The strongest Men Of A Certain Age of the season so far succeeds because it’s about a very MOACA notion: how slapping a label on a person can be either limiting or liberating, depending on who the person is. The title “The Bad Guy” refers to Joe, who opens the episode in a meeting with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Sonia, and their lawyer, finalizing what should be an amicable divorce agreement. Except that as a legal formality, the lawyer has to assign tags to Joe and Sonia: One has to be the plaintiff in the case, and one has to be the defendant. Sonia picks “plaintiff,” which I would’ve thought would have been okay by Joe; after all, as I recall, he didn’t want to get divorced in the first place. Her being the plaintiff means she’s making the choice, not him. But Joe doesn’t like the sound of the word “defendant.” It makes it seem like he’s the villain of the piece, when Sonia was the one who abandoned him—and cheated on him—while he was struggling with his gambling addiction.
Joe also feels betwixt and between when it comes to his daughter, Lucy, whom he catches in his house with her boyfriend Sudheer. He walks in on Sudheer peeing naked in the bathroom, while Lucy’s lounging around her bedroom in an oversized T-shirt. Since Lucy doesn’t live with Joe full-time, he’s not sure what authority he has over her behavior. He tries to play it semi-cool, asking only that she not sneak into his house to have sex while he’s away, but when Lucy waves him off impatiently, he gets pissed and grounds her for a week. But then Sonia doesn’t back him up. When Lucy gets back to Mom’s house, she’s un-grounded.
The storyline resolves fairly sweetly: Joe blows up at Sonia, and briefly refuses to sign the divorce papers, but then he finds some golf balls that Lucy colored for him when she was a little girl, and he goes back to Sonia’s house and apologizes. What I liked about this storyline is that the core issues remain unresolved. Joe still doesn’t have a firm grasp of his new role as a court-enforced absentee father. And even after he makes nice with his former wife, he returns to his new, under-furnished house, which looks all the more big and empty. No real victory here.
“The Bad Guy” even had a decent Terry story for the first time since this season’s first episode. Terry’s moving up the board at the dealership and getting more comfortable with his latest life-choice, but then he gets a visit from his agent, who lets him know that the viral success of his old racist frozen food commercials has the food company begging for a sequel. Terry’s not sure he wants to deal with the stress of acting again, but he changes his mind when he hears that they want his old acting partner back for the commercial too. And so Terry takes her out to woo her, and they reminisce about the things they used to do to trick casting agents into thinking that they weren’t getting old. It’s not that rare to see a TV show deal with the frank realities of what it means to be an over-the-hill actor, but it was still touching to see how “The Bad Guy” weaves that idea into the overall theme of people feeling between two worlds. Is Terry still a viable actor, or is he a car salesman now? And does he have any romantic prospects with his old co-star, or are they just friends?
Owen’s story this week fits the theme too, though I found it a little frustrating, if only because this is the second week in a row that Owen’s story has been dominated by Owen, Sr. When Owen takes Melissa to a car show for a relaxing few days of spa treatments and marital relations, he’s bummed to discover that 1.) They’re both too tired to get romantic; and 2.) Although Owen thought that this trip was going to be his first as the new king of Thoreau Chevrolet, his dad shows up unexpectedly and falls right back into his usual role as the boss of everything. Meanwhile, Melissa feels uncomfortable playing the part of the upscale dealer wife (in her Target outfits, no less), when she’d really rather be making what she worries is a last-ditch effort to revive her writing career.
The Owen storyline resolves a little too neatly: Melissa gets drunk by the pool with a guy who hires her to write product reviews for Amazon, while Owen, Sr., tells Owen that the only reason he came down to the car show was so he could give his son a proper introduction to his colleagues. And actually, the other storylines resolve with a touch too much of sitcom-style cuteness. Terry is dismayed to find out that the frozen food company only wants him to come back, but not his partner, then is relieved to learn that she didn’t really want to return to acting anyway. And after that quietly melancholic shot of Joe in his empty house, his story goes on for one more beat, as he drops off his kids at school and discovers that Lucy is no longer dating that nice Sudheer but instead some pierced/tattooed freak. Ba-dump-bump.
Still, “The Bad Guy” is so assured so often that I can’t grumble much. Even the Owen storyline has the wonderful scene where Owen, Sr., asks him to give a speech at brunch and Owen rises to the occasion splendidly, after a moment of awkwardness. And it has Owen’s funny complaint to the guys that when he holds doors open for women these days, they don’t check him out. “Well, they look halfway through you,” Joe says. “And then they have to rest.”
- When Terry says that his latest romantic prospect is “our age,” the guys declare this to be “repulsive.”
- Terry, struggling with texting: “Howabout … eat und talk?”
- I like that Joe acknowledges that his story about seeing Sudheer naked in his bathroom sounds funny … if only it had happened to somebody else.
- Then again: “You should’ve seen the look on his ass.”