Joe, Owen, and Terry play heroes and villains.
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.
Great music supervision is a thing of beauty. An effective score is one thing, but the right piece of popular music paired with the right scene sticks in viewers’ minds like nothing else. Men of a Certain Age is no stranger to the concept of re-contextualizing pop songs to complement what’s happening onscreen. The show’s theme is an otherwise corny Beach Boys tune called “When I Grow Up” that becomes clever and self-knowing when used by a show about a bunch of guys who are actually grown up. Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa” served as the thematic glue that held the season 2 premiere (“If I Could, I Surely Would”) together. The use of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in this week’s episode has a certain postmodern brilliance to it.
The fourth episode of Men of a Certain Age’s second season is called “The Bad Guy,” and that’s a fairly apt description of at least two of this week’s plotlines. The episode starts with Joe and Sonia (a returning Penelope Ann Miller) meeting with their divorce lawyer, who forces them to decide who’s going to be the plaintiff and defendant in their divorce proceedings. Joe takes the role of defendant or, um, “bad guy.”
The awkwardness continues when he catches his daughter, Lucy, having a nooner with her boyfriend (see how I avoided a joke about “shooting balls”?). He’s understandably pissed, but she of course doesn’t want to talk about it. She asks rather reasonably if he really expected her not to be having sex, and he gets flustered and grounds her. Probably not the best response, but you can’t help but sympathize. Rationality doesn’t play a big role when you catch your daughter’s boyfriend pissing naked in your bathroom. Sonia plays the good guy and lets Lucy throw the barbecue she’s been planning for months.
Terry’s plotline brings seemingly good news, but then puts him in two “bad guy” positions simultaneously (again, sailing right around the joke here). His agent shows up at the dealership to tell him that the cheesy commercial from the ’80s his coworkers keep giving him shit about has become a huge hit on YouTube. The company wants to remake the commercials, and they want to meet with him and Erin (the always wonderful Melinda McGraw) to see if it’s a good idea.
But when the ad agency decides to go ahead without Erin, Terry becomes the bad guy to both his former costar and Owen, who reminds him how many times he’s stuck his neck out for Terry. He breaks the news to Erin by lying and telling her that he turned down the job for both of them, and she responds by revealing that the whole prospect had her totally freaked out. So Terry gets to be the good guy after all, and he even ends up shacking up with his former costar.
For most of the episode, Owen’s away from the guys at a Chevy convention in Anaheim. What he initially perceives as an ambush from Owen Sr. turns out to be a rather graceful attempt by the older man to pass the torch to his son. After a number of seeming missteps, Owen Jr. actually comes off quite victorious, ably handling some awkward car analogies in a speech at the convention banquet and having some quality drunk sex with the wife.
Said wife, by the way, continues to be the show’s strongest female character. And why wouldn’t she be? Lisa Gay Hamilton is a terrific actress, and it’s natural to give her as much to do as possible. Here, she’s still freaking out about not being able to find a job in an industry she’s been out of for a decade. But salvation comes in the form of a conversation with an Amazon.com higher-up who’s attending the convention with his wife, and Melissa lands a job writing reviews for the site. It’s a convenient twist—but not an altogether unbelievable one, considering the setting.
This week’s episode was an excellent entry in what’s turning out to be a stellar season overall. I’d love to see the guys’ storylines intersecting a bit more closely, but Mike Royce, Ray Romano, and Co. continue to tie their storylines together so effectively that it’s hard to complain.
That Elvis Presley song guides us through both the Terry and Joe storylines, straightforwardly in the former and heartbreakingly in the latter. Terry’s falling into bed with Erin, and Joe is putting the final nail in the coffin of his marriage to Sonia. In an exquisitely timed sequence, Joe signs the divorce papers just as Presley sings, “Some things aren’t meant to be.”
It’s a tragic scene, to be sure, but we don’t get the sense that Joe regrets his decisions. His choices, however foolish they might seem in hindsight, are a logical consequence of his character. There’s an inevitability to Men of a Certain Age that’s the hallmark of all great dramatic writing: everything seems logical, and, accordingly, everything feels natural. To put it simply, these guys can’t help falling in love. Or being themselves.
—Read episode three’s recap here.