The Real “Men” of TV

Ray Romano’s “Men of a Certain Age” returns Wednesday for a welcome mini-season of major middle-aged angst.

"The Good Wife" is done for the season, and we're facing a long summer without "Mad Men," thanks to a protracted contract dispute that has delayed new episodes until March.

But at least there are some guys of a very different sort to help fill the smart, adult drama void.

"Men of a Certain Age," the winning TNT show about a trio of longtime friends grappling with the onset of 50, returns Wednesday night to begin a six-installment mini-season that promises more major angst. The show, 22 episodes in, is aging very well – unlike the pals, played by Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher.

“Men,” a critical favorite, if not a ratings powerhouse, recent notched a Peabody Award. The citation praised the program as "comical, poignant and harrowing, sometimes all at once." We'll agree – and add “oddly compelling” to the list.

The premise, on its face, wouldn't seem to cry out for must-see viewing. Romano's Joe is a divorced dad wrestling a gambling addiction and harboring an unlikely dream of becoming a pro golfer on the senior tour. Bakula's Terry is a formerly happy-go-lucky Peter Pan of a ladies man coming to grips with the end of his acting career and the withering of his boyish charm. Braugher's Owen is a married, devoted dad battling diabetes and the expectations of domineering father who overachieved in sports and business.

The understated brilliance of the show, created by Romano and "Everybody Loves Raymond" alum Mike Royce, rests in finding the human drama – and humor – in the seemingly ordinary. Even at 50, men have growing pains, even if they're not always spoken about, on TV or otherwise

The last episode, broadcast in January, may have been the best yet – a guys’ confessional that employed laughs to stave off potential melodrama. Joe gives voice to the gambling demons and OCD-like tendencies that have all-but paralyzed him. Terry realizes he's in love – with an age-appropriate woman, to boot. Owen reveals the car dealership his father turned over to him is a mess – and knows the responsibility to turn it around rests on his slumped shoulders.

The rare confrontation and sharing of feelings follows a comically pathetic, frustration-fueled bar fight that capped an outing to Palm Springs during which the three buddies got colonoscopies – not exactly a "Mad Men"-style bacchanalia. But we’ll happily take this contemporary, realistic version of male bonding and hope for more in the weeks to come.

"Men of a Certain Age" might not be a commercial for growing older gracefully. But it's an unvarnished ad for quality adult drama found in unexpected places.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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