Men of a Certain Age

Some guys grow on you the better you get to know them. Take the three best buds of TNT's Men of a Certain Age. When I first met them a year ago, their midlife-crisis angst felt suffocating, the deck stacked against them in heavy-handed downer story lines. But as the first season progressed, it's not so much that life got easier but the shrill tone lightened up considerably (especially at home with Andre Braugher's sad-sack Owen). By the poignant end, I was looking forward to welcoming them back, and I'm happy to say the new episodes don't disappoint.

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Bear in mind that if Men were any more low-key, it might evaporate in front of you. This seriocomic slice of life is best when we're at the diner or on a hike with these superbly acted smaller-than-life not-quite-heroes (Braugher, Ray Romano and Scott Bakula). As they tweak each other's fragile vanities, it's clear they've also got each other's aching backs.

Their insecurities still dog them — when one character hides from work in a toilet stall, he sees graffiti reading, "I feel like this is the only mark I'll ever make in this world" — but it's less oppressive, not nearly as hopeless. Everyone has a goal: Newly divorced Joe (Romano) awkwardly enters the sexual dating pool while training for the seniors' golf tour; Owen learns to assert himself and even enjoy it as he takes over his dad's struggling car dealership; and womanizing lapsed-actor Terry (Bakula) is taking responsibility on the job, getting over himself.

It's as if someone told these guys to "man up" and start enjoying life. The results are certainly working for me.

Men of a Certain Age premieres Monday, 10/9c, on TNT

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