"It's over. And I needed a proper goodbye."
Well, Walter White, you certainly got one. And so did the swelling ranks of Breaking Bad fans, as this remarkable series went out, like Heisenberg himself, on its own terms Sunday night, on a creative high and at the peak of its acclaim and popularity, a week to the night of its Emmy triumph.
Cunningly plotted as always and masterfully directed by Vince Gilligan to maximize the emotional suspense and dark humor, the series finale was not so much redemption as reckoning for the mensch-turned-monster so brilliantly and unsparingly played by Bryan Cranston. It will rank high among TV's all-time great finales because this was a true and satisfying climax to a tremendous show, tragic yet oddly uplifting. Breaking Bad never outstayed its welcome, and sad as we are to see it (and Walter) go, this fiendishly thrilling immorality play achieves modern-classic status by living up to its high standards when it needed to most.
We Are Men
Whatever the male species did to deserve the recent run of lousy comedies that neuter them into a bland, whiny pudding — the trajectory of Man Up through Guys With Kids to CBS's new and painfully bland smarm-com We Are Men (8:30/7:30c) — can I just collectively say on behalf of the entire gender: We're sorry! Haven't we suffered enough?
Apparently not, because Men hits new lows in bromance abuse, cheapening the whole idea of "band of brothers" with its soggy account of male bonding at an apartment complex for jilted and/or unhappily divorced losers. The new kid on the block, Carter (Chris Smith), is left at the altar in a reverse-Graduate gag that's the cleverest part of the pilot. Such a milquetoast he makes How I Met Your Mother mensch Ted Mosby seem as dangerous as Ted Bundy, Carter is adopted by an unappealing threesome that includes middle-aged horndog Frank (Tony Shalhoub, slumming), sad sack Gil (Kal Penn, who's almost as hilarious here as he was as a wet blanket during HIMYM's dark period, which means not at all) and arrogant Stuart, overplayed by Jerry O'Connell, who parades around shirtless in a rainbow of Speedos that flaunt what some might call manhood. But they would be wrong.
These Men of no certain age and character aren't so much bad influences as terribly unfunny company.
All work and no foreplay makes Dr. William Masters anything but a dull boy.
With the assistance of a free-thinking single mother named Virginia Johnson, this renowned fertility specialist and pioneer in the study of sexual physiology challenges the repressive social mores of the late '50s, when Peyton Place is considered risqué and most people (according to Masters) "sit hunched in the dark like prudish cavemen filled with shame and guilt" when it came to thinking about sex.
Robin Williams and James Wolk
Comebacks are big news this fall — James Spader enjoyed one on Monday with the splashy premiere of NBC's The Blacklist — and nowhere is this more true than on Thursdays, with three high-profile comedy vehicles for beloved stars from sitcoms past. And while conventional wisdom has long suggested that it's easier to create new stars on TV — Sleepy Hollow's Tom Mison, anyone? — than to build new shows around old favorites, what really matters is giving them material that lives up to the billing.
ABC's innocuous new sitcom about likable underdogs, Back in the Game, could just as easily be called "Luck of the Draw." This Bad News Bears-lite gets a major assist right out of the gate with an enviable time period (Wednesday, 8:30/7:30c) sandwiched between TV's best family comedies, The Middle and Modern Family. Which could always backfire, of course, if the show doesn't live up to ratings expectations, and while this Little League comedy doesn't quite measure up to the big leagues, we shouldn't be surprised if family audiences rally around the team, turning a solid base hit into something potentially worthy of extra innings.
Chloe Bennet, Clark Gregg
When it comes to heavy lifting, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is being asked to flex more than its share of muscle. Leading off an entire night of new ABC programming (always a risk, especially in these fragmented times), taking on TV's top-rated drama (NCIS), satisfying the expectations of Marvel Comics fans and Joss Whedon's considerable cult following, that's a lot for any spin-off to live up to, even with source material like The Avengers.
Happy (and busy) premiere week. It's a killer thriller showdown when two of the fall season's slickest new shows, NBC's The Blacklist and CBS's limited-run suspense serial Hostages, square off Monday (at 10:01/9:01c) in a contest of marquee power and derivative but inviting high concepts. They take on ABC's durable Castle, opening its sixth season (10:01/9:01c) with its star-crossed leads facing a personal and professional crossroads.
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Question: I think the last time I wrote to you was trying to decide whether to watch Lone Star or The Event in a time-slot match-up. You rightly pointed me in the direction of Lone Star in terms of quality, with clearly a star in the making in James Wolk, but sadly, it was a victim of the wrong network (Fox) for a show that probably was meant for cable, so it died an early death. Not that it matters in the long run, considering The Event also wilted. Now we have another Monday night time-slot match-up...
Neil Patrick Harris
"This just in: No one in America is winning their Emmy office pool," quipped Neil Patrick Harris toward the end of Sunday's Emmy show, not long after The Colbert Report broke The Daily Show's 10-year winning streak as best variety series, The Voice took the reality-competition prize from The Amazing Race and The Newsroom's Jeff Daniels upset a crowded field of best-actor nominees, remarking, "Well, crap!" while chewing gum.
Who'll win at this year's Emmys? Who knows? It's the only major awards show where the old guard and new blood clash on an annual basis, and among the few things you can bet on in this unpredictable process are that Michael Douglas will win for his Liberace impersonation (ditto his HBO movie Behind the Candelabra) and that host Neil Patrick Harris will do his damnedest to make CBS's live Emmys telecast (8/7c, 5 Pacific) as enjoyable as the Tonys.