Why I Love Men of a Certain Age

December 22, 2010
By | 3 Comments

Men of a Certain Age (TNT) is really good television.  I was never a fan of Ray Romano’s stand-up routine and Everybody Loves Raymond was nearly unwatchable to me, but Men is of a different ilk.

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.


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3 Responses to “ Why I Love Men of a Certain Age

  1. Josh David Jackson on December 23, 2010 at 2:25 PM

    Terrific post. I’ve recently come to realize just how much I’ve enjoyed watching Men of a Certain Age after missing last week’s episode and waiting impatiently for it to pop up on demand. The writing really sparkles with an understated humor and the acting performances are truly superb, especially–and I can’t believing I’m typing this–Romano, who spikes his character with a certain gentle neurosis.

    I’m curious to know more about who TNT is precisely trying to hail with the program (outside of those afflicted with high cholesterol, as the constant barrage of Lipitor ads reveal). My extended family and their friends, who I thought (as 54+ heavy scripted cable TV viewers) might be following Men of a Certain Age were familiar with the program, but chose to ignore it in favor of USA’s familiar fare.

  2. Myles McNutt on January 2, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    A great post! As perhaps the only viewer the series has within the ultra-desirable 18-24 demographic, I find the show truly compelling. Its pace may be slow, but it never feels as if the pace is at odds with the stories being told, as the characters are at a stage in their lives when things are moving simultaneously too quickly and too slowly. While Joe deals with the speed at which his marriage fell apart and his life was forced to change, he responds by trying to slow things down by living in a hotel for months. While Owen wants to speed things up in regards to the order of succession at the dealership, he eventually understands the need to slow things down so as to avoid erasing his father’s legacy. Pace is one of the governing forces of our lives, and yet it’s something that the show argues enters a state of flux at a “certain age.” That flux is more dynamic than the pace might suggest, and the show is much better for it.

    I am also interested in your ongoing research on soap stars, though. It reminds me of the comic For Better or for Worse, and its choice to age its characters in an almost soap opera-esque fashion. It seems to be that it operates in a similar fashion in regards to aging: those who started out as young parents relating to the tasks of raising children would eventually relate to aging parents welcoming grandchildren and the trials of aging into their lives, while kids who read the strip daily as a pre-teen would eventually relate to the struggles of college and eventually the task of raising children. The strip came full circle, and its multi-generational approach allowed it the versatility to keep appealing to those varying audiences as they aged with the strip – however, it also meant that more attention might be placed onto the children than onto the older characters, and that balance certainly does raise demographic questions (which would be different for comics versus soap operas, certainly).

  3. Robert Brookey on January 5, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    I was aware of this program, but hadn’t viewed it until after I read your post. I’m glad I did, because I’ve really enjoyed the episodes I’ve watched. As a man of a certain age (51 and a half), I find it an interesting take on masculinity in middle age. What I find particularly interesting is the product placement for Chevy and GM, especially with the Camaro and the Corvette, cars that are almost cliché in signifying a mid-life crisis. Perhaps GM has decided to parlay the cliché into a narrow-casted appeal. Indeed, if you go to the show’s webpage, the Chevy brand is all over the place, so clearly GM believes the show delivers an audience that they find attractive. In any event, thanks for cluing me into a great show!