This week’s Men Of A Certain Age was too low on comedy and featured one storyline that I found actively annoying, but it was rooted in the particulars of the characters’ lives—and the subtle conflicts of career and family—in ways that makes MOACA like no other show on the air right now. (Unless there are other shows about car dealers and aspiring golfers that I’m not aware of.)
Let me knock the annoying storyline out of the way first. After last week’s mini-breakthrough for Terry—with him deciding to make a real go of it as a salesman—this week he found himself the victim of hazing from his co-workers. Someone discovers a commercial on YouTube that Terry did in the ‘80s for frozen food. The video is titled “Horrible Old Commercial,” and aptly: It shows Terry catching a whiff of a frozen enchilada meal and turning into a racist Mexican caricature and then catching a whiff of a frozen Chinese dinner and turning Japanese. The guys at the dealership turn pictures of Terry from the ad into masks and life-size standees, and leave them lying around the showroom. The floor manager suggests that Terry win his peers’ respect by selling some cars and even sets him up with a rich, hot-to-buy customer. But it turns out to be another prank. Terry is only able to shut everyone up when the still-hot woman from the frozen food ad shows up with Terry at a bar and makes out with him. These guys will always defer to a master cocksman.
I’ve never been a big fan of TV plots about good-natured pranks and hazing, perhaps because I tend to find such things pretty stupid in real life, or perhaps because I’ve never really dealt with any of that in my career. (For the the past 10 of my 40 years on Earth, I’ve worked at home, by myself. No one’s around to haze me.) So I find it hard to identify. But the bigger problem is that the Terry-business this week still just wasn’t that funny, or compelling. The jokes were stupid, and his reaction to the jokes was flat. Even the return of his old actress pal doesn’t lead to much. There’s just nothing there.
Far more fertile—to me, at least—is Owen’s moment-of-truth at the dealership, regarding the ever-fragile relationship between the salesmen and the service department. When Owen’s salesforce starts grumbling that they can’t get real repair times from the garage, Owen tries to play peacemaker, telling the service manager just to be honest about what he can and can’t do and promising to keep the salesman off his back. But then customers start hollering about their late cars, and when Owen calls the service manager into his office, the man is dismissive of Owen’s concerns, saying that he understands that Owen’s having trouble filling his father’s shoes.
Here you have a more real, less TV-ish situation. The service manager’s not wrong, necessarily, when he says, “The guys in sales are assholes.” No doubt the salesmen do make exaggerated promises to the customers regarding service times, because they’re not responsible for doing the work. And no doubt Owen is doing the same thing in his way, promising each side that he can make everything right just by playing the middle-man. I identify with Owen. There are certain things in life that I’m good at, but I’ve neither the time nor the inclination to learn how to be handy at home or auto repair. If repair-folk tell me I need a certain part or need to pay a certain amount or need to wait a week for them to finish their work, I go along with it. And if the service manager tells Owen that hiring more techs won’t improve turnaround time, he doesn’t really have enough experience to contradict him. But he does anyway, because nothing else is working, and logic would dictate that if the service department is too slow—even if their numbers are competitive with other dealerships—then they must need more hands. Besides, Owen’s in charge and he has to show it.
I also like the contrast between Owen’s uncertainty at work and his uncertainty at home, where the responsibility dynamic between him and his wife Melissa is undergoing a change. With the increased stress at work, Owen needs everything running smoothly at home, with Melissa handling the kids and meals and the like, so that he can just step in and be a husband and father with no prep. But Melissa’s getting fed up with being a stay-at-home mom and spending her days worrying about school parties and football practice when she’d like to be getting back to work as a journalist. Again, neither party’s really in the wrong here. It’s just a case of two people with different priorities, trying to work it out. And in the end, the situation works itself out—at least for now—when Melissa’s business meeting with an old colleague turns out to be a friendly lunch, because there are no jobs in journalism right now. “While I was out making babies, the world went to crap,” Melissa sighs to Owen, as he tries to convince her that everything will be okay. Y’know, eventually.
As for Joe, he’s quickly coming to realize that if he’s serious about joining the Senior PGA Tour, he can’t be spending his days worrying whether his party supply store has enough Get Well Soon balloons. Maybe he should sell the store so he can hire a coach and start training in earnest. Maybe he should delete “Putting Practice” from his To-Do list. (I know that temptation; many’s the time that I’ve removed or postponed something I feel I should do from my To-Do, so I can make more time for what I have to do.) Instead, Joe decides to see if he can get his employees to take on more responsibility to free up his time. And he makes plans to start working with a coach that he meets on the driving range: a serious-minded fellow with all kinds of helpful high-tech equipment.
Joe’s other “warring priorities” moment this week involves his son Albert, who has promised to his guidance counselor that he’ll go to the school dance, though he doesn’t really want to go. Joe thinks it’ll be good for Albert’s social anxiety and self-esteem to go, so he makes a deal: Albert goes to the dance, and Joe will check in by text every hour from the driving range and make sure that Albert’s okay. After Joe drops his son off, Albert first sneaks away to a bookstore, then when his friends call to see if Albert’s older sister can help them get into a senior party, he agrees to go. And then he has a few drinks.
At first, I was wary of the “Albert gets drunk at a party where he’s not supposed to be” plot because it struck me as clichéd family drama business. (In fact, I saw a variation on that plot on No Ordinary Family a couple of weeks ago, in what looked like the same house.) But the MOACA writers handled it well, I thought. Albert doesn’t get hammered, he just has a few drinks. And while he's racing back to the school dance to get picked up by Joe, his dad's racing there too, worried that if his son didn’t see him there on time, he’d have a panic attack. So while Joe punishes Albert for going to the party, he’s also proud of his boy for being strong enough to make that decision.
Again, that rings true. Good parenting requires you to pretend to be mad about things that matter (but that you don’t really care about) and to try not to get mad about things that don’t (but that really get on your nerves). It’s not unusual to be delighted by your kids even as you’re sending them to their rooms.
- “You say shit, you get hit. See, I can make mean rhymes too.”
- This is Sound Design 101, but I still like hearing the distant chirp of crickets at the driving range. Very evocative of a warm California night.
- Joe is inspired to take more action in his life after he sees his fantasy woman jogger making out with her shlubby boyfriend.
- Although I do not approve of the school party-planner reminding the other mothers not to feed the kids magnets, I did raise my hand when she said, “Is anyone else worried about all that sugar?” Snack Day at my kids’ school is the bane of my existence. They eat more junk in 30 minutes than we’d allow them to consume in a week. (And we’re not strict parents, dietarily. Our kids eat desserts and fast food, just in moderation.)
- After Owen blows up at Melissa for not having the kids ready for football, the guys suggest that maybe he had low blood sugar. “I’m not going to use my disease,” he says.
- A lot this week about time and timing—how being a few minutes off here and there can be a huge difference. One small case-in-point: Owen taking a phone call on the hike and missing Joe and Terry talking about Joe’s problem. After the call is over, Joe and Terry refuse to catch Owen up, though he notes that in the time they spent explaining why they won’t tell him what’s going on, they could’ve just told him what’s going on.