Monday, February 15, 2010

Men of a Certain Age, "How to Be an All-Star": Winner, winner, chicken dinner

A review of the penultimate "Men of a Certain Age" of season one coming up just as soon as I get a tool crock...
"There's a lot of stuff happening for all of us." -Owen
"Men of a Certain Age" is not a plot-driven show, and has been content to mostly run in place with the guys over the first eight episodes. But with this first season coming to a close, things finally start happening, as each guy is forced to face the limitations of who they are: Owen's not getting the dealership, even with his father stepping down; two less-talented old friends of Terry's are now vastly more successful than he is; and Joe's gambling problem has gotten so bad that he bets 25 grand with Manfro in hopes of winning a bid on a house.

Yet for Terry and Joe, their long dark nights of the soul pass fairly quickly - for now. Joe walks out on a Gamblers Anonymous meeting - he's not ready to accept his problem just yet - and discovers that he won his big bet, and in turn gets the house. And the pity job Terry's friends give him leads to an opportunity to join their middle-aged entourage.

The good luck's not going to last, that's for sure. Winning that bet got Joe the house, but it also gave him 25,000 reasons to avoid confronting his gambling problem again anytime soon. (Even Manfro looked worried for him, not just because he wasn't crazy about having to hurt Joe if he couldn't pay up, but because he does like Joe in a weird way and knows how a big bet like that, win or lose, is only going to accelerate Joe's degeneracy.) Even Dory's understandable decision to back the hell away from him doesn't quite seem to be cutting through Joe's defenses, not when he has this nice house, and the image of his kids being happy in it, to fall back on.

And it's clear that Terry's just a flavor of the month for his ex-buddies, and that once their desire to party and make easy money conflicts with Terry's commitment to craft, he'll be back fixing clogged drains - only Annie should be gone because Terry once again flaked on a commitment to her (and didn't even remember/acknowledge that he was doing so, which might have made things okay).

Owen makes a big move of his own by walking away from the family-owned, Marcus-run dealership for a nearby Chevy rival, but it's less clear whether he's in denial like the other two or making the smart, independent choice. This will hurt his already lousy relationship with Owen Sr. (unless Sr's impressed to see Jr. finally setting out on his own), and there's no telling whether he'll do okay at another dealership. Was his dad covering for his shortcomings all these years, or holding Owen back?

Regardless of what happens in the finale, this was another extremely strong showcase for all three leading men, particularly in their moments of realization: Ray Romano as Joe flipped out in his hotel room over what he'd done, Andre Braugher as Owen went from being happy his dad was stepping down to crushed that Marcus would be running things, Scott Bakula as Terry sat through the mortifying (but ultimately rewarding) after-party chit-chat with Bobby and Rusty.

Tim Goodman wrote a column today calling this "The most surprising series on television right now." I don't know that I've been quite that surprised by it, as I knew going in that Braugher and Bakula were tremendous, and that Romano had showed much stronger dramatic chops than most people had noticed on "Everybody Loves Raymond." But if I'm not surprised by how good the show has been, I am a little by how attached I've grown to Joe and Owen and Terry over these past nine episodes, and by how reluctant I am to pop in my screener of the season finale, knowing that it'll be the last hour I get to spend with the guys for a while.

Early on in the development of this show, word on the street was that it was going to be a male, slightly older "Sex and the City." And though the guys get together for breakfast all the time - and even spent the opener of this one gauging the frequency of their respective sex lives - it's gone a whole lot deeper than that. It's funny, but the comedy often comes from a place of melancholy or despair, like the car salesmen all striking out with the kid with the phone until Owen Sr. pushed himself too far, or Joe celebrating his victory while the Gamblers Anonymous people all stare at his car.

Really good show. Looking forward to the finale.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

You know it's truly fiction when Joe bet on the Knicks to WIN!! He IS a degenerate!

Anonymous said...

who bets $25K on the Knicks? And how hard could it REALLY have been for Annie to get two tickets to the premiere of Spring Break Dads 2?

Other than Dory and Annie's reactions to Joe and Terry, I liked where this was headed. It seemed like Dory and Joe have been spending a lot of time together, so it's kind of shocking that she would just ignore/bale on him rather than confront him directly with what was bothering her. They had said they would be honest with each other (even though Joe did lie about the extent of his problem). Just hope that she delves a little deeper before giving up on him.

And I know Terry has a history of flaking out on people, and maybe it was just for the drama of it, but it seems odd that Annie would be reevaluating things with Terry after basically pushing him into doing that movie in the first place. What did she expect to happen if he got more into acting?

I'm guessing this will be a big positive for Owen. His dad has to know he put him in a dead-end job at the dealership and has to respect Owen, if he works hard and shows himself. Though, I can see him trying to bring him back into the fold down the road.

Alan Sepinwall said...

What did she expect to happen if he got more into acting?

Again, I think the problem isn't so much that he missed the lesson, but that he completely forgot he was missing it.

Anonymous said...

She also insisted at the beginning of the show that he shouldn't commit to it unless he meant it. She really tried to let him off the hook but he climbed on.

Anonymous said...

It's Dori (with an I)

Pamela Jaye said...

First thoughts (written after reading Z on TV who missed things that I think you caught, so it's weak and obvious, but at least I thought of it, myself.)

It's late, I'm not tired enough, but I've had a long day online.
I really did like this week's ep, and was surprised that Joe's team won - but that's the thing. He thinks he's hit bottom, lost it, even goes to a meeting, then he comes out and he's won! This isn't normal for TV is it?

If I were Dori, I'd have pause, wondering at the fact he doesn't even admit how reckless he is being, but perhaps torn, that he did it for his son. But she's not calling back. So maybe she figured it out. Being a good father is good, but addiction (she doesn't really know it is, but it's definitely reckless) is not a good thing to get herself involved with - especially with someone who doesn't know it's a problem (he almost did, but it worked out. I guess sometimes life is like that, but it only drags out the inevitable)

Poor Owen the Water Boy. I'm sorry Marcus, that was cruel. He couched it (everybody contributes), but the cruelty was still there.

T-bag - I wonder what his younger years were like. In the end, he throws it and probably Annie to the winds for another chance at the brass ring. Directing isn't bad... but running off with someone's sink being broken is not good.
I do like that he is in it for the craft. I like that he can see more than playing around, he can see what's wrong with the writing and fix it. (it wasn't blocking, IMO, I think he changed the scene, but what do I know). Entourage, huh? He is growing. They are stalled in spoiled adolescence. I wonder when that will become evident to him.

Years ago, I saw a movie Scott did. Everyone discounted Major League 3, but to me it was about growing up, even if in middle age, from being a person who is playing a game and in it for the fame and fortune - for *me* to someone who is in it to teach, to help, to focus on others and what you can give to them. It was a 180 of lifestyle and values, and I liked that a lot.

Anyway, just watching Scott makes me happy. And it's been a long time since I've been able to say that. (I've had eye candy issues. his hair was too short, too flat, he wore ugly uniforms, played stiff characters). I'm happy to watch him do this.

The internet thing was interesting as well.

As for Owen, it does seem like he is a good salesman - he can find the "key" as mentioned a few eps ago. It's more than I can do.

as I knew going in that Braugher and Bakula were tremendous

just saying this, made me smile. after hearing Baylink refer to Scott as a D list actor many times, it makes me smile more.
I'd say Scott was tremendous, but honestly, I'm too biased to even be sure. He has a beautiful singing voice, he's nice looking, I've heard a zillion tales of how he treats his fans and I've experienced it. He gives good hugs and remembers my name. He'd have to be a terrible actor for me to be able to form an opinion.

That said, I'm so happy he is in this. Enterprise, while I fought for it, was boring and unsatisfying emotionally, almost all of the time.

snacktime said...

For me the most surprising thing about this series has been Ray Romano. I had no idea that he had the dramatic range that he shows week after week. The scene in the hotel room, the one in his car and the last scene with his son, were all amazing.

Pamela Jaye said...

and yeah, it *is* Dori with an I ;-)
as JD's baby mamma said - that's been bugging me

So, is this Monday more peaceful than last week?

Anonymous said...

Knicks vs Nuggets with no line(!) ...and the Knicks win? What universe does this show take place in?

Trilby said...

I am not the least bit surprised that Dori went missing after Joe's sneaky admission about how he was able to buy the house. To any smart woman with her eyes open, that is a huge, red, throbbing danger sign. She is too smart to get involved with that, and good for her. (Too bad for Joe.) Also the way he said it showed is is every inch the compulsive gambler. Like it "showed" that things were going his way, like a sign from the heavens, blessing his endeavors. That's scary.

But I thought Annie was being selfish. Terry had taken a bit part and made more out of it and he wanted to run with that. She should have acknowledged that change of circumstances.

And poor Owen. When his dad said that, could he not have said, "Um, wait up dad, I'm still your son, right?" Or SOMETHING! But I understand that's not his way. But maybethat's why he didn't get the shot at manager-- too timid to have the confrontation?

Anyway, when this show was first being advertised, I didn't think it would hold any interest for me, a woman of a certain age. But it's just a great, mature, interesting show. What can I say! I love this show. I thought it was going to play to men's boyish fantasies about themselves. Boy was I wrong!

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I guess the team he bet on was so irrelevant to me that I thought it was the Jets. :-)

I love this show more and more each week.

I admit I was a bit surprised that Dori just dropped off the face of the earth like that. Thought that would have been played out a bit more and who knows maybe it will be.

I absolutely loved that Owen walked out of his fathers dealership and it's too long in coming. My husband and I both yelled out loud, Yea Owen! when he told that man he was there for a job.

I like all 3 characters. I love how this is playing out. I enjoy the pace and I am glad it's on cable. Mainly to allow it to grow. If this were on network it wouldn't have been allowed to grow.

I just know that I will miss this show when it's done. My DVR will be set for when it returns!

Anonymous said...

@ Trilby

I agree with what you're saying, that Dori would see the red flags, I'm just upset that she (seems to have) baled on Joe, rather than confront him directly and get some hard answers. I like to think that if I was dating someone and all of a sudden got the feeling that they had a problem (alcohol, gambling, whatever) that I would at least sit that person down, tell them my thoughts, listen to their response and then let them know where I stood. To just cut off contact with someone like that seems cold and a rush to judgment.

But, hey, it is television.

WilforkForFood said...

I found it interesting that Joe told Dori how he won the bid on the house. Based on how is marriage ended and his friends' reaction to him beginning to gamble again, he had to know that even though he won, revealing to Dori that he risked 25k like that would be potentially detrimental to their relationship.

Perhaps it was another manifestation of the self delusion that I imagine many addicts have to confront. In Joe's mind, this is actually something that will impress Dori, something that he wants to share with someone.

Aside from that confusing bit I thought it was a strong episode. Romano did a tremendous job in counter-balancing the two reactions when the start player on the Knicks (not sure who that would even be in real life) gets ejected and when he finally won the game. Both scenes were very well done.

Anonymous said...

I really liked this episode. I'll be sad to see the season end next week.

Terry is growing up. Maybe not compared to Joe or Owen with a family, but certainly compared to his acting peers. Seems like he may look into other avenues in show business other than acting such as writing, directing, producing, acting coach, or some kind of advisor on films. He seemed to really be into it. Good for him. His life was getting pretty sad as it appeared he had given up on acting and settled in as the apartment mgr. Sure, it's a job that forces him to be more responsible, but cutting out acting altogether makes him more of a loser in general. Acting gave him a mystique that made it okay that he wasn't more successful. Without that, I doubt he would still be as cool and appealing to younger women.

As for Owen, I really can't blame his dad for choosing Marcus over him. Though, based on Marcus's speech to the sales crew, he doesn't seem like management material. Still, at least Marcus is motivated. Owen has never seemed especially happy or motivated to sell cars and hasn't shown much initiative. If he wants to blame his dad for that that's fine, but there comes a point where a person has to stop blaming their parents for their problems and look in the mirror. I think that should happen at a much younger age than Owen's. From what I've seen, Owen has coasted in his job and simply expected his dad to give him the dealership b/c he thinks he's entitled to it. I agree that, based on the situation, there is no way he can stay at his dad's dealership. No one there would respect him (if they ever did). Still, if this is what he needs to get over his daddy issues, good for him.

On a side note, I wonder how long Braugher will maintain his extra weight for the show? It can't be healthy for him. I wouldn't be surprised to see him come in much more fit next year.

I'm surprised Dori would blow off Joe over his bet. They were so honest on their 1st date and she took it all in stride. Perhaps she was seeing the relationship as becoming more than casual. If so, I suppose it would make sense that she bolted. Joe is lucky to have a bookie as caring as Manfro. He tried to talk Joe out of the bet where most bookies would let him get himself into trouble. If winning this bet makes Joe go off the deep end I can actually see Manfro being a factor in getting him help.

JanieJones said...

I have really enjoyed this series. I'm definitely invested in all 3 characters and their lives.

Joe-an addict is typically seeking attention while feeding an addiction. I think his admission to Dori was foolish but on target for someone who is riding on a high. I wasn't surprised that Dori appeared to take a big step back. Joe knows he has a problem and when he thought he was going to lose, he goes to GA. He leaves because he isn't ready to accept the consequences for his actions. Winning validates (to him) that he did not do anything wrong. I hope to see a progression of Joe and his addiction. I'm very convinced of Romano's dramatic chops at this stage and I would like to see even more depth.

Terry sees his friends, who have become more successful but are very shallow, and injects his strength (during the movie shoot). I think he took a brief look around and saw that he may not be "that kind of guy" anymore. I was disappointed for Annie because Terry did not acknowledge his broken promise. His "couple of days" response fell short. Bakula has been quite good. I look forward to the evolution of his character. He can't be Peter Pan land his whole life. We have been shown nuggets that he is aware at times.

Owen has a fairly decent home life but his work world is flailing. I do not know if Sr. was holding him back or Owen is involved in self-fulfilling prophecy created seemingly by his father. I was happy to see Owen go to another dealership. Marcus' comments were soulless and I would have left too. Braugher is awesome to me as an actor.

I'm happy that the series was renewed for a 2nd season. I wish there were a few episodes left for this season instead of one more.

Alan Sepinwall said...

On a side note, I wonder how long Braugher will maintain his extra weight for the show?

He didn't gain it for the show. Andre's been putting on weight over time since Homicide ended.

Anonymous said...

I see that many posters think Terry is 'growing'; I don't see it quite that way. Annie is a child to his late, late forties. Of course he doesn't have to honor his committment to her; that's why he is with her in the first place. And yes, she is a child; check the "it's SURFINGGGGGGG" comment regarding what is important in life. When he leans in to kiss her in that scene I cringed for him.
And Dori, yeah, I would have been freaked out by someone dropping 25 grand on a basketball game in order to win the down payment on a house. Maybe not if he had like a few hundred thousand laying around but he doesn't. And I don't think she should have discussed it with him; he is in the thick of the addiction and trying to fix that is impossible. Run girl run.

Carri Bugbee said...

It wasn’t that surprising for Dori to disappear. They’ve only dated a short time and don’t seem to be in an “official” relationship. That’s how these things work. However, I suspect they’ll talk again, at which point Joe will be mystified by her reaction since he thought he was sharing a “winning” aspect of his personality with her.

The predictable plot for next season would be for Owen’s rival at his dad’s dealership to fail in some way by shortchanging the businesses. Then Owen’s father would need him again. But this show has thus far avoided predictable plots, so if that happens, I’d expect an interesting twist. For example, it could be interesting if his dad died or became incapacitated, in which case Owen’s mother would insist that he return to the business to protect her interests.

Terry’s plots are always the least interesting because they revolve around his vanity and immaturity. That said, it would be out of character for ANY out-of-work actor to have misgivings about a paying gig out of town because of a significant other at home. You go where the work is. Living in LA (and having a pal who is an actress), his girlfriend would know this. There’s no great drama in that, regardless of how serious (or not, as the case may be) their relationship is.


Kitty said...

Andre Braugher's Owen is the only character who interests me. (I'm a big Braugher fan.) The other two may be 'real' enough, but they're also pathetic losers. I don't want to pity them, yet I do. Their stories make me cringe.

barefootjim said...

My wife & I recently purchased a house in the LA area, and we had to document the source of every single penny of our down payment, so we were somewhat bumped by the gambling winnings story.

I realize that the point of it was to go with the emotional truth of Joe's gambling addiction as opposed to a technicality about real estate in 2010. And I guess he could have laundered it through his business, but still . . .

miles said...

I felt that Joe really wanted to tell someone about his bet. He seemed weighed down by it. Sometimes confessing eases one's burden. I too was surprised that Dori didn't tell him how she felt. She seemed to be so straight forward. Just blowing someone off is really immature.

Speaking of immature, I thought Terry's story told more about Annie than it did him. Yes, he could've handled missing the surfing lesson better, but she really had no cause to be mad. She wanted success for him. She dragged him into the conversation with his old friends. It makes me wonder, just a little, whether she actually prefers him down and out.

Unknown said...

Joe just won 25k. He doesn't have a gambling problem, he has a gambling solution.

Trilby said...

I watched the show again, and I think Dori was 100% right to back off the way she did. The way he told her about the bet was creepy. The whole situation was creepy with Joe winning and excited just outside the GA meeting. Those meetings are not just for when you LOST your bet, and anyone who thinks so has a loooong way to go. I thought the way Dori pulled back was totally believable and right. the way it made him feel, like things were "going his way" finally, was very scary gambler talk. Why should she get involved with that?

I also (emotionally) backed away from (fictional) Joe in that scene. There is no other sensible reaction to such madness. You can't change the addict, you can only change yourself, so you walk away.

Steve said...

He didn't gain it for the show. Andre's been putting on weight over time since Homicide ended.

Well... He still was a lot thinner on Thief three years ago. Haven't seen him since though.

Jape77 said...

I loved how the utterly piggish and juvenile behavior of T-bag -- sorry, Terry's acting friends made his Peter Pan complex seem almost ... noble.

Whiskey said...

I too love how this show has been allowed to "bloom". Love the character development, and the melancholy humor.

I turned to my husband and commented on the fact that Joe would have to explain where that $25k came from -- it's one thing to use your gambling winnings to gamble again, it's quite another to use it as a down payment on a house because that's putting it on the books. At some point, he has to explain this to the IRS, no? I agree that it was creepy when Joe was telling Dori how he got the money, the hair stood on the back of my neck because there was the addict in full denial. If I was faced with that in a guy I was dating, I don't think I'd be ready to talk to him on the phone for a few days.

Marcus is a jerk. I rooted for Owen when he went to go talk to the young guy, and he was right about how the Internet has changed everything for car salesmen. That whole scene with each guy getting shot down by the whippersnapper was great.

I'll miss this show a LOT during its hiatus.

LA said...

I was very impressed by Romano's range in this episode. I understand why Dori disappeared, but it's not as clear as to why Annie is so pissed at Terry.

I'm really looking forward to the finale tomorrow night.

Unknown said...

This show has promise . But it needs to be slowed down, and let the scenes develope.

Most of the acting is too forced. But its sill interesting .. besides the camera shots making me sea sick and the over acting.