Viewers who tune into TNT's Men of a Certain Age (Monday, 10/9c) won't find the next decade's version of Everybody Loves Raymond, and they certainly won't laugh as much as they're used to.
Ray Romano, who used his unique perspective on life to tell jokes, first as a stand-up comedian and later as a sitcom star, uses that same perspective to examine weightier issues. And even though Raymond depicted Romano's semi-autobiographical experiences as a son, brother, husband and father, he says his new character, golfer-turned-party-store-owner Joe Tranelli, is much closer to home.
"That's the sad part. This is more in common [with] me than Ray Barone," Romano says. "Obviously, I'm not divorced and the situation's a little different, but I think internally ... there's a point where I'm kind of going through the same doubts that this character is. The same wonderings of where am I going next? That's kind how I felt after Raymond ended. It was exciting to come off of a successful show and something that I was very proud of. But there was a bit of an identity loss there, and a bit of a void from not being able to do something everyday creative."So Romano teamed with Raymond collaborator Mike Royce to write a pilot about men on the brink of turning 50. "We have the same sensibilities and we were kind of going through the same thing. This need and this search for direction in the next thing in our life," Romano says. "So we said let's write about what we know. That's what works for us, and so we found a way to come with up with characters that were kind of going through at a different level the things that we were going through."Romano, 51, plays a newly separated father of two, who struggles not only with wanting to reconcile with his wife, but also the gambling addiction that ruined the marriage. For support, he leans on two of his college buddies: Owen (Homicide's Andre Braugher), a diabetic, used-car salesman with daddy issues, and Terry (Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise's Scott Bakula), a small-time actor who works a temp job and still enjoys life as bachelor.
"It's a carefully observed, very humane comedy," Braugher, 47, tells TVGuide.com of the show. "The basis for Raymond being such a success is the fact that it was a truthful human comedy. And I think that's also true here. It all begins with carefully observed human behavior."I think we can all relate to the being at that age and asking the question: Is that all there is?" Braugher says. "Some people go insane when they realize that's all there is, and some people become better. How you respond to that question is how you're life's going to go."Braugher's character learns his father isn't planning to hand over the keys to the Chevrolet dealership when he retires. And besides fighting for his father's respect, he battles an eating habit that creates its share of health problems. But Braugher says the journey is worthwhile."He becomes more capable in every direction — as a husband, as a father, as a son, as a friend, as a car salesman," Braugher says. "He's kind of floating in his own limbo. He's not a very good car salesman when he starts, and he's kind of an overbearing father. But things change [by the end of the season]. I wouldn't say that everything is roses, but Owen [uses] these 10 episodes to become a much more capable man."
Bakula, 54, says his character's arc is based in the realization that there's nothing wrong with settling down. "It's the classic grass is always greener [scenario]," Bakula says. "His friends look at him and say, 'Man you got it easy; you've got no cares.' And he's looking at them, saying, 'You've got these kids and a wife that loves you.' [Being single] is not all it's cracked up to be, obviously. The nature of humans is we like companionship, and this guy's no exception to that. He just hasn't found the right one."The great joy of the script and the potential danger of the script is that it isn't something we have on TV," Bakula says. "These guys are talking about their lives in a very real, humorous, and poignant way. ... There's just this brutal honesty that guys have with each other when they've known each other a long time. It's kind of a behind-the-scenes look at what guys our age are talking about, thinking about, looking forward to, worried about."But will the depiction of these existential crises find an audience? Romano worries about how the show will be received, both by the TNT audience who's grown used to the cable network's brand of procedurals and those perhaps expecting a sitcom."I like to think of it as more of a real-life drama with comedic moments in it, but somebody could think it's just the reverse," Romano says. "But we don't really make a point of thinking, 'OK, we need comedy here, we need drama here.' We just have an idea and we write the story. It's natural for me ... to be thinking of something funny during the scene and as long as it's in character and it's real, we'll do it."
For more about the show, watch our video Q&A with Andre Braugher below: