Danny Feld/TNT
Ken Tucker
December 13, 2010 AT 05:00 AM EST

The second season of Men of a Certain Age finds our trio of pals — Ray Romano’s Joe, Andre Braugher’s Owen, Scott Bakula’s Terry — facing, or avoiding, new challenges. Joe is self-treating his gambling addiction by getting in shape for a senior golf tour; Owen is trying to assume the mantle of leadership at his father’s car dealership; and Terry is swallowing his actor’s ego and attempting to boost his income by selling cars at that same dealership. It’s not a spoiler to say that they’re all failing, to varying degrees. But the achievement of this series is that it makes middle-age failure so energetically entertaining.

Andre Braugher scored an Emmy nomination for his first-season portrayal of the self-doubting Owen, and Men of a Certain Age shines as a beacon of distinctiveness in TNT’s schedule of female crime-solvers (The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles) and gloomier versions of USA Network?s ”Characters Welcome” lightness (Leverage, the just-canceled Dark Blue). It’s cable’s finest odd duck: tales of three middle-aged guys who scorn the sexy/cool/ad-friendly demo.

To give you some idea of how good and unusual this show is, the standout moments of Men‘s season premiere involve Joe’s discomfort over having to use reading glasses for the first time. Self-conscious about aging and his newly single status, he can barely bring himself to do things that might give him joy, whether it’s golfing or dating. Similarly, Owen can’t revel in the victory he secured at the end of last season — forcing his imperious dad (Richard Gant) to let him run the dealership — because as soon as he takes over, he faces new ego-battering problems, such as a sales staff that dismisses him as a mere daddy’s boy. And by the show’s second episode, Terry, who’s already admitted that his acting career has gone nowhere, is also ready to chuck his car-salesman job. He can’t take the humiliation inflicted by his colleagues, who’ve discovered a YouTube video of an embarrassingly campy TV commercial Terry made years ago. These are not, to put it mildly, happy men.

What, therefore, makes Men of a Certain Age so enjoyable to watch? Well, to begin with, there’s its core of blunt truth: Life isn’t easy, or tidy, or pretty. Also, this dark-tinged show is frequently very funny, never more so than when the pals gather for a diner meal, to whine and tease one another. The dialogue has a cutting crispness; the hour zips along, no matter how logy its antiheroes may become. Indeed, Men of a Certain Age is downright inspirational to anyone, of any age. But don’t tell that to these guys: They want to bitch and moan for your — and their — pleasure. A?

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