A group colonoscopy outing should be the perfect bonding experience for the guys, right?
TNT’s Men of a Certain Age is about us: men trying to sort out what it means to be a good man in a changing world as age sets in and the trade-offs of work, family, and friends become even more complex. The three men on the show are ultimately attempting to do the little things in life right, no matter how confusing that might be. And for that alone, the show’s worth discussing—not to mention it’s funny as hell.
This was an uncomfortable week for Men of a Certain Age. The guys have been suffering the slings and arrows of middle-aged ennui over the course of the show’s second season, and so far they’ve got little to show for their pain. They scraped and clambered their way to success only to find it came with strings attached. And in this week’s episode, they remember that they’re facing their battles not as virile young knights but as three old farts. It’s not like they hadn’t suspected it, but they come face to face with the reality of that certain age this week.
The episode opens with Joe at the golf course, cursing rather loudly over some lousy putts. He notices that people are staring and quickly apologizes. The title sequence begins as he mumbles to himself about their being a bunch of assholes. At the dealership, Owen Jr. confronts his father about his bad investments and demands that they discuss the state of affairs at the dealership. Senior, as he often does, shrugs off Owen’s concerns and leaves his son frustrated and unable to deal with his employees’ concerns. Terry seems to get the best shake this week; he begins the episode in bed with Erin, the two whispering sweetly about their plans for the day. It’s an idyllic scene, to be sure, and one thankfully not disrupted by Terry’s comment that “they’re just having fun.” Terry’s full of shit, but we’ll get back to that later.
For the first time this season, the guys share the same storyline, which is good both because their simmering anxieties get a chance to ping off each other and because I don’t have to write three plot summaries. Things start off weirdly: the guys decide to embark on a group colonoscopy visit down in Palm Springs (they each get the procedure on their own, in case the concept of an actual group colonoscopy terrifies you as much as it does me). Terry’s made an appointment with his new Thoreau Chevrolet health insurance and encourages Joe and Owen to do the same. They’ll get their hindquarters examined, sleep it off at a Palm Springs resort, and celebrate with a giant, colon-defiling steak dinner at a local restaurant that delivers hunks of meat tableside. (I have been to such restaurants; they are heavenly.) “We’ll be the three muske-rears!”
But all’s not well in the land of gastrointestinal getaways. The car ride to Palm Springs bubbles with subtle tension. Joe’s latest mind bet has resulted in his losing tickets to a Lakers game, and his anxiety about the senior tour seems to be manifesting itself in constant complaining. Owen, on the other hand, seems downright bitchy. Terry actually seems like the only content one of the three, and that’s only because he spends the entire time texting Erin. He also plays Joe’s conscience, goading him into stopping off to visit Joe’s father while they’re in the neighborhood.
Joe’s dad (Robert Loggia) is your stereotypical grumpy old bastard. He implies that Joe’s gay for wanting a colonoscopy, tells Owen that he voted for “his guy” for president, and shows off the wrist punch his judo-instructor girlfriend (with a perfect body, Mr. Tranelli notes) showed him. All in all, it’s a rather uncomfortable visit, and one that ends up making the guys late for their tee time.
After yet another mediocre round of golf, the men down their industrial strength laxatives and wait for them to start kicking in. Joe and Terry decide to while away the time in the hotel bar; Owen rather dickish-ly decides to hit the casino so that Joe won’t follow him. He’s a star at the craps table and befriends a fellow gambler prone to odd catchphrases (“Couple ponies in the sunshine!”). Joe, for his part, spends most of the time glancing nervously at the casino floor. His “mind bets” seem to be a decent substitute, but he’s clearly craving the real thing. All three make a speedy exit, though, when the laxatives start to take effect.
A lesser show might have played the subsequent scene in the doctor’s office for laughs, but the MOACA crew opts for a quietly sad tone, soundtracking the proceedings with a live version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” from his Solo Acoustic album (which I can’t recommend highly enough). We cut quickly between Owen, Terry, and Joe answering questions about what medications they’re taking and who they’d like to list as their next of kin (Joe admitting that his ex-wife is the only one who qualifies is crushing). Co-creator Mike Royce mentioned in our recent interview how these guys “can see old man” even if they’re not quite there yet. And in perhaps the most depressing scene of the season, the three watch forlornly as a guy their fathers’ age lugs an IV across the floor. “Get your affairs together,” this moment seems to say. “You don’t have all the time in the world.
The planned trip to the restaurant following the procedure goes awry when Joe reveals that he lost a mind bet to himself and now can’t go to the steakhouse. Joe refuses to back out of his mind bet because, if he does, that means the bets don’t mean anything. Owen flips out and refuses to change his plans because of Joe’s stubbornness. Terry tries to play peacemaker yet again, but Owen ends up going into the restaurant anyway. He gets drunk in short order and picks a fight with a guy much younger (and, more importantly, much bigger) than him. Terry rushes to his aid, and Joe, apparently relenting from his psychic obligation, enters the restaurant to find his two friends tussling on the floor with a guy who looks like a reject from Jersey Shore. Naturally, the guys get kicked out.
The fight, in all its pathetic glory, is pretty magnificent and has all the cathartic power we expect it to. The guys end up decompressing over “the best tacos ever” and finally admitting what’s turned them in to jealous, bitchy harpies. Joe admits what we already know, that the mind bets are more than just a way to force himself to get better for the tour: they give him the same high as actual betting. “You gotta get back to [Gamblers Anonymous], man,” Owen opines, before emptying out the contents of his own basket of insecurities. Tears well up in his eyes as he laments over having to make all the “shitty, impossible decisions” that his father’s forcing him to make. Andre Braugher is a performer of extraordinary skill, and this scene was him at his best.
And Terry admits that Erin hasn’t responded to any of his text messages nor his “squirrely” phone message. And to make things worse, he thinks he’s in love. “Even after a colonoscopy, you’re still full of shit,” Owen offers.
Men of a Certain Age spent its first season building its characters towards the success they desired and then set them loose in the second season to deal with the problems that the success brought about. But with its terrifically tense midseason finale (no MOACA until the summer), it mashed the frustrations of its three principal characters into one omnibus clusterfuck. Joe, Owen, and Terry have confronted the problems inherent in the stuff they thought they wanted since the beginning of the show’s second season, but here they stare straight into the eyes of the old men they’re going to become, regardless of how much success they achieve.
I can’t help but think of 1 Timothy: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” Sure, realizing our age puts a countdown on our plans for success, but it also reminds us that we can’t take anything with us when we leave. Fight and scrape all you want, this episode of Men of a Certain Age says, but don’t kid yourself. Men of a Certain Age lays bare the realities of old age. Its only consolation? You’re not alone.
Read episode five’s recap here.