more closely than usual. It's definitely the time you feel old. Nothing like it first thing in the morning!

The possum stuff really *REALLY* didn't appeal to me. Sorry, but animal cruelty is not my idea of funny. Hitting the possum is fine: it's real, it happens. Dwelling on it and backing up and running over it again... not so funny, not so real. OK, it was pretty funny when the thing got up and walked away, but then we see later that it didn't get very far, and bringing that up again was just... ugh.

(old lady rant alert:) As for Marcus the young go-getter... I found it amusing in context, but it powerfully struck me as an outdated stereotype. I'm sure there was a time when older workers were worried about younger ones taking our jobs; now we're just worried that they won't get their work done between updating their Facebook status and texting their friends, and we're hoping they won't do the company serious damage by badmouthing the company where the whole world can see it. Oh, but they're not goofing off; they're "multi-tasking." Just a hint, kiddies: it only counts as "multi-tasking" if both of the things you're doing are work-related.

Tracey said...

Oh: the other thing that struck me was Owen's situation, wanting to quit his demeaning job working for his father, but he can't afford to because he has responsibilities. The more you have, the more you have to lose, and you no longer have the luxury of standing up for your principles.

7s Tim said...

I disagree with all of you: I am going to incorporate "mothershit" and all its variations into my lexicon. Of course, I've also always been a fan of "what the shit" as well, so maybe i jusy used my lifetime quota of f-bombs in middle school.

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to know the overlap between the audiences for Men of a Certain Age and Glee. I imagine it's not much.

Kensington said...

I don't think the possum scene constituted animal cruelty at all. Or, at the very least, if it was cruel, Joe appeared to genuinely suffer over it. It wasn't dealt with blithely.

Pamela Jaye said...

I'd be interested to know the overlap between the audiences for Men of a Certain Age and Glee. I imagine it's not much.

two hands up

My friend Kay, 52 and married with two sons out of HS and I, formerly married, no kids, age 50 are fans of both (Well, I'm going to say she's a fan of MOCA - she's seen every series Scott Bakula has been in despite the fact that she is a Quantum Leap fan and I am a devoted Scott fan)

Glee's fun! And there are songs! I like Josh Groban, my brother loves Chenoweth, so that's Jay, Kay and Pam for Glee. Jay has not yet seen MOCA (and I was surprised he liked House and Grey's Anatomy. He loved The West Wing. and MASH. and I loved Ally McBeal (and he didn't hate it. but he reallly likes David E Kelly closings. oh oops, my brother is 44, single, no kids and no, he doesn't live here.)
He also like Science Fiction (not SciFi - I mean Ellison and the real stuff and Tom Clancy and Dave Barry novels, and Spenser)

Pamela Jaye said...

I caught it only when asked - Owen is falling asleep at his desk cause he has sleep apnea and won't wear the CPAP mask (I can't imagine how anyone could sleep in that thing)

Anonymous said...

It was sadder than I expected, but sad's not really the right word. Bittersweet, maybe? I think I've dated all three of these men in recent years and they do ring true. Almost too true to make it entertaining.

Glad to know that it gets better and more balanced as it moves forward. I think I'll give it a few episodes to find its feet.

Mike F said...

liked the show

Matthew said...

what I wanna know in the bullet points of what we can expect or not going forward is:

DREAMGIRL! yay or nay to her showing more? kthx

Pamela Jaye said...

not at all a fan of "Everybody Loves Raymond Except His Wife the Horrible Shrew Who Will Yell at Him for 22 Minutes".

(gee, I thought you were describing Jon and Kate Plus Eight)

it wasn't just me, either? That show premiered on a Friday night right before Scott's Mr. & Mrs. Smith (in 96) which died in November (and people started noticing and emailing me to ask where it went in Jan or Feb.

I tried, but I never got thru ine ep. One night, instead of watching, I helped my friend fix my tub. So I guess
Two Women Would Rather Fix a Bathtun than Watch Raymond could be an alternate title.

and then there was the cartoon about the cannibals (Not *everyone* loves Raymond)
I used to like his standup.

I guess that if he can create a TV show that runs on cable, gets 5.4 million viewers to its premiere, and is the (let's get in every necessary modifier) "top series premiere of 2009 on ad-supported cable in households and adults 25-54" and get Scott Bakula to be in it, then I can learn to love Raymond too.

Kathie said...

I liked it.......thought the music was really good. Funny, Joe's employee objects to listening to "old man music" all day. Can't really imagine him listening to Air Supply.

Pamela Jaye said...

Air Supply, no.

Eye of the Tiger, anything Springsteen...

Dave said...

As an inveterate pop music geek, I was OK with the musical choices. As I age (I'm 42, just a few years younger than these guys) I retain a fondness for the music I loved during my HS and college years -BUT- the music that really takes me back to simpler times (thus, oddly comforting) comes from the early 70's, before I was 10 years old. So the opening and closing, featuring the Beach Boys and Marmalade - both tunes from the mid-late 60's so generationally correct for the characters - worked on exactly that level for me.

"Reflections Of My Life," heard as a throw-away joke earlier in the ep, struck just the right note for the close of the show. Melancholy yet slightly optimistic at the same time, just like these guys. Dig the lyrics:

The show isn't perfect but this was a good opener and I'll be watching, if only because I can relate, on various levels, to all three guys and where they've found themselves.

Ok, Air Supply.... Well, Ray's character probably slow-danced to that at his HS prom so he gets a pass for that one.