Taking advantage of the networks' post-sweeps lull, TNT roars back in a big way this week, with tonight's winter return (for five episodes) of its two biggest hits, The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles, and starting Tuesday for the next month, a weekly series of first-run mystery movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. (More on that later this week.)
The Closer (8/7c) and Rizzoli (9/8c) each have similar starting points for this week's cases — the violent murder of an inner-city leader — but how they go about handling the story is an object lesson on why one show remains such potent entertainment midway through its final season and why the other is such a cartoonish bad joke.
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On an unsettlingly topical episode of The Closer, the fatal shooting of a high-school principal leads Brenda and her Major Crimes team to investigate the school's long-time coach (ER's Michael Beach), whose career is in jeopardy after it's discovered he has taken an unusually personal interest in the lives of some of his more disadvantaged players. Is he a predatory monster or a selfless humanitarian? Either way, he hasn't followed the rules. And as he tells Brenda (the canny Kyra Sedgwick) in an interrogation, "Do you know what it's like to have someone staring over your shoulder day and night, looking for that one thing that could get you fired?" As a matter of fact, Brenda does. This entire case unfolds with Capt. Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) watching everyone on the team like a hawk, keeping strict records and taking a rigid by-the-book approach while the federal lawsuit against Brenda & Co. is pending. Brenda isn't happy, and Sharon is just as displeased to be playing "hall monitor," but they have one goal in common: flushing out the leak in the department.
It's a strong episode, and even if the denouement is fairly obvious, it beats the ludicrousness of the way Rizzoli & Isles wraps its case, about the drive-by murder of a community activist and the brave eyewitness who risks it all to come forward and testify against the notorious gangbanger who terrorizes the neighborhood and is believed to have already killed 15 people. The writing is unfailingly clumsy and the acting so broad (including from guest star Roselyn Sanchez as an aggressive prosecutor) it's almost funny — except for those moments when the show is trying for laughs and ends up being embarrassing, as usual involving Lorraine Bracco as Jane's shrill imbecile of a mom, this week fawning over a visiting Bill O'Reilly.
Everyone has their favorite animated Christmas special, and mine is Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (ABC, 8/7c), the 1966 classic with its jubilant score, the memorable voice work of Boris Karloff, and the yearly spectacle of the Whos of Whoville expanding the shrunken heart of the grouchy Grinch by showing him that Christmas is more than presents and decorations. Probably didn't hurt that my childhood pet looked an awful lot like the Grinch's devoted and long-suffering sidekick, Max. This is followed by the very enjoyable Shrek the Halls (8:30/7:30c) from 2007, in which Shrek's storybook friends keep intruding on the ogre's plans for peace and quiet.
Fox's Terra Nova (8/7c) finally revealed some juicy intel in last week's above-par episode, if we can believe Commander Taylor's story about his estranged son Lucas developing a two-way portal that would allow the Earth of 2149 to denude Terra Nova of its natural bounty. Hoping the momentum continues this week, as Taylor and Mira (the Amazonian Sixers leader) have a confrontation in the jungle that is interrupted by a dangerous prehistoric creature, while Jim continues to pursue the mole while Terra Nova goes on lockdown. Of course, there's always the "awww" factor to gum up the works, as precious little Zoe is forced to make a tough decision about her stewardship of the fast-growing baby Ankylosaur she's been raising. (In Terra Nova, being cute enough to eat might just backfire. We can hope.)
So what else is on? ... NBC's The Sing-Off (8/7c) names its winner in a live two-hour season finale, as the final three a capella groups perform one last time before finding out which is America's favorite. ... In what amounts to a greatest-hits compilation, back-to-back episodes of BBC America's Top Gear Top 40 (8/7c and 9/8c) reveal some of the fans' choices for the show's best challenges and stunts over the years. ... MTV salutes one of its class clowns with A Tribute to Ryan Dunn (10:30/9:30c), reliving the late comic stuntman's antics with the Viva La Bam and Jackass crews. It's preceded by a new episode of Ridiculousness (10/9c), featuring Dunn in one of his last TV appearances.
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