Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer by Ben Kaller/TNT
This week's crackling finale of TNT's The Closer was a splendid reminder of why Kyra Sedgwick is so deserving of the best-actress Emmy this year (yes, she'll be getting it for last season, but the character was just as strong a year ago). Being on basic cable, it's possible she'll once again by upstaged in what is one of the more crowded categories - her five other nominees include Sally Field (my second pick), Minnie Driver and past winners (in order of preference) Edie Falco, Mariska Hargitay and Patricia Arquette. But if for whatever reason she fails to score, this season's finale once again puts her at the top of my list for next year's competition.

It was a great two-parter, with Brenda really on the ropes both professionally and personally. First, her case is in tatters after she fails to get a confession from her suspect. Then, midway through the high-profile trial, the defendant's alibi turns up out of nowhere with rock-solid video evidence that he couldn't have done it. Even worse, Brenda learns to her surprise that her fiancé Fritz (an above-par Jon Tenney) is an alcoholic with several DUIs on his record from before they met.

The Brenda-Fritz confrontation was powerfully handled, with Fritz tearing into Brenda for her hypocrisy in branding him a liar, given the cavalier way she plays with truth on and off the job. Sedgwick's silent reaction to his bitter rant, visibly gulping and ultimately unable to meet his eyes, was quite moving. She, and we, worried that she had finally overstepped. All I can say is Fritz has the patience of Job to stick with her and suffer her neuroses, not that she wasn't right to explode when she learned he had withheld such critical life information.

The twists in the case were nearly as satisfying, taking on a new level of intrigue when the good guys discover the defendant was rolling (so to speak) in dough from a secret second residence he was using (shades of Weeds) as a marijuana grow house. More like grow estate. As usual, if you follow the money, you solve (and win) the case. Well done.

On a side note, I hope I'm finally back in business in filing Dispatches. The last few weeks have been filled with marathon screening projects (most recently the 15 or so hours of Ken Burns' majestic The War; more on that one in days to come) as well as beating the drum media-wise for fall previews, the new season and the upcoming Emmys.

The official launch of the new season is still almost two weeks away, but bits and pieces of new programming are beginning to show up, and I'll try to tackle many of these shows head-on as best I can.

By the way, I didn't think anything could be more pathetic and depressing than Britney Spears' sloppy, inert nonperformance that opened Sunday's Video Music Awards on MTV. But that was before I forced myself to sit through the smug, hateful, amateurish and bottom-feeding slime that was the premiere of the syndicated TMZ newsmag (and I use that term very loosely).

Watching media vultures snark and mock about celebrities and pseudo-celebs - and, in one sequence, absolute nobodies (drunken girls clubbing, flashing the camera and vomiting in the street) - is one of the most degrading and worthlessly empty half hours of bad TV I've endured in ages.

Shame clearly has nothing to do with putting together this dreadful and tacky wallow in shallow voyeurism. Tuning in, on the other hand, is cause for nothing but shame, and I'd advise washing your eyes out with industrial-strength cleanser afterwards.

On the Web, TMZ is a guilty pleasure for celebrity rubberneckers, I suppose. As TV, it's pure poison.