Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells
Too soon. We always feel that way when a season of FX's marvelously entertaining Justified comes to a close. It can't be easy sustaining that high-wire act of violent tension and wry bourbon-smooth humor, while staying true to the voice and tone of Elmore Leonard's creation of the laconic yet steely U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, but they sure make it go down easy. The fourth-season finale (Tuesday, 10/9c) is titled "Ghosts," and it's a haunted hour, all right — haunted by what-ifs, by dreams deferred and hopes crushed by the weight of bad acts and Harlan County's history of bad people — but it's also a truly badass episode when it needs to be, with fateful confrontations and crazy twists, some satisfying and others troubling.
Once again, stubborn Raylan (Timothy Olyphant enjoying his career-high role) isn't letting a little thing like suspension keep him from going after the Detroit mob that's threatening him and those nearest and dearest, like pregnant but hardly helpless Winona (Natalie Zea). As for his criminal counterpart Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, electrifying) and his sexy moll Ava (Joelle Carter, likewise), the question is whether to run or lay to rest a literal skeleton in their metaphorical closet that continues to endanger their own happily ever after. No one ends this terrific season entirely content, because what fun would that be for next year? Justified is one of the very few reasons to ever look forward to winter.
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HIS TWO DADS: Playing out against an epic backdrop of real-life political and human-rights history, NBC's The New Normal only made TV history if you were watching, which too few did. Although the fact that it didn't spark the usual knee-jerk protests and condemnations feels like a more significant achievement than its tiny ratings would signify. Tackling issues involving gay parenting and, in Tuesday's finale (9/8c) of back-to-back episodes, a same-sex wedding, Normal humanized these hot-button topics with humor (often outrageous), intimacy, respect and ultimately an unexpected tenderness and sweetness, embodied in the charming lead performances of Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha. Regardless of its uncertain future — a second season doesn't look likely, but with a network as down on its luck as NBC, who knows? — Normal was able to tell a complete story within its first year, and that's already something of a small miracle.
Despite its subject matter, Normal is a traditional enough TV comedy that it's hardly a spoiler to note that Bryan and David's wedding ceremony doesn't go exactly as planned, thanks to the impending arrival of their son via the surrogate Goldie (Georgia King), who with her adorably eccentric daughter Shania (Bebe Wood) and even the outspokenly right-wing Nana (Ellen Barkin) has become a part of this extended, untraditional family. The first half of the finale introduces the terrific Mary Kay Place as Bryan's passive-aggressively needling mom, who he initially intended to bar from the ceremony. She's on hand to guide the guys through one of their most difficult decisions: what to name the baby (which somehow eventually takes first position over cake and music choices). The big moments in The New Normal — naming the baby, welcoming the baby — aren't afraid to go for the tear-jerking jugular, and mostly they succeed. It's a romantic fantasy unfolding alongside the inescapable reality that everyone is entitled to love, family and happiness. What could be more normal than that?
THE TUESDAY GUIDE: David Mamet's apparent inspiration for HBO's recent not-quite-satisfying not-quite-docudrama Phil Spector was a 2008 documentary, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, which gets its U.S. TV premiere on BBC America (9/8c). ... The X Factor's Demi Lovato (who just signed to return for a second season) moonlights on ABC's Dancing With the Stars to perform during the results show (9/8c), along with Huey Lewis & the News. ... TBS' Cougar Town, a week away from wrapping its first season on cable, takes inspiration from The Breakfast Club for an episode (10/9c) relying heavily on voice-overs. ... You can hardly blame any show for playing the zombie card after the blockbuster season of The Walking Dead that just ended on such a tragically riveting note, and at least ABC's Body of Proof is on a first-name basis with death. This week's episode (10:01/9:01c) teams Megan with new health commissioner Dr. Charles Stafford (Luke Perry) as they investigate mysterious rabies fatalities that have some of the medical examiner's staff tossing around the "Z" word. ... NBC's Smash airs its last Tuesday episode (10:01/9:01c) before shuffling off to Saturdays, with Bernadette Peters returning as Ivy's diva mom, now joining the cast of "Bombshell" to her daughter's dismay. ... On OWN's Oprah: Where Are They Now? (10/9c), the hardly invisible Omarosa (just fired, so I'm told, from The Celebrity Apprentice, and I'm sure not a moment too soon) gets serious to discuss the recent tragic loss of her fiancé, actor Michael Clarke Duncan (from last season's The Finder). The episode also features Starsky and Hutch star and AIDS activist Paul Michael Glaser, remembering his late wife Elizabeth, who founded the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation after contracting the disease from a blood transfusion and unwittingly passing it to her children. (Their son Jake, born in 1984, survives.)
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