Michael Cudlitz, Gerald McRaney

Without question, the hour of TV I have been most anticipating — and dreading — this week is the season, and for all we know, series finale of TNT's remarkable, brutal, bleak yet gripping cop drama Southland (Wednesday, 10/9c). Anticipating because each week, this series somehow raises the dramatic stakes for its characters, in a grueling but rewarding tour of duty through the socio-ethnic sprawl of Los Angeles. Dreading because Southland has almost always lived on the verge of ratings extinction, from the time TNT rescued the show after NBC dumped it before its second season could even premiere, and I fear (as do many) that this fifth season could very likely be its last hurrah. (Several of its stars have signed up for new work during this pilot season, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall.)

Way less populist and escapist than the TNT procedural norm, at times (like last week's insanely harrowing episode) as rough if not rougher in content than the envelope-pushing one expects to see on FX and AMC, Southland pulled no punches this year. Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King) struggling as a single mom of a newborn? Kill off her own mom! Things aren't much easier for patrol partners Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) and Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy), headed toward what promises to be a blistering no-turning-back confrontation over a cover-up (involving a botched break-in at Sammy's home to destroy evidence) that has gone murderously sideways.

Regarding the bruised heart and tormented soul of the show, veteran Officer John Cooper (the tremendous Michael Cudlitz), where to start? Or more to the point, where to end? He has been in an existential funk most of this season, paired with partners who get under his skin or on his nerves, confronted with the devastating emotional breakdown of his unhappily retired mentor (Gerald McRaney, also Emmy-worthy) — and in last week's chapter, forced to endure a humiliating and horrifying takedown/kidnapping by two psychotic tweakers that found him cuffed to the bloody corpse of his partner, who he was later forced to help bury. Of this week's finale, not made available for preview, we're told only that "John copes with the aftermath of his kidnapping." Good luck with that.

Not sure how I'll cope if this turns out to be the end of the road for Southland. I'm just grateful we got to ride along for as long as we did.

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A BREAK FROM SUBURBIA:
Few relationships end up where they began by the time we say goodbye to ABC's garishly stylized but sometimes genuinely affecting Suburgatory in an eventful hour-long second-season finale (8/7c). Things are moving too fast for the embittered Tessa (Jane Levy, who would be a soul mate to Awkward's Ashley Richards/Jenna in the crossover of our dreams). She just broke up with Ryan (Parker Young) and plots revenge against that "self-obsessed mall queen" Dalia (Carly Chaikin), unaware that George (flat-out terrific Jeremy Sisto) has impulsively sold their house and plans to buy a new one with Dallas (Cheryl Hines), effectively making Tessa and her not-even-frenemy housemates. The strains on father, mother and mismatched daughters take a toll and some unexpected twists by the time we hear one last refrain of that "pleasant nightmare" theme song.

SING IT: Perhaps my favorite line in the Suburgatory finale is when uptight Sheila (Ana Gasteyer) announces to a gaggle of wriggling girls at her Purity Ball: "No female role model has the last name Minaj!" Some of us might differ, we who are getting a kick out of the mercurial and unpredictable Nicki Minaj on the American Idol judging panel. Judges aside, Fox's singing competition (8/7c) got a lot more interesting, and the eliminations to come more intense, now that the field has been narrowed to all five ladies of the Top 10, a first for the show, guaranteeing that for the first time since 2007 and Jordin Sparks, a female Idol will be crowned. My pick at this point: Candice-or-Kree, with the remainder (Amber, Angie and Janelle in my own personal ranking) contingent on the genre and their own level of confidence each week.

On a considerably smaller stage, you'll find the Grand River Singers of La Crosse, Wisconsin, a "Glee-inspired" young-adult show choir whose flamboyant antics and not-so-new directions toward an elusive spotlight form the basis of VH1's "comedic reality series" Off Pitch (10/9c). Sounds like we're meant to laugh at rather than with them, but surely whatever they get up to, it can't be any more absurd than the plotting on Smash this season.

THE WEDNESDAY GUIDE: Guest-star alert: Sandwiched between repeats (at 9:31/8:31c), ABC's How to Live With Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life) smartly casts White Collar's Willie Garson — Mozzie! — as wacky Elizabeth Perkins' brother, while Sarah Chalke romances Veep's Reid Scott, a former classmate first seen in scrubs (coincidence? I think not!), at her folks' annual Oscar party. ... CBS' Survivor (8/7) is touting the season's "most shocking" tribal council yet — according to the promos, even Survivor scholar Cochran is impressed — but will Dawn, seen melting down in every other ad, even make it there? ... National Geographic Channel's Locked Up Abroad opens its ninth season with one of the more celebrated POW stories in military history, profiling Vietnam War veteran Ernie Brace, who bonded with Senator (and former presidential candidate) John McCain as they communicated between walls of the "Hanoi Hilton" during their grueling incarceration.

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