‘Men of a Certain Age’ – ‘Whatever Gets You Through the Night’: The tooth comes out

Senior Television Writer
06.29.11 33 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Men of a Certain Age” coming up just as soon as overalls are my best pair of pants…

“I screwed up so many things.” -Joe

“Men of a Certain Age” usually occupies an odd but not uninteresting position between comedy and drama. Serious things happen, but the problems tend to be small (but sharply-observed). Every now and then, though, the show gives us an episode like “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” that – while still offering a few laughs (Joe with Fantasy Woman, Lawrence shooting the final version of the commercial, anything with Carlos) – is pretty damn dark. And pretty damn fantastic, too.

First, we have Owen not only burning the candle at both ends, but splitting the thing in two so he’ll have some extra ends to burn. Running the dealership was tough enough before, but with no Bruce – and with no one either available, qualified or (in the case of Senior) interested in taking on the second-in-command job – it’s killing him. And I almost mean that literally. The show usually treats Owen’s weight and general health as a running joke, but the way Andre Braugher played that scene of Owen alone in his office, the phones ringing, the world closing in on him, felt very much like our man could be on the verge of a heart attack (or, to borrow from Braughter’s most famous role, a stroke). Just a great, tough scene, and one that nicely set us up for Owen’s later panic attack during the commercial shoot – all of which made the ultimate triumph of the shoot that much sweeter.

The whole thing was a terrific showcase for Braugher(*), and yet when Owen came home late that night and Melissa told him she understands and appreciates what he’s doing right now, I looked at the amount of time left on my screener and realized we had about 10 minutes to go.

(*) If I understand my Emmy rules correctly, these summer episodes won’t be eligible until next year. But this will be one hell of a submission episode for Braugher whenever it’s eligible. I only hope that if it’s for next year, the show is still on the air so voters remember to nominate him. On the other hand, long-canceled shows occasionally get nominated for Emmys like that; Paul Feig’s script for the “Freaks and Geeks” finale was nominated for an Emmy more than a year after the show was canceled because that episode happened to air in the summer.

Given that Owen and Terry’s stories had ended nicely, and that Joe’s apparently had with his decision to give Maria and DaShaun DeAndre their much-deserved raises, I wasn’t sure what was left…

…and then Manfro walked into the party store, looking angry and as dangerous as a bald fiftysomething cancer patient can.


What was great about that scene was that there was absolutely no misunderstanding going on. Manfro knows gambling addicts in general and Joe in particular well enough to realize exactly what Joe was doing, and why. But that doesn’t make him go any easier on the guy. Again, Manfro didn’t view Joe as just another degenerate there to provide him with income. He thought Joe was his friend, and friends don’t do that to other friends – not even if Manfro himself was in no condition to take those bets during Joe’s brief, strange tenure as a bookie. Great work from Ray Romano and Jon Manfrellotti in that scene, and Manfro coming back into the store to tell Joe how to save the tooth was a wonderful, darkly comic touch. Manfro’s not a monster or some cartoon character criminal, and some part of him still likes Joe.

Joe’s trip to the dentist, meanwhile, brought back Sarah Clarke as Dory. I like how that scene played out: not as some kind of starting point to them getting back together (though I wouldn’t object to Clarke sticking around), but as Dory keeping Joe turning this incident into yet another depressing thing that lets Bad Joe maintain his dominance over Good Joe. Even before the swing coach quit, Joe seemed to be viewing the whole senior tour idea as a bit of a lark, but that final shot of Joe back on the range – so intent on getting started that he’s just playing in his undershirt – suggested just how much Joe wants, and needs, to take this seriously now.

Only one episode to go, and based on how strong these summer episodes have been, I have high hopes for whatever Romano, Royce and company have for us in the finale – whether it winds up wrapping the season or the entire series.

What did everybody else think?

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