The timing couldn't be better for this week's announcement by FX that the current — and best to date — season of Sons of Anarchy is being expanded by an extra episode (No. 14 will now air Dec. 6). It's a gift to fans and represents an even bigger thank-you to series creator Kurt Sutter, whose show has been racking up record ratings. With more conflict within and outside the motorcycle club this season, and SAMCRO no longer invincibly running the town of Charming (something I always found more pandering than credible), the tension has been building to a breaking point. Tonight, things break wide open.
The season's extra climactic hour will give Sutter some necessary breathing room to wrap up all the tangled elements of this explosive season — but it's hard to imagine the season finale topping tonight's harrowing and pivotal blockbuster (10/9c), which puts its central "old ladies," Katey Sagal as Gemma and Maggie Siff as Tara, through the wringer, emotionally and in some instances physically. The suspense is electric from the start, as Jax and Tara (and their young 'uns) embark on a road trip to Tara's medical conference, unaware that Clay has put a deadly hit in motion, defying Gemma's pleas on her daughter-in-law's behalf. The consequences and subsequent confrontations are blistering in impact and portend major dramatic fallout in the weeks to come. That extra hour FX is providing is a welcome but hardly unexpected vote of confidence for a season that truly deserves it.
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The night's other top recommendation is for a show that could give you whiplash with all the roller-coaster ups and downs in its wildly varying quality. Following what many agree was one of its weakest episodes last week — what school anywhere, let alone Ohio, would condone abusing an exchange student so mercilessly? — Fox's Glee (8/7c) rebounds with one of its very best, a provocative and emotionally charged instant classic that melds the dynamic music of West Side Story with a new angle on teen sexuality (straight and gay, this being Glee) that is both creatively and sensitively handled. With opening night of the school musical (the Bernstein classic) looming, romantic leads Rachel/Maria and Blaine/Tony realize they lack the life experience — as in, they're still virgins — to sell this story of sexual awakening. Not to worry; Glee isn't condoning going all the way as a new form of Method training. The situation prompts Rachel and Finn, and Blaine and Kurt, to examine their relationships and decide if the time is right to make "The First Time" (the episode title) truly special. Adding to the pressure: Blaine meets a new admirer when he goes back to Dalton Academy to give the Warblers tickets to the show, causing Kurt's jealous insecurities to flare. Do we care that this might as well be happening in a separate universe from the Glee of a week ago? Not really. That continuity ship sailed long ago. Best to just enjoy this show whenever it hits a high note and enjoy it while it lasts.
Stay tuned afterward for another riotous episode of New Girl (9:01/8:01c), in which the roomies' dynamic is thrown even further askew when Jess' bombshell best friend Cece (Hannah Simone) temporarily moves in. While the pathetic Schmidt (the hilarious Max Greenfield) desperately tries to prove he's a "closer" who can land this top model, Cece tries to convince Jess that Nick (Jake Johnson) is sending out amorous vibes, even if neither realizes it. Only on this show could calling someone "a total Matthau" (as in Walter) be seen as a compliment. I am beyond charmed.
Honoring the Veterans: I'm still reeling from Scott Pelley's powerfully moving 60 Minutes report on Sunday about "Operation Proper Exit," a cathartic program in which soldiers return to the Iraqi war zone to come to grips with their physical and psychological wounds. It was a very fitting warm-up to this week's various specials commemorating Veterans' Day, with the centerpiece being History's three-night, six-hour panorama of combat, carnage and camaraderie, Vietnam in HD (9/8c, airing through Thursday). Using archival footage and home movies, much of it raw and candid as shot by soldiers in the line of fire, this docu-series tells the story of the conflict through first-person accounts, with the actual voices of the veterans blurring sometimes awkwardly into narration by a variety of actors. (Michael C. Hall provides the big-picture narration.) Also of note, for DVD collectors: HBO this week is releasing a boxed set on DVD and Blu-Ray combining its two landmark Emmy-winning war miniseries, Band of Brothers and The Pacific, in a special edition, including a new documentary extra, "He Has Seen War," in which veterans of Easy Company (Brothers) and the 1st Marine Division (Pacific) and their families give testimony.
In advance of Wednesday's broadcast of the always-popular CMA Awards on ABC, Good Morning America's co-anchor Robin Roberts headlines an In the Spotlight: All Access Nashville special (10/9c). She visits Keith Urban's Nashville home (which he shares with Nicole Kidman), listens in as Faith Hill records her first album of original songs in six years, rides in Kenny Chesney's flying chair, a prop that soars over his audience during his national tour, and travels with Sugarland back to Indiana, to discuss the tragic stage collapse at the State Fair this summer that killed seven people.
So what else is on? ... CBS' NCIS (8/7c) begins a two-part story that sparks memories of Gibbs' Marine past, as the team investigates the crash of a military plane transporting caskets containing soldiers from overseas. ... On the CW's 90210 (8/7c), Teddy impulsively decides to say "I Do" to boyfriend Shane during the gang's road trip to Las Vegas. ... The boss takes a rare trip into the field on USA Network's Covert Affairs (10/9c), when Arthur (Peter Gallagher, too often underused on this show) travels to Berlin, with Annie as his handler, to deal with a potential asset he knew when she was a Stasi agent during the Cold War. ... The legendary college-football rivalry of Auburn and Alabama is explored in the ESPN Films' documentary Roll Tide/War Eagle (8/7c). I refuse to take sides.
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