For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s a drama about three guys in mid-adulthood (mid-50s?), best friends since college, just making it through life and trying to figure out what it means to get older. Joe (Romano) is newly divorced, owns a party store, is trying to figure out the dating world again and is contemplating making a run for the senior golf tour. Terry (Scott Bakula) is single, a D-list actor who has a lot of sex and an unstable career/relationship history, and just started working at Owen’s car dealership. Owen (Andre Braugher) is happily married but struggles with his diabetes and his much-more-successful father. The guys meet for lunch seemingly every day at a diner and have the real world trash-talk conversations familiar to anyone still friends with the people you did stupid shit with in college. They’re merciless with one another, as only good friends and siblings can be, but not in an obviously scripted way.
The writing is one of the best parts of the show – it’s smart and subtle (Ray Romano, who knew?) and moving and funny, and seems very real. The same with the acting – kudos to the casting director – and most of all to the producers’ decision to explore the vagaries of mid-adulthood. I’m a woman in her mid-40s, not a guy in his mid-50s, but (and?) a lot of this rings true to me: the potential weirdnesses of dating/sex (Joe), the realization that you’re never really going to be anything and hoping that’s OK (Terry), wondering if you still could be something and what that would take (Joe pondering a golf career), and the crap we go through as adults with our even-more-adult parents (Owen). In the middle of typing this (literally) I got an email alert about a new Pew Research Center brief titled “Baby Boomers Approach 65—Glumly” (see http://www.pewsocialtrends.org), and one of the key findings is that “Boomers are less likely than other age groups to say they have made progress in life when they compare themselves to their own parents”……Pew, meet Men….Men, meet Pew.
There might be a gender thing in my love for this show, I’m not sure. I haven’t been able to watch a single ep of Cougar Town, the very title makes me cringe, and Hot in Cleveland was on my I-should-be-taping-this list but I never did anything about it……mostly because it seemed like work (the same reason I keep pushing Invictus and Milk down my Netflix list). Somehow Men doesn’t seem like work and I’m wondering if it’s because I can tap into the age thing and less so the gender/age thing? Entertaining and real but at a comfortable distance, perhaps…..friends reassure me that Cougar Town is not cringe-inducing but I remain poised over the DVR button to halt Modern Family as soon as the spinning record ends, rather than risk a second of Courtney Cox doing something humiliating.
I’ve been researching aging audiences for the past few years now, intrigued by the increasing disconnect between demographic realities and marketers’ relentless focus on young adults. Media audiences are getting older, the world is getting older, but there are few attempts to explore that in ways that capture both the drama and humor of aging…..in a laughing WITH way, not a laughing AT way. Not that Men is a straight comedy, it’s not, but the authenticity with which it explores mid-adulthood and decades-old friendships is humorous (and brutally so) at its core. My own research is on aging soap opera actors and audiences. Along with my colleague Denise Brothers, I interviewed soap actors who have played the same role for 15-20 years and viewers who have been watching the same show for at least 20 years. We were intrigued by what it was like to grow older taking a fictional text along for the ride. Both groups of people talked of the pain of aging out of the narrative canvas, as older actors are relegated to back-burner roles (the sage grandparent or mentor) and older viewers see fewer and fewer characters their own age on-screen. Demographic realities demand that we begin taking older audiences seriously. I was surprised and intrigued when Spike TV announced in October that it was going for an older audience (though this meant 25-49 in Spike-speak) and hopefully it’s a matter of time before others follow suit. I don’t know the age demos of Men’s audiences……but I love what the show is doing. Check it out.