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Mind of the Married Man - The Complete First Season, The
HBO has earned a whole lot of well-deserved praise for their original programming, especially over the past decade or so. The Sopranos, Deadwood, Sex and the City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and several others have proven not only amazingly popular, but also managed to transcend "simple television" and move on to bcome bona-fide pop-culture phenomena.
But for every series that earns 38 Emmys and sells millions of DVDs, there's a handful of "also-rans" that burn brightly for just a little while before vanishing, pretty much, without a trace. Such is the case with Mike Binder's The Mind of a Married Man, a series that hoped to be an edgy, biting, and insightful comedy about the foibles and neuroses of the modern married male -- but ended up as a sniggering, self-adoring, and generally unpleasant affair altogether.
Here's the deal: three married guys who work together at a newspaper. One is a husband of the "whipped" variety, another is an adulterous lothario, and Mickey falls right in the middle. He's got a lovely wife and beautiful baby son at home ... but, of course, all Mickey ever thinks about is having sex with his secretary. And I do mean "all."
And the fact that I was so consistently annoyed and frequently bored with The Mind of a Married Man came as kind of a shock, as I consider myself a pretty big fan of Mr. Binder's work. Over the years the actor-turned-filmmaker has delivered "under the radar" treats like Coupe De Ville, Crossing the Bridge, Indian Summer, and The Upside of Anger, which makes the cold and callous Married Man all the more disappointing.
The problem in a nutshell: The series is populated by people who are almost entirely unlikable. Even our main character, the "everyman schlub" Micky Barnes (as played by Binder himself), is an insufferable little weasel. It's pretty clear that the HBO folks were hoping Married Man would be a Sex and the City for the testosterone set -- but someone forget to remind Mr. Binder that married men do, occasionally, talk and/or think about things other than adultery, masturbating, cleavage, and pornography. For all its shiny gleam and belabored banter, The Mind of a Married Man is as unrealistic and juvenile as, say, the American Pie movies.
Still, to its credit, The Mind of a Married Man does deliver its fair share of mild chuckles and yuks throughout its initial season -- but they're all just "surface laughs" -- the kind that come because someone just said a shockingly dirty word, and not because a character you've grown to love said something particularly clever or poignant. It's tough to sit back and enjoy the easy laughs when you're constantly being reminded that "Hey, none of the characters on this show are very, well, likable. Like ... at all."
Not much more than the "sex stuff" of Sex and the City combined with the "grown-up, daydreaming, immature, horny bastard" schtick of HBO's Dream On, The Mind of a Married Man lasted only two short seasons on HBO's schedule before it was canceled and all but entirely forgotten. For Mr. Binder's part, he used this experience as a springboard to create his best movie yet (The Upside of Anger) and moved on to greener pastures. And while I'm eagerly anticipating his next movies, I can't really say I'd be thrilled to sit down and pick through The Mind of a Married Man's second season. The minor bits of wit, wisdom, and insight found in Season 1 are consistently upstaged and overshadowed by the series' near-merciless dedication to stock stereotypes, predictable situations, self-centered smuggery, and characters you'd rather smack in the mouth than share an actual conversation with. And while it's true that Binder's injected his show with a welcome dose of somewhat quote-worthy zingers, it takes a lot more to excite an audience than just a bunch of quote-worthy zingers.
Disc inventories follow, with episode synopses taken from inside the DVD case:
1. The Mind of a Married Man (Pilot) -- Micky, Doug and Jake are three married pals who work at the same Chicago newspaper. Micky, the paper's star reporter, has to contend with his new, drop-dead gorgeous assistant, Missy. (Original airdate: 9/23/01 - Director: Mike Binder)
2. The Secret of the Universe -- Micky's wife Donna asks Missy out for lunch, which doesn't sit well with Micky. Later, Doug shares his "secret of the universe" with Micky. (9/29/01 - Roger Nygard)
3. The God of Marriage -- Micky can't stop fantasizing about Missy. Doug seeks to curtail his wife Carol's excessive spending habit, and Jake takes Micky to a massage parlor that offers a "happy ending." (10/7/01 - Danny Leiner)
4. Time on the Lake -- While Micky and Donna search for a hobby, the guys enlist Jake to find out whether a man is tired of his beautiful wife. (10/14/01 - Danny Leiner)
5. Anywhere, Anytime -- Donna gives a gift to Micky, the "electronic tether," a pager. Meanwhile, Jake's jilted girlfriend threatens to tell his wife about his indiscretion. (10/21/01 - Nancy Savoca)
6. Wonderful News -- Donna may have very big news for Micky. Doug's visiting mother-in-law has an adverse affect on a very important part of his life. (10/28/01 - Bruce Paltrow)
7. Just Thinking of You -- Micky and Donna embark on remodeling their kitchen, and wind up adding their marriage to the "To Do" list. Jake says good-bye to a cherished workout partner. (11/4/01 - Bob Saget)
8. When We Were Nice -- Micky accuses Donna of having an affair with the contractor. Jake suggests an exotic cure for Doug's nagging back problem. (11/11/01 - Danny Leiner)
9. Lay Down Dancing -- Micky explores unknown territory with his masseuse. Also, Jake tries to turn on the charm, but pushes it a little too far for Missy's liking. (11/18/01 - Danny Leiner)
10. Cold Splash of Truth -- Micky mulls whether he should make a damning revelation to Donna. Despite his best efforts, Doug can't stop Carol from returning to her career. (11/25/01 - Mike Binder)
Video: The episodes are presented in their original fullscreen aspect ratio. Picture quality is quite strong, albeit nothing spectacular.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, in your choice of English, French, or Spanish. Optional subtitles are available in the same languages.
Extras: On disc 1, episode 1, you'll find an audio commentary with series creator Mike Binder and actress Sonya Walger (she plays Mickey's wife, Donna). The duo reunites on disc 2, episode 10, and together they deliver a fairly jovial and interesting collection of memories, anecdotes, and dismissals of criticism. Fans of the series (or Binder's) will undoubtedly derive some fun from the two yak-tracks; newcomers need not bother. Scattered across both platters is a collection of deleted scenes that run about 20 minutes all told.
Menu-wise, we're in good hands. Each disc contains five episodes, which can be accessed individually or as part of the "play all" option. Each episode also comes with its appropriate "on the next episode of..." promo clip. Plus the foldout packaging offers some brief information regarding each episode, as do the pre-episode menu screens.
I'd be lying if I said that The Mind of the Married Man didn't make me laugh once or twice per episode, but there's a seriously smug and monotonous approach to such an obvious slab of subject matter -- which means you'll get a few simple chuckles from S1, and then you'll promptly forget all about the thing, and move on to something that offers some actual warmth and character to go with the chuckles.
But if it's prime Binder you're looking for, check out The Upside of Anger and Indian Summer first, Crossing the Bridge and Coupe De Ville second, and Married Man, well, last. (He also did a rather cool-looking movie called The Search for John Gissing, which I've not been able to track down just yet.)