As a rule, I’m not a big fan of “relapse” arcs, which often seem like a show spinning its wheels by revisiting dilemmas that the characters have already dealt with. I’m not over the moon about Men Of A Certain Age’s decision to simultaneously deal all three of its main characters major setbacks either, but I’m a little more forgiving in this case, for a couple of reasons: First off, the advances that Joe, Terry and Owen have made to this point have always been pretty tenuous, so it’s realistic to expect that they might have to re-face the same old challenges (if not necessarily at the exact same time). And, of course, the MoaCA writers and cast are skilled enough to find something new while re-covering old ground.
Owen gets off the easiest in “The Pickup.” He’s still being dogged by Scarpula, who suggests that he can up his offer to buy Thoreau Chevrolet. (“Ain’t nowhere to go but up from bullshit,” Owen grins.) But Owen’s bigger problem is that after all the wooing he did of top salesman Marcus earlier this season, Marcus is considering jumping ship again and joining Scarpula. He’s annoyed that Terry is challenging him for sales supremacy, and annoyed that Owen seems to let Terry skate on small infractions like coming in late or not dressing appropriately. It all comes to a head, first when Terry first steals one of Marcus’ customers while Marcus is off the floor, and then when Terry moves a flashy car to the showroom floor and bumps into Marcus intentionally, while he’s in the middle of a sales pitch. Marcus quits, and Owen calls Terry into his office and tells him that rather then being fired, Terry’s now expected to make it up to an old friend by picking up the sales-slack he just created.
That’s going to be tough though, because Terry’s a wreck right now. He had so much invested in the idea of having a mature, rest-of-his-life relationship with Erin that her rejection has sent him spiraling into depression. He’s sleeping late; he’s given up on hiking Mt. Whitney for his 50th birthday; he’s eating junk food; and he’s back to hitting on any woman in the immediate vicinity. And because he won’t talk to anyone about what’s going on, Terry keeps making it worse for himself. Every time his friends mention how lucky he is to have Erin, or they throw him a surprise birthday party, or they demand he make a speech, they’re pushing him further over the edge. Soon he’s smoking pot, and showing up at work even later and even more underdressed.
I mentioned the writers finding something new on old ground, and the Terry story exemplifies that. We’ve known Terry as a hopeless slack-ass, but before he’s been a likably hopeless slack-ass. With this new Terry, there’s an angry edge to his apathy. And on the positive side, this new Owen is weathering the setback of losing Marcus with a lot more aplomb than than the old Owen would’ve. He’s almost… sanguine. And definitely still in charge of the situation.
Joe, however, is another story. The big development in Joe’s life in “The Pickup” is that he’s returned to gambling, albeit from a different side. When he helps Manfro out by picking up some money he’s owed, he also takes the customer’s action on a game that night, and the old juices start flowing again. But Joe’s problems run deeper than just his addiction flaring back up. He’s declared that that day after he turns 50 he’s going to qualify for the PGA Senior Tour, but his swing coach seems to have decided that he’s wasting his money, and when he tries to rally at the range by using his visualization technique, he fails miserably. That’s mainly because Joe’s not as committed to golf as he’d like to be. He’s still sweating a lot of details at the store that Maria should be taking care of, plus he’s running errands for Manfro, and helping his kids and his ex-wife with their stuff.
So while I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude towards how Men Of A Certain Age handles knocking its characters back a few squares, I do appreciate what “The Pickup” acknowledges about how hard it is to make changes in your life. Just saying “it’s getting better” doesn’t make it so.
- Prime example of how MoaCA turns a humorous observation into a significant character detail: Joe gets annoyed at how one of his employees asks “Any holes in one?” every time Joe returns from the range, because it shows such a shallow understanding of a game Joe loves; at the same time, the employee’s question assures that Joe will feel like a failure every time he walks into the store.
- Joe helped supply Terry’s surprise party. “Vinyl banner, that’s all me.”
- I wonder if the diner conversation about how Joe can’t sit on his wallet because he gets “ass-bone trouble” is a direct nod to a similar conversation in the Homicide: Life On The Street episode “A Doll’s Eyes.” Either way, it gives Andre Braugher a chance to boast, “I got a man’s ass.”
- Did anyone else think that Albert’s wild behavior on-stage at the high school talent show was a sign that he’s on drugs?
- Owen, resolving a dispute between Marcus and Terry: “Everybody happy? No? Then I’ve done my job.” (In the same conversation he adds, “You’re Jordan and… you’re both good.”)
- Owen, explaining the way of things to Terry: “You can’t take away a guy’s sale because he’s a dick, otherwise you’d have zero.”
- Owen thinks his wry quips put him in the same league as George Carlin. Joe and Melissa disagree.
- “Saturday, I supposed to work morning, but dentist….”