STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $39.98

RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 432 Minutes

• Behind-the-Scenes Features
• Deleted Scenes
• Gag Reel
• Commentary

The Pitch

3 friends struggle with middle-aged life and how to cope with impending changes in their lives.

The Humans

Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula

Life after Everybody Loves Raymond proved dismal indeed

The Nutshell

Joe (Ray Romano), Owen (Andre Braugher), and Terry (Scott Bakula) have been friends since college and have each done different things with their lives.  Joe fell short of his aspirations of becoming a professional golfer and owns a party supply store.  He’s separated from his wife, has 2 teenage kids, and has a gambling problem.  He also lives in a hotel.  Owen, an overstressed diabetic, works at his father’s car dealership and is constantly berated because of his weight and his lackluster sales performance when compared to his father’s younger, slimmer, and more charismatic right-hand man Marcus. Terry is somewhat of a has-been actor working temp job after temp job and spending most of his time finding a new woman to bring home.  He smokes pot regularly and compared to Joe and Owen lives a reasonably laid-back life, but is anything but care-free, and is tired of the notion that he’s “Peter Pan”. Together they hike up mountains and run over animals while pondering what their lives have become.  Well, there’s more to it than that.

The Lowdown

When you think of Ray Romano, you probably think of Everybody Loves Raymond.  When you think of Andre Braugher, you probably think of Homicide: Life on the Street.  And when you think of Scott Bakula, you probably think of Lord of Illusions.  No?  Ok, maybe Quantum Leap, then.  Bottom line is, these are 3 actors with variably impressive bodies of work.  You know who they are, and what they’ve been in as soon as you see them.  Say what you will about Raymond, but the show was a success for the 9 seasons that it was on, and made Ray Romano a household name.  Andre Braugher’s work on Homicide was nothing short of amazing, and Scott Bakula’s turn on Quantum Leap helped gain him and that show the recognition it still has to this day.  All 3 leads do an incredible job, Romano especially.  The guy has rea
l dramatic range, and should most definitely surprise a few people who think they know what to expect.  Braugher has never been what you would call “svelte” since his early days on Homicide, but he purposefully does nothing in this role to hide the pounds, and it actually adds to his performance.  If you ever wanted to see Detective Frank Pembleton in his tighty-whities, this is your chance!

At LeapCon 2010, fans demanded that Scott Bakula reenact a scene from the lost Gilligan’s Island crossover episode

Putting these guys together might have made the least sense on paper, but has turned out to be a pretty inspired choice on the part of the showrunner, Mike Royce, who was Raymond‘s executive producer for the show’s final 2 seasons.  Together with Romano he created this series, and couldn’t have picked two more solid leads to accompany Romano.  The guys have real, unrehearsed chemistry, and if we didn’t know any better, we’d absolutely believe that these guys have known each other for 20+ years.  There is an inherent warmth to their scenes together, especially when they are together for their almost ritualistic breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the diner they frequent, Norms, which I had no idea is an actual diner chain in Southern California.  Here, they talk about their problems and poke fun at each other.  This is the one place that we really get a sense of how close these guys are.

Part of what makes this slice of life show work, and feel so real, is the fact that there are no contrived situations that the characters find themselves in.  All too often in dramatic television there are hooks or plot twists or things that come out of nowhere as plot devices in an attempt to retain viewership from week to week.  This show doesn’t have to rely on such contrivances; these characters are simply experiencing everyday life.  It could become monotonous, but it never does.  Another routine other than the dinner that the guys engage in regularly is a morning hike up the side of a mountain.  In the very first episode, on the way to their hike Joe accidentally runs over a possum.  Not sure if it’s dead or not, his conscience won’t allow him to just continue driving; he has to back over it and run over it again to make absolutely sure it’s dead.  The guys then see it in the rearview mirror walking away.  It’s the little moments like this that make this show work.  I can absolutely see myself having the same crisis of faith in a moment like that.  It sounds silly, but we’ve all probably felt bad about hitting a squirrel with our car.

“What do you mean Hack got cancelled?!?”

Along with Joe having a gambling problem and placing bets therein, inevitably comes his bookie, Burt Manfro (Jon Manfrellotti), who we learn isn’t some stereotypical “break your kneecaps” kind of bookie; he runs the business with his mother and in a way befriends Joe, all while taking his bets and collecting payments.  It’s alluded to that he could be violent, and it’s joked about, but it never happens.  When Joe can’t make a payment, he doesn’t smash Joe’s car or kick his ass, he calls his mom and gets yelled at by her.  He’s hilarious, and the episode where he and Joe break into the hotel pool after hours is one of the best.

Probably the best episode of the season is episode 6 in which Joe recounts the story of his first date in 20 years.  We learn at the beginning of the episode that he has a black eye, but we don’t know how he got it until the end.  The awkwardness of a first date for a teenager is one thing, but it’s a whole different story when it’s a 48 year-old guy who is just as naive and lacking of self-confidence.  It’s all pretty sweet, actually, and you kinda wonder how Joe was married and had 2 kids in the first place.  He’s a stark contrast to Terry who wakes up with a different woman in his bed practically every morning. 

If you couldn’t figure it out already, I really love this show.  It’s frequently hilarious, and the interplay between the guys is never dull, never boring.  I challenge anyone to find even one scene that drags or doesn’t belong.  That being said, this isn’t a water cooler show.  You aren’t gonna call your buddies after an episode and say “OH MY GOD DID YOU SEE THAT?!?!” but it’s something you may tell someone about with a certain fondness, like you’re referring to an old friend.  And it’s certainly not the best show on TV (although i’d put it in the top 10), but it’s a heartwarming affirmation of what friendship is.  It succeeds in creating characters we can care about that break away from the characters we’re used to on television.  It might sound dull to think of a show about middle-aged guys talking, but it’s more about guys “coming of age”….middle-age, that is.  It’s The Wonder Years for 40-somethings.

Scott Bakula’s performance of “Fate’s Wide Wheel” wasn’t too well received.

The Package

The disc is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and for standard definition the transfer is quite nice when upscaled, but i’m disappointed that studios are still releasing standard definition sets and forgoing the HD route. There are 2 commentaries, one for the Pilot and one for the season finale.  Both feature the 3 main leads and Mike Royce, and are absolutely hilarious, especially in the Pilot where the guys make a big thing about a continuity error in which Owen’s napkin that he has tucked into his collar while eating falls off and then in the next scene is back again magically.  There is also a Gag Reel which only lasts 7 minutes and includes some nice improv from Manfro.  Along with that there are some short behind the scenes features which take us on the set with the actors for a couple minutes each, but I would have liked to see a proper “Making Of” featurette.

9.0 out of 10