Tnt, Michael Becker, Fox
Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula in "Men of a Certain Age."

Ray Romano returns to television on Monday night in a new weekly series. But if you're expecting "Everybody Loves Raymond," you're going to be sorely disappointed.

Not that "Men of a Certain Age" (8 and 11 p.m., TNT) isn't good. It is. This hour-long comedy/drama — or maybe drama/comedy — grows on you the more you see of it.

And if "Men" isn't a full 180 degrees away from "Raymond," well, it's a good 160 degrees away from it.

It's about as low key as it could be. Almost slice of life. Slice of not-so-great life.

"Men of a Certain Age" could have been titled "Three Men and Their Midlife Crises."

Romano — who co-created the show with "Raymond" veteran Mike Royce — stars as the neurotic Joe. He's in the midst of a divorce he doesn't seem to really want. A divorce that's being caused in large part by his gambling problem.

Joe really wants to be a professional golfer, but instead, he owns a party supply store. He's living in a cheap motel and trying to stay connected to his two kids.

Scott Bakula ("Star Trek: Enterprise") stars as Terry, an aging, mostly out-of-work actor who's working a temp job. He's still successful with (younger) ladies, but his life is pretty empty.

And Andre Braugher ("Homicide: Life on the Streets") stars as Owen, a roly-poly car salesman who has a great wife and three small children.

But he's dealing with diabetes. And not particularly well. He's also got a boss — his father — who treats him like dirt. And, at home, there are unending renovations that he can't really afford.

All three men are pushing 50 and wondering what's in store for what remains of their lives.

In most TV shows, the characters live lives that seem at least relatively attractive. There's not a character in "Men of a Certain Age" with whom you'd want to trade places.

Joe, Terry and Owen have been friends since college. And they remain buddies.

They support each other through their various trials and tribulations, but in an entirely guy way. They razz each other mercilessly.

And that's where a lot of the humor originates. Because, despite the grimness of their lives, Joe, Terry and Owen are genuinely funny. Just not in a sitcommy sort of way.

When Owen is awakened by his son, who's wearing an Incredible Hulk outfit and shooting a toy gun at him — it's funny.

When Terry tries to get Owen to eat a healthy snack and Joe says, "He won't eat it. You've got to hide it in a hamburger" — it's funny.

When Joe asks one of his employees, "You think (my son is) like me?" and the employee replies, "You mean, goofy?" — it's funny.

Hey, two of the "Men" inadvertently break the third's nose — and it's funny.

But seeing these guys struggle is also sad. This is a more complicated show than you might expect.

Honestly, I wasn't quite sure if I liked "Men of a Certain Age" after watching the first episode. After "Raymond," it was sort of jarring.

After watching a second episode, I was intrigued. After watching a third episode, I was hooked. After two more episodes, I was still hooked.

A slow start will kill a show on a broadcast network. Fortunately, TNT has more patience. Which it very well might need.

Just to be clear, don't expect "Men of a Certain Age" to in any way resemble "Everybody Loves Raymond." And that includes the fact that "Men" is not a family friendly show.

Not only are there very adult themes, but there's very strong language. It's not on HBO, but it is on TNT. And the same standards that apply to a broadcast network don't apply on cable.

But if you give "Men of a Certain Age" a chance — if you watch at least a couple of episodes — you'll be rewarded for your patience.

e-mail: [email protected]