It's going to be a long off-season, especially where network TV is concerned, if the offerings don't soon improve from the dregs on display on this inauspicious opening night. Think of it as an excuse to catch up on repeats — or to dive into your DVR and/or On Demand archive to see what's new to you.
The only advice I have after enduring the pilot episode of NBC's woeful comedy Save Me is: Save yourself. This shrill parable of redemption, being burned off in back-to-back episodes (Thursday, 8/7c), is like a spiritual Enlightened for the tone deaf. Anne Heche, at her most manic (and that's saying something), stars as Beth Harper, a heroine possessed with an unbearable lightness of being — or you could just stop at unbearable — when she is suddenly transformed from an "angry drunken bitch" (her words) into a cockeyed optimist seemingly filled with a holy spirit after nearly choking to death on a sandwich.
Charlie McDermott, Patricia Heaton
On this final night of the official broadcast season, let's focus on the good times, shall we? Two of TV's finest comedies, ABC's underappreciated The Middle and the much-honored Modern Family, go out with a flourish, and perhaps a sniffle or two, as the Heck and Dunphy/Pritchett clans experience life-changing and/or affirming ceremonies likely to strike home for many viewers.
So You Think You Can Dance
In what may be a first, a freestyle routine on Monday's final performance round of ABC's Dancing With the Stars — the passionate, intimate contemporary routine performed by Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough — was so terrific it would fit right in on TV's best dancing showcase, Fox's So You Think You Can Dance. As Stars ends its run, with a two-hour finale (Tuesday, 9/8c) welcoming back the season's entire cast — including Wynonna Judd, who'll perform "I Want to Know What Love Is" — the mirrorball ceremony overlaps with a two-hour audition episode of So You Think You Can Dance (8/7c), which is what you should watch if you want to know what dance is in all of its variety.
Freddie Highmore, Vera Farmiga
At 86, Mel Brooks is still the life of the party, a consummate ham and peerless joke-spinning storyteller. "I've come to stop the show," announces the irrepressible comic dynamo as he does just that, breaking into song mid-interview and reinforcing why PBS' American Masters titled its latest must-see career profile Mel Brooks: Make a Noise (Monday, check tvguide.com listings). His brilliant career in TV (Your Show of Shows, Get Smart), the movies and Broadway makes him an overdue American Masters subject, and his unflagging comic energy keeps everyone amused — including an intrusively visible camera crew. "I'm head over heels in love with myself," Brooks says, only half-joking.
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Question: I'm shocked and delighted by Fox's announcement about bringing back 24, but honestly, I think this points to the future of television. It's the same thing with The Following: Give us shorter seasons, TV Gods! Seriously, 22-episode seasons just don't work for so many shows, especially the serialized ones. How much filler was there in any given 24-episode season of real-time 24? A ton, inevitably. And every other heavily serialized show you can point to is eventually going to fall back on filler episodes, or extended (and frustrating) wheel-spinning, etc. It's just inevitable, and the best serialized shows are the ones that best manage this reality: for instance, The Vampire Diaries splits its season into three or four tightly focused mini-arcs that pack as much into each mini-arc as most shows cover in a whole season.
Another May weekend, another deluge of season finales — though none are likely to blow the mind with as much daring, panache and imaginative fervor as BBC America's gloriously inventive Doctor Who (Saturday, 8/7c), which signs off until next time-travel with one of its trippiest yet emotionally powerful episodes to date. Steven Moffat's typically clever script, brimming with colorful incident and characters grandly heroic or villainous, finds a nifty way to salute the 50-year history of Doctors as we learn more about the impossibly irrepressible companion Clara (the smashing Jenna-Louise Coleman), first seen in a cosmic haze — "I don't know where I am ... Sometimes I think I'm everywhere at once" — with only one constant to guide her: "I have to save the Doctor." That same impulse prompts lizard lady Vastra, her wife Jenny and the stalwart Strax to summon Clara to a psychic conference call, interrupted by the menacing "Whisper Men" (reminiscent of the ghoulish Gentlemen from Buffy's classic "Hush" episode).
Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis-Dreyfus
In honor of TV Guide Magazine's 60th anniversary, senior critic Matt Roush names the 60 greatest comedies of all time. Here are the top 10, and pick up the new issue (on sale now) to see numbers 11 through 60.
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski
Given the fanfare with which NBC is closing The Office after nine seasons (at least two too many), you'd think it was a Cheers or Seinfeld-sized hit from the "must-see" glory days, instead of the show that presided over the slow fade of a once-powerful comedy brand on the back of too many same-seeming niche comedies specializing in preciously arch irony. At its best (the Steve Carell and early Jim-Pam years), The Office had heart as well as range, as it found comic magic in its ensemble once the show emerged from the large shadow cast by the classic Ricky Gervais original series. But now it just hits the same beats over and over to lesser effect, which hasn't stopped NBC from pulling out the stops. The celebration (eulogy?) begins with an hour-long behind-the-scenes retrospective (Thursday, 8/7c) produced by NBC News — which didn't have more pressing business? — featuring interviews from cast members and producers. The main event is a super-sized finale (9/8c) that has swelled to an hour and 15 minutes, staged as a mock reunion of the Dunder Mifflin gang several months after the airing of the mock documentary that took nearly a decade to finish.
Though as popular as ever, ABC's top comedy Modern Family isn't always the most pleasant company — and in this week's episode (Wednesday, 9/8c), several of the more abrasive and prickly characters (notably, siblings Claire and Mitchell) confront their dark side with sporadically funny if sometimes predictable results.
Famous last words: "Nothing can go wrong," says Jess on Cece's lavish wedding day ‑ not accounting for the runaway horse, the badger on the loose, and the inappropriate soundtrack that factors into the buds plotting a "sabo" (Schmidt-speak for "sabotage") in a pivotal and blissfully funny second-season finale of Fox's New Girl (Tuesday, 9/8c). Schmidt has brought Elizabeth (Nurse Jackie's delightful Merritt Wever) as a date while having "eye conversations" with the conflicted bride, and with Jess's disapproving dad (Rob Reiner) amplifying the insecurities underlying his daughter's romance with Nick, there's plenty of relationship drama amid the raucous comedy. And while Fox hasn't made a secret of the celebrity cameo amid the wedding crowd, it makes for a fun twist and even better joke, a grace note for an episode that will leave fans happily awaiting next season. ... On the finale of its companion piece The Mindy Project (9:30/8:30c), Mindy plans to accompany Casey to Haiti on a volunteer mission, prompting a farewell party by Danny and his ex-wife. Not to worry; she and the show will be back for a second season in the fall.