BY: Derrik J. Lang
LOS ANGELES – Ray Romano isn’t really into bromances.
While his first series since ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ ended in 2005 centers on three emotionally flustered middle-age male pals, the 51-year-old actor-comedian insists he’s not equally as candid with his brooding, real-life buddies back home in Queens, N.Y.
“We are as close as these guys, but I don’t think we open up as much,” he says. “There is a realism to it, though. It’s guys talking about things but we’re still doing it in the lame way that men do, as opposed to the way women do, which would need a much longer show.”
The wry everyman is trading his quippy persona from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ which ran for nine seasons on CBS, for a sad-eyed party store owner named Joe, who is suffering through divorce and a gambling addiction, on TNT’s ‘Men of a Certain Age’ (premiering Dec. 7 at 10 p.m. EST).
The series, which Romano begrudgingly classifies as a dramedy, was created by Romano with writing partner Mike Royce. Where ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ was based on Romano’s domestic-themed standup material, ‘Men of a Certain Age’ is about gloomier personal subjects.
To play Joe’s best friends, Romano enlisted Scott Bakula, the charming sci-fi leading man from ‘Quantum Leap’ and ‘Star Trek: Enterprise,’ and Andre Braugher, whose tour de force performances as Det. Frank Pembleton on ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ won him an Emmy Award for outstanding actor. Like Joe, they are men who are dealing with muddled, mid-life crises.
Braugher plays stressed car salesman Owen, ruled by his tyrannical father, owner of the dealership where he works. Bakula’s Terry is an out-of-date, out-of-work actor tangling with a woman nearly half his age. To be certain, this is not “Everybody Loves Raymond: The Sequel.”
“You’re taking a chance on a show like this,” Bakula says, “because, there’s never been a show like this before. I think there’s a newness to it. … Some people say it’s like an older ‘Entourage,’ but that’s more about show business.”
“Men of a Certain Age” is also less of an ensemble drama and more of a character study of three men whose lives usually only intersect when they’re catching up during a hike or chowing down at the nearest greasy spoon.
In the diner scenes, Romano and company often stay in character but go off script in search of more nuanced realism or natural comedy. Braugher, who also appeared in the movies “Glory,” “Get on the Bus” and “Primal Fear,” relished the chance to learn how to summon laughs from a master.
“Ray has taught me a great deal,” Braugher says. “That’s truthfully part of what I wanted when I joined this show. I wanted to learn the art of comedy. I found out I actually already knew everything I needed to know. The stakes are just as high in comedy as they are in drama.”
Romano, who is largely untested outside of the funny business, knows he’s taking a chance with his return to TV, especially considering he’s on a network whose slogan is “We Know Drama.” Even so, he believes his fans are ready for a dose of ‘Men of Certain Age.’
“I don’t think we will shock them,” he says. “It is a drama but it’s got comedic moments. It’s just more real. It’s grounded in reality. … I just hope we can discover some new fans as well as entertain the old fans. You can never tell. My wife won’t watch it.”
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