The guys struggle with success in the season’s third, and strongest, episode.
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 touching and funny as hell.
Men of a Certain Age came out swinging this week with the strongest episode of the season so far. “Cold Calls” featured three truly stellar storylines, with Terry’s story emerging as the strongest. Best of all, the episode also answered the nagging question of what the show would do when its titular men started succeeding.
The episode begins with Joe waking up from a night of hot midlife boning, only to see his partner Michelle hop out of bed quicker than she came (no pun intended). They kiss and promise to rendezvous again soon, but not before Michelle gives Joe’s fun parts a squeeze. When he flinches, she quickly asks, “Did I hurt you?” He waves off the question and sends her off. The moment where he swaggers back into his living room and then quietly doubles over in pain had me howling.
Owen’s realizing that although he’s starting to get a hang of things at the dealership, he still has to contend with the long shadow his father casts over the place. He tries to negotiate a fair rate with a vendor, but O.T. Senior swoops in to muscle the vendor into agreeing to a rate freeze. It’s a crafty bit of negotiating, but Owen’s right about it undercutting his authority.
Downstairs, Terry takes Marcus up on a challenge to see who can sell the most cars in the first week of the month. I was fully prepared for this to be another “Terry gets made fun of for being washed up” B-plot, but it really did turn out to be the most satisfying story of the week. Once he realizes that Marcus is going to trounce him by calling his rich friends, Terry tries to do him one better by calling on old friends from his acting days. Well, actually, he tries to sell to his old girlfriends, which is an obviously bad idea but yields some classic Terry put-downs (“Who’s better than you at selling something that doesn’t work and will freak out on you in three months?”).
The whole feast or famine thing comes into play for Joe, who’s basically swimming in prime 40-something babes. He runs into the mother of one of his son’s classmates while picking up a bounce-house she rented for the kid’s poorly attended birthday party. She’s not a sex kitten like Michelle, which is enticing to Joe. The guy certainly enjoys Michelle’s, um, company—but, as he puts it, Bonnie is more his speed. But on some bad advice from Terry, he tells Bonnie that he’s not into “defining things” since he just got out of a 20-year marriage. It’s a dick move, and Bonnie rightly closes the door in his face.
We’re not sure what makes Joe bolt, and that’s fairly accurate. Men (and women) freak at the first sign of commitment all the time. It turns out that slow-moving Bonnie seems to be going the wrong direction for Joe.
Terry finds an unlikely buyer in Dave (Michael Hitchcock, returning from the first season). Dave’s excited about buying a car, but he turns out to be doing it for the wrong reasons: his wife has dumped him and, most humiliatingly, shacked up with an accountant. The scenes of Terry and Dave at a local bar hint that Terry may be realizing he can’t be a manwhore forever, but the story’s more about him being a good friend to Dave. It also provided the week’s requisite (but always satisfying) “whoop-whoop” moment, with Terry helping Dave steal a statue from his wife’s lover’s lawn. Terry’s never had a problem being a good friend to Owen or Joe, but it’s always heartwarming to see him help someone outside his inner circle.
Suffice it to say, he loses the contest to Marcus.
At a fundraising event with his fellow former Lakers, O.T. demonstrates that he’s not such a “baller” when he’s not running the dealership (forgive the pun). The kids, somewhat improbably, are lined up to get autographs from James Worthy and Michael Cooper, but don’t seem to care about meeting Owen Sr., leaving the guy signing autographs for his grandsons. Junior tells Melissa that O.T. never really was a big presence in the NBA, but he remembers him behind the desk at the office, “radiating the feeling that he was in charge, that everything would be OK.” O.T. scoffs, though, when his son offers to let him keep the office, and the last shot of the episode is O.T. looking on somewhat ruefully as his son takes a call in the room that was his.
As I said before, I was worried about what Men of a Certain Age would do when its men actually started getting what they wanted. But the show smartly avoided the trap of the happy protagonist by teasing out the problems inherent in success, and it managed to do it without seeming contrived or artificial. It also offered some of the funniest moments of the season so far: the abovementioned crotch gag killed, as did the scene with the fat mechanics crowding around the computer screen. The saying that the grass is always greener is an old one, but Men of a Certain Age has become television’s destination for folk wisdom repackaged in a way that makes it seem new. That’s no mean feat.