Hold your head up, indeed.
Well, that was an exceedingly fun Men Of A Certain Age tonight, my friends: thrilling, funny, moving. A shade too pat and a hair too silly? Perhaps. (I have a problem with one element in particular, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.) But any episode that hinges on the outcomes of two ballgames is an okay episode by me, especially when it pulls back at the end to reveal just what those outcomes mean—and what they don’t.
The biggest game is a softball match-up between Thoreau Chevrolet (the Thoreau All-Stars!) and Scarpulla’s team, who are fitter, cockier, and have better uniforms. Plus they have Marcus, who shows no sign of taking it easy on—or even being the least bit kind to—his former employers. When Terry tries to apologize for running him over in the last episode, Marcus just grins and walks on by. As much as I questioned last week’s undoing of a lot of the progress this show’s characters had made, I can’t deny that Marcus makes a great villain.
Terry’s storyline in “A League Of Their Owen” provides the episode with its one bum moment, in my opinion. He has a touching scene with Erin, whom he goes to see to ask whether they’re really through. (“I don’t know if I’m waiting for you, or trying to forget you,” he says, which is a line that should resonate with anyone who’s ever gone through a breakup.) He has some strong scenes too with Stella, the youngster he went home with after his birthday party last week. Owen laughs when Terry describes Stella as “different” from the other way-too-young girls he’s slept with, but Terry really does try to make a go of things with Stella. He goes out clubbing with her friends, and even meets her parents. (He impresses Stella’s dad with his knowledge of George McGovern.) But around the time he’s looking into her fridge full of Stonyfield Yogurt, Terry starts to question what he’s doing back in this place in his life. So he bails, without saying goodbye.
It’s the not-saying-goodbye part that bothered me a little. It seemed unnecessarily mean, and designed only to set up the offbeat bit of drama later at the softball game, where Stella shows up in the late innings, flips Terry off, then drives onto the field and literally steals second base (while chanting “asshole”). But the sudden Stella appearance does play well against the return of Erin, who also shows up at the game to show her support for Terry in sports and—apparently—in life. “Stay to the end?” Terry asks, meaning more than just softball.
The game means the most though to Owen, which is a surprise even to him, since when the episode begins he has no interest in softball at all, figuring that his dad would coach the dealership’s team the way he always has. But Thoreau Chevrolet’s in a slump, having gone three days without a first sale for the first time since 1992, during the riots. So Owen Sr. wants his son to take charge of the team and rally the troops, even though Owen’s not so sure that selling cars is really a team event.
Case-in-point: during practice, Owen’s players are “fighting over positions they all suck at.” And his service department—the best athletes in the dealership—are refusing to play, until Owen tells them that they can clock in and get time-and-a-half. Then at the game, the salesmen refuse to share their beer with the service guys, and when word gets out that the mechanics are being paid—via a slip by Joe’s employee Maria, a softball star whom Owen figured would be good because she’s a lesbian—an already sour atmosphere in the dugout turns downright poisonous.
Look, I’m sure we all knew where this episode was going. Even though Men Of A Certain Age is more than willing to wallow in the feeling of defeat, “A League Of Their Owen” clearly isn’t setting us up for that. The fall-and-rise arc here is well-telegraphed. But it was still so damned satisfying. When Marcus needles Owen from the mound, and then Owen trips on the basepaths before he can get to first base, his employees realize that whatever problems they have with each other, their boss is a good guy who doesn’t deserve to be embarrassed like this. So they rally around him, and start to dig out of the hole they’re in. It all comes down to a bottom-of-the-last-inning, two-out hit by Owen off of Marcus, which drives in Lawrence from second to tie the game. But as Owen explained to Terry at practice, once he gets going he’s an unstoppable freight train. So while a a boy in the stands blows a whistle—and Argent pumps away on the soundtrack—Owen charges for home and barrels over the catcher, scoring the winning run. Did I cheer in my easy chair? Yes, I did. And I cheered again over the closing credits, as Owen stands in front of his team at work, wipes the sales-board clean, and writes the final score of the game instead. 9-8!
“A League Of Their Owen” doesn’t leave out the pathos either. The other ballgame in the episode is a Cubs/Brewers game that Joe’s watching on his cell phone while the softball game is going on. Joe’s still taking bets from the restauranteur, which impresses his occasional sex-buddy Michelle, who shows up unexpectedly and now thinks of Joe as “a dangerous guy with a secret.” The very fact that Michelle loves to see Joe making collections shows that she’s not the woman for him. (That and the way he introduces her to his family by saying, “She, um… we, um… this is Michelle.”) Joe wins his game, but can’t really enjoy it because he looks up from his phone to see Owen celebrating with Melissa, and Terry hugging Erin, and even his own dad (who’s in town for a visit) snuggling up to his girlfriend Connie. Meanwhile, Joe has Michelle, whom he doesn’t even like that much. Oh, and a winning bet, of which he’s ashamed.
But if “A League Of Their Owen” shows anything, it’s that there may be hope for Joe. All he as to do is get out of his own head, and out of his own space. He just needs a team.
- “Yogurt is what girls eat, dad.”
- “God, I hate your penis.”
- “It’s either softball or the one puzzle I own again.”
- While Joe’s talking to his new gambling client, Maria pops into the office in a devil costume. Nice visual gag.
- If Joe’s really going to do this bookie thing, he really needs to get the MLB At Bat app for his phone.
- Joe tells Owen and Terry that they could both stand to spend some time in a bounce-house, and that he doesn’t mean that in a double-entendre kind of way. Then later, Michelle walks up to Joe next to the bounce-house and growls, “I’d like to give this thing a try, if you know what I mean, Joe.”