By Ken Tucker
Updated February 23, 2010 at 12:30 PM EST

Men of a Certain Age wrapped up its first season last night wonderfully. The hour proved you can create a series about a bunch of middle-aged guys sitting around talking and leading mostly banal lives, and end up with something special.

What happened? Ray Romano’s Joe faced down his gambling addiction and decided “taking a break forever” was the way to go, although we were meant to remain as dubious about this as his bookie is.

Andre Braugher’s Owen left his dad’s dealership to work for a rival, only to have Dad finally give him the respect Owen has craved and the job he truly wants. If that sounds trite, it sure wasn’t the way Braugher and Richard Gant — who’s been doing first-rate work all season as the gruff but aging, ego-bruised dad — played it so beautifully.

And Scott Bakula’s Terry came down from the high he was on from having worked on a movie with some old buddies. He found himself literally, as the episode title had it, “back in the s—,” cleaning up a clogged plumbing mess in the apartment house he manages for his free rent.

None of these plots are revolutionary items, but delving into the ordinary with quiet precision and skill is exactly why Men of a Certain Age has proven to be one of the most enjoyable surprises of the season.

All three of these guys gave superb performances with utterly different acting styles. Romano, who co-created this series, has taken his Everybody Loves Raymond manner — the hangdog stare; the monotone voice — and adjusted it to fit a depressed guy afflicted with compulsive behavior. Braugher, who made his fame as a powerhouse in Homicide: Life on the Streets as a homicide cop who needed to dominate suspects, perfected a quiet humility for this series, knowing that Owen is just this side of being a beaten-down man, robbed of pride. And Bakula goes where other actors love to go — playing an actor less successful than himself, which is the thespian version of “Write what you know” — and did the opposite of Braugher: He plays Terry not as a defeated schlub but as a blustering, randy, but still wounded soul.

If Owen’s subplot in particular resolved itself so thoroughly — he’s now the dealership boss, more or less — it only made me more eager to see next season, to watch how he adapts to a new tension: Being the guy who gives the orders, especially to his office nemesis, Marcus, played with smooth cockiness by Brian J. White.

Have you been watching Men? Did you enjoy the season?

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