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'Men of a Certain Age' recap: Is there a smell I give off?

December 6, 2010 | 11:00 pm


Last year, TNT's "Men of a Certain Age" introduced us to three lifelong friends all in various stages of midlife crisis. They struggle with divorce, career frustrations, messed up kids, annoying and aging parents, feeling invisible and, of course, their own mortality.

For men over 40, "Men of a Certain Age" no doubt hit a nerve and seemed all too real at times. Perhaps with that in mind, it's not a surprise that this compelling show about three men trying to keep it together as they inch closer to 50 found its biggest audience was women. Maybe they were looking for clues in the psyche of the middle-aged man.

All three characters are engaging. Joe, played by the show's co-creator Ray Romano, has split from his wife. Once a promising golfer, he owns a party supply store and has a gambling problem. Andre Braugher's Owen, a family man, is struggling to get out from under the shadow of his father, a former NBA star for whom Owen works at his successful car dealership.

Then there's Scott Bakula's Terry, a confirmed bachelor and struggling actor still waiting for that big break as he approaches 50. When he's not auditioning for commercials or Lifetime movies, the commitment-phobic Terry likes to bed younger women, especially waitresses, who want no more from him than he wants from them, which is usually about 20 minutes.

At times, "Men of a Certain Age" was painful to watch -- in part because all three characters so successfully conveyed the feeling of powerlessness they felt in their lives. Owen is frustrated at his inability to prove to his father that he is worthy of not only his love, but also his respect. Terry, who on the surface seems happy-go-lucky, is filled with rage about his lack of professional success and his anger occasionally rises to the surface. Sometimes he seems like a ticking time bomb. Joe's son Albert struggles to fit in and has severe anxiety issues, while his daughter is growing up too fast. Furthermore, Joe's gambling is sucking away not only his money, but his soul as well.

Fortunately, there was plenty of comic relief and enough little moments to keep the show from being too much of a downer and as the season wrapped up, all three seemed headed on the right track. Joe confronts his gambling after it costs him a potential relationship. After his father has a health scare, Owen ends up taking over the dealership and even offers Terry a job, betting that while his aging pretty boy face isn't wining over any casting directors, he might be good at hawking cars.

The it's a new day theme is clear from the opening credits of Monday's episode. Last season, the series opened with Joe waking up in the hotel he had moved into after his wife dumped him and he's having a one-way conversation with his wake-up call. Season 2 opens with Joe hitting the links, determined to make it on the senior tour. He's even hit on by a woman whose kid attends the same school as Joe's. He's also moved into a new home.

While Joe dipped his toe into the dating pool last season and even endured being a little over-excited for one woman, he still is a little uncertain around women. He also wonders how they knew he was available. "Is there a smell I give off," he asks Terry and Owen at one of their daily lunches at Norm's. Part of Joe's problem is he is unwilling to have fun for fun's sake. "Get in, get out," his friends tell him.

Joe's bookie, Manfro, is also his neighbor. He gives Joe a tour and tells him how whenever a neighbor annoys him, he knocks over their garbage cans. Joe is trying to keep his distance from his bookie, but Manfro needs Joe much more as a friend than a client. Although Joe doesn't feel the same way, he agrees to go with Manfro to a local bar to watch a game and, in Manfro's words, "play a little skank roulette."

Owen, meanwhile, is firmly ensconced at the car dealership. However, he is without an ace salesman as hotshot Marcus left after losing out on running the dealership to Owen. His father, who still pops in to check on things, tells him what he already knows. Owen needs to get Marcus back. He does so, but only after having to eat crow and pick up a pretty big bar tab.

Owen's other project -- Terry -- is struggling at selling cars and is already thinking of quitting. That's what Terry usually does with anything the least bit challenging. He's not helping himself by biking to the dealership every day, which annoys Owen, who thinks it sends the wrong message to have a salesman who doesn't drive a car.

The problem Terry is having is that he feels insincere when he's trying to make a sale. It's not until Owen's dad pulls him aside and explains to Terry that selling cars is no different than picking up women that the  light bulb switches on.

"They want to do it, they just don't know it yet," Owen Sr. explains to Terry. That he can understand and soon enough Terry is closing his first sale.

Joe also gets lucky. When he returns to his hotel to pick up a golf club he left behind, he bumps into Michelle, a women he flirted with last season. This time, Joe manages to close the deal with her after she convinces him she is not some delicate flower but a grown adult with the same needs he has. The only drawback for Joe was that he blew off his date with his bookie who, naturally, got revenge by dumping Joe's garbage out.

"Men of a Certain Age" is about the small triumphs of life, like when Owen gets revenge on the reckless driver who cut him off. The creators -- Romano and Mike Royce -- know that for most of us life after 40 is about surviving as much as it is striving and learning to want what we have. Fortunately, Joe, Owen and Terry are providing a pretty good road map.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Joe, Terry and Owen (Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher) chew the fat on "Men of a Certain Age." Credit: TNT.