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.