Holt McCallany

"V" is for "vamping" — that's been the case for most of the life of ABC's re-imagined, if hardly re-energized, version of V. You know, the show where alien ships hover over Earth week after week, with nothing much happening as Evil Queen Anna coldly plots the destruction of humanity with all those pesky emotional souls while a puny band of woodenly earnest resistance fighters plots Anna's takedown.

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The real fight as V airs its season finale Tuesday night — and yes, it's a grim cliffhanger — is for survival, and it may be too little too late for this understandably struggling show, not that the action is finally ramping up. Expect a scattering of significant fatalities and other alarming twists that some fans may find shocking but I can only conclude is long overdue. "Unfortunately, time is not a luxury that we can afford," says one character to a Fifth Column conspirator early on in the episode. (Maybe the writers could have addressed that issue by moving the story along more quickly back when it might have mattered.)

Without giving too much away, the tension percolating through this episode involves finding out just who has the guts to see this revolution through. When embattled FBI heroine Erica (Elizabeth Mitchell, a shadow of her former Lost self) reminds one of her team how "merciless" Anna can be, she's told, "No more merciless than you've shown you can be." What is the benefit of saving humanity if you lose your own in the process? One of V's better questions. Too bad the pedestrian writing has leeched the personality from even the better actors, so that it's hard to tell human from alien. (I keep finding myself wanting to shout "bad robot" after many scenes. But that's another story, and another production entity altogether.)

As usual, it's the villain who has the most fun, and Morena Baccarin rises to the occasion several times as the mayhem picks up speed. (Also keep an eye on Ryan's alien-human hybrid daughter, whose growth spurt is accompanied by some serious attitude.) Anna has some killer punch lines I can't wait to quote in my Week in Review column. Let's just say there's a good reason this episode is titled "Mother's Day," as the Queen Bee-yotch contends with the treachery being cooked up by her imprisoned mother Diana (Jane Badler) and her rebel daughter Lisa (Laura Vandervoort).

V isn't ABC's only Tuesday drama in serious ratings trouble. No Ordinary Family (airing a repeat tonight) is in such free-fall that its two leads, Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz, have already signed aboard new pilots for next fall. And after several weeks of pre-emptions creating havoc for its scheduling, the underrated Detroit 1-8-7 reaches its endpoint this week, with a new episode Tuesday and the finale airing out of pattern this Sunday.

Tonight's episode is a strong one, as the precinct reels from a tragedy in their ranks while several characters face personal turning points — including the mercurial Fitch (Michael Imperioli), whose ex-wife brings his son (played by Imperioli's actual son, Vadim) from New York to bond with his long-estranged dad. (Father and son share enough characteristics to unsettle Fitch's co-workers.) Turns out the family isn't the only New York skeleton Fitch has to contend with.

Meanwhile, veteran detective Longford (the terrific James McDaniel, who embodies Detroit's spiritual bond to its groundbreaking predecessor NYPD Blue) continues to mull retirement while suffering from back spasms — shades of Southland's John Cooper, though played far less tragically. Longford's camaraderie with sardonic partner Mahajan (Shaun Majumder) is especially enjoyable as they track down the killer of a teenage graffiti artist.

Detroit 1-8-7 is a solid player in an overcrowded field of procedurals, a genre that for some reason has trouble gaining traction at ABC (excepting the much lighter-hearted Castle). The network is doing Detroit no favors by putting its finale up against a new episode of CSI: Miami. But the ink was already lamentably dry on this police blotter. A shame.

With TNT's Southland and USA's White Collar having wrapped a week ago, your best bet for cable drama Tuesday night is a new and pivotal episode of FX's compelling Lights Out, which picks up in the aftermath of its put-upon hero's latest setback. Poor Patrick "Lights" Leary (the world-weary, and very sympathetic, Holt McCallany), putting his life literally on the line to fight for his family's future, now trying to heal from being accidentally stabbed in the gut with scissors by his idiot meddling brother Johnnie (Pablo Schreiber in an increasingly thankless role).

As Patrick slowly and painfully mends, he's facing pressures from all sides that threaten to wound both his professional reputation and his family pride. Unscrupulous boxing promoter Barry Word (the magnetic Reg E. Cathey) is manipulating both "Lights" and opponent "Death Row" Reynolds, endangering their long-awaited rematch and Lights' much-needed payday. Family tensions resurface as wife Theresa (Catherine McCormack) reconsiders her professional future upon graduating from med school, and sister Margaret's (Elizabeth Marvel) budding relationship with shady fixer Hal Brennan (Bill Irwin) rattles big brother's composure.

Lights still has plenty of fight left in him, but does Lights Out? This show coulda and shoulda been a contender, but risks sharing Terriers' fate as another of FX's brilliant one-season wonders. Hoping for a miracle finish, but until then, I'm enjoying it as if it's a knockout miniseries.

V airs Tuesday, 9/8c, on ABC.

Detroit 1-8-7 airs Tuesday, 10/9c, on ABC.

 

Lights Out airs Tuesday, 10/9c, on FX.

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