Since I'm too much in the holiday spirit to dwell on the cancellation of Terriers right off the bat, let's start this week's overview with a look at some of our favorite TV soulmates, comic and otherwise.
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Thursday night, you could hardly avoid them. The most provocative being an unusually pensive re-examination of the Bones-Booth dynamic on Bones. This artful hour is a true showcase for Emily Deschanel, as Bones sees an unflattering version of herself in this week's skeletal victim, discovered with a tree growing through her. The vic is a doc, a surgeon who lives for work and torments her interns, seen by peers as having no passion, no life, no one to miss her or maybe even mourn her. "How could someone that important just disappear so quietly?" says one of the team. The vic even had an unresolved-sexual-tension thing going with a hunky transplant helicopter pilot, her Booth equivalent. Temperance is so rattled she sees her face in the doc's ID and her voice in the doc's tape recordings, and begins having conversations with the dead. Over-identifying, Sweets calls it. The rational Bones becomes irrationally unglued, bouncing theories off a friendly night watchman (a very good Enrico Colantoni) — who I assumed was another figment of her imagination — and learning there's more to life and the job than empirical objectivity.
It builds to an emotional showdown between Bones and Booth, as she decides that, unlike the victim (who put herself at risk so she could feel something, anything), she doesn't want to die with regrets. She tells Booth she made a mistake when she pushed him away. "I missed my chance," she opens up to Booth, weeping, as he tells her as gently as possible that Hannah is no "consolation prize." (Though we know she is.) Bones concedes that her life has turned upside down, but "I can adjust." And the good news is that while she feels sad, she at least feels something. As the night watchman says, that's better than being dead, or dead inside. Very moving and well played.
Ditto for the denouement of another excellent episode of Fringe, which thankfully and bravely chooses to confront the troublesome elephant in the room immediately — Peter was sleeping with the faux-Olivia — and not to drag it out. Peter mans up and tells Walter he's going to tell Olivia everything, even if it changes the way she feels about him. And so he does. And so it does. Though at first she keeps her feelings to herself. (Prompting Walter to wonder, "You think possibly they replaced her with a robot?") But alone, assessing all the dirty laundry Faux-livia left behind (in her washer-dryer, no less), Olivia's sense of violation is immense, and she breaks down, weeping. This plays out against a very creepy and icky story of regeneration gone awry, Frankenstein by way of Black Swan as a man steals organs all donated by the same young ballerina and puts them back in her body. But when he looks in her dead eyes, he knows he failed. Which leads Olivia to tell Peter how she really feels. How when she was stranded on the other side she thought only of him, even when it wasn't reasonable or logical, so why didn't you? "She wasn't me. How couldn't you see that?" (The eye metaphor.) She walks away from a chastened Peter, saying, "She's taken everything." Well, that hurts. But maybe not as much as being forced to wait until Jan. 21 for the next episode, when the show moves to (gulp) Friday nights.
And then there are soulmates who make me laugh. Like Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah-Fowler (Jim Parsons and the equally funny Mayim Bialik) on The Big Bang Theory, clinical geniuses who find it hard to diagnose matters of the heart. Or, in Amy's case, the hormones, when she is unexpectedly lust-struck when laying eyes on Penny's dumb hunk of an ex, Zack. "Hoo!" she barks involuntarily in a case of "localized vascular throbbing" in the "ears and genitalia." To which Sheldon hmmms: "Interesting. Not body parts that usually team up." When Amy snaps during his analysis that she most definitely is not going through early menopause, Sheldon retorts: "Are you sure? You said that with the testy bark of an old biddy." Hee.
Even more absurd, we have Jenna and her drag doppelganger ex Paul (Will Forte) on 30 Rock, who despite their split decide to reunite for the annual New Queer's Eve party because they've both had the same epiphany of a perfect duo act: Two Black Swans (Paul in drag as Natalie Portman, Jenna in football drag and blackface as Lynn Swann). Funnier than it sounds. Though not as funny as two great pros, Elaine Stritch and Alan Alda, ganging up to yell at their boy Jack as he beams over having his strangely estranged family together at last.
But I wish the reunion of Amy Ryan's delicious Holly and Michael Scott on The Office had been funnier. Instead, the whole hour-long Christmas episode was tainted by sour, including Jim being bloodied and terrorized by Dwight's predictably psycho and violent overreaction to Jim's snowball prank. See our Jeer here. (The tableau of spooky snowmen in the parking lot was a hoot, though.) I felt about as welcome and as entertained as Darryl's bored daughter, but at least she had a roomful of treat-filled vending machines to brighten her mood. No such luck for Holly, a temp HR replacement for jury-bound (and suddenly swelled with self-importance) Toby. She's understandably met with glee by Michael, who shelves the traditional Santa costume to be a more sophisticated "Santa Bond." Michael and Holly still have shticky chemistry, but it fades when he learns she's shacked up in Nashua with A.J., who crashes the holiday party. "I am dead inside," overshares Michael, his rom-com delusions dashed. He abuses her Woody doll (a gift from A.J.), which really should be the last straw. That and the hostility she faces from everyone else, including an out-of-character Erin. But Holly forgives Michael and covers for him, and by the end, Pam has given Michael a glimmer of hope by suggesting that Holly's impending ultimatum to A.J. to commit or get out is never a good sign for a relationship's longevity. (Holly's fond glances Michael's way tells us Pam is probably right.)
Still, as Office soulmates go, no one tops Jim and Pam. Her co-workers (even more bitter than usual) feed her insecurity that her self-made Jimmy Halpert comic book is less than special, but we know better. And we can tell from Jim's awestruck expression that it's better than diamonds.
GIFTS OF THE SEASON: I've already weighed in on Community's brilliant animated Christmas episode, but since I couldn't spoil it, wanted to marvel at the best meta joke of the week. As Abed opens box within box within box in Santa's imaginary workshop to discover the meaning of Christmas, he ends up with the first-season DVD of Lost. "It's a metaphor. It represents a lack of payoff." Ouch. But, as Cougar Town's Laurie would say: "Laugh!"
Would have liked to have been more blown away by Glee's Christmas episode, a scattershot package of snark and forced sentiment if there ever was one. But there were pleasures to be had: Kurt and Blaine's charmingly old-school rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," which made me wish they'd just abandoned the "book" of the musical this week and gone with a full-out variety-show approach, maybe at Kings Island (flashback to my youth); Sue and Becky playing Grinch and Max the rein-dog while an uncredited k.d. lang purrs the "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" song; Artie walking thanks to the intervention of Secret Santa Beiste. When better than Christmas to shamefully jerk a few tears?
GIFT FOR ANY SEASON: [SPOILER ALERT for those waiting until NBC airs these episodes] As Friday Night Lights approaches the midpoint of its (groan) final season, we're treated to an episode that reminds us why we hold this show so dear and can forgive its occasional lapses. Julie's misbegotten campus affair with a married TA hit a low point in the previous episode when the teacher's enraged wife appeared out of nowhere and slapped Julie in front of her whole dorm, screaming "Julie Taylor is a slut!" Really? Is somebody in Texas watching too much Gossip Girl? So Julie wisely runs away from this terrible storyline and back to the family. And she makes another mistake, this one dramatically more compelling, as she purposely drives her car into some bricks to avoid returning to campus and blames a nonexistent dog. She confesses her bad behavior and humiliation to Tami, who takes it like a mom and, while acknowledging her daughter's pain and confusion, isn't about to let Julie run away from her problems. "You are an adult right now. You need to think about your choices and you need to take responsibility for them. That is what you do. That is the girl I raised." Thatta girl, Tami.
Coach Eric, who's already chided his team for branding themselves ("It is every coach's dream to experience the highest level of idiocy that his team can muster"), is much more rattled. He says he doesn't even recognize Julie anymore, and they have an alarming screaming match as he tries to force her to drive back to school in her repaired car. Coach is so distracted by this domestic mess he leaves practice early and is almost late to the next game. (Kudos to Billy Riggins for stepping up with a locker-room Lion Pride pep talk, and for taking the dejected Luke under his wing to remind him what it means to love football. Who knew?) This is a wound that isn't going to heal instantly. As Eric sits on his little daughter Gracie's bed, reflecting on the lost innocence of his elder daughter, Julie appears to say, "I didn't mean to disappoint you." And Eric has no words. Hated what it took to get Julie back to Dillon, but this is the best material the show has played with since the season opener, when she left for college.
Meanwhile, star player Vince is harassed by his old partner-in-crime to pay back a $5,000 loan, threatening Jess and her family's BBQ joint along the way. Vince almost confides in Coach (Jess's idea), but goes to his ex-con dad instead, who beats the tar out of the gun-wielding thug and then tells Vince it's all taken care of. I'm not so sure, but I'm hoping this won't veer into the sort of melodrama that bedeviled Tyra and Landry back in season 2.
BURN! Living up to its billing, Top Chef: All-Stars is a smorgasbord of outsized personality and talent, the best all-star edition of any reality competition I can remember (including Survivor). This week's episode fires on all burners, starting with a Quickfire that forces these master chefs to cook for kids, concocting a midnight snack judged by a random Joe Jonas. (Loved Dale T. being completely in the dark about the boy wonder's identity: "I thought he might be a pastry chef.") Wish one of the finalists had been Dale L's "crack for small children," described as Sweet Tart nuggets and caveman boulders (pretzels, Whoppers, cinnamon graham crackers) with chocolate sauce. "Like a 10-year-old rave," he promised.
But the real fireworks come during the breakfast elimination challenge, when the ferocious Jennifer Carroll on the meat-only T. Rex team is left stranded by Jamie's trip to the ER for a couple of stitches. (Almost no one empathizes, thinking Jamie should suck it up and wrap it up for the team.) Jen's soggy bacon and bland eggs put her in the judges' crosshairs, and she is not happy. "I think I yelled at the judges more than they yelled at us," she says, back in the stew room, and she's right. At Judges' Table, she even throws back one of their critiques as an insult: "You guys are smart enough — you're the judges. Why don't you say, hey, can I get a different plate for this?" Wow, Jen. And shut up. But too late. Her arrogance, combined with her unwillingness to take responsibility for a bad plate, sends this fierce competitor home in the second round. We are shocked and she is bitter, leaving her peers in a torrent of bleeped profanity and a belief that "I was robbed." I'm betting the eliminations will be even more painful the further we go into the competition. These all-stars are true stars, playing for keeps, and it makes for some incredibly entertaining TV.
CLIFFHANGER OF THE WEEK: "Is this the only kind of love I'll ever find? The kind that ends in blood?" You'd think Dexter would be used to this by now. But in the penultimate episode of the fifth season — and yes, Showtime has finally confirmed there will be a sixth, as if there was any doubt — Dexter faces the loss of his partner-in-murderous-vigilantism Lumen, who's in the clutches of Jordan Chase. Dexter's in hot pursuit, but so are Deb and Quinn. Deb actually seems to admire the vigilantes she suspects of offing the members of Jordan's "rape club," but she has no idea his brother and Lumen are involved. How is this going to end? Hopefully with action as excruciatingly and enjoyable suspenseful as the scene in Liddy's van, as he and an imprisoned Dexter fight to the death while Quinn (who Liddy called to the scene) paces outside, unaware of the blood that dripped on his show. I don't think I've climbed the back of my couch this instinctively since the high points of Breaking Bad last season.
BACK TO THE POUND: Couldn't be sadder, or less surprised, at FX's decision not to renew the wonderful Terriers for a second season. Sad, yes, but angry? Not so much. Because I couldn't be more grateful to the show's creators for giving us such a satisfying story arc over 13 episodes that leaves us wanting more yet at peace with where we've left the characters. Or more impressed by FX chief John Landgraf's decision after announcing the cancellation to discuss the painful call at length with reporters. He acknowledged a perception problem that Terriers wasn't seen to be as "edgy, sexy, suspenseful" as the FX norm, and that "I don't think subtlety is something the American public is buying in droves today." (Their loss.) They certainly weren't there for Terriers, and the numbers were unsustainable to keep it going. But at least the entire season aired—something that would never happen on network TV—and presumably at some point will be available on DVD for more people to discover, savor and kick themselves for having not supported it when they could.
CLOSING UP SHOP: And much as we never want to say goodbye to our favorite shows, there's something to be said for signing off on one's own timetable. Such is the case with The Closer, the breakout TNT hit which announced just as I was finishing this week's column that it's going to wrap things up next season, its seventh, crediting its Emmy-winning star Kyra Sedgwick with the decision. I will be very sorry to see this go — it has been a centerpiece of my TV summers the last few years, and it's much more than just a star vehicle, with a first-rate ensemble (as evidenced this last week when Tony Denison's Lt. Flynn took center stage). This procedural is so polished and entertaining any network would be proud to air it, and its departure will leave a big hole on TNT's schedule. Let's just hope when it's all over, Brenda Leigh Johnson will be happy, running her department her way, and with drawers full of chocolate to see her through whatever comes next.
GRAND FINALES: On the other hand, next fall will bring us new seasons of AMC's breakout horror hit The Walking Dead and HBO's dazzling crime opus Boardwalk Empire. You can read my analysis of their terrific first-season finales here.
AS SAID ON TV, HOLIDAY EDITION: "The season wouldn't feel the same without people going out of their way to be offended by nothing." — The Daily Show's Jon Stewart mocking Fox News' "War On Christmas" hysteria, giving new voice to Burl Ives' Rudolph Snowman. ... "As a modern Christian, I've learned to be sensitive to other cultures' jealousies." — Shirley on Community, acknowledging the "holiday" season in her own way. ... "Can I be honest? I don't understand the difference between an elf and a slave." — Santa fan Brittany on Glee, making an unusually good point. ... "All I want for Christmas is a new title." — Cougar Town once again dissing its name in the credits. ... "Don't make me come down there." — A message from God on the Little White Chapel billboard on Raising Hope.
That's a wrap. What did you like, or not like, about TV this week?
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