While we try to process those terrible images from the Japan earthquake/tsunami, a few thoughts on some of the highs and lows of the week in TV. (And when we speak of highs and lows, of course the subject is Charlie Sheen.)
REMEMBERING CHARLIE HARPER: Malibu is mourning the loss of one of its more colorful residents: jingle writer/children's music composer-performer Charlie Harper (aka "Charlie Waffles"). His passing was confirmed this week in the wake of the career suicide of his notorious alter ego, a self-described Hollywood "warlock" whose overexposed online rants (following a spate of reckless TV and radio interviews) have quickly degraded from the category of morbidly fascinating train wreck to the realm of sick, sad, no-longer-funny joke. Harper was found floating in a pool of anger and bile (some would say "tiger blood"), leaving behind a tangle of pricey lawsuits and a collection of "silly shirts" and cargo shorts expected to be donated to the TV Academy. Harper is survived by a whiny chiropractor brother, a blobby teenage nephew with few prospects, an ice-queen much-divorced mother and a long string of failed relationships. In a surprise development, Harper leaves his estate and Malibu digs to a cranky housekeeper named Berta, who provided most of the laughs in the last years of his life. His dying words, which some think may be a reference to his Mister Hyde-like other self: "LOSING! Duh!"
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FINALE WATCH: Now that TNT has set its premiere dates for this summer, maybe now the network can concentrate on working out a plan to renew Southland for another season. This gritty crime drama ended its first full season of original episodes for TNT with a wrenching turn in the central relationship of no-longer-rookie officer Ben Sherman and training mentor John Cooper, giving Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz some of their finest moments to date (and that's saying something; they are the heart and soul of this series).
On his last day under Cooper's taciturn supervision, Ben's reserve snaps when he's left unprotected without backup during a rooftop chase that turns into a deadly brawl. Cooper can't keep up because of his chronic back pain, and when a bloodied Ben finds Coop pawing through the now-fallen perp's possessions (presumably to squirrel away some more drugs), Ben snaps. No more sympathy for this pathetic fallen hero. Ben threatens to turn Cooper in if he doesn't agree to rehab, and finally the rookie hears the "thank you" he's been waiting for all day. A very moving moment as Cooper checks himself in, confessing his addictions to a nurse and declaring "I'm a cop" to underscore his resolve. I think we all want a chance to see Cooper back on his feet. Meanwhile, Sammy names his newborn son after his late partner Nate and witnesses the bloody end to the thug who killed him. Sammy asks to go back into uniform, and last we see, he's partnering with Ben on patrol. And Lydia and Josie continue working together, but for how long, now that Josie knows her partner is sleeping with her son. C'mon TNT. Do the right thing by this show. You say you know drama (shows like HawthoRNe to the contrary), so prove it.
On a much lighter finale note, USA's White Collar signed off until summer with another enjoyable cliffhanger. No renewal angst here, thankfully, and whatever tension there is in the storyline tends to be leavened by outlandish escapism (like when Andrew McCarthy's bad-guy Adler leaves our heroes to perish by flooding a dry dock, "super-villain" style, only to be, curses, foiled again). There's a new MacGuffin, now that we're done with the music box and have put the death of Kate behind us at last: a cache of purloined Nazi loot, art treasures buried for decades in a sunken sub. Excavated with Neal's bomb-defusing help, they appear to be destroyed in a warehouse explosion during the climactic showdown with Adler, but one of the smoking remnants turns out to be Neal's own painting of the Chrysler building, triggering Peter's suspicions of his partner once again. (Will he never learn?) Which leads to the provocative coda, as Neal returns home to find an anonymous note leading him to a hiding place where all of the priceless artifacts are waiting for him. He's shocked, but the grin that emerges on his face tells us he couldn't be more thrilled. Who's pulling these strings? Reason enough to tune back in this summer.
SURVIVOR REDEEMED: Please, Survivor, hold Russell Hantz to his word that he's done with the show. (Three appearances in the last four seasons is more than enough.) In a high point for one of the most entertaining seasons in a while, the colorful bully gets his comeuppance in a riveting good-vs-evil domino challenge against choirboy Matt on Redemption Island, a loss that drives the notorious villain to tears. Of sorrow and humiliation, for sure, but also of frustration and pique for being (his words) a "professional quarterback" in a tribe of "pee-wee" players. Russell being Russell, he regains his composure long enough to show that he never stops having game. He gets Ralph to reveal that he has the immunity idol — in front of players from the other tribe. Ralph's attempt to bluff his way out of this gaffe doesn't fool anyone — except maybe the irrepressibly and hilariously dense and self-infatuated Phillip, who still has no idea how much he's annoying everyone on his tribe (while amusing the TV audience to no end). While Russell is sent away, his divide-and-conquer strategy finally shown to be a miserable failure, his nemesis Boston Rob is in complete control of his own tribe. Rob contrives to distract everyone on the beach so he can unearth the immunity idol (and he succeeds), and while nearly everyone begs for Phillip to be the one to take his pink undies and go, Rob insists it's crafty Kristina's turn. And so it goes.
IDOL THOUGHTS: The countdown begins, as American Idol enters the final competition stage and the show finally comes into focus, if not always in tune. Even Simon Cowell has put aside his ego long enough to concede (to Piers Morgan in an interview this coming Monday) that this season is an improvement over last year. It would have to be. The contestants are generally a more eclectic and appealing group, the judges are upbeat and engaged and have some real chemistry — although it's weird when Randy Jackson becomes the voice of cold truth when his starrier panelists let a flop performance slide. Thankfully, weak-link Ashthon was the first to go, and it may be a while before we see a guy in the bottom 3. I'm enjoying some of these offbeat personalities, but am a bit worried at the overindulgences of Paul McDonald (whose funky style and spastic moves threaten to eclipse his musicality) and Jacob Lusk (whose over-the-top histrionics are spinning so far out of control, I hear Patti LaBelle is looking into diva copyright infringement). The biggest surprise for me this week: James Durbin toning it down so it's not all about the screech. He was even good in the reliably cringe-inducing group sing.
ODDS AND ENDS: Loved the "Too much?" sign Mr. Shue held up on Glee this week, so apropos during sexpot sex-ed sub Holly's wildly inappropriate "Do You Wanna Touch Me" number. (Much funnier in context: the Celibacy Club's clueless "Afternoon Delight," with John Stamos on backup.) Any episode where Kurt and Burt Hummel talk out their issues is OK by me, and the Santana-Brittany heart-to-heart was unexpectedly heartfelt (as was "Landslide," with the assist of game guest Gwyneth Paltrow). But where did the Warblers get that foam machine? And why? ... Enjoyed the fantasy sequences in House — the Two and a Half Men sitcom parody, with Hugh Laurie in Sheen drag, almost felt like instant nostalgia — and the Fellini-meets-Fosse "Get Happy" production number was way cool. But the unhappy reality of the episode is much less appealing, as Cuddy's health scare sends House back on the Vicodin, which puts the kibosh on their relationship, which means we're back to Square One. Again. Even if you weren't a Huddy fan, this latest development earns a big sigh. And a realization that some long-running shows often come perilously close to wearing out their welcome. ... Cannot believe that next week is already the finale for Syfy's terrifically entertaining Face Off competition for special-effects makeup artists. This week's challenge was among the best, in which they created disguises for themselves and had to fool their loved ones in person. Syfy is repeating the freshman season throughout the day next Wednesday in advance of the finale. Treat yourself, especially if you're a horror geek. (And really, what Syfy fan isn't?)
That's a wrap. (FYI: I'm still playing catch-up from some recent R&R time away, plus I spent most of this week submerged in long-form projects for future columns, so I'll be more comprehensive in weeks to come.) Stay tuned in the week ahead, as Glee goes to Regionals, Parks and Recreation finally throws its Harvest Festival, V wraps its season with a coup against Anna (and a high body count, we hear) and Paget Brewster takes her leave from Criminal Minds. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter.