Weekend TV: Fringe Finale, Common Law Premiere, an SNL Comeback, Sunday Madness
How happy am I not to be preparing a eulogy for Fringe this weekend, instead celebrating another audacious year of emotionally compelling sci-fi thrills with a grand season, not series, finale (Friday at 9/8c, Fox). Titled "Brave New World" — because when hasn't this show introduced new worlds bravely? — it kicks off with an image that might make you think you're watching the defunct Terra Nova. What we're really imagining is the apocalyptic end-game vision of mad scientist William Bell, played by the great Leonard Nimoy, whose return at the end of last week's episode was truly chilling (and not only because poor Astrid was lying shot at Walter's side).
Fringe has always been at heart a cautionary fable about the perils of playing God with science, and that has never been more true than in this nail-biting showdown that involves the fate of two universes — while entwining a horrified Walter (John Noble, tremendously affecting as ever), his beloved son Peter (Joshua Jackson) and the mysteriously super-empowered Olivia (Anna Torv), whose destiny as foretold by the Observer comes into play in an OMG climax. This would have made a satisfying, if incomplete, end to the series, should Fox had so decreed. But thankfully, we end with a tease (as foreshadowed in the recent flash-forward "Letters of Transit" episode) at what we might expect in the fifth and final season.
This is a time of year when many shows officially get the ax — some understandably, some prematurely — and tempers tend to run high among unhappy fans. So I'll take my triumphs where I can find them, and Fringe surviving for so long so ambitiously certainly ranks high on my list of little shows that not only could but did achieve greatness never reflected in the ratings.
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THE LAW OF AVERAGES: Welcome back to the candy store. The USA Network eye-candy store, to be precise, with a sleek new vehicle custom-built for heartthrob heroics, just how this network likes them: easy on the eyes, untaxing to the brain, a formula that pays off in show after show. The twist in USA's newest fair-weather offering Common Law (premiering Friday at 10/9c) is a simple one: these telegenic buddy cops are actually the Bickersons with badges.
Travis (the always appealing Michael Ealy) is an irrepressibly impulsive playboy and a reckless cowboy on the job, while his partner Wes (Warren Kole, doing his best in a more thankless role) is a fussy control freak, a former lawyer with a busted marriage. These LAPD Robbery-Homicide detectives are tough on crime, but even tougher on each other, often coming to blows. To salvage their careers, their captain (Rescue Me's amusing Jack McGee) assigns them to couples counseling — the ubiquitous Sonya Walger is the bemused therapist — where the others in the group assume they're partners of a different sort. (Insert eye-roll here.) That's the hook — simple, effective, mostly fun even when stretched thin — and perfectly in the USA tradition of light-action escapism. It never takes itself very seriously, yet there is serious chemistry between these guys. They say they detest each other, but we know better. They're a poster-perfect match made in USA Network heaven. And they'll do until White Collar returns in July, taking the formula up a notch.
THE FRIDAY GUIDE: More Friday highlights: It's the final curtain for Fox's genial but fatally low-key The Finder (8/7c), with the charming Geoff Stults (title character Walter Sherman) welcoming his brother George Stults (7th Heaven) in a personal quest to find their mother (Annette O'Toole) as a dying request of their father's. ... While sweating out word of its own renewal for a ninth season, CBS' CSI: NY (9/8c) finds Mac (Gary Sinise) in limbo after being shot. ... CBS' Blue Bloods, already renewed for a third year, celebrates Mother's Day — always a sentimental time for the Reagans — in its finale (10/9c), with Frank (Tom Selleck) trying to keep news of a biological-weapon terror threat on NYC from the rest of the family. ... Nukes figure into the next-to-last Nikita of the season (8/7c, The CW), as the diabolical Percy threatens the President with a bomb blast, forcing Nikita to return to Division to try to stop him.
SATURDAY NIGHT LAUGHS: Formerly available only on the web for a small fee, the stand-up special Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theatre will air on the comedian's home network of FX (Saturday, 10/9c). For those marking their calendar, the acclaimed Louie returns for its third season on June 28. ... Reminding us that whoever leaves Saturday Night Live this season the door is always open, this week's installment (11:30/10:30c, NBC) features Will Ferrell returning to Studio 8H as guest host for the third time. Also back for his third time as musical guest: Usher.
LADIES' NIGHT: That would be Sunday, where the biggest event is the departure after eight seasons of ABC's Desperate Housewives (9/8c), leaving a very big hole to fill. The two-hour finale promises enough closure that even many of us who drifted away from Wisteria Lane over the last few dreary years are likely to want to come back for one last block party. If it's good enough for Dana Delany to return, why not us? (Although I'd rather be watching Game of Thrones. But for one week, I'll play catch-up.)
Overlapping in the finale sweeps-stakes, CBS' Survivor: One World (8/7c) marks a milestone with its first ever all-female Final Five, an achievement engineered by instant all-star Kim — who if she makes it to the final tribal council (and it's hard to imagine her not), should be a shoo-in to win for her masterful game play. Even the guys whose one-by-one ouster she manipulated should be able to put their egos aside (that means you, Troyzan) and reward the deserving champ. As tradition demands, a live reunion show follows, which should be interesting only to see how early irritant Colton explains himself. (Though I'd rather be watching Mad Men. And in this case, I probably will.)
THE SUNDAY GUIDE: More highlights: ABC's biggest new hit, Once Upon a Time (8/7c), wraps its first year with sworn enemies Emma and Regina teaming up to save little Henry — who ate the tainted-apple turnover intended to put Emma in a deep sleep. Back in fairy-tale land, Prince Charming is busy trying to escape from the Evil Queen to get to Snow, unaware she's in her own apple coma. ... A new format awaits the eighth season of Food Network Star (9/8c), with former judges Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis now acting as team leader/mentors, along with Alton Brown, each overseeing a team of five contestants who will compete in a cooking "Star Challenge" and an on-camera "Producer's Challenge" to find a winner worthy of his or her own show.
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