Scene for scene, it was one of the most enjoyable hours you were likely to find on television in 2011.
It seems that the angle of my last Men of a Certain Age write-up turned out to be unfortunately accurate. The TNT brass announced on July 15 that they would not be renewing the struggling coming-of-middle-age drama for a third season.
This came as a disappointment but not much of a shock. TNT has managed to construct a formidable lineup of original programming, at least from a ratings perspective. And Men of a Certain Age doesn’t really fit the mold created by shows like Rizzoli & Isles and The Closer, shows populated by what could kindly be referred to as “wise-cracking archetypes.”
Men, with its subtle, elegiac tone and multi-faceted characters, seems cut from a different cloth. Stars Andre Braugher, Scott Bakula, and star-cum-creator Ray Romano are funny, but they don’t spout overheated one-liners or mug for the camera. Its seriocomedic format also breaks with the procedural structure evinced by just about every other show on the channel.
The show’s something of an anomaly in the larger context of basic cable programming, as well. USA’s followed much the same path as TNT, and Men would be no more at home among the likes of White Collar and Burn Notice than it was on TNT. It’s not quite Serious enough for the likes of FX’s Rescue Me or Sons of Anarchy or AMC’s Mad Men or Breaking Bad.
But the fact that Men of a Certain Age doesn’t fit neatly within an established programming block doesn’t mean it deserves its cancellation. In fact, Men of a Certain Age’s generic slipperiness is one of the things that make it so compelling. Dramedies are a dime a dozen in the modern televisual landscape, but much rarer are shows that actually seem to follow the rhythms of Real Life. Men doesn’t alternate between quippy, stylized comedy and stone-faced dramatics like so many of its peers. Rather, it appreciates that the funny and the serious are two sides of the same coin, that we use the former to deal with the latter. It doesn’t try vainly to erect an artificial barrier between the two.
And if that’s what makes Men of a Certain Age so brilliant, it’s also what makes it so scary. Escaping into universes of either pure farce or pure melodrama is easy; we turn our brains off because we recognize our lives are nothing like the ones we see on the screen. Men of a Certain Age refused to let us escape.
But once you recognize that, you can appreciate just how sublime a show Romano and co-creator Mike Royce have put together. Breathtakingly shot, wonderfully acted, and immaculately scripted, Men of a Certain Age is, in its best moments, nothing short of a triumph. Scene for scene, it was one of the most enjoyable hours you were likely to find on television in 2011.
So I say to you, television executives: don’t give up on Men simply because it’s “too real.” Embrace it for the same. Find a spot for Royce and Romano’s weird, funny, tragic little gem of a show among your programming. Showtime? Maybe you could bring your slate of histrionic comedy-dramas a bit closer to Earth. Or A&E! Perhaps you’re interested in padding out your fairly light lineup of scripted shows. Perhaps the show could find its way back to HBO, where it began its journey.
Regardless, I hope sincerely that it finds a home somewhere. And if you’re as crushed as I am by the idea of never seeing Joe, Terry, and Owen again, do go and join the “Save Men of a Certain Age” Facebook group. Or call your cable/satellite provider and tell them how much you love the show. Or go stand outside of your local television executive’s window with a boombox and blast the Beach Boys’ “When I Grow Up (to Be a Man).” Do anything you can to show your love. Men of a Certain Age gave you hours of inimitable entertainment; now it’s time to return the favor.
—Image via TNT