For those worried that Men Of A Certain Age was getting too sunny, welcome to “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” one of the bleakest episodes—and during one scene, one of the most harrowing—since the start of this second season. With the finale looming next week, it’s as though the writers wanted to make sure we knew that these guys still have plenty of trials to endure.
Not that it’s all sour. Terry is settling in with Erin—or vice-versa I should say, since it’s her boxes cluttering up his apartment—and the two of them are reminiscing fondly about their acting days while looking at each other’s headshots. (“Why you wearin’ the overalls?” “Those were my best pair of pants.”) The only thing really bothering Terry in “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” is that Owen wants him to appear in Thoreau Chevrolet’s latest TV commercial, and Terry doesn’t want to re-open that door to his past. But he reluctantly agrees, because Owen needs him, and the commercial they do is slick, classy, well-acted… and completely boring. Terry suggests that if Owen wants to compete with Scarpulla’s goofy, hip-hop-themed ad, he should make something just as stupid and memorable, with Lawrence dressed up in silly costumes in front of green-screen. When the shoot is over, he realizes that he still has no interest in acting, but he might be catching the directing bug. (This fits neatly with his last big acting experience, which involved helping his action-star friend improve his script. The boy has a knack.)
The problem with Terry taking charge of the commercial is that it becomes one more hassle for Owen, who can’t take much more stress. He’s been waking up in the middle of the night to go over the dealership’s books, which are drowning in red ink. He’s been staying late at work to take care of all the little details that the now-fired Bruce would’ve handled, like making sure that the car wash is working before offering freebies to prospective customers and making sure that there are enough salesmen on the schedule to reel in the fish on free-car-wash-day. There’s a painfully tense moment about halfway through the episode where Owen is alone in his office and having a panic attack, so frozen that he can’t even cross the room to answer his phone. And then a second line starts to ring. Brutal.
And that’s not even the roughest moment in “Whatever Gets You Through The Night.” Having decided to recommit himself to his business—“Store comes first. It’s gotta, right?”—Joe has a little trouble getting his staff to pitch in on a weekend remodeling session, because they’ve had it with doing extra work for no extra pay. But he wins them back, and gets the store in shape… just in time for Manfro to walk through the door and start trashing the place.
That was some hard stuff to watch right there: Manfro raging against Joe for taking Manfro’s business while he was sick. Even though Joe has a reason (sort of), and even though he might’ve avoided this trouble if he was willing to be honest with himself and others about his gambling problem, Manfro is not in an understanding mood, perhaps because he knows that Joe’s friendship has always been tenuous to begin with. So he shoves Joe into the jukebox that just got fixed and knocks out one of his teeth. (“Look what you made me do!” Manfro hisses, before telling Joe that if he wants to save the tooth, he should put it in milk and head straight for the dentist.) Joe’s lucky that Terry comes in right after Manfro leaves—bringing the costumes back from the commercial shoot—and is able to rush Joe to get treatment. But it’s telling that Joe dismisses Manfro as some homeless guy, and can’t tell one of his best friends what’s really going on.
There’s some upside to Joe’s situation. At the dentist, he sees Dory, and she pulls him aside and urges him not to “let Bad Joe win.” Inspired by that, he pulls his chipping green out of the trash, grabs his clubs, and goes back to the range. So he’s golfing again, and he may have reconnected with a woman he really likes. But while I’d hoped that he might come back to the store to find that his employees had cleaned up the mess, he returns to see the place still a shambles. It’s like what Joe tells Terry and Owen when they ask what kind of message he’s sending his son by quitting golf: “Maybe he’ll see that you can’t neglect shit and then it magically works out.”
- Owen makes a good point when he tells Terry that appearing in a commercial will boost his sales, since customers “want to talk to the TV guy.” That Terry isn’t that interested may be an indicator of where his future lies. (Hint: Not auto sales.)
- I’m not sure I could’ve taken another crisis in this episode, but still, I found Melissa’s understanding of what’s Owen’s going through a little convenient. It’s great that she’s not the stereotypical significant-other-as-constant-pain-in-the-ass that TV and movies like so much, but I don’t want her to become the stereotypical I’ll-support-you-no-matter-what TV wife either. (Basically, I’d just like the character to be involved in the stories more, even though I know the title is Men of a certain age.)
- Framed differently, the Carlos character could come off as too cartoonish, but I think MoaCA does an admirable job of playing up the comic side of his communication issues with Joe without ever making fun of him or his ethnicity. It helps that the character is such a good guy. I love the shot of him under the plastic sheeting, calling in friends to help with the painting.
- Playing B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria” while Joe tries to make amends to Maria: too on-the-nose?
- Owen, Sr.’s none-too-thrilled with Terry’s dumb commercials, or how the shoot left the dealership looking trashed. I anticipate a confrontation between father and son about the direction of the business next week, but in the meantime, if the characters can hear me, I have a suggestion: Maybe Owen, Sr., could come out of retirement for a bit and be his son’s Bruce?
- Joe to Owen, when the latter says he’s been waking up a lot at night: “Work stuff? Or just peein’?”