So the big "what if" episode of Grey's Anatomy turned out to be a big What Ev. The more things change, the more they turn out the same. Something we knew before Meredith dreamed it. Diagnosis Pointless. As I've been saying about stunt episodes like this since the days of ER's live episode — yes, I've been doing this that long — and including Grey's musical detour: Everyone take a bow, and promise never to do it again. And yet there was voyeuristic fun in the opening acts as we see everyone in altered states of being: Meredith all pink and preppy, now known as "Dr. Webber" because her mom married Richard and never got sick; and Derek (here known as "McDreary") never left Addison, though when he finds out she's pregnant — the real Addison would be so pleased — with Mark's baby (whoops), the dejected and underachieving doc ends up knocking back tequilas with Mer at Joe's, and the rest is ABC history.
I did get a kick out of Justin Chambers projecting nerdy and perky instead of sullen and prickly as a more upbeat Karev (who's still a louse in the relationship department), and Chandra Wilson giving us the meek "Mandy" Bailey, fired for not speaking up and thus causing the great Ellis Grey to lose face. And for those grieving the current state of malaise in the Cristina-Owen relationship, they shared one of the episode's more dramatically potent moments as he turned to her to patch up his latest PTSD outbreak, which he's hiding from wife (Callie) and kids — a sign that even fatherhood won't heal all of his psychic wounds. Lots of other call-backs to characters past and present, which makes fun sport for the long-time fan. But I kind of felt like Sorry Charlie (killed in the hospital massacre that apparently never happened), who as things begin to fall apart at work mutters, "Shoot me now."
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NOT BAD: And Glee continues its uneven uptick with a music-stuffed Michael Jackson tribute episode that finds the New Directions and the Warblers (the dandiest gang in pop-culture history) at mortal odds and staging a rumble, in a number recalling "Cool" from West Side Story, though somewhat less cool, as shivs become Slushies and Blaine takes unkindly to a shower of iridescent rock salt in the eye, going all Captain Jack with the eye patch — although with him it feels more like the Hathaway shirt guy. The music is mostly above par and on point: Quinn's lovely "Never Can Say Goodbye" (as she prepares for Yale), Sam and Mercedes pairing off for "Human Nature," the cast morphing to the classic "Black and White" (but where was Tina in that montage?), although all through the "Ben" serenade I couldn't stop thinking about Sebastian the Rat — and his standoff with Santana to "Smooth Criminal" was enhanced by a pair of mad cellist. More of them, please!
And then there's Rachel and Finn. "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." But maybe they should? As Quinn warned her former Best Enemy, "I'd hate the idea of dragging around an anchor from my past into the bright lights of my future." And you just knew the second Rachel accepted his earnest proposal, as the Glee Symphony Orchestra mutely observed (what good sports these accompanists be), the insecure diva would finally get her NYADA letter. So she and Kurt are both finalists. Let the games begin. As for Finn? Anchors away.
TEAR JERKER OF THE WEEK: The war takes a toll on the residents of PBS' Downton Abbey as Capt. Matthew Crawley and the loyal William are grievously injured on the front lines in Amiens. But the homefront hero is without question the Dowager Countess Violet (the magnificent Maggie Smith), who pulls strings with righteous ferocity to bring William home, despite Downton being reserved for officers only. And then, as the dying boy insists Daisy wed him so he can continue to look after her once he's gone (to which his dear father assents, and their scenes together wrecked me), the lowly kitchen maid reluctantly agrees, bullied along the way by Mrs. Patmore. Violet again rises to the occasion, strong-arming the vicar into performing the poignant ceremony, reminding him how much of his livelihood he owes to the Abbey: "I hope it is not vulgar in me to suggest that you find some way to overcome your scruples." Oh Lady Violet, the more vulgar the better. So while tears copiously flow during the deathbed wedding, William is allowed to die happy — which is more than can be said for Matthew, lying in a morose funk as sisters Mary and Sybil nurse him. He's useless below the waist, and with no hope for children, severs his betrothal to the whimpering Lavinia. "Think of me as dead," he says, as the camera can't look away from his sunken and bruised but still mesmerizing eyes.
Meanwhile, Mary's entanglement with the boorish Sir Richard is further complicated when she reveals to him her scandalous secret about the dead Turk, imploring him to buy the evil Mrs. Bates' story so he can bury it. Which he does, smugly noting, "As my future wife, you're entitled to be in my debt." If only Matthew could rise from his sickbed and give this snake a pounding.
Another British import, BBC America's delicious Mistresses, gave us the "OMG!" moment of the week — several, actually — in its penultimate episode, as Trudi confesses her tryst with business partner Chris to (of all people) BFF Katie, the woman Trudi's own unhappy husband Richard can't stop sniffing around. Even after Katie bars the door to him, with her disapproving mother Vivienne blocking his calls, things escalate after a sloshed Trudi ignores Katie's advice and confesses her sin to Richard — in bed! Friendships are at risk as Siobhan picks up on the Katie-Richard not-quite-situation, and warns her BFF "If you cross this line, you know there will no coming back from it — not because he's married, but because he's married to Trudi." (This is Mistresses, after all.) As Katie tries to extricate herself from this mess by boarding a train, she is stopped in her tracks — as are we all — by the news that Richard has had what appears to be a fatal car accident! A guy so normal he's almost one of the gals, what a tragedy. Consider wearing black to next week's series finale.
INSTANT CLASSIC OF THE WEEK: As hyped last weekend, CBS' The Good Wife is hands-down the best drama network TV has to offer (although next week, NBC's Smash and ABC's The River enter the fray, so let the good times roll). Sunday's episode was one of Wife's very best, blending riveting legal fireworks in front of the grand jury and a fantastically funny B-story for Eli and rival Stacie Hall (Amy Sedaris) into a crackling hour of entertainment. While Will prepares to be indicted (like a ham sandwich) by the grand jury, he and Kalinda go on the offensive. Her disinformation to prosecutor Dana causes a major confrontation. "Hit me," says Kalinda. (Dana does, a slap across the face.) "It will make you feel better." (It doesn't.) And Will's staged payoff to one of the judges under scrutiny (actually a donation to UNICEF) so flusters special prosecutor Wendy Scott-Carr that her case falls apart, even if that canny kook Elsbeth (props again to Carrie Preston) hadn't kept diverting attention to Peter Florrick throughout the testimony, confusing the grand jurists. And what a bad idea to put Alicia on the stand to embarrass her over her indiscretion with Will. "You are out of control," Alicia steams to Wendy, walking off the stand, contemptuously courting a contempt citation. "Fine. Arrest me." They don't. She nearly confesses to her kids, figuring the transcript will go public, but when the jury decides not to indict, all is well. Until, that is, Wendy reacts to Peter firing her by announcing her plan to bring Will up before the Bar Association. Down, girl!
And we're still reeling from Alicia's showdown with Peter earlier on, when she asked him to call off the vendetta against Will, so clearly rooted in personal animus and jealousy. "I think you're manipulating the truth like a pro," Peter accuses, prompting the retort from the wronged and not-so-good wife, "Well, you would know about pro's." Burn!
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: On FX's brilliant Justified, it's a round of "Harlan Roulette," presided over by sadistic pawn-shop owner/Dixie Mafia middleman Glenn Vogel (the unnerving Pruitt Taylor Vince) to punish one of his Oxy-addicted flunkies. One pull for one pill goes the rules, and when it turns out the gun is unloaded, but only after the patsy turns the gun on his boss, Vogel shoots the wretch anyway. The villains dominated in this busy, twisty episode, as the ice-cold Quarles (Neal McDonough) reveals the influence Taxi Driver had on him as a kid — ergo the concealed gun up his sleeve — while Boyd takes possession of a local bar after unloading the spoiled weed and demands fealty from the conflicted Devil, who wants to know which Boyd Crowder he's following these days. "I can't discard my past any more than I can these tattoos," confesses Boyd, who pledges to run Harlan's criminal underworld with no outside intervention. (Wait till he meets Quarles.) "We will be meticulous and we will be clean," Boyd promises, so chilling in his hushed menace.
Thankfully, Raylan Givens isn't going anywhere. Although as the still-healing lawman tells a fellow officer, "These boots aren't made for runnin'." To which he's told, "And yet chasing fugitives is a marshal's primary function." Raylan: "Ironic, isn't it?"
A less lethal game played out on Parks and Recreation, as Leslie leads Ben on a Valentine's Day scavenger hunt worthy of its Cryptex origins in The Da Vinci Code ("the first movie we ever watched on Starz HD"). Ben turns to the man who knows her best, Ron Swanson (who unexpectedly giggles "I love riddles!" after one triumph), to decipher her maddeningly opaque clues — which leads Ron to The Bulge and Ben (Adam Scott) to a Party Down reunion with Martin Starr as a dour employee at the local snow-globe museum. The trail ends at the statue memorializing Lil Sebastian, whose charms Leslie is convinced Ben now appreciates. (He doesn't.) Still: romantic. Meanwhile, Leslie's quest to find an EFFERVESCENT (Educated Friendly Fun Egalitarian Robust Vigorous Enthusiastic Sexy Courteous Empathetic Not-Pigeon-Toed Talented) guy for lovelorn Ann Perkins somehow ends with April setting her up to go for drinks with Tom Haverford. A not-quite-date that barely makes it past the first sip.
SOUR NOTES: Let's hope the mass firings on Fox's The X Factor isn't a case of rearranging the deck chairs on a very noisy Titanic. We can all agree that Steve Jones was an embarrassingly awkward host (badly directed, but still unable to establish a rapport with the singers) and that Nicole Scherzinger had zero chemistry with the judging panel, so no great loss. And while it can be argued that Paula Abdul was at a distinct disadvantage by being saddled with forgettable teams, and thus seemed more adrift than usual in the latter half of the competition, it's a shame the show couldn't do a better job of exploiting her connection with Simon Cowell (who was more interested in stoking his combative bromance with L.A. Reid, the only other on-air regular to return for Year 2). Whichever superstars they're able to land for the next round, I'm not sure it will do much good if the show can't dial back the audience cacophony and the pyrotechnics to a reasonable level to let the singers shine on their own merits.
While The X Factor regroups, you have to wonder if the American Idol brain trust isn't wondering if the real impact of X Factor isn't being seen in the cooling-off of Idol's ratings. I'm sure I'm not the only one eager to leave the underwhelming auditions behind, hoping for some drama — and talent — to emerge during Hollywood Week. Bring it on.
ODDS AND ENDS: What do I have in common with George Clooney? As recalled on an expansive Inside the Actors Studio interview with James Lipton, the future movie star used to qualify for "straight A" Cincinnati Reds tickets (during the "Big Red Machine" era) back in the '70s. As a fellow student in the Ohio-Indiana-Kentucky tri-state area, that's how I got to see games for free, too. Now, of course, he could probably buy the team. ... I know it makes me look shallow, but as I watched the Chances succumb to gambling fever on Fox's Raising Hope, I couldn't help think how much more enjoyable this was than the rarified "art" of Luck, which HBO typically renewed after only one episode. Good luck with that. ... Now this is how you do a President Obama impersonation. After suffering for years with Fred Armisen's mirthlessly wan version on Saturday Night Live, the premiere of Comedy Central's promising sketch-com Key & Peele peaked with Jordan Peele's spot-on Obama, spoofing his legendary emotional reserve by pairing him with an "anger translator" (Keegan-Michael Key).
AS HEARD ON TV: "Is this an instrument of communication or torture?" — Downton Abbey's irreplaceable Dowager Countess, sneering at a newfangled telephone. ... "You know the only problem with Sun Tzu? He never fought the Jews. We're Masada, baby. We don't mess around with mind games, we use knives." — The Good Wife's Eli Gold sparring with his competitor Stacie Hall, whose deviousness gets sexual in their latest round. ... "Rachel, he was best friends with Liza Minnelli and Liz Taylor!" — Glee's Kurt reacting in horror to Rachel's ambivalence about MJ. ... "There's baggage, and there's Terminal 5." — Mistresses' Siobhan, warning her new love interest that he's wading into dangerous waters (like the ever-present ex she's still pining for). ... "Since when don't you knock? It's like the only good thing about you!" — The Big Bang Theory's Leonard, objecting to Sheldon barging in on him and Penny during a blackout. ... "No, you did not get free HBO!" — Chris Rock, pretending to take over Tosh.0's hosting gig in the season premiere, before deciding, "I'd rather film Pootie Tang 2." ... "They don't call me Mrs. Suit for nothing!" — White Collar's Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen), getting in on the action to snoop on suspicious new neighbors (including Matt Bomer's fellow Carnegie-Mellon grad Joe Manganiello of True Blood). ... "Come in. Rosemary's singing, Nat Cole's playing piano, Satchmo's on the horn, Buddy Rich is on the drums, and they're singing Always." — George Clooney on Inside the Actors Studio, on how he'd like to be greeted at the Pearly Gates. Sounds good to me.
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