How happy are we that, despite the latest round of apocalyptic predictions, the world didn't end last weekend. Although for Oprah Winfrey fans, the week that followed probably felt like the End of Days. It was also the End of Season — which comes as a bit of a relief, although TV didn't take even a day's rest before launching the summer season with the premiere of a personal fave, Fox's So You Think You Can Dance.
But back to Oprah. Was I the only one wondering "Who died?" during her final victory lap in daytime? The two-day all-star orgy of self-congratulation at Chicago's United Center — "a love intervention on steroids" is how Oprah described it on her last episode — felt as much like a canonization of the Queen of Talk, the high priestess of self-empowerment, than a mere celebration.
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Yes, there were plenty of affecting and entertaining moments. Who didn't get the vapors along with a tearful Oprah when that chorus line of Morehouse scholarship grads flanked their patron saint bearing lights while Kristin Chenoweth belted "For Good." Beyoncé, as usual, was magnificent. (And didn't she show up those poor American Idol girls a few nights later when she took the Nokia stage to remind us what a real star looks like?) Also enjoyed Jerry Seinfeld's wry "husband-in-training" comedy shtick, which managed to cut through the Oprah event's over-the-big-top pomposity. But whose idea was it to let anyone, let alone Usher, go on after Aretha Franklin? Really, you just can't top her Amazing Grace. And who would want to?
From basking in the circus cult of celebrity, her very last and quieter hour took us to the Church of Oprah for an hour-long "love letter" Sermon from the Mount of Harpo, repeating many of the life lessons and philosophies we've absorbed during this quarter-century journey down "the yellow brick road of blessings." It came off at times like a "last lecture," but we know better. Unlike Johnny Carson's peerlessly classy exit, Oprah's TV mission continues. Next stop: proving she can OWN cable.
Speaking of which, let's hope OWN's Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes lasts long enough to give us some backstage glimpses of this final week. (I know many will miss The Oprah Winfrey Show, but I could watch the candid Behind the Scenes forever.)
THE WINNER IS: Have there ever been two more predictable winners than American Idol's country-boy wonder Scotty McCreery and Dancing With the Stars' chivalrous football pro Hines Ward? Front runners all season, with telegenic charisma and aw-shucks congeniality enhancing their confident performance styles, they were (quoting someone, but I can't recall who) in it to win it, and so they did. Give Idol in particular credit for clinching this resurgent comeback year with stronger personalities and talents on stage and at the judges' table — though it's a shame they almost never actually judged anybody once Hollywood Week was over. In a season that many thought would see the post-Simon Cowell Idol drop off the ratings map, the opposite happened. And without the distraction in recent seasons of bidding this or that judge farewell, Idol staged one of its most memorable finale shows. James Durbin realized his metal fantasy by wailing with Judas Priest. Tony Bennett stepped out with Haley (whose fantasy was that?), and Lauren Alaina was seriously upstaged by a leggy Carrie Underwood, while Scotty was more evenly matched by the unassuming Tim McGraw. Lady Gaga? Yes, please. (And hey, that was So You Think You Can Dance all-star Mark Kanemura perched on the edge of glory with her!) The Spider Man musical? No thanks. And while there was no shock in Scotty's triumph, his round of hugs for all was awfully endearing. The kid's only 17. What a career he's going to have.
THE KISS-OFF: In what world does Glee's Rachel Berry not know Cats isn't playing on Broadway? (It would have been funnier if the scalper had sold her tickets to Spring Awakening — again, long-shuttered, but when Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff were in the leads, it was quite the hot ticket.) Just one of several missteps in Glee's season-ending visit to New York, including a dance around the Lincoln Center fountain that every time I've tried it had security cops chasing me away. Mr. Schu considering running away to Broadway? Never bought it. Cheyenne Jackson still doesn't get a solo? That's just wrong, though loved his take on New Directions: "[They] look like they haven't been baked properly." For Good, sung by Kristin Chenoweth in the afore-mentioned Oprah spectacular, is TV's song of the week, as Kurt and Rachel transport themselves onto the Gershwin Wicked stage for a duet, after breakfasting at Tiffany's and other iconic Manhattan things. (Warning to stage-struck Gleeks: Don't go to Sardi's expecting to encounter the Patti LuPones of the theater world. Maybe last century.) So we're to believe Rachel and Finn's awkwardly lingering onstage kiss torpedoed the group's chances of ranking in the Top 10? I'm thinking a bigger factor is that they shouldn't have dipped back into the "Original Song" well so soon. (And these originals were way inferior to the first ones.) Placing 12th, though, sounds about right for such a creatively unhinged second season.
BLOODY SUNDAY: Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown — especially when that crown is made of molten gold and poured over said head. So endeth the misrule on HBO's enthralling Game of Thrones of exiled princeling Viserys, as Drogo scalds to death his pregnant bride's creepy brother in a wild pagan climax to another eventful episode. "He is no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon," we're told, as we wait for Daenerys' dragon eggs to hatch. Other best bit: Tyrion the Imp's release from his "sky cell" prison after his champion wins a duel in that awesome court with a hole to oblivion in its floor. Peter Dinklage has another personal best as he holds the court (and warped little Robin Arryn) in thrall with his mock confession. ... Meanwhile, over on The Killing, we knew it was only a matter of time before grieving dad Stan Larsen would break. And it's Bennet Ahmed's bad luck to be on the receiving end of his pent-up rage, taking a serious beating while Stan's sidekick Belko hops around in agitated bloodlust. What a bloody mess, and wait till Stan hears from rattled wife Mitch that the incriminating Grand Canyon T-shirt wasn't Rosie's after all. One coincidence too many? Possibly. I know some viewers are turning against the show for its caving to contrived mystery conventions, and the political subplots seem more irrelevant by the week, but I'm still buying it (mostly) on an emotional level.
LAST LAUGHS: Oh how I'll miss my favorite comedy block: ABC's Wednesday triumvirate of The Middle, Modern Family and Cougar Town. The first two will return next fall, but the underperforming (read: underappreciated) Cougar will be caged in limbo between seasons of Dancing With the Stars — until or unless one of ABC's new comedies flames out, which I'm betting will be sooner than later. (Sometimes networks overplan their schedules during Upfronts, and reality sets in once the fall numbers come in.) Idol notwithstanding, these finales made my Wednesday night most memorable.
On the ever-delightful Middle, it's all about the parents Heck (Frankie and Mike) exulting in the looming end of the school year — until they realize the effort it will take to get each kid to the finish line: Axl, who's neglected his community service; Brick, who ignored his season-long journal project to the last minute and might be held back another year in scary Doris Roberts' class; and born loser Sue, who'll be deprived of her perfect-attendance award at junior-high graduation if she can't prove she was at school on a specific day. "I spend my whole life congratulating myself," Sue says. "I want other people to congratulate me." Brick is the least sanguine of all: "We're doomed," he says. ("Doomed," he repeat-whispers into his chest.) But all's well that eventually ends, and we get another delicious Raymond reunion moment between Roberts and Patricia Heaton as the gruff teacher reveals Brick was never in danger of not advancing. Anything to get Frankie out of this teacher's hair. The grace moment comes at graduation, as Poor Invisible Sue gets her recognition for perseverance, but the principal reads the name "Barb Heckey" instead. Sue's pathetic cringe turns into a grin as she and Frankie share a long laugh over the ridiculousness of it all.
Things are wonderfully wacky on Modern Family as well, as everyone rallies to celebrate Jay's birthday, though he'd rather be fishing. Among the highlights: Cam mistaken for a pervert as he tries giving Manny dating advice over the phone ("I know you're only 11, but I can't stop thinking about you"); Phil trying to pass Gloria off as his wife to a college nemesis, only to learn that landing Claire was the real coup — and for the rest of the episode, Phil fawns over his real wife the way he usually does his hot stepmother-in-law; and Jay learning to take the day in stride, his "What am I, 12" met with a "Hey!" by little Luke. The video shout-out to high points of Season 2 is nice, but I still think the madcap events of last week's episode revolving around Alex's graduation might have made a more suitable and lasting finale.
Cougar Town's hour-long sojourn to Hawaii to rescue a dejected Travis was the icing on an overstuffed cake. Danny Pudi's cameo as an eavesdropping Abed (returning a Community favor and realizing a plot point from a past episode) got the most attention, but I loved the Scrubs call-back of Ted Buckland's (Sam Lloyd) guest shot, as a guy who can take any song ("Love Shack," "The Trolley Song") and make it sadder. The gags are plentiful, and so is the heart, as Laurie brings Travis around while Jules and Grayson put the baby issue "in the suitcase" for now. If only ABC wasn't putting the show on ice in the fall.
HONOR ROLL: The final Saturday Night Live of the season lived up to the hype, with Justin Timberlake killing it as usual and Lady Gaga proving she'd be welcome back as guest host and musical guest some day. The "It's OK When It's in a 3-way" Digital Short, with Gaga joining JT and Andy Samberg, was up to their previous collaborative standards, the sketches almost all landed with more force than usual, and Weekend Update's jabs at Donald Trump ("not even winning his time slot") and Schwarzenegger (earning a "Really?!?!" rant) couldn't be more appreciated. ... If you're going to be canceled after only 13 episodes, Fox's The Chicago Code shows how to make the most of it. The thrilling climax, with crooked Alderman Gibbons being arrested in public, put a satisfying button on the season's primary arc while letting us know where the second season might have gone. A pity we won't get to see it, but at least we weren't left hanging.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS: "What are you mad about? Just let it out. You'll feel better." — Clearly Dr. James Wilson isn't a shrink, because this clumsy advice to a still lovesick (or possibly just deranged) House prompts the twisted doc to crash his car into Cuddy's (thankfully empty) dining room, after he sees her entertaining another gent after she'd told him she hadn't dated since their break-up. (The guy in question is a set-up from Cuddy's sister Paula Marshall — another indication of what a show-killer this actress is.) It's the last straw for Cuddy, and also as it turns out for Lisa Edelstein, who's not returning next season. And really, who in their right mind would come back to House, or House, at this point? Seems so unfair that this show continues well past its expiration date while Chicago Code is deprived a second shot at catching on.
HOT SUMMER NIGHTS: But to leave things on a happier note, how great is it to have Fox's So You Think You Can Dance back as the most exhilarating of summer diversions? "No other show has talent like this," boasts the fetching Cat Deeley right out of the gate — an apparent shot at NBC's groaner-ific America's Got Talent, which returns next week as a noisy reminder that we need to start planning our summer vacations. Dance's talent hunt got off on the right foot in Atlanta, with a record number of outstanding dancers passed through to Vegas. (Art student Melanie looks like an early front-runner, inspiring a classic Li'l C-ism: "I think that Zeus himself would invite you to come and dance on Olympus." Take that, Steven Tyler.) The spotlight on Thursday's opening night was mostly on quality, with very few freaks allowed in — though too much time was lavished on hapless hip-hopper John "White Chocolate" Palermo, and later on San Francisco drama queen D'on-que, who clearly had to get something off his histrionic chest, and I hope it wasn't contagious. I'm with guest judge Toni Redpath, who muttered, "That was a complete waste of time." Thankfully, most of Dance is the complete opposite of a waste of time, and I can't wait for the main event to begin.