The men mount a come-from-behind victory.
Men of a Certain Age does a pretty great job of juggling long-term, serialized plotlines and more digestible bits of plot movement that resolve themselves within a single episode. Sometimes, though, the show can feel jarringly segmented, like many of the things you learned during the last episode get thrown out the next Wednesday.
The reappearance of Michelle (the admittedly great Alanna Ubach) in “A League of Their Owen” evinced this kind of momentary confusion; I was forced to briefly consider the possibility that she’d shown up in last week’s episode, and I’d merely forgotten. My anxieties about early-onset senility were assuaged when I confirmed that, no, we hadn’t seen Michelle since the fifth episode of the season, all the way back in January. The issue remains, then: what the hell was she doing in this episode?
Michelle injects herself into Joe’s (Ray Romano) life just as the return of his gambling addiction is really becoming problematic. Joe’s busy preparing for a visit from his cranky asshole of a father (Robert Loggia) when Michelle arrives on his doorstep, bawling over how she’s lost “the account.” Joe briefly seems as surprised by her entrance as we are: “Account?” Joe’s clearly not that invested in Michelle’s personal life or whatever account she’s lost at work. And I had a hard time figuring out whether this was supposed to indicate that Joe hadn’t seen her since the last time we saw her or he just didn’t give a shit about her problems.
Aside from an unlikely scene involving Michelle staying over for breakfast (why wouldn’t she just go home?!), she does a good job of being a totem for Joe’s slide into bad habits and unseriousness. Instead of being concerned when she finds out Joe’s been gambling, she uses it as an excuse for a car quickie because she thinks it’s dangerous and sexy. To be fair, things that result in a car quickie with Alanna Ubach are generally OK by me.
Terry’s (Scott Bakula) plotline showcases a type of behavior that’s hard to pull off on film: what you do when you want to feel something but don’t actually feel it. Terry makes a comment to Owen about the just-out-of-college girl he’s seeing (Majandra Delfino) and how she’s “different.” Owen, understandably, laughs in his face. See, Stella isn’t really any different, but Terry sure wants to believe that she is. It’s a behavior I certainly practice a lot, but it’s not one I see on TV all that often.
Usually, when a character says something in a reasonably earnest way on television, you’re supposed to believe them. Bakula convincingly portrays a guy who’s not only full of shit but who wants to believe it. It’s a revealing moment. Plus, we learn shortly after that Terry’s full of shit because he visits Erin’s (Melinda McGraw) house to try once more to get her back and breaks up with Stella without actually, you know, breaking up with her.
Owen’s (Andre Braugher) trying to rally his troops behind a softball game against Scarpula Chevrolet, the guys who’ve been trying to buy Owen out and who recently poached Thoreau’s best salesperson, Marcus (Brian J. White). Their spirits are low, and for most of the episode Owen accomplishes little other than reigniting the long-brewing antipathy between sales and service, led by Jesse (the always wonderful Patrick Gallagher). Though the service guys initially pass on the game, Owen convinces them to play by offering to clock Jesse’s guys in during the game. Jesse negotiating for time-and-a-half is one of the season’s better sad sack moments for Owen.
The plotlines converge during the game itself, which manages to take the “bad first half to unlikely victory” outline from just about every underdog sports movie and make it relevant to Men of a Certain Age. Owen makes a bad slide into first base midway through the game and ends up with a face full of dirt. His world-weary yelp lets the sales and service guys know that their petty bullshit is ruining their boss’s life. The team managing to put aside their gripes and coming from behind to win the game is the kind of genuinely uplifting moment that has become MoaCa’s signature.
Joe spends most of the game on his phone, checking the score for a game he’s placed a bet on. His father gently (for him) observes that Michelle might not be a bad thing, since “you might not be ready to jump into something major.” Joe’s “yeah, no” indicates he’s slightly ashamed of his backslide.
And in an emotional deus ex machina, Erin arrives at the game to tell Terry that she’s missed him, too. I love me some Melinda McGraw, but this struck me as a bit too convenient a turnaround, considering Erin’s tearful dismissal of Terry just a few episodes back. Men of a Certain Age has earned my trust though, so I’ll be excited to see where it goes.