You mean there was a game on this week?
While TV history was made with the Super Bowl becoming once again the most-watched program ever — my thoughts on the game, the ads, the Glee episode can be found here — it was a pretty super week of February sweeps madness on all fronts. Some significant new shows arrived, including Fox's terrific The Chicago Code (read my review) and ABC's not-quite-there-yet Mr. Sunshine (my review also includes comments on the return of Justified and the farewell of Friday Night Lights).
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Here's a look at some of the other TV that stood out this week before Valentine's Day:
LOVE IS IN THE AIR: Given the season, let's check in with some of our favorite couples. Like Clive Bixby and Julianna, the amorous alter egos of Phil and Claire on Modern Family. "You look hot enough to cook a pizza on — er, in," Clive bumbles, before (naturally) picking up the wrong hotel room key, so he's lying in naked wait for a complete stranger as he pops his cork. Really, should Clive ever go out in public? But way to keep those home fires burning. Even when emo rocker Dylan re-enters the picture, serenading Haley with "Imagine Me Naked." Welcome back, dude.
Speaking of long-awaited comebacks, long live Tammy Swanson, the toxic ex of Parks and Recreation boss Ron (real-life couple Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman). With Ron's latest conquest, Tom's ex Wendy, heading back to Canada, Ron is ripe for the plucking by this (Leslie's words) "manipulative, psychotic, library-book-peddling, sex-crazed she-demon." Is it wrong that sometimes I wish this show was set in Pawnee's library? Anyway, "tripping on Tammy" lands Ron and Tammy in jail, after a Wedding Under the Influence with the groom in a kimono and cornrows. And missing half his mustache. "It rubbed off from friction," Ron devilishly grins, making Ben (and I'm sure many others) gag. And when they go into PDA mode, it clears the room.
PDA's are the main attraction of this week's Office, as Michael and Holly can't keep their hands and lips off each other, setting off the latest Dunder Mifflin cringe wave. (I will momentarily differ with our beloved Watercooler columnist, as I mostly liked this episode, and I'm not the biggest Office fan.) Yes, Michael and Holly carry it too far — when doesn't Michael? — but it builds to a touching twist, as Michael's euphoria turns to despair at the thought that his bliss could be cut short when Holly is eventually transferred back to Nashua. Holly, bless her (and Amy Ryan's) heart, bucks Michael up by insisting, "What we are is up to you and me," NOT the job. As Michael begins to acknowledge there's life outside these walls, we detect an exit strategy taking form. (And I do agree with today's Watercooler that once Michael is gone, The Office should just close shop. But that's hardly likely.) My favorite part of the episode, though, was Andy accompanying clueless Erin on the Valentine's treasure hunt engineered by Gabe. Charming and more than a little heartbreaking. And uncharacteristically bubbly Jim and Pam, frisky and drunk after a champagne-heavy Valentine's lunch? It's about time.
I agree with our Cheer for Community, once again towering over its Thursday comedy peers by mixing the snarky and the sweet, zeroing in on the real love story here: Jeff's character-building affection for his misfit study group, or (in Professor Duncan's words) "the six-headed ball and chain." While Britta thinks she's cool for cavorting with a lesbian (who isn't, while mistaking Britta as gay), and Troy and Abed try to impress a hot librarian who accurately notes, "You guys are really cute together," Jeff is forced to realize how much he cares when the entire Valentine's night goes by without any contact from his usually needy friends. "Relationships can be scary. They can give people power over your life, and I don't give up power easily," Jeff tells them in a cell-phone blast. "I love you guys," he says — even Pierce, who's gone off the deep end with his painkillers (Andy Dick is always a good warning sign), suggesting an intervention is on its way.
And now let's set things to music, as Glee redeems its messy post-Super Bowl episode with a terrific Valentine's outing, as Puck pursues the plus-sized Lauren ("an even bigger badass than me," he exults), Finn tries to woo Quinn back from behind a kissing booth, Kurt helps his unrequited crush Blaine stage a "Gap attack" serenade for a shaggy salesclerk — "Was it too much?" Blaine wonders; the answer is yes — and Mercedes tells lovelorn slumber-party pals Rachel and Kurt (!) that divas like them "need to fly solo for awhile." This is the model of a great Glee episode: spreading the wealth musically and story-wise, emphasizing the kids over the adults — did anyone even miss Sue? — and ending on an upbeat note, as the Warblers headline the Lonely Hearts Club dinner at Breadstix.
BREAK-UPS: Is that cheering I'm hearing from the Bones-verse? Must be, now that the much-reviled Hannah has turned down Booth's heartfelt proposal with the old "I'm just not the marrying kind" excuse. "I don't think we're done, but I can see we're done for now," Hannah says, as fans stomp their feet wishing he'd just toss her in the water instead of that beautiful, undeserving diamond ring. Booth is crushed, he is angry, he is getting hammered at the bar, when Bones walks in. "What is it with women who just don't want what I'm offering here?" he spews — yeah, what's up with that? — as she listens sympathetically and they wonder what happens next. Which is: They are partners and that is not going to change. But first: another drink. One for my Bones, baby, and one more for the road.
And so much for Liz and her cut-from-the-same-stubborn-cloth pilot boyfriend Carol (Matt Damon) ever achieving Mile High Club status on 30 Rock. They never even get off the ground, as the flight he's piloting to Nags Head — redundancy alert — is stranded on the tarmac for endless delays in half-hour increments, a recipe for slapstick disaster. Especially when the in-flight entertainment includes that stupid Legend of the Guardians owl movie and a bunch of failed NBC sitcom pilots, including the fictional — OR IS IT? — Gals on the Town, starring Aisha Tyler, Teri Polo and Lindsay Price. (It could be worse. They could be screening Perfect Couples.) Liz and Carol clash repeatedly, insulting each other's job performance, until she threatens to activate the emergency slide: "I'll be a folk hero like that guy everybody hates now!" (Burn!) But a lonely folk hero she'll be, because this relationship is toast. All of which is funnier than the labored subplot of Jack and Avery desperately trying to flee Canada before she gives birth. Even after hitching a ride on a mobile meth lab (piloted by a random John Cho), their daughter is born on the wrong side of the border, but they still decide to treat her like a human being. As long as they don't have to accept free Canadian health care.
I HEART YOU: This year's Valentine's Day go-to gag: candy hearts. "Be Mine" forever, indeed. There's The Middle's Brick, distracted from his "Brick, stick, lick, done" routine of writing valentines for classmates once he discovers that candy hearts have words on them. But when his dad intervenes with his crush, Brick laments, "There's no advice on a candy heart that can fix this." Then there's Community's eternally bromantic Abed and Troy, with a blindfolded Abed reciting the message on each candy heart without looking. When Abed reveals, "I've been cheating," Troy corrects him: "No, it says 'E-mail me.'" So cute. I hope Troy's right, after dumping the librarian who called Abed weird," when he says, "There's someone out there for us."
LOVE TRIANGLE OF THE WEEK: Peter vs. the two Olivias on Fox's excellent Fringe, because "whichever one he chooses, it will be her universe that survives." Talk about high stakes. Emotions run deep as we meet Simon, another of Walter's tragic Cortexiphan experiments, a mind-reader living in isolation because (shades of Sookie Stackhouse) he can't stop hearing everyone's thoughts. Walter's especially could drive a person crazy. But Simon's OK around fellow lab rat Olivia, to whom he confides: "Do you know how it feels to be burdened with something that makes it impossible for you to relate to another person?" Does she ever. Poor-livia is still shaken by her doppelganger's fling with Peter. "She's like me, but better," Our Olivia believes, and her insecurity is stirred when Peter brings her coffee the way Faux-livia likes it. Oops. This prompts a very moving scene in which Peter insists he was drawn to Faux-livia because, "I thought that I was bringing out a different side of you. But it was never because I wanted to be with her more. Because I don't." We're buying it — up until when Simon gets in Peter's head and slips Olivia a note: "He still has feelings for her." D-oh! She should have listened to Simon when he insisted, "No one should know exactly what someone else is thinking."
NEVER LOSE HOPE: Couldn't be happier to have Raising Hope back on Tuesdays. Guess who's coming to dinner and drinking boxed wine out of fancy bottles at the shabby Chance home? Sitcom vets Tichina Arnold and Phill Lewis, nicely cast as the well-off parents of Jimmy's new buddy (also a too-young single dad with an adorable baby). The hitch: Jimmy's mom Virginia (the great Martha Plimpton) cleans their house. Awkward! "It's like they're Ken and Barbie, and we're the Potato Heads," Virginia cries, when she sees how far the other couple has come from similar backgrounds. (Jimmy was a "prom baby," and theirs was a "homecoming baby.") But after Jimmy's new friend makes a play for Sabrina and a fight breaks out, Virginia couldn't be happier to realize "they're not perfect." At least she and Burt didn't produce a jerk. "We raised a good kid." Even Maw-Maw would give that an "awww." Especially in those rare moments of sustained lucidity, when she declares, "Man, the things you people tell me I do." Bonus points for the great bit when Jimmy tries to leave a phone message using their relic of a rotary phone, and Virginia blows a recorder into the mouthpiece to approximate a "press 1" touch tone. Works for Moviefone.
I LOVE LUCILLE: As in Lucille Bluth, the iconic Arrested Development dragon lady played to perfection by Jessica Walter. Walter is being wasted in TV Land's execrable Retired at 35, but makes a sensational guest appearance as a predatory benefactor on The Big Bang Theory, proving she has lost none of her wicked spark. (She's also terrific voicing Archer's imperious boss/mother on FX.) "They're cute when they're about to wet themselves, aren't they?" she cackles at a fund-raiser where she flusters Raj, "space plumber" Howard and especially Leonard, whom she sexually attacks in the back of a limo. "OK, now you don't remind me of my mom," he stammers. When she says, "Yep, I'm that good," there's no doubting it.
"BOOGER" BUMMER: Seriously, Bravo, you'll give just about anybody their own show, so why not Fabio? The most charming of all Top Chef: All Stars contestants (though admittedly not one of the most consistent in challenges) is sent packing, all hugs and smiles, after he bungles the hamburger (or as he calls it: BOOO-GER) assignment for Jimmy Fallon's comfort-food birthday bash. (I want me some of Carla's chicken pot pie right now!) Fabio overproduces a burger that's more like a meatloaf, and with the cheese on the side as a curdled sauce, he's deemed less worthy than Dale of the over-salted cheesesteak and Tiffany of the tortilla-like dumplings. Fabio's parting words are typically and sweetly inscrutable: "You are the only shadow standing in your own sunshine." Ciao, chef. This one hurt. (But we're getting down to the cream of the crop. They're all going to be hard from this point on.)
SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES: Dana Carvey took us down memory lane as Saturday Night Live's guest-host, and the best material is the most familiar, including a Wayne's World "Oscar picks" opener, brought to you by Winter's Bone (snigger) and featuring a Black Swan Garth-ism: "I could make a Mila out of her Kunis." The elaborate Church Chat segment finds the Church Lady welcoming "the holy trinity of sluts" the Kardashian sisters and their mighty booty; a failed exorcism of Snooki ("from the Chippewa word that means 'Drop your shorts, we don't have much time'"); and the Adoration of the Bieber, as ubiquitous Justin Bieber sets the Church Lady's naughty parts a-tingle. "I want a taste of that sweet Bieber," she prays, as they partner up for a Superior Dance. Carvey also does a fine Regis later in the show, but even he's no match for Kristen Wiig's Kathie Lee, smuggling Chardonnay in her mike.
SO GOOD IT'S GREAT: "I'm only bothered by things I don't expect," says Michael J. Fox as cunning legal adversary Louis Canning on CBS' The Good Wife (read our Cheer) in another outstanding episode that continually delivers the unexpected. Like asking us to question Canning's motivations for muscling in on a class-action suit. ("I think there's a chance he's sincere," Kalinda admits.) Or watching Peter's financially challenged campaign become "suddenly hip" after he enlists an ex-con rapper (Method Man) he befriended while in prison. Or marveling as guest judge Denis O'Hare makes a ruling when things get twisted: "I think I'll overrule that on absurdity alone." Such a refreshing and grown-up contrast to the buffoonish antics on David E. Kelley's Harry's Law.
TEAR JERKER OF THE WEEK: No contest. Wet eyes, broken but uplifted hearts all around as Friday Night Lights signs off forever on DirecTV in a glorious series finale (the final season shows up on NBC in mid-April and on DVD even earlier). SPOILER ALERT if you haven't been able to see this episode — or season — yet, because good gracious, did this swan song give great closure.
The heart of this show has always been the solid, sexy-funny and oh-so-real marriage of Coach and Tami Taylor, which is tested like never before on several fronts, even as the underdog Lions head to State — knowing this is their last hurrah, since consolidation in the Dillon school system is about to fold the Lions into the reviled Panthers, making a "super team." Eric, so infamously fired from the Panthers, is mulling a rock-solid five-year contract, but it's crossroads time, because Tami finally has a dream job offer of her own: Dean of Admissions at a Yankee college. "It's my turn, babe," she says, and you know she's right. Especially in the turbulent aftermath of Matt Saracen's Christmas homecoming to ask for Julie's hand in marriage. Matt proposes to Julie first, at the ALAMO FREEZE (of course he does!) with Grandma's ring, but Julie insists he man up and face her father. Which gives us one last marvelous Saracen-Landry scene, as Matt goes to his best bud for some hilarious advice. Zach Gilford is so endearing as he goes before his old Coach, stammering: "I'm very mature for my age." But the 19-year-old is told in no uncertain terms: "No ... until the sun burns out."
That of course is not the end. Matt and Julie go to dinner with the Taylors to get the lecture about marriage requiring maturity and compromise between "two people who for the rest of their lives are really willing to listen to each other." These words break Tami, who realizes this fight with her husband over their future is one she's not going to win. Everyone wants everyone to be happy, but they're miserable. Until, in a Christmas miracle, they're not. Because Eric is a proud Lion, and a good man, and as he gives a reconciling championship ticket to Vince's dad ("Young men get a chance at that maybe once in a lifetime"), and as he gives Jess his blessing to go off to Dallas with her family with a coaching recommendation, agreeing this season has been "the greatest experience of my life," he knows what he must do. Hearts couldn't be fuller as Eric tells Tami he's turned down the contract, and "Will you take me to Philadelphia with you, please?"
But first, there's State. "If the dream is going to happen, it has to happen right now." And on a climactic long throw frozen in time and Texas history ... we move ahead eight months for a thoroughly satisfying montage, the lump in the throat becoming nearly unmanageable. Coach has a new team in Philly and new lives to shape, Tami is in her new job, Vince (wearing his championship ring) is a proud Panther, Jess is on a coaching staff in Dallas, Julie and Matt are starting a life together, Luke Cafferty has gone into the military, but not before giving a ring to Becky, and the Riggins brothers have reconciled, building a home on Tim's land, fulfilling the dream he reveals to Tyra as they part company for now. "Maybe one day our dreams can merge together," he says. And Tim gets the last words: "Texas forever." Forever is how long we'll remember Friday Night Lights, a show full of life that felt more like life as it is lived in America than any series in recent memory. Well played, team. You will be missed.
HONOR ROLL: Loved Supernatural's slapstick homage to Arthurian legend, as Dean goes all "sword in the stone" to dislodge a dragon-slaying blade from its rocky roost. He eventually turns to explosives, resulting in a sheared-off weapon. "You've got insurance for this, right?" he grins to the chagrined Professor Cougar. ... Nice twist on NCIS, as the psych evaluator triggering all those memories of the long-departed (but not forgotten) Kate turns out to be her sister, seeking closure. ... Kudos to Reg E. Cathey as Lights Out's ruthless promoter Barry Word, manipulating Patrick "Lights" Leary's comeback with the secret help of shady Hal Brennan (Bill Irwin). "Who's going to sponsor you? The AARP?" Barry taunts the financially strapped Patrick, who says, "I'm looking for a payday, not a bloodbath." Good luck with that. ... And I love that How I Met Your Mother's Barney and The Office's Holly have one thing in common: They can both make us laugh by imitating the naughty sound of a squeaking bedspring. (Holly's is funnier because it's less expected.)
AS HEARD ON TV: "I personally thought you were very good in Mamma Mia." — Oscar front-runner Colin Firth, imagining how he would like to be greeted by God at the Pearly Gates, on Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio. ... "I put a condom on a banana when we had sex. She still got pregnant, and it made the banana taste terrible." — Raising Hope's Burt Chance, reminding us of the limits of sex mis-education. ... "If there's simply no talking to me, then why did you call?" — Big Bang's Sheldon, displaying his brand of logic to his exasperated boss. ... From the words-I-never-want-to-hear-again department: "Anybody want to argue with my extra special vagina vote?" — Pregnant Callie on (what else) Grey's Anatomy, showing her maturity as she overrules Arizona and Mark when it comes to her right to drink coffee. Hey, if it will shut you up. ... "Drag is not a contact sport." — RuPaul sending the aggressively weird Mimi packing on RuPaul's Drag Race, after Mimi picks up her rival India during the lip-sync-for-your-life challenge. ... "I pull my own pork a lot. But if Angelo's going to pull it for me, God bless him." — Steve Higgins cracking up the Top Chef dinner table at Jimmy Fallon's birthday party. ... "I've had mono so many times it turned into stereo." — Glee's Santana. Such a slutty showoff.
That's a wrap. Enjoy the rest of this busy sweeps month, and while you're at it, follow me on Twitter.