While I was peripherally familiar with the TNT show Men of a Certain Age, I (and most everyone else) was familiar with the work of its three stars. The dramatic work featured Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap), Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street) and in a twist, Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) as the aforementioned men. The show's first season was aired to rave reviews and award nominations, yet its rapid decline in viewership led to its 2011 cancellation days after its second season concluded. Said season has been finally released to video for all to peruse.
The show features the men in varying situations: Romano plays Joe, an owner of a party supply store, an aspiring golfer and a divorcee with two children he occasionally visits. He also has a gambling problem that is tamped down by his former bookie neighbor Manfro (Raymond fans may recognize Joe Manfrellotti, a.k.a. Gianni the cable guy). Bakula plays Terry, an occasional actor looking for more legitimate work, which he finds at a car dealership run by Owen (Braugher). Owen does not own the dealership; his father (Richard Gant, The Big Lebowski), a former basketball player does, yet Owen tries to manage it as independently as one can despite being occasionally hamstrung by Dad. The show's second season of 12 episodes (spread over three discs) show their various struggles, triumphs and evolutions over the run.
Romano worked with Mike Royce (who was a former writer and eventual showrunner on Raymond) on Men, and while the initial concept of Men of a Certain Age could be shocking or off-putting to Romano's audience, in this show one could assert that this show is an acceptable extension to a semi-autobiographical theme in his storytelling. With Raymond looking at things from a slightly younger perspective and to loads of popularity, Men finds Joe looking for footing in his next phase of life, which one may equate to Romano to some degree. There are occasional moments of cheesiness and Joe's conflict in this season makes for an unintentional laugh here or there, but the overall comfort Romano finds in Joe is fascinating and a little surprising to watch.
Romano's performance in the show is matched and often times surpassed by Braugher's (rightfully so, if the Emmy nominations Braugher received for his performance in both seasons are any indication). Owen is happily married to Melissa (LisaGay Hamilton, Take Shelter) and has a child. He is also a diabetic, something that one could gather would be a symptom of Owen's life to date. He has never really been challenged much in his life (if at all) and when it comes to work, his Dad is omnipresent within the dealership. Because of this, he is never taken seriously by his employees, despite his best intentions to carve his own legacy with the business. This is crystallized in "A League of Their Owen," when Owen tries to roll the softball team out against a longtime dealership rival. And as one who was used to seeing Braugher break people down in interrogations as a police detective for so long, this new facet of Braugher's work is just as great to watch. On a separate complementary level, Bakula's work as Terry is intriguing, though it serves a secondary purpose with Joe and Owen simply having more responsibilities in their lives than Terry does. It is not that Terry's development through the season is boring, it is just...not as engaging to watch.
Nevertheless, Romano and Royce have an underlying sewn together message to say within Men of a Certain Age, and I think the message is one where some of the main characters have solid personal relationships. However even with those, there is a certain amount of inadequacy in how each goes about the next portions of their lives. Going through their 30s and 40s may have been a bit of a blur and they are discovering the autumn of their lives to varying success, and there is an almost muted fear about this that Romano and Royce manage to evoke in these characters that is a unexpected treat through most of the show.
Perhaps the reason behind the demise of Men of a Certain Age is that folks were expecting Raymond part two and were disappointed in what they saw. If that was the judgment then some re-evaluation of these expectations should be done. Ray Romano is not different from his former show to this one; he has evolved and refined himself, and that is what is encouraging to see long after Men wrapped.
The show is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with the results being good. The show is shot with one camera and mostly handheld, and this natural look is replicated well, with colors looking great, whether it is the greens of a golf course, the vibrant colors on the new cars, or the colder more artificial offices. There is no edge enhancement or image haloing, everything looks as good as I would expect a recently broadcast show to look.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for all of the episodes which is not surprising. What I was surprised by was how much the subwoofer is involved with the listening experience. Dialogue sounds clean as a whistle but the show includes a good number of songs in it (the show's opening credits are set to the Beach Boys' "When I Grow Up"), and while it is devoid of a constant murmur of environmental noise, there is enough subtleties in the rear channels that listening to the show is slightly immersive and worth the experience.
Warner (and more specifically Romano) have decided to empty whatever was in the storage room for the farewell of Men, starting with commentaries on all episodes from Romano and Royce. While they are not joined by either Braugher or Bakula, the respective writer or director of each episode appears, and Manfrellotti pops up from time to time. The tracks were recorded after the show's cancellation announcement and Romano and Royce light a candle for it, especially during particularly dramatic moments. There are times when the participants watch the show and laugh at the moments onscreen, and other times when they get into the character motivations and story arcs during it. The talk about a post-show movie is even brought up, along with the comparison on Romano's work here to his work on Raymond. The tracks were recorded out of production order and it shows when one listens to the commentaries, but they are generally worth listening to, especially if (as Royce says) you REALLY care about these things.
The remaining extras are decent as well. "The Bitter/Sweet 50" (20:13) is on Disc One and examines what the show means, and thoughts on the characters and storytelling perspectives. It covers how to handle the drama, comedy and the awkward, and even shows the Peabody ceremony that the cast was recognized in. While it does have some mild spoilers in it, it is worth the time to watch. Disc Two includes two behind the scenes featurettes made specifically for TNT: "One on One with Ray Romano" (2:32) and "Favorite Scenes from the Cast" (2:09) are self-explanatory, while the "Scarpula Rap Video" (:54) is funny and from an episode in the season. A gag reel (9:29) is somewhat funny to boot. Disc Three has a trunk full of deleted scenes (39, 47:15), some of which include excised moments from Season One and are worth the time in exploring.
The second (and final) season of Men of a Certain Age may serve as a dirt-shoveling for some, but for this viewer I saw continued superb work by Andre Braugher and a new facet to Ray Romano's abilities that makes me curious as to what the latter has in store next. Technically the set looks good and from a bonus perspective there is enough for the Romano fan (much less the Men fan) to whet their collective whistles to. Worth renting at the very least with an eye to buying for purveyors of good television.