Hope for “Men of a Certain Age”

Ray Romano's canceled "Men of a Certain Age" is looking for a new network. How about AMC, already home to the very different guys of "Mad Men?"

Amid the serio-comic lack of certainty plaguing the three main characters of “Men of a Certain Age,” there's a underlying hope that even if life can never the same – forget about getting better – things at least will turn out okay.

Those of us addicted the show, sadly canceled last month by TNT, harbor a similar glimmer of optimism that the “Men”– Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula – will be back. The New York Daily News reports the compelling look at a trio of buddies grappling with life at 50 could land on another network.

There's not much in the way of details, so we'll offer some unsolicited advice: AMC, which knows a thing or two about shows with guys in crisis, should snatch up this strong, unique drama quicker than Don Draper grabs for the nearest bottle of scotch.

The former movie network already is home to TV's best drama with "Men" in the title – "Mad Men" – as well as "Breaking Bad," a darker, very different look at the dire turns life can take in middle age. More importantly, AMC knows how to market and stick with a good, nuanced show without immediately obvious wide appeal. "Mad Men," set in the swinging 1960s, has become a critically lauded cultural touchstone for our times. Yet last year's season finale reportedly drew 2.44 million viewers, compared to the 2.7 million averaged during this summer's six-episode run of "Men of a Certain Age."

Both shows have won Peabody Awards. But while "Mad Men" continues to compile Emmys and nominations (19 this time around), "Men of a Certain Age" ultimately may have been done in by a lack of awards-season notice: TNT canceled the program almost immediately after it failed to score a best drama nomination (though Braugher notched a deserved best supporting actor nod).

“Men of a Certain Age” doesn't offer the flash of “Mad Men” – it doesn't try. Despite Romano’s presence (he also created the show with former “Everybody Loves Raymond” alum Mike Royce), the show isn't a laugh-a-minute comedy. The humor is subtle, wrapped variously in disappointment, poignancy and occasional minor victories.

The show is bravely realistic in depicting its characters’ struggle to do the right thing amid changing definitions of manhood – a far cry from the “Mad Men” fantasia of a testosterone-charged past, and the focus of “Entourage” on a younger, wilder crowd that may never grow up.

“Men of a Certain Age” more comfortably occupies the space of male discomfort between “Louie,” Louie CK’s fatalistically comic look at life through the low-grade depression miring his early 40s, and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," 64-year-old Larry David’s cranky, uninhibited tirade at the intricacies of ordinary human behavior. Neither “Louie,” on FX, and HBO’s “Curb,” pull huge ratings, but both shows benefit from creative freedom and time. "Curb," now in its eighth season, is drawing its largest audiences ever – not much bigger a crowd than an average episode of “Men.”

Like those shows, “Men” enjoys a loyal following – one that now includes a Facebook “Save Men of a Certain Age” page with more than 6,500 supporters, so far. The response is a testament to fine the writing and acting that generated our deep emotional investment in some seemingly ordinary characters with lives in flux.

The recent six-episode mini-season brought much change: Joe, the divorced dad played by Romano, appears to have licked his gambling addiction and took a step toward his dream of becoming a professional golfer. Terry, Bakula’s evolving man-child actor, finally found mature love – but may risk it on one last shot at showbiz. Braugher’s Owen, emerging from the shadow of his deceivingly overachieving father, finally seems to have made peace with the old man, who is finding retirement isn't all golf and grandkids. Which sounds like fodder for another show.

It may be too much to ask to grow old with these “Men,” who have been in our lives for a mere 22 episodes. But we’ll hold out hope that AMC or another network with patience and eye for quality, will help guide the show into at least a respectable middle age.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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