Embracing Father Time, and, in one case, the poundage that accompanies him, three old friends turn up tomorrow at 10 p.m. on TNT.

Introducing Gray Romano, Scott You Can't Go Bakula, and Andre the Giant Braugher. Their show, Men of a Certain Age, premieres after a new episode of The Closer.

If you watched any of the Phillies' run-up to the World Series, you saw at least 100 promos for the show, which begins at an odd, yet propitious, time, when most everything else on television is in reruns or operating in artificially cheerful and/or poignant holiday mode. Here is a new series, not much like things you've seen before, just when there's time to watch it.

It's a holiday-time gift from three beloved TV veterans, two with acting Emmys and one, Bakula, with a Golden Globe, who graciously take roles that go against the ancient tradition that keeps matinee idols virile, hot, and handsome until they die.

OK, these three are not exactly Cary Grant, Paul Newman, and Brad Pitt, but, like almost all the aging actresses who continue to find work, and unlike most men, they bravely shed whatever youthful image they once had to explore the vagaries of middle age. When you see Braugher, hard as nails in Homicide: Life on the Street, exposing his remarkably flabby body early in the pilot, you admire his bravery and realize that Men of a Certain Age is something different.

Middle age is hard, and so is this show. Are you supposed to laugh at these guys, or sympathize with them? Yes. Men of a Certain Age, created by Romano and Mike Royce, an executive producer on Everybody Loves Raymond, has a few obvious jokes in each episode, but suffers from the malady that plagues all dramedies: It instills discomfort in an audience accustomed to a little more obviousness in their television.

That discomfort is also the strength of dramedies: They're different, a little more real, perhaps not for everyone, but worth a shot. In this case, it might take you three or four episodes to decide if you want to keep up with these guys. I do. And the fact that the show is on cable means everybody will at least have the chance to get hooked.

The three play friends for life, on the shy side of 50. Romano's Joe owns a party supply store, has two teenagers, and is just separated from his wife, and living, temporarily permanently, in a hotel. Bakula, who gets to hold onto his youth a bit more than the other two, is a perpetually single actor who at his age finds a lot more office-temp work (his office has quite a bit in common with The Office) than on-screen employment.

Braugher, one of the finest TV actors of the last two decades, gets the meatiest part, and that's not a joke on his middle-age body. He's the father of two young boys with a loving wife (The Practice's Lisa Gay Hamilton), who works as a salesman at the car dealership owned by his stern father (perpetual guest star Richard Gant).

You would expect him, as the boss' son, to have a plush position, but, as with most other things in Men of a Certain Age, you do not get what you would expect.

TV aims primarily at a female audience, and in almost every comedy, and in many dramas, too (remember?), the men are lovable buffoons who are lost without the help of a good woman. Men of a Certain Age does not stand for that traditional role.

In another show, Joe would go on his first date in 20 years, and it would wind up in some sort of humiliating disaster brought on by his inability to stop thinking about sex. In this series, the disaster evolves, but at the end, the woman thanks Joe for the date: "It made me remember when I used to go out because it was fun. Dating isn't fun anymore. It's like a job interview."

A lot of TV has gotten like that. You'll have to decide for yourself if Men of a Certain Age is fun, but it's certainly better than the many shows these days that make a job interview seem like a fine old time.

Jonathan Storm:

Television

Men of a Certain Age

Premieres tomorrow night at 10 on TNT.

Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/storm.