OK, I’ll say it. TV needs more “Men”
So “Men of a Certain Age” got canned, which is sad, but not for the reason most people think. Is it Was it a viable contender for “best show you’re not watching on TV,” (and since “Friday Night Lights” has retired, that title is up for grabs)? Indeed.
Did it deserve another shot because of poor marketing and bungled scheduling. Yes.
Was it a well acted, written and directed drama on a cable network still looking to create an identity for itself with scripted shows? Sure.
Was it a chance to see a new side of Ray Ramano and a reminder of all the things we love about Andre Braugher, and – yes, yes! – Scott Bakula? Absolutely.
But none of this has anything to do with why I think it was awful to see “Men of a Certain Age” go away. I’ll miss it because it was one of the few shows on TV today to offer up compelling and, more importantly, relatable characters. To put it plainly: Ray Ramano and Mike Royce made a great show about what its like to be a guy, and TV could use more of that.
Which sounds all kinds of stupid when you look at a TV schedule that is littered with men. But none of those shows has the charm, mood and patience that made “Men of a Certain Age” a great drama and standout example of the kind of nuance (more on this in a second) that TV needs more of.
This may not seem important in itself. Because who the hell would want to watch realistic portraits of life on TV? It’s supposed to be an escape, if even a limited one, so who would want to see a show about about the exploits of 50-year-old guys going through divorce, suffering through a crisis of purpose or getting colonoscopies? This non-child/divorce/colonoscopy-having 31 year-old. Which says something.
I’ve got little in common with 50-something guys other than a bad back and faint, but not urgent, desire to go to the gym more. And “Men of a Certain Age” still resonated. This was a show about the sometimes (OK, oftentimes) unsexy and downright depressing aspects of hitting the midlife marker. Stories about trying to survive divorce and decode life as a single parent or coming to grips with the burden of running a car dealership are not instantly relatable to everyone. But then again I don’t know shit about space travel or being a PI, but I’ve been known to be entertained by those things on TV.
What “Men of a Certain Age” had was uncomfortable, yet comfortable characters, fleshy and flawed, with stories that mined the boring experiences of life in the way any good TV drama exploits a premise, working through tension by finding unexpected truth with just enough laughs.
But it also gave us some healthy nuance in what it looks like to be a guy on TV. Look, there are plenty of tough cops, playboys, cranky geniuses, slackers and schlubby husbands to keep the networks happy for years. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. TV needs guys in the mold of Barney Stinson, Jack Donaughy or Dr. House. But it also needs the likes of Coach Taylor, Louie CK, the lads on “The Inbetweeners” and the trio on “Men of a Certain Age.” All of these are guys I can recognize, who I’m instantly drawn in by and can get the type of loyalty showrunners and executives love, even if sometimes it doesn’t easily translate into ratings.
They’re all part of the same continuum of guyhood that exists in life, and should be reflected in what we watch on TV. If this is sounding familiar it’s because it’s a sub-strand of the “TV needs more diversity” argument, but instead of lobbying for more women, gays or brown people, it’s a case for different kinds of guys. Which, again, sounds silly, but I think is valid. Because in the service of telling stories, new, unique (and hopefully entertaining) stories, guys, as it turns out, can be plenty complicated if you look through the fantasized and bastardized archetypes. “Men of a Certain Age” was small, difficult and (on paper) boring, and in the end that may be what killed it. But sometimes small, difficult and boring is where the kind of winning stories TV needs can be found.