`Men of a Certain Age’ recap: Batter up!

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In many ways, watching an episode of TNT’s ‘Men of a Certain Age’ is like listening to a ball game on the radio on a lazy Sunday afternoon. You relax, take it in and absorb the details that make the difference between victory and defeat.

For the third episode of the show’s six episode summer run, the action actually takes place during a ball game as Owen’s auto dealership takes on rival Scarpulla in softball. Desperate to win, Owen (Andre Braugher) not only recruits Maria (Emily Rios), who turns out to be a ringer, from Joe’s party store, but he even agrees to pay the service workers at the dealership to play because without them his team has virtually no chance. The class war between the service team and the sales force is one of the more intriguing subplots of ‘Men of a Certain Age.’

While Owen tries to put his dream team togethrer, Joe (Ray Romano) has his hands full with work, family, his bookie business and a surprise guest. Already nervous about a visit from his father Artie (Robert Loggia) and his girlfriend, Joe then has to deal with Michelle (Alanna Ubach), his on-again, off-again sleepover buddy who has shown up on his doorstep and is nervous about losing her job. While Michelle is a lot of fun, she is also a force of nature who is oblivious to the world around her. That Joe has his kids and is waiting for his dad doesn’t stop Michelle from crashing out on the couch and making Joe even more awkward, if such a thing was possible.

Meanwhile, Terry (Scott Bakula) continues to be bummed about Erin (Melinda McGraw) dropping him. He is still romancing Stella (Majandra Delfino), the caterer from his birthday party, but even he knows he’s way too old for her. If he had any doubts, a night out with her and her friends (including her roommate who looks at Terry as if he’s something she stepped in crossing the street) makes that crystal clear.


But when Terry’s surprise visit to Erin to make one more play goes south, he tries to embrace his younger love interest. He even sits through a breakfast with her parents after she offers him an out. It only takes a few minutes of conversation for him to realize this isn’t right.

Unfortunately, this is Terry we’re talking about so he does the next wrong thing and sneaks out the back door of Stella’s apartment.

The last half of the show all takes place during the softball game. Owen’s team is clearly out-manned, and there is a lot of tension in the dugout when the sales staff learns that the service guys got paid to play. After a few innings, they’re down 7-1, and the only run they scored is courtesy of Maria, who belted a homer. Making matters worse, Marcus (Brian J. White), who used to be the top salesman for Owen, is playing for Scarpulla, having gone there after he punched out Terry last week. After Owen falls on his face trying to beat out a grounder, the fat lady starts to warm up.

Owen’s frustration and humiliation (he’s tagged out by Marcus) instead pumps new life into his teammates, who suddenly put down the beer and pick up the bats. Led by mascot Lawrence (Matt Price), the gang comes alive and starts to rally. Terry gets further motivation when Erin shows up at the game. Despite all the excitement on and off the field, all Joe can do is keep checking his phone for updates on a ballgame he has a bet riding on.

The comeback almost hits the skids when Stella shows up, sees Erin and puts two and two together. Not only does she yell at Terry, who is on second base, she then drives onto the field and steals the base before driving off, leaving a trail of dust and epithets in the air.

But a little thing like a spurned lover driving a car onto a softball field isn’t going to stop this bunch. Owen gets up to bat with the tying run on base and hits one into the gap. Ignoring the coaches and having little regard for the girl catcher who stands in the way of him and victory, Owen lumbers around third and does his version of the infamous Pete Rose - Ray Fosse home plate collision to score the winning run. For once, the good guys won.

There was a lot to like about this episode. For starters, it seemed like executive producer Mike Royce managed to jam in plot points and dialogue for practically everyone who has ever been on the show. It was nice to see the character of Maria outside of the party store, and Lawrence is always entertaining.

Although this hour was lighter than previous efforts, there were some dark clouds as well. Romano does a credible job of showing Joe’s descent back into gambling. He ignores everyone around him to obsess over his bet, and it is clear that his bottom may have another bottom. Those unfamiliar with what Joe is going through may get a chuckle out of it, but if he keeps it up, there won’t be much to laugh about.

Part of the charm of ‘Men of a Certain Age’ is that these guys win small. But in this episode they won big. Sure, it was fun to watch, but it also seemed to go against the general feel of the show. That Erin would so suddenly change her mind about Terry after pushing him away seemed somewhat forced-as if a network executive sent down a note requesting that Terry get the girl in the end.

Perhaps this episode was intended to provide more laugh-out-loud moments and less of the melancholy tone that usually fills the hour in the hopes of getting a bigger audience. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this viewer prefers to see ‘Men of a Certain Age’ as a folksy John Mellencamp song about how short life is and how our best efforts don’t always pay off as opposed to a Bruce Springsteen anthem about broken heroes and last chance power drives.


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-- Joe Flint