Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Men of a Certain Age, "Powerless": Going the distance

A review of last night's "Men of a Certain Age" coming up just as soon as I lick all my fries...

TNT sent five of the first six "Men of a Certain Age" episodes out for review, omitting only "Powerless." Often, when a network skips over an episode in a screener package, it's because that one's a (relative) dud and they don't want it factored into early reviews. And for a while into "Powerless," it felt like that was exactly the reason TNT didn't send it out. In particular, this was the first time it felt like a Joe story dragged, and the moment where Joe tried to deflect his daughter's anger by telling her that Albert ate her fries was the first time a joke on the show felt uncomfortably close to something Ray Romano would have done on "Everybody Loves Raymond."(*)

(*) And I say this as someone who put "Raymond" on his list of the decade's best comedies, and who first noticed that Ray was becoming a good dramatic actor in some of his scenes on that show. But there was a tone and a level of reality to that show that's different from this one, and so some types of jokes don't easily translate.

But the Owen story carried things for a while. Outside of the usual brilliance of Andre Braugher (his sidewalk spaz-out while making a phone call to cut through the red tape was a thing of comic wonder), any man or woman of a certain age (that age being "adult") can relate to the hell that is institutional bureaucracy, and Owen's frustration at being trapped in this circumstance, followed by his joy at briefly escaping it, were captured on the show's usual loving small scale.

And Joe's story ultimately turned around, too, in the scene where he confronted Lucy's stalker ex. I thought that was a really nice piece of writing (and acting from Ray), as Joe found a way to both comfort and threaten the kid, and as it became clear that only some of what he was saying got through. Had Joe come across as an obvious font of wisdom - or had the kid gotten the "Rocky" reference - it would have felt fake, but instead it was the right level of insight and awkwardness.

Plus, I have to give points to Joe (and, I guess, the show) for recognizing that the best part of the "Rocky" score isn't "Gonna Fly Now" but "Going the Distance," which plays over the climax to the first Creed-Balboa fight, which still gives me chills every damn time I watch it.

Terry's stories still interest me less than the other two guys, but I liked Owen's explanation for why Terry is always late - and Terry suddenly understanding the point on his way to see Annie - and I liked how realistic Annie is about her relationship with "the old guy." She knows what Terry is, and isn't expecting to tame him. She just wants to be treated with a little respect for her time, and Carla Gallo plays well off of Scott Bakula.

What did everybody else think?


Paul said...

Braugher should be a strong contender for the supporting actor Emmy nomination. He had two monologues in last nights episode and carried them both well. Reaming Terry out and then spilling his guts about how he tried and failed to escape his domineering father. Braugher is definitely the best actor on this show.

Unknown said...

I agree with Paul about Braugher. This is just a terrific show. I'd say this was a highly underrated show but I'm not sure what the consensus is. All I know is that any show that can break your heart one minute and warm your heart the next is a show worth watching.

Rinaldo said...

I guess I'm too literal-minded. It had seemed to me that the guy at the desk meant well, really wanted to do something for Owen, but there were no options available to him. So... what did he in fact discover that he was able to do in the end? I wanted to know. In the absence of any convincing option there, Owen's final scene felt false and predictable to me, an unearned "Rocky" moment.

Mind you, I still enjoyed seeing Andre Braugher act it. He is and always will be truly extraordinary.

Unknown said...

Funny I had the exact same reaction as Alan- I thought up until half way through this show was a dud. And while it's still probably the weakest ep so far it really turned it around. I really really liked the ending with the Rocky music from the jukebox then playing over the Terry and especially Owens small victories.

By the way - I was just on imdb (because I can never remember Terry's name for some reason) and it has the waitress listed as appearing in 10 eps but Ray, Andre and Scott as only in 9. I know Alan had said there would be 10 total eps so I wonder do we have some coming up with only 2 of the 3 leads? (or is it an imdb error?)

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Every week after we watch this my husband or I say, "God I love this show it just gets better and better doesn't it?"

This week was no exception. I think Alan hit it all on the head.

I loved Joe's story as well as Owen's. I get Terry's story as well. I may not live it so to relate to it may be different but I get it. So do his friends or they wouldn't still be his friends.c'mon don't we all have friends like that?

As for the person who needs literal w/Owen's story line. That is easy. The pencil pusher went that extra step after he was pulled into Owen's story. (the ring that Owen found) When he told Owen only his supervisor could do anything I believe he then went to said supervisor as he should have the first time instead of just checking owen's name off his list as job completed. That rang so true to me.

I love this show and that scares me because if I love it that usually means it will be gone too soon. But Alan can you tell me why it's not getting the buzz it deserves??

JanieJones said...

I agree with Paul's comments. Braugher performs with such skill, I never cease to find his work wonderful. His phone call outside the diner and his physical performance was great, I laughed.

Romano's Joe redeemed his lagging storyline when he talked with the ex boyfriend as Alan said.

I also like seeing Carlo Gallo perform off of Bakula. There is a nice chemistry between the two actors.
Yes, Peggy, I've known a few Terry's in my lifetime.
I wish there was more buzz about this show. I've tried to encourage people to watch it but haven't gotten any feedback.

Pamela Jaye said...

I watch Twitter during the commercials. It's not flying as it used to, but it's still moving. How much do people tweet about what they are watching on TV?

I've always wanted someone on TV to have to navigate thru a phone tree... and we didn't quite get that (not enough time) but close enough.

After last week's right turn (rather than have sex with an engaged woman) Terry is sleeping with two women (sex in the teens) but at least neither are engaged, and I thought the bike thing was inspired. (and I was pretty sure she'd still be there at 6:03). I probably haven't seen Carla before (forget, from my last imdb session) but it's been a long time (Old Christine aside) since I've gotten to see Scott with a woman on TV so I'm a happy camper.
Of course, if being some season in LA (other than brutally hot or freezing) I'm wondering why Owen's family had to go stay with dad (other than to make a point).

Maybe Owen really is a salesman!

Just now I realize I am frustrates by the lack of focus on Terry's (of all things) "career."
Oh, wait, there was that house selling thing. Forgot that.
I'd like to see more trying and failing to get roles, or maybe taking a class and being told he sucks (true story, after some unknown number of years acting, Scott took a class in something or other and was told he didn't want out on stage the right way (I wasn't in the class for sure, but I heard him tell the story))
However, if we are just going to focus on his romantic life (or pursuit of "dicks") I can live with that.

I was totally aware when Joe told Troy? that sometimes women don't want us and we just have to live with it, he wasn't just talking to the kid.

And I've never seen Rocky (though I remember the bells from Ally McBeal)

olucy said...

@Pamela Jaye -- maybe I'm not understanding your point/question, but Owen's house didn't just lack heat. It lacked electricity. So everything you'd need to cook, get ready for school/work, just having the lights on....they had none of that. And Owen's wife didn't want the expense of staying in a hotel.

Anonymous said...

I didn't understand why Owen & his family did not simply move back into their own house after Terry got the power back on. Were we to believe that the police actually made them reverse the repair?

LA said...

Loved it. That is all.

knocsucow00 said...

One issue with the series, but otherwise its fantastic:

Terry is always 15-20 mins late to lunch, so Owen and Joe sit on the same side of the booth for 15-20 mins?

I mean everyone knows that Owen and Joe would sit in separate sides of the booth, until Terry shows up then Joe and Terry would sit on the same side of the booth because Owen is the chubby one in the group.

Whiskey said...

husband and I are really loving the show, and we both felt this was the best ep so far. And really, as long as the show doesn't *suck* and Andre Braugher cracks one of those ear-to-ear grins of his at least once an episode, why wouldn't people want to watch?

I really like the way the Joe character keeps getting fleshed out. So far, every ep has shown us a little more of the guy, and not just neuroses. There's a little sweetness/tenderness there and I feel like it doesn't hit you over the head to prove a point. As others have noticed, the Terry character is still a bit "lite" and I hope there'll be more to him because I enjoy Scott Bakula when he's given something to do (I did enjoy him in the last ep).

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy that Andre Braugher has found a show worthy of his talent. It was great to see the Pembleton in him come through in last week's dinner scene @ the auction, and again this week when he was on the phone, as well as in the two monologues.

I was going to ask why his miniseries "Thief" has never been available on DVD or iTunes, but I'm happy to see it's up on Hulu and I'm looking forward to finally being able to watch it.

olucy said...

I didn't understand why Owen & his family did not simply move back into their own house after Terry got the power back on. Were we to believe that the police actually made them reverse the repair?

No, the police had nothing to do with requiring them to reverse the construction that had been done. That was the local zoning board (or some such).

But Owen and Terry were fiddling with the electrical in the middle of the evening, and then got arrested. By the time they were processed, bailed out, etc, Owen only had time to return home in defeat. And there was probably some legal restriction on them returning there after it had been the "scene of a break-in".

Obviously I don't know all the legalities, but I didn't have a problem with embracing the fact that they weren't free to just return home.

Anonymous said...

They weren't arrested, booked, bailed out, etc. They went to the father's house to verify Owen's identity and prove to the police that he was indeed the owner of the home as he'd claimed. Hence, no break-in, no crime.

At that point, the family could have just moved back and got away from the old man, rendering the whole -- "where are we going to stay?" -- permit situation far less urgent.

olucy said...

ah, ok, thanks for the clarification.

June Starr said...

We love the show in this house and have talked it over with a couple of other family members during the holidays. Perhaps that bodes well.

While I share folks' respect of Andre Braugher, for me, Ray Romano is the one turning in the great performance. It's subtle and real. We're seeing this character negotiate unfamiliar territory in ways that are both recognizable and rooted in a distinct personality. RR is just great.

I did have a couple of issues with the construction story last night. As someone who has dealt with code officials many times, I can just couldn't believe that there was no way Owen couldn't move back into his house--and that he took no for an answer the first time. I know it was supposed to be consistent with his character, but I'm pretty certain that a work around could have been negotiated the first time. I would at least have asked to see the guy's boss.

Further, when the episode opens, Owen's wife is saying that the addition is nearly "done, done," but when Terry and Owen go to turn on the electricity, they're walking around studs through a mass of plastic sheeting. Now, I suppose this could have been more proof of how clueless the Thoreaus were about what was going on with the addition, but I don't know anyone having work done on a house that doesn't take a walk through on a daily basis (or something close to that) once the construction guys leave for the day to check on what's been done. Done, done. C'mon.

Anonymous said...

This episode was weaker than most (all?) of the others, but this show in general is quite good, a lot better than I expected going in. I agree with Alan's praise for Ray Romano's acting---also much better than I expected. His humor and comic timing are also important to lighten what could be some depressing situations and keep them from becoming cliches.

Unknown said...

Maybe I'm not remember the timeline but I never got the sense that electricity was the driving issue once they got it restored.

Even with the electricity back, they were stuck having sunk a ton of money into a renovation that not only couldn't proceed but they might also have to tear down. So there was still some urgency in getting the situation resolved with the city permitting officials. So his victory at the end was probably in getting the permits necessary to hire another contractor who could finish the job.

Unknown said...

Why does Carla Gallo look so different? When I say different, read bad.

Clearly she had work done. Is it the chin?

Madame George said...

I'll just chime in and say Andre Braugher is a wonder. He ran through an array of emotions, his anger dance on the sidewalk was a joy to watch, and Ray Romano just gets better and better. It's nice to see him play more than a despressing gambler.

Romano's performance in the last two weeks have been subtle, OK, at least at times. The corn chip munching was just funny. But he showed promise as a father, too.

I really loved his take on "Rocky" and the segueway to that movie's famous sequence at the end, was wonderful .

JMC said...

"...together we fill gaps"

trrish said...

I think this was my favorite ep so far, not at all a dud. I agree with June - I think Ray Romano is really bringing it, and he keeps me coming back.

There were three or four literal laugh out loud moments for me - alone in my bedroom. One was the early conversation about Terry, when Joe says "you're high-fivin' your penis", the other was the Rocky conversation regarding "she fills gaps", and how Joe just could not get any traction on that. The other was the Rubik's cube line about his daughter's phone (so freaking true) and last was when Owen burst out of the door to the climax of the Rocky song. Really nice callback.

I look forward to the show every week. It's been a while since I've done that with a new show.

Unknown said...

I continue to enjoy the show also; I love the smallness of the crises and victories. In this one I especially loved the scenes between Owen and the bureaucrat, Joe and the ex-boyfriend, and also Joe and his female employee who didn't understand why he was talking about a rabbit when she had clearly said guinea pig!

But I must say I feel uncomfortable about the way his friends treat Terry. What is he doing that's so bad? Not conforming to society's expectations that he get married and have kids? Is that really such a crime? I just don't get that.

Anonymous said...

I like Terry the most, and actually he's the stronger of the three. Not only physically but emotionally and spiritually. He's living his life according to his own plan, for better or worse, while his friends think that criticizing him will distract themselves from their own problems.

Unknown said...

I just watched this show, and this episode for the first time last night. (I came across this blog trying to google-find the lunch scene in the coffee shop).
What a great episode! The TV gods had me randomly find it at 2a.m. Rocky is my all-time favorite movie, and my favorite movie quote is "Ya' know, gaps...she's got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps." Add to that how Ramano's character claimed that "Gonna Fly Now" is so second place compared to "Going The Distance". My sentiments exactly.
I'm gonna have to start watching this show!