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Monday, Dec 14, 2009
The new TNT show aims to close the gap between Mars and Venus.

Last Sunday, two girlfriends and I met up for a hike, followed by lunch. While we huffed and grunted our way up hills, and then proceeded to replace the calories we’d burned with burgers and fries, we talked about the usual things: our relationships, our careers, whether we want to have kids and when, our frustrations with the adult world and all its associated problems and responsibilities.


And then, on Monday, I watched the three main characters of the new TNT show Men of a Certain Age do pretty much the exact same thing.


The show has certainly generated some early buzz, partly because it features three highly recognizable actors and has been relentlessly promoted, but mostly because everything about Men of a Certain Age—from the title to the Wonder Years-esque opening credits to the characters’ discussions about the size of their manly posteriors—evokes a kind of touchy-feeliness that has historically been the domain of female-centric shows like Sex and the City or Grey’s Anatomy.


The low-key dramedy centers around three middle-aged friends (Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher) who are dealing with marital rifts, faltering careers, receding hairlines and thickening waistlines. They are indeed men of a certain age—pushing 50 with trepidation and mired in emotional baggage. For anyone who laments the erosion of traditional masculinity in American culture, this is not the show for you. Based on the promos, a friend of mine suggested the show would be better titled, “Men with [lady parts].”


The show’s premise appears to hinge on this conspicuous upending of TV gender roles. (Meanwhile the ladies of cable TV, Glenn Close, Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter, continue their regularly scheduled program of kicking ass and taking names.) I’m no proponent of hyper-masculinity, and I think there certainly is a place in the television landscape for a show that explores male relationships outside of the testosterone-fueled, eternal frat boy model. The best thing Men of a Certain Age has going for it so far is that it’s refreshing to see men on TV actually acting their age. The pilot’s greatest flaw is that I don’t believe that men of a certain age—or of any age for that matter—really relate to each other this way. Moments like the one where Romano’s character gazes wistfully out of the diner window and muses, “you look in the mirror, you see yourself . . . you recognize yourself, and there’s that little bit of you that you don’t”, strike me as deeply disingenuous. For most of the episode it feels as though the show is working too strenuously to hone in on the expansive female angst market.


Men of a Certain Age isn’t even television’s first foray into this arena. Way back in 2001, NBC brought us The Other Half, otherwise known as “The View With Dudes”, featuring Mario Lopez, Danny Bonaduce, and Dick Clark as hosts of the morning chat show. In 2007, Dylan McDermott and Michael Vartan starred in the short-lived Big Shots about a group of CEOs with girl problems. Neither of these efforts proved very successful, but Men of Certain Age has a better pedigree and garnered a solid audience and generally positive reviews for its pilot episode, so it will be interesting to see how things progress. Maybe the world is finally ready to watch a group of straight guys obsessing about the size of their butts. However, given that I am decidedly fed up with the hysterical aging woman stereotype (I’m talking to you, Courteney Cox), I can’t say that I see much appeal in watching these characters follow their female peers into a tired trope.


If you want to watch men talking to each other in a diner, I suggest watching the 1982 Barry Levinson film Diner instead. The film captures the depth of male friendships in a way that feels more authentic, with less angst and more funny.



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Friday, Dec 11, 2009
The reigning teen drama finishes its first semester of college, and not much has changed.

The transition to college has always been particularly treacherous territory for teen shows. High school is such fertile ground to mine for drama, full as it is of angst and social hierarchy and romantic growing pains. High school is awful and wonderful in ways that are essentially universal. But college is different. College is where the common experiences of growing up start to diverge. College cultivates individualism instead of squashing it. College is fun, which is good for real life, but rarely as the setting for a one-hour drama.


Interestingly, Gossip Girl, which just wrapped up its fall season, seems to be navigating the waters better than many of its predecessors. Which is to say that the shift to college life hasn’t had much of an impact at all so far. This isn’t necessarily a compliment, because Gossip Girl was never really a show about high school to begin with. It’s about sex, fashion, scheming and beautiful people being young and rich in New York. Occasionally there had been a storyline revolving around college visits or an affair with a teacher (I’m fairly certain there’s never been a scene set in an actual classroom), but the show has rarely delved far enough into the inner lives of its characters for them to demonstrate any real emotional evolution or coming of age. Where the beautiful people spend their time—high school, college campuses, penthouse apartments, coffee shops—doesn’t really matter. It’s all just window dressing anyway.


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Thursday, Dec 10, 2009
I've stuck by it through thick and thin, but Ugly Betty is over for me. Poor acting, ridiculous plots, and sanctimonious moralising have put an end to it.

I am done with Ugly Betty.


It’s been a long time coming, but this week was finally the week I called time on my two-year relationship with this soap opera set in the fashion dynasty of Mode. For a long time, Ugly Betty was the staple of my Friday nights. Yes, it was saccharine and Betty was irritating, but I put up with it anyway. However, halfway through the third season, I decided that enough was more than enough. The pros—the wonderful performance of Michael Urie, the divine comic duo that was Mark and Amanda, Judith Light as matriarch Claire—were vastly outweighed by the cons. At the risk of sounding childish and immature, I do not see how America Ferrera could possibly have won an Emmy. Her performance is mediocre at best (although the one-note and holier-than-thou attitude of her character does not help matters). There are brilliant comic actresses on TV, and Ferrera is just not one of them. The writing has descended further and further into the black hole that is soap opera.


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Wednesday, Dec 9, 2009
After this week’s fall finale, Glee is taking a hiatus until April. Seems like plenty of time for a little sensitivity training.

Glee is a frothy little show. It’s got spunk. The musical numbers are cheesy and fun. The cast is generally game for the kitsch and capable of carrying the story on those occasions when the scripts call for a bit more. Though it is not as funny as it thinks it is, there’s still enough humor to get a couple of genuine chuckles each hour.


But there is a problem in Glee-ville. What’s the best way to put this? In keeping with the let’s-put-on-a-show attitude, allow me to paraphrase a song from the great off-Broadway musical, Avenue Q.


Everyone’s a little bit racist. And so is Glee.


Tagged as: avenue q, glee
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Tuesday, Dec 8, 2009
Now that Jennifer has packed her knives and gone, who will be the next Top Chef?

On the first part of the Top Chef finale, which aired on Bravo on Wednesday, December 2 (and which will re-air about fifty times between now and next Wednesday), the final four chef-testants (love it) were narrowed to three, and I for one was sad to see Jennifer depart.  Like many viewers (the show is achieving record-high ratings for the network), I have been captivated by the current season, and I was sorry to see, in an otherwise male-dominated season, the last female contestant eliminated, especially given the misogynist comments of several cast members (Eli and Michael, particularly).


So now it’s time to place your bets… who will take the title of Top Chef?  Who will win the 125K and the… kitchen equipment?  A bunch of stuff from Macy’s?  A photo spread in Glamour?  I usually fast-forward the part where they explain the prizes.


Anyway, here is where I will be putting my money:


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