Nurse Jackie, United States of Tara
What's a fanboy to do now that the phat ladies and gents of Glee have sung their last notes for the season? (Well, the top 10 finalists of So You Think You Can Dance are announced Thursday, so I'm hoping they and their "all-star" partners can help fill the void.) It's been a busy week of comings and goings on network and cable, with some shows signing off just as others (including True Blood this Sunday) launch new summer seasons. But for now, let's focus on the goings, with some parting thoughts on several spring standouts.
The season finale was metaphorically titled "Journey" in honor of the band that gave New Directions its signature song and theme for Regionals, but if ever an episode could have been titled "To Glee With Love," it's this one. Yes, the club lost the battle — and to be perfectly honest, Jonathan Groff's rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" with Vocal Adrenaline, melodramatically intercut with Quinn's arduous childbirth, kicked their butts — but Glee won the war this season for viewers' hearts and sometimes even minds. Proudly sentimental and perfectly satisfying, the episode wore its tuneful soul on its sleeve as tears flowed more freely than "Michael Landon in a sweeps week's episode of Little House on the Prairie" (and my, how I'll miss Sue Sylvester's pungent arias).
The tears start when Sue announces she'll be one of the "celebrity" judges (alongside Josh Groban, super-scary Olivia Newton-John and the reincarnation of Ted Baxter) and everyone concedes defeat. Even Will eventually succumbs to a crying jag in his jalopy. But with a little boost from Emma (who's now dating her dentist, which we now know to be John Stamos), Will convinces the group that winning isn't what the, yes, journey has been all about. "Who cares what happens when we get there, when the getting there has been so much fun?" Isn't that the truth. Is there any show this side of Modern Family that has provided as much sheer fun this season than Glee?
What happens when they get there is they get so pumped in performance Finn tells Rachel he loves her. Quinn gets labor pains when she sees her mom, and has the baby in the time it used to take Freddy Mercury to croon, "Nothing really matters to me," which means even more coming from Jesse's lips. But that speed is nothing compared to how quickly Idina Menzel is able to adopt little Beth. (Glee's realism isn't exactly its strong suit.) And New Directions gets screwed.
But not by Sue, who has an educator's awakening in the judging panel when Olivia N-J in particular starts dissing the "ragtag bunch of misfits" from this "poor person's school" as being "so 2009." (Well, who can argue? It was a very good year.) Mocked by the actual celebrities as being not unlike the New Directions kids, "underachievers with delusions of grandeur," Sue goes on the defensive and puts her nemesis' glee club at the top of her list, but it doesn't help. They don't even place. (Although the way they film Sue's opening and reading of the envelopes makes you initially wonder if something shady isn't going on.)
Which leads to the sort of improbable but classic reversal that either makes you want to give Glee a big hug or fast-forward to the next musical number. After watching the dejected kids serenade their teacher with testimonials and a killer tear-streaked cover of "To Sir With Love," Sue reveals to Will that she's harassed Principal Figgins one last time — to force him to give Glee Club one more year. (Actually, Glee has already been renewed for two years, so deal with that, Sue.) Why? Because Sue Sylvester has a heart, after all, but she cloaks it in snark, declaring she doesn't want to live in a world where she can't bust Will's chops on a weekly basis, where she can't lord the success of the Cheerios over the singing losers while describing Will's hair as a briar patch where racist animated Disney characters pop up and start singing about living on the bayou.
You know what? I wouldn't want to live in that world, either. Our lives would suck without her, without Mr. Shue, without Rachel and Finn, Kurt and Mercedes, Artie and Tina, Puck and Quinn, Santana and Brittany, and the others. Until next season, we'll have the CDs, the downloads, the DVDs, the tour, and who knows what other Glee merchandising to remind us what a true TV phenom looks and, more important in this case, sounds like.
The season ends with Mr. Shue giving back to the class the gift of song, with Puck's assist on the Hawaiian arrangement of "Over the Rainbow." But we were already pretty much over the moon by then, anyway.
Over the last few weeks, FX's terrifically entertaining and irrepressibly tangy Kentucky crime fiction has evolved into a twisted saga of fathers and sons ensnared in a deadly spiral of lies, betrayal and mutual disappointment. Justified has a rare and refreshing knack for telling stories that weave tension and humor in equal measure, and that certainly applies to the scenario that finds the coolest of U.S. Marshals, Raylan Givens, (Timothy Olyphant exuding wry sex appeal) reluctantly yoked to his lowlife dad Arlo (the very amusing Raymond J. Barry) while the converted-to-righteousness conman Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins dripping with deadly irony) squares off against his plumb-evil criminal mastermind pa, Bo (M.C. Gainey, savoring every ounce of malevolence).
The stakes are raised considerably in the finale, thanks to Boyd's rocket-launcher attack on his dad's ephedrine shipment from the Miami cartel. Father disowns son (a scene echoed later when Raylan tells his own treacherous dad, "Don't call me [Son]") as Bo visits Boyd's "church" in the woods and casts Boyd into exile, threatening to kill his flock if he doesn't leave. Boyd, beaten and bloodied (at Bo's orders by Cousin Johnny), staggers off into the woods, only to hear gunshots. He returns to find his followers slaughtered, hanging from trees. Cue crisis of faith.
The distraught Boyd is only slightly more disillusioned than Raylan, whose own sneaky dad is trying to work both sides (pretending to be an informant for the feds while passing info on to Bo) and who attempts to pull a gun (at Bo's orders) on his boy. Kinda hard to get the draw on Raylan Givens, though. He gets the upper hand and averts the ambush, shooting Arlo in the arm to draw out Bo's goons, who he justifiably kills. Loved the call to 911: "I'm going to need an ambulance. And a coroner."
But Big Bad Bo isn't finished with Raylan, who Bo plans to deliver to the reps of the deadly Miami cartel, seeking payback for the shooting that opened the series and all the mayhem that followed. Bo takes Ava hostage ("You do seem to have a penchant for getting abducted," Raylan muses to his former paramour later, while under fire). Bo also shoots Cousin Johnny to make it look like Ava offed another Crowder boy, and arranges a showdown with Raylan at Bulletville. Of course there's a Bulletville. (There actually is a Bullitsville in Kentucky, but let's not digress.) Boyd insists on coming along with Raylan to settle his score with the old man, and Raylan has to concede his childhood friend may actually have changed for the better. Not that it matters now.
At Bo's cabin, son has it out with father as Boyd argues, "There's more than one way to kill a man," but before he can pull the trigger (or not), the cartel goons open fire. Bo is killed, Boyd is wounded and takes cover in the cabin with Raylan and a finally repentant Ava. In the standoff and shootout, the male cartel driver is killed, but the girl gets away, and Boyd goes off in pursuit as Raylan stares down the barrel of his pistol, which for once he doesn't fire first. A nicely ambivalent touch to end a first season for which I had absolutely no ambivalence. I loved the tone of Justified, a whisky-smooth blend of dry wit amid brutal danger, spiced with buckets of sexy hubba-hubba. (We didn't even mention how eager Raylan's ex, Winona, is to get busy with him again, now that her smarmy husband Gary is spending nights at the Athletic Club.)
Much as I enjoyed Damages' final season and am looking forward to the beginning of the end of the run of Rescue Me, this is now hands-down my favorite FX drama, and I can't wait for season 2.
Nurse Jackie/United States of Tara
"There's a lot of pain down there," says "God" (the homeless lunatic from across the street found smoking and hiding in the hospital ceiling) as he observes the action at All Saints' Hospital in the uncompromising second-season finale of Showtime's Nurse Jackie. Plenty of pain to go around in this bleakest of black comedies, most of it generated by the inscrutable title character, played with wrenching emotional authenticity by the splendid Edie Falco. Eddie, her pharmacist ex-lover who has too much empathy for her husband at this point to reveal this darkest of sexual secrets, gives us the moral of the story when he tells Jackie: "Anyone who knows you knows they don't know you." Damn straight. And bent as well, for that matter.
"I never lied about the pain," Jackie tells her best friend Dr. O'Hara, when Jackie's lie is exposed regarding the forged X-ray she showed O'Hara to explain her pain-pill addiction. "You're really awful," says O'Hara. "That's what I'm trying to tell you," counters Jackie. Likewise, Jackie reminds her outraged spouse Kevin, "I keep telling you I'm no prize and you won't listen." He's listening now, having discovered she took money from O'Hara against his wishes. "Yes, that's everything," she assures him, but she hasn't even scratched the terrible surface. And when Kevin finds the mystery safe-deposit key on her key ring, he goes snooping, finding the credit-card charges for her multiple prescription-drug buys. Intervention time!
Was there no light in Monday's season finale? Bless you, nurse Zoey, for bringing some romantic comic relief, presenting a pocket watch to smitten paramedic Lenny after he gifts her with multiple packets of duck sauce. "What's it for, years of service?" "I hope so," she says, as they kiss. And my other favorite nurse, Thor, has his own moment of triumph. He comes to Jackie's rescue, tackling to the ground the former patient who was threatening her for having stolen some $12,000 worth of drugs while he was collapsed. "I love you just a little bit more than I did an hour ago," Jackie tells Thor. Given that an hour ago he and Jackie were doing an impromptu tap dance to keep relapsed alcoholic nurse Sam alert (after Sam punched Coop for sleeping with his girlfriend), I don't think it's possible to love Thor more.
The episode and season end with stark and powerful ambiguity as Kevin and O'Hara ambush Jackie at home at the end of another long and messed-up day. "You're a drug addict," Kevin tells his wife as she storms off to the bathroom, where she takes a good long look at herself in the mirror and barks a bitter laugh. Her defiant last words: "Blow me." Is she talking to them, to herself, to whatever God she may or may not believe in? Either way, Jackie Peyton is one of TV's most fascinating and maddening characters, and her show reigns over all of pay cable's half-hours.
Including United States of Tara, which also ended Monday on a much more upbeat note. Or as upbeat as any show can be that deals with a family beset by the mother's multiple-personality disorder. I run hot and cold with Tara, and much like the first season, I found myself initially intrigued but drifting away by the midpoint, disengaged by many of the subplots (especially anything involving snarky daughter Kate, whose exploits always feel forced). Tonally, it's an awkward mix of psychologically acute drama and broad comedy — Tara regressing into her childhood persona of "Chicken," spazzing out and ruining her sister Charmaine's wedding — which falls especially flat in the finale as characters (like Char and Kate) who've expressed desperate desires to break the bonds of this wacked family decide instead to defend Tara's honor when push comes to shove. Not that Char has much of a say in the matter, dumped at the altar by her finally fed-up groom. (The fact she's carrying another man's child isn't the last straw; Chicken acting out is what sends him over the edge.)
This season's big reveal, as Tara gets ever closer to discovering the roots of her emotional dissociation, began the week before, as Tara and Char tracked down their childhood "babysitter" who turns out to have been a foster parent for abused children. And why were they put into foster care during the 1976 Bicentennial? We learn in a blurted moment of truth from their senile dad (Fred Ward) that they have a heretofore unmentioned half-brother, Bryce, from dad's first marriage who "had troubles" (in mother Pamela Reed's words). After Tara unloads on her parents for having kept all of this secret for so long — "You should have protected me, mom" — Tara enjoys a climactic moment of family solidarity when long-suffering husband Max professes his love for her in all of her guises. "If you're Alice, I'll be your astronaut," goes one of the stanzas. Whatta guy that Max is, and as Kate and finally-happily-gay Marshall join the family group hug, Tara ends with a bit of a whimper and a shrug.
I might consider returning if one of Tara's next "altars" is a self-destructive, pill-popping nurse. Oh wait. That's been done.
So what were your favorite finale moments this week?
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