Finale Fever: The Critic's Notebook
Steve Carell by Chris Haston/NBC Photo
As the season rushes to a close, you win some, you lose some. Take Steve Carell, who got a bonus in Thursday's finale of
(one of the rare hour-long episodes that didn't wear out its welcome) with the arrival of Amy Ryan as new HR chief Holly. I'll miss Toby, but for as long as she stays, she's terrific.
Two nights later, however, Carell presided over a miserably and all-too-typically unfunny season finale of
Saturday Night Live
- sparked only by two cameos by John McCain, spoofing his age ("the oldness it takes to protect America, to honor her, love her and tell her about what cute things the cat did") and then during
, satirically urging the Democrats: "Do not under any circumstances pick a candidate too soon." When
sticks to politics, it's generally pretty sharp. Otherwise, the eyes glaze, and not just because it's past midnight. (Did enjoy Ricky Gervais' droll bit, lording it over the American
by showing us the rarely seen Japanese "original.")
But back to
. Some great bits as Michael prepares to send off his nemesis Toby (the terrifically hangdog Paul Lieberstein, who co-wrote the episode) with as little dignity as possible. Michael's out-of-whack hatred of this timid schlub has been a reliably funny running gag for years, but it was upstaged this week by the priceless joke of watching Holly instantly fall for the prank when told that Kevin (the hilarious Brian Baumgartner) is "slow." When Kevin offered Holly some of his M&Ms, you saw him through her eyes. And what we know to be a case of sadly arrested eternal adolescence (a gruesome variation on the Peter Pan syndrome) instead looked like Dunder Mifflin had given equal opportunity to the developmentally challenged. Kevin meanwhile confuses her cheerfully pity-laced empathy as a come-on. Michael, naturally, is instantly smitten- make that inappropriately stimulated (another funny scene)- by someone who plays along with his Yoda impersonation and other bad jokes. Too bad Jan is back in the picture, preggers from a sperm bank ("I need to make this one count"), causing Michael to step back from Holly because "I'm going to be kind of a daddy"- much like Jim stalling his long-anticipated proposal to Pam during the fireworks display when Andy steals his thunder by impulsively popping the question to a none-too-enthused Angela ("I SAID OK!"). Final reveal: Angela is boffing Dwight after hours. And Ryan is arrested for fraud. Serves the cokehead right for making Jim's life miserable.
Another show had a more permanent finale over the weekend. CBS' cult fave
wisely faded to black with its romantic heroes, Mick and Beth (Alex O'Loughlin and Sophia Myles), in a clinch, not in some sort of mortal or immortal peril. A cliffhanger would have been the wrong way to go, even if the show had been renewed. "I can't close the door on Beth," Mick voice-overed, after Beth tearfully shuts the door on him and their star-crossed vamp-human romance. He rekindles the flame by declaring his love and, more important, remembering what she was wearing the day they met.
was just starting to deal with interesting notions of undying love among vamps: a vampire couple, together for 150 years, decides to go down in flames together rather than let one be sacrificed alone to "vampire justice" (administered in part by a ferocious Claudia Black of
). We learned about the concept of "freshies," human "donors" who freely offer their blood to vampire mates. (Josef naturally has one.) Beth was still struggling with feeling left out of all the vampire underworld intrigue, and Mick was still torn between his loyalty to his vampire buds and to his protective yearning for Beth. ("You want me to drink your blood?" he asked her after she catches him and Josef red-mouthed, sucking on Josef's "freshie.") There was lots of untapped potential on this show. CBS blew it with this one.
And finally, add my voice to the
for its climactic five-year fast-forward, a calculated attempt to restart and rejuvenate a show as it heads into its fifth season, a point at which many shows begin to show their age. (
already was being written off at least a year ago, before Dana Delany and a twister came along to bring some spark to the neighborhood again.) Much like
reinvigorating itself with its flash-forward approach this season,
now gets to reinvent itself instead of just creeping along, yoked to a continuation of many of the same stories and conflicts many of us have already had our fill of.
Speaking of which: Susan with Gale Harold instead of Mike? Great twist. If they can't act like adults even when it comes to naming their baby, it's kind of like what Tom said to Bob and Lee about commitment: "Is that person in bed next to you worth the trouble?" At this stage in Mike and Susan's lives, not so much. I don't know what the show has in store for them, or even at this point if Mike's a part of the show's future, but the thought of spending the next few years with the couple in their current state is reason enough to get behind this leap into the future.
It's a bold move, all right, but not as revolutionary as it sounds. The characters will still presumably be much the same, for better or worse, but like picking up a new volume of a book series that jumps ahead in time, we get to renew our acquaintance with a whole new set of secrets, skeletons and flashbacks- all in service to what TV should be about after all: juicy storytelling. The gimmick won't mean much, though, if there isn't a strong narrative hook (something like Mary Alice's suicide) to get next season started. The writers, as should always be the case, have their work cut out for them.
(Matt Mitovich weighs in on the twist