In this era of nonstop TV, where the seasons blur together with nary a break, finales cluttered this week's TV landscape while we count the days for the official fall TV season to begin. So as our lead topic, some fond and not-so-fond farewells.
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Starting with TNT's Emmy-winning The Closer, a humdinger of a showdown between Brenda and a sarin gas-bomb-toting psychopath (Matthew Glave, well played), taking revenge on the police and fire squads who'd rejected him. His manifesto, which comes back to bite him fatally as Brenda opens fire and repeats his words: "Sometimes violence is the only way to teach people how wrong they are." Boom! But does she get credit, or the promotion to Police Chief, for having averted this homegrow-terror disaster? No. (A good thing, because we really don't want her removed from Major Crimes.) Her partner on this case, another Police Chief candidate from the anti-terrorism unit (Courtney B. Vance), gets the top job, as Pope prepares his resignation and Brenda passes out snack cakes to her crew instead of champagne. "Maybe I'm a little disappointed, maybe I'm a little relieved. I never know," she declares. Too bad for Brenda, and Major Crimes' future is once again in jeopardy with the new boss. But Kyra Sedgwick walks away from this season with an Emmy, and new episodes return in December, so it's all good.
On the finale of The Closer's tiresomely melodramatic companion show, Rizzoli & Isles, the precinct is under siege from drug baddies who've shot and killed a possibly dirty cop and come looking for evidence. (If you didn't spot the dad man's partner Erik Palladino as the actual dirty cop from the get-go, you mustn't watch much of this kind of TV. For which I applaud you.) It's a bad day at the office, and a bit of a massacre. But Maura is spared because she's in the lab tending to her sick tortoise — the cutesy touches on this show make me cringe — and while Jane loses her crackhead witness to the bad guys, she's able to rescue her brother Frankie, whose vest stopped several bullets but couldn't prevent the internal bleeding that Maura tries to fix with some dithery triage as Jane barks, "Do it now!" (The subplot of the Rizzoli parents awaiting the return of the unseen Rizzoli convict brother Tommy was even more painful. Lorraine Bracco, what happened to you?) The cliffhanger is garish in a way that only this cop cartoon can manage. Palladino takes Jane hostage — despite Angie Harmon looking like she could bring him down with one of her glares — and during the standoff, she manages to shoot him with his gun by apparently shooting through herself. All of this happens in excruciating slo-mo. Or maybe I was just antsy for the season to be over.
Yet more shooting as USA Network's enjoyable Covert Affairs caper wraps its first season. Annie heads back to Sri Lanka with her former lover/rogue agent Ben Mercer, and after lots of complicated shenanigans and high action in a vertiginously high tower, their escape via copter is thwarted when Ben takes several bullets in the back. He's gasping for life as they fly away. This looks more serious than what happened to Mozzie in White Collar's cliffhanger. But it's all getting to be a bloody blur, isn't it? (As in The Closer, sarin gas is a MacGuffin here.) I did like the twist that Auggie's reporter girlfriend Liza is in cahoots with boss man Arthur's nemesis Wilcox — another grand exercise in smarmy villainy by Gregory Itzin, who'll always be Charles Logan to us. But I digress.
Eureka! Not much of a transition, maybe, but a heck of a fun show on Syfy. Eureka is probably my favorite of the channel's sci-fi/lite diversions, and the midseason finale capped a terrific summer run in which the primary characters had to deal with the messy consequences of time-traveling. In this episode, Sheriff Carter and the mysterious Dr. Grant are thrown back in time — again — to 1947, reliving and observing the events of the season opener from a new angle. It's all very Back to the Future in an exhilarating way as they race the clock to reset the clock, in the process saving Allison, who died back in real time from colliding with an energy pulse from the cloaked Bridge Device. (Carter is positively giddy now that he's sealed the sexual deal with Allison, BTW.) With everything back to abnormal, and Grant leaving Eureka on a financial cushion from some early Johnson & Johnson investments, we're left hanging with our heroes still covering up their breach in time-travel protocol as an investigation looms.
And who knew that Eminem's best move last Sunday night wouldn't be on MTV's lackluster (though highly rated) VMAs but on the finale of HBO's played-out Entourage, decking the obnoxious and coked-up Vince who's crashed a Marshall Mathers party. Vince's downfall seems complete as cops confront the bloodied and bruised star at the hospital with his stash of coke. Good riddance. When he tells his posse earlier, "I know you all need me, but I'll call you if I need any of you," I couldn't help but think: Who needs Vince? The best parts of the episode were the guest stars: Illeana Douglas as Mrs. Ari's sister, who fails to deliver the wife to her own surprise 40th birthday party, where Christina Aguilera is singing; and John Cleese as himself, wryly observing the war of the Golds and quoting Perez Hilton, because: "My girlfriend's 23. I have to stay relevant." Yes, but do you have to stoop that low? (What am I saying? I'm still watching Entourage.) Worst part: Sasha Grey. I hope she moans better than she acts, because she can't even play a convincing version of herself. The show literally crashes to a halt every time she opens her mouth — to speak.
The competition-reality finales this week were mostly anticlimactic. Kevin a Top Chef? Really? And how perverse of America to select the least interesting of the America's Got Talent finalists to win that endless summer-long contest. Yet another singer takes the prize, and I've already forgotten his name about as quickly as I did last season's American Idol champ. Something Grimm, and so it was. And while MasterChef as a show annoyed me, the final cook-off between cocky innovator David (my fave) and perky comfort-food traditionalist Whitney (the winner) was pretty interesting, coming down to a no-bake cheesecake that would have been right at home on Top Chef: Just Desserts, which got off to a good start this week. (Back to Top Chef, where Ed outsourcing his own dessert in the final round may have spelled his doom. What was he thinking?) Family-reunion moments kill me every time Survivor does it, so I wasn't surprised that I choked up when MasterChef contestant Lee was surprised by his mother flying in from Israel to watch him cook. He didn't win, but nice consolation prize.
You can read about my disappointment in the True Blood finale here, but that brings me to the happier subject of supernatural TV. Most notably, BBC America's brilliant Being Human, which airs its finale this Saturday following a daylong marathon of the darkly suspenseful second season. In last Saturday's intense penultimate episode, Mitchell the wronged vamp discovers his lady doctor friend was behind the bombing of the lair and, with the urging of Daisy (whose conversion by the late Ivan in a 1941 bomb shelter we see in a flashback), he rises up in fury against humanity: "I'll show you retaliation." Which is how a train car becomes a slaughterhouse. Chilling. Meanwhile, poor George is unaware the clocks have been set back an hour, so he begins his full-moon conversion into a terrifying werewolf in full public view. At an elementary-school parent-teacher's conference, where little Molly glimpses his fangs and scary eyes and appears scarred for life. In the climax, a dejected George heads with Annie to Kemp's lab to submit to the "cure." And when Mitchell puts the pieces together and realizes his Dr. Lucy is their Dr. Jaggat, he heads to their rescue. If he can find them. Can't wait for the finale.
In other vampire news, the newly turned and literally blood-thirsty Caroline steals the second episode of The Vampire Diaries, bogarting bags of blood from the hospital and using a nosy nurse as alternative to hospital food. She reveals her new self to Damon by throwing him to the ground with a "You suck," spurring him to try to kill her for her (and everyone else's) own good — until the good guys stop him. Still, I think we can all agree this won't end well.
SHOWS I WISH I LIKED MORE: Lately, this list includes Showtime's The Big C, which despite Laura Linney's nuanced performance can't redeem her character's insufferably smug condescension toward anyone who tries to argue her out of her more irresponsible notions. Like, maybe not raiding her 401(k) fund to splurge on a convertible she can't drive? Still, there's a wistfulness behind the silliness of her stealing a lobster from its tank and setting it free in a backyard pool (as she tags along with her house-hunting doctor). And did anyone else catch this week's shout-out to Linney's Broadway play Time Stands Still, which is about to resume performances?
Also not jazzing me as it starts its second season: the CW's Life Unexpected, which once again seems determined to do everything possible to negate its characters' charms by making them and us absolutely miserable: firing Cate from the radio job almost immediately after the honeymoon, while pairing Ryan with an annoying new co-host whose mantra is "You can't have it all"; burning down Baze's bar, with the culprit appearing to be new hire and one-night-stand Paige, who happens to be (ugh) Ryan's sister; and then Lux reminding us what an incorrigible brat she is, taking an all-night ride with a total stranger to see the ocean, leaving her sorta-parents in the dark. If you were surprised that Lux's new acquaintance is also her new teacher, then I guess you never saw Pretty Little Liars. For which, once again, I applaud you.
FOOT IN MOUTH DISEASE: If you ever wanted an object lesson in how to hang yourself at a Survivor tribal council, look no further than Wendy, the first to be kicked from this season's Nicaragua adventure. She already had a target on her back for not fitting in with the elder Espada tribe, but then she decided to raise her voice and live up to her off-island nickname of "Chatterbox," going as far as to interrupt the vote. "Can I say one thing?" she pipes up. (If only.) Among her desperate babblings: "Not one person asked me my age." "People like to be my friend." "Trust is important." "I don't have any blisters on my feet, and that's an asset." Jeff Probst, suffering eye strain at his attempt not to roll them, says, "I just want to make sure you get everything off your chest," intuiting this would be her only chance. Meanwhile, celebrity contestant Jimmy Johnson's "I'm here for the adventure" strategy appears to be paying off — so far.
MAD BOYS: Happy to see Don Draper finally straightening up on Mad Men, swimming laps as part of a psychic re-cleansing (which includes keeping a journal) and cutting back on the booze. But this week's episode belongs to Peggy and Joan, dealing with an outbreak of adolescent misbehavior among the ad boys, especially smug freelancer Joey, who tells off the fabulous Joan in shockingly disrespectful fashion: "What do you do around here besides walking around like you're trying to get raped?" Little Joey, them's fighting words, and you're going to lose that battle, and drawing a cartoon of Joan and Pryce having office sex isn't going to help. Speaking of battle: Has there ever been a retort like this salvo from Joan: "I can't wait until next year when all of you are in Vietnam ... Remember, you're not fighting for me, because I never liked you." As Stan says: "Jesus, scorched earth." Don leaves it to Peggy to send Joey packing, but she doesn't get the expected thanks from Joan. In a stunning elevator scene, Joan acknowledges Peggy's "big shot" status, but declares, "No matter how powerful we get around here, they can still draw a cartoon. So all you've done is prove to them that I'm a meaningless secretary and you're another humorless bitch. Have a nice weekend." And here I thought Joan enjoyed being a girl. Brilliant dramatization of the toll of '60s corporate sexism.
RALLY HO: Gotta go book Amtrak to my old D.C. stomping grounds for Oct. 30, when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are planning competing mock rallies on the National Mall: Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" (good luck with that) and Colbert's "March to Keep Fear Alive." Wonder how many will show up not getting the joke, given that America lately has not only lost its sense of humor but also, apparently, its collective mind.
SPOOK OF THE WEEK: Arliss Howard as Rubicon's manipulative, masterfully opaque Kale Ingram. "Believe it or not, I'm Will Travers' guardian angel," he says. Hard to know what to believe where he's concerned. He's playing Will, but also doing his best to protect him. "Will's stumbling through a mine field. I don't want him to step wrong," Kale tells the retired and damaged Ed Bancroft. In a dastardly double-cross, Kale uses Maggie to spy on Will, then outs her to him when he senses they've grown too chummy. His philosophy in a nutshell: "Ruthless is not cruel. Ruthless is doing whatever it takes." He's the best reason to watch this moody but lugubrious series.
THE MOSTS: The week's most disturbing image: Lady Gaga's meat dress at the VMAs, made even more unnerving by its proximity to Cher. ... The most money won in a single episode of Jeopardy? (I love stats like this): $77,000, trumping the legendary Ken Jennings by $2,000, when grad student Roger Craig wagered $30,000 of his $47,000 take in Final Jeopardy Tuesday night and came up with the title "The Bridge on the River Kwai." I'd be whistling a happy tune after that. ... The most frustrating news of the week: TBS canceling the underappreciated sitcom My Boys (after two of its stars lost network jobs because the network took too long to decide), while its sister channel TNT announces the renewal of the dreary HawthoRNe and the disappointing Memphis Beat. ... The moment that most made me think I was watching Saturday Night Live: Oprah's over-the-top "You're going to Australia!" announcement to a shrieking audience of worshipful superfans as she kicked off her farewell seasons. That's the type of self-parody Oprah Winfrey Show I won't miss. (Although props to Paul Simon for bringing the hysteria down a few notches.) A few days later, as Oprah revisited the scene of a wrenching 1987 program about AIDS and homophobia in small-town West Virginia, that reminded me of the Oprah Winfrey Show I will miss. ... The most fun you may not be having: FX's Terriers, a terrific serio-comic private-eye show airing on Wednesdays. This week, I especially enjoyed Michael Raymond-James as Britt, whose superstitions about inviting bad karma into his life (taking the form of a dachshund for a short while) kept me smiling. Check it out.
THEY SAID IT: "Are you a Felix or an Oscar?" — Bethany to Don Draper on a Mad Men date (before Betty shows up), revealing how pervasive The Odd Couple was in the 1965 culture. (Don a Felix? I don't think so.) ... "I tweaked Betty White's nipple. She's not as cool as everyone thinks." — Doug on Weeds, explaining why his episode of $25,000 Pyramid never aired. I never thought this show would get to the point where I looked forward to Kevin Nealon showing up, but the Botwins really aren't doing it for me this season. ... "Don't applaud. They're the reason MTV doesn't play your videos."—Chelsea Handler smartly dissing the Jersey Shore cast at the VMAs, her best joke in a forced and vulgar hosting gig that was widely, and rightly, panned. ... "The old prick shot me!"—Tig feeling the wrath of a demented Hal Holbrook in a bit of bloody comic relief on Sons of Anarchy. That's what you get for sleeping with the help and walking around in her robe. ... "I feel like I'm the only one that's putting any effort into this relationship."—Words I thought I'd never hear come out of Dax Shepard's mouth, but that's what Parenthood writing will do to you. ... "I was killed by a vampire and brought back by a magic ring. How do you move forward from that?" — A fair question from emo Jeremy, confronting life after death on The Vampire Diaries. ... "Jackie Kennedy would not have a camel toe." — Tim Gunn stating the unnecessary (and cringe-worthy) obvious, upon observing an ill-fitting crotch on an outfit that nearly got Andy eliminated on Project Runway.
In the week ahead: the premiere of HBO's dazzling Boardwalk Empire and the launch of the official network fall season. TV is back!