Some extra pounds, job insecurity, medical issues, becoming invisible to the opposite sex, a feeling that life is passing you by ... these are signs of middle age.
But there are also pluses like family, long-time friendships and accumulated wisdom that make aging easier to endure.
The new TNT series Men of a Certain Age covers all this territory in a way that is sad and funny, poignant and silly, up and down - a lot like life itself. This show, which keys in on three men in their late 40s who've been friends since college, is excellent in every respect, from the so-appropriate opening theme When I Grow Up (to Be a Man) by the Beach Boys to the closing credits. That it's on cable rather than broadcast TV speaks volumes about the state of the television industry today. More on that later.
In Men, Ray Romano plays Joe, a newly and unhappily divorced father of a teen and a tween who runs a party-supply store and has a gambling addiction. His buddy Owen (Andre Braugher) is married with three young kids and a serious weight problem. He's a salesman at his father's car dealership, where he struggles to meet expectations on multiple levels.
They both look somewhat longingly at Terry (Scott Bakula), their friend who lives a Peter Pan existence and still has enough of his looks to attract younger, hotter women. But Terry works in a nondescript office job and really would rather be an actor.
To reverse a classic line: The little girls don't know, but the men understand.
The stories deal with their day to day lives — events that are small in the scheme of things but important to the characters and easily relatable for viewers. And what's so impressive is that they don't just concentrate on what's wrong with these people, but what goes right too. Because life isn't all bitter disappointments.
The casting here is sensational. Romano made his fame as an insecure man in Everybody Loves Raymond; Joe is a continuation of that characteristic, if not that character. Bakula projects Terry's strength and insecurity nicely. And Braugher is not only a great actor but the bravest man on the planet — no one with his physique and man boobs should ever appear without a shirt. He does so often. Braugher's also given the broadest range of emotions to play, and he makes you feel every frustration and pleasure his character feels.
Men of a Certain Age comes across as exceptionally realistic and certainly will have broad-based appeal for people of a certain age. So you have to ask yourself what's going on when a series like this ends up on cable. I think it demonstrates the lack of imagination at the broadcast networks, where hourlong shows almost always focus on cops, lawyers and doctors. Of the big four broadcast networks, only ABC makes any significant effort to develop shows about people in other walks of life. So it's no wonder that some of the biggest players on broadcast TV — Oprah Winfrey, Larry David, Ray Romano — have gravitated to cable, where small stories have currency.
It's often said that people want to see themselves reflected on television. Men of a Certain Age does exactly that for all people of a certain age. It's a special series.