Men of a Certain Age — Men of a Certain Age — which starred Ray Romano, Scott Bakula, and Andre Braugher — was a mature, languidly paced program more about themes and character than about plot, a rich examination of middle-aged malaise, a realistic and intimate portrait of three men dealing with life in their late 40s. Billed as a comedy, “Men of a Certain Age” was more of a drama with a light, somewhat amusing sensibility, much like Parenthood with a larger focus on friendship instead of family. It was a show that rarely hit the big notes or wallowed in the lows — it levitated, floating through thematic complications with comfortable ease, gradually piling on the smaller conflicts, crescendoing to satisfying but never overcooked conclusions. Men of a Certain Age was warm and compelling, a show that embraced middle age as much as it feared it.
Once and Again — From Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick — the guys behind My So Called Life and thirtysomething — Once and Again has a similar sensibility to both of those shows. The series — about two divorced fortysomethings (Sela Ward and Billy Campbell) with children — navigated all the hiccups that re-entering the dating world with kids might entail for both the adults and the children. It was a quiet and rueful drama that managed so successfully, like Friday Night Lights, to merge both exuberance and achiness, and though it was very suburban, and white, and idealistic, Once and Again nailed so much of the uncertainty that attends both divorce and new love.
Southland — Through five seasons, few shows captured simple human drama the way that Southland did. Low-rated on NBC and eventually picked up by TNT, Southland never seemed to be that interested in doing the sort of things that increase ratings or draw in new viewers. There was no procedural component to Southland, and even the serialized nature of the show was secondary to what the drama was attempting to do, which was to capture the spirit of what it’s like to be a cop. The big takeaway from five seasons of Southland, in fact, was that the job of a police officer is not, ultimately, to prevent crime, but to move it around, displace it, or time shift it. Nothing ever changes: They investigate murders; they catch some bad guys, and sometimes they don’t; they write tickets; they follow leads; and they put up with bullsh*t from a citizenry that not only takes law enforcement for granted, but pay them little respect. It was five seasons of Sissyphus pushing that goddamn rock up the mountain, but for those of us who watched it, we gained an incredible appreciation for the work of beat cops and detectives. They get up every day, and they shovel sh*t, and they do it, not for money or the power because God knows there’s little of that in an honest cop’s life, but because every great once in a while, they make a difference, not in the crime rate, but in a single person’s life. Unfortunately, for every win, there seems to be half a dozen losses.
Rectify — Rectify comes from Ray McKinnon, and if you’ve ever seen a Ray McKinnon character, the show kind of personifies them all: It’s a kind, gentle, and graceful show, but there’s something a little sinister and dark underneath all that Southern charm that we can’t quite place our finger on. It gets inside your mind and camps out, messes with your energy, and by the end of the six episodes, it will cleave you open and rip out your soul. It’s a remarkable and often disturbing series filled with absolutely incredible performances and and a gentle, inviting tone unlike anything else on television.
Felicity — You might not think there’d be a lot of similarities between a light dramedy set in college and a show about a high-school football team, but the tender sensibilities of both shows are remarkably similar, and both Julie and Saracen are straight out of the Felicity school of characters, while Landy and Greg Blumberg’s character in Felicity fulfilled similar roles. Fifteen years later, and it’s still the best, most heartbreaking television illustration ever of a love triangle, although if you’re not Team Noel, there’s probably something wrong with your head.