You could get whiplash from the mixed messages being sent by TNT's first combo of the busy summer season.
In the new Franklin & Bash, an aggressively quirky buddy comedy-drama that feels like something excavated out of David E. Kelley's trunk of less inspired ideas, it's all about overgrown boys being boys, and no matter how annoying they get, we're supposed to find them lovable. It's being paired with the back half of the second season of the Peabody-winning Men of a Certain Age, a more mellow and bittersweet drama about the midlife crises of three best buds who've learned the hard way that growing up may not be the easiest thing, but in the long run it's worth it.
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Guess which group of guys I find better company? (And I was slow to embrace Men, which I initially found oppressively whiny, but since has lightened up considerably.)
"You're F. Lee Bailey meets Barnum & Bailey," crows Franklin scene-stealer Malcolm McDowell, sounding like he's at a network pitch meeting as he hams it up in the role of the eccentric — naturally — new boss of ambulance-chasing upstarts Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). He likes the freewheeling style of these courtroom cut-ups, offering them cushy jobs in his upscale firm. Poor Reed Diamond, who deserves better, is trapped in the thankless villain's role of the boss's uptight nephew, mocked at every turn by the new kids in the boardroom.
Your enjoyment of Franklin & Bash may depend on your tolerance for frat-boy antics and smarmy whimsy. Case in point: The second episode involves a client (Justified's Natalie Zea) who's accused of "intentional oversexing" — or "murder by vagina," if you will — in the death of her husband. As they snigger when hearing testimony about "severe penile bruising," you'll either want to throttle them or, I suppose, high-five them.
"For lawyers, you're almost human," says one of their admiring clients. Sorry, I just don't see it. On the same network, Gosselaar has gone from Raising the Bar to lowering it.
If it's humanity you're seeking, Men of a Certain Age delivers with increasing confidence as the new season resumes. You feel for each of these guys: Joe (Ray Romano), the ultimate mensch, trying to be there for his ailing bookie and his emotionally frazzled (could it be menopause?) ex-wife; bachelor Terry (Scott Bakula, doing career-high work), exposing his soul for once to the actress-turned-teacher of a certain age (Melinda McGraw) who could be the love of his life; and family man Owen (Andre Braugher), considering new opportunities for the business he took over from his ever-present dad.
Men is quieter and more real than the TV (or TNT) norm, the opposite of high concept as its characters stumble through their everyday lives and jobs, entertaining us without pandering. If you haven't met them yet, what are you waiting for?
Franklin & Bash premieres Wednesday, 9/8c, on TNT
Men of a Certain Age returns Wednesday, 10/9c, on TNT