It's an overused term, but few words seem more apt than bittersweet
to describe the second and final season of the critically acclaimed comedy/drama Men of a Certain Age
: bitter in that the show was brought to a close far too soon for fans and many critics, but also sweet in that the series, created by Ray Romano and Mike Royce, ended on the same notes of honesty, poignancy, and sheer creative quality that marked its beginning. The sophomore season of Certain Age
also found the show escaping from the short-sightedness that painted it as a series about "guys in midlife crisis" to become a program about the second chances and minor miracles that were also part of the lives of its trio of protagonists: party-store owner Joe (Romano) shakes off the torpor of his divorce to finally pursue his dream of professional golf, while married man Owen (Andre Braugher) takes hold of his long-delayed destiny as owner of his father's car dealership. And while the transition of Terry (Scott Bakula) from lothario and would-be actor to a man committed to romance and a realistic future takes the occasional back seat to his friends' storylines, his struggles never lack for intimacy while also showcasing some of the show's most cringe-worthy moments as he attempts to shake off a lifetime of half-steps and fruitless relationships. In each of their stories, as well as in those of the people who orbit their lives, from Joe's children (Braeden Lemasters and Brittany Curran) to Owen's wife (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and coworkers and Terry's supremely patient girlfriend (Melinda McGraw), there is not a false note in regard to the operation of the human heart as how it truly works and not as depicted in network notes or audience demographic research. The writing in the second season (by several veterans of Everybody Loves Raymond
, among others) achieves a sort of literary level in its best moments, a gorgeous opaqueness that reveals such depths of richness and truth behind the veil of ordinary life. That high-water mark is met by the direction as well as the exceptional cast, from Romano, who continues to prove himself a remarkably subtle dramatic actor, and Braugher and Bakula, down to supporting players like Hamilton, McGraw, Richard Gant (as Braugher's prideful father), Alanna Ubach, Sarah Clarke (the Twilight
series), Matt Price, and Brian White. However, the season is again stolen by Jon Manfrellotti (Mad Men
) as Joe's bookie, Manfro, whose cancer diagnosis peels away his Runyonesque exterior to reveal a vinegary sagacity in his uncomfortable dealings with Joe.
The three-disc presentation of Men of a Certain Age's second season is anchored by commentaries by the show's key players on all 12 episodes. Romano and Royce are the dominant voices, and the humor that they and fellow writers Bridget Bedard, Lew Schneider, and Tucker Cawley provide also allows for glimpses into the show's production as well as what might have happened in its third season. Romano, Royce, Bedard, and Schneider additionally appear on a solid featurette that discusses the tone and direction of the series in fine detail. There is also a brace of deleted scenes from both seasons, as well as a frequently funny gag reel, all of which should appeal to the show's small but dedicated cadre of fans. But more significantly, what those viewers can take away from this final season is not just the excellence of the episodes, but also the fact that Men of a Certain Age belongs in the ranks of such extraordinary works as Freaks and Geeks, Deadwood, Sports Night, Arrested Development, Veronica Mars, and other series that slipped the surly bonds of the medium and truly defined the phrase too good for television. --Paul Gaita