"Whatever I am... what if he's worse?" - JoeIf "Mind's Eye" had contained nothing but that wonderful David Simon Worlds Collide moment where Owen (aka Frank Pembleton from "Homicide") met the older customer (aka Stan Valchek from "The Wire") looking for The Fat Guy, it would still be my favorite episode of this young series so far(*).
(*) In the morning, you'll see my list of the best shows of 2009. At one point, it was going to be two separate lists of 10 - one for new shows, one for returning series - but I couldn't quite come up with 10 new shows I was totally happy with, while the returning shows list was getting overstuffed, so I combined it into one list of 20. But if this show had been on the air for even a few weeks longer in the year, I think it would have been a strong contender for a spot at the back of the hypothetical new shows list. Four just didn't feel like enough.
The show is always about the three guys facing the uncomfortable truths of their certain age, and those truths were particularly uncomfortable for them in "Mind's Eye": that Owen's job makes him (and others) miserable, that Joe's son has inherited the anxiety that makes Joe so unhappy, and that maybe Terry envies his settled-down friends more than he wants to miss.
The Owen story was the definite highlight of the three, allowing Andre Braugher to combine the shlubby everyman quality of his performance so far with a bit of cocky Pembleton flash. And who doesn't dream of a chance to reinvent their job so they only have to deal with the fun stuff (hugs, smiles, moving up the sales leaderboard) with none of the headaches (awkward negotiations, customers resenting you, pressure from the bosses)?
The only part I didn't quite understand - and, admittedly, I'm ignorant about how a sales commission job like this works - is why Owen's check for the month would have been that low. I get that he was making sales below market value, but his total sales were way up, and it wasn't like he was letting the dealership take a loss on any sale. Wouldn't the volume of sales compared to a normal Owen month lead to at least a comparable check, if not a slightly better one? Or does Owen's dad have the ability to give Owen a lousy check just to spite him for not playing by the dealership's rules?
While Owen's resentment of Terry would keep him from ever admitting it, he was playing a role as The Fat Guy, just as Terry winds up role-playing as the family man home-buyer, and Scott Bakula had fun playing off of guest star Cynthia Watros, and at showing Terry's dawning realization that the role would be a lot more fun if it were real.
And Ray Romano continues to do some really interesting, small dramatic work as Joe deals with the parental nightmare of having passed his worst qualities on to one of his kids. I liked that Joe's big speech in the parking lot didn't really fix anything - that we cut from what should be this big inspiring moment to Albert riding in the car with his dad (which no doubt will lead to more teasing from the other kids, and therefore more anxiety). It rang true, and it was funny at the same time it was sad.
Even though "The Closer" aired its last episode of '09 tonight, there's a new "Men of a Certain Age" next week, which I guess is TNT's way of seeing how the show can do without its flagship series as a lead-in.
What did everybody else think?