Andre Braugher is up for his second Emmy in as many years for his role as Owen Thoreau Jr. on TNT’s “Men of a Certain Age.” Braugher already has one best-acting Emmy for his work as a main cast member on “Homicide: Life on the Street.” (The same producing team brought us “The Wire” and “Treme.”)
Highly lauded among his peers and theater-television critics, Braugher’s character on “Men of a Certain Age” is one of a diabetic loving husband and father and small-business owner with an overbearing father who refuses to truly retire and turn the reins of the business over to his hardworking son. His Stanford University and Juilliard acting chops shine as his character is clearly the anchor in a longstanding friendship between Ray Ramono’s divorced-father-of-two character, Joe Tranelli, and Scott Bakula’s perennial playboy, Terry Elliot. For two seasons, “Men of a Certain Age” was a rallying cry for middle-age men who have accepted that boyhood is long gone, but staring down any description with the word “golden” in it.
If it was such a great show, why did TNT cancel it last Tuesday? Perhaps a bigger question is can strong black, non-comedic male characters survive on cable and network television? Or, a more salient one is do we support junk television shows with viewership, while decrying a desire for more substantial characters, shows and scripts?
The network’s official response to the surprise move is “while the show has featured great storytelling and impeccable performances, the audience simply hasn’t built to the point where we can continue the series. This was an extremely difficult decision for us.” What was the magic threshold that would have meant survival? Half a million viewers? Two million? Is the African American community really more interested in watching the train-wrecked lives of pseudo-housewives with mounting financial and family problems but a mad cache of Louboutins? Or, the nearly impossible unattainable lives of NBA wives? Or, are Mr. Brown’s sock-it-to-me suspenders really a visual hallucinogenic? Looking around at the state of our race after enduring the second year of the Black Depression, can it be that we simply enjoy laughing and sneering at folks who think they have it all, but we know differently? By all means, clear your throat on that one.
Much has been said about the subtlety of the show. No wigs were pulled and tossed. There were no laugh tracks. Dramatic blowups were paced and usually involved solid scriptwriting and a thoroughly developed plot. Like the episode when Lisa Gay Hamilton’s character, Melissa, went to the dealership to have a word sista-style with her father-in-law, played by Richard Gant, because she was sick of his passive-aggressive behavior toward her husband. Fully noting that his son had a growing family, he took away his roomy SUV and gave him a tiny three-cylinder to drive as a humiliating consequence for not meeting his sales quotas. Oh, yeah, Big Owen was known to taunt his son about his diabetes. “You just let yourself go!” he once said. If you know anyone who sincerely tries to manage this disease, works full time and tries to maintain a family life, you’ll understand why Melissa walked into that showroom and verbally blasted her father-in-law and defended her husband. Big Owen returned the larger car.
The middle-age male banter alone was an encyclopedia for the male mid-life crisis. Women appreciated the insight. “Men of a Certain Age” was our Monday morning quarterback. In one scene, a stunning, tight-bodied, 20-something passed by the trio, and Owen commented that it occurred to him that he had reached that age when he’d no longer even get a look from a woman like that. His friends, knowing him since college, almost choked and reminded him that he never got looks from women like that. It seems that men reach an age where it’s okay to re-write history in their heads. Now that we women-folk possess this knowledge, we can stop with the “WTH?!” looks we cast during these mental lapses. You’re older, crazy and, still, we love you. I, for one, now better understand.
I still can’t get my head around it: Why would TNT do this? Shouldn’t there be a petition of some sort? I saw an old friend at a funeral recently. (Somewhere around the age of 40, funerals really start to pick up the pace and require what seems like weekly scheduling.) This friend was like a brother to me for a long time. We’d lost touch and caught up as he walked me to my car. His son was 30-plus, he’d married, and his beloved mother had passed. Each revelation shocked me more than the last. “Ann, I love being this age. All the stuff you told me to stop worrying about 20, 30 years ago, you were right! I’m an OK guy. I always was. Doing just fine. My favorite show now is ‘Men of a Certain Age.’ ” He’d remained a really swell guy with really great taste.
Thank you, Andre Braugher and cast for helping him to realize that. Because I’m a female, he never believed me for decades — until he reached a certain age.