Dark and twisty from start to finish, the legal thriller Damages doesn't quite deliver on its season-long promise to give bloodthirsty rivals Patty Hewes and Ellen Parsons the courtroom showdown many fans have long awaited. Which doesn't mean tonight's series finale (DirecTV's Audience Network, 9/8c) is short on fireworks between Glenn Close (a two-time Emmy winner as Patty) and Rose Byrne, who by the time the various convoluted plot strands play out, conclude "we both have plenty of blood on our hands."
Bloody, yes, if at times a bit anti-climactic in the final hour, which goes on for at least one too many time jumps, though we do get to see one of Patty's best-ever hairstyles before it's over. The primary legal case, involving Wikileaks-styled Internet whistle-blower Channing McClaren (a muted Ryan Phillippe) and his volatile No. 2 Rutger Simon (the terrific John Hannah), is resolved in perhaps too pat a manner, but the custody case involving Patty's grandchild takes some interesting twists. It wouldn't be Damages if there weren't at least one major casualty before it's over, and the show has been foreshadowing one possible fatality all season. To avoid spoilers, let's just say that on Damages seeing and believing are often two very different things, for good reason.
And there's no question that Patty Hewes, so cold and calculating, such an enigma up to the final close-up, will rank high among the major triumphs of Close's fabulous career. In a finale that continually questions whether deeply flawed characters are worthy of forgiveness, or even salvation, Patty's blistering final encounter with a not-quite-loved one should clinch her fifth straight (and last) Emmy nomination for the role. She's a damaged character, for sure, but you can't take your eyes off her. Not if you value your back.
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KID STUFF: In the revised screener I forced myself to sit through for NBC's new (though it seems instantly ancient) Guys With Kids sitcom, there is at least the happy addition of a theme song, with lyrics that go "Why would you walk when you can run?"
Not a bad idea. Run, don't walk, from this depressingly generic retro-sitcom about — guess what — guys with kids. (What's next, Gals With Jobs?) So squishy and lacking in edge it might as well have been written on Nerf, Guys was inspired by a single sight gag: three baby daddies in a bar, revealing they've got Baby Bjorns strapped to their chests. Awww, how cute. What else ya got? Not a lot, which is really sad considering this comes from Jimmy Fallon's production company, having pitched the idea of a "DILFs"-type sitcom to NBC execs, who are trying to broaden the image of the networks' comedies this year, apparently by dumbing them down. (Kids gets a preview tonight at 10/9c; starting Sept. 26, it will be paired with the annoying Animal Practice in the 8/7c hour on Wednesdays.)
Kids may not be the worst executed sitcom this fall, but it's easily the most forgettable. Jesse Bradford smacks of Central Casting (David Alan Basche apparently being busy over on TV Land) as the divorced dad of the trio, still henpecked by his loathsome ex (Erinn Hayes, replacing Sara Rue from the original pilot, who's gone off to ABC's equally dismal Malibu Country), who wins every argument by reminding him that adorable little Ernie "grew inside of me." Anthony Anderson is the Mr. Mom/stay-at-home dad of the group (married to Cosby Show alum Tempestt Bledsoe), exhausted and easily riled, especially when it comes to the TV his four kids broke. (At least he isn't subjected to dreck like this.) When he tells his kids, "You're making Daddy stupid," he should be blaming the writers. Zach Cregger rounds out the buddy circle as the Peter Pan overgrown kid of the gang, who's married to stay-at-home Jamie-Lynn Sigler (yes, The Sopranos' Meadow!). If it sounds like the ladies are a shade more defined, or at least more creatively cast, than the men, you wouldn't be wrong. Not that it matters.
I found myself wishing this would take the Rugrats approach of showing everything from the babies' point-of-view. I bet the kids only wish they could run from this sorry mess.
REALITY WATCH: NBC certainly put a crease in Simon Cowell's T-shirt by scheduling a third installment of The Voice opposite the first hour of the new and hopefully improved The X Factor on Fox (both at 8/7c). Given the initial sideshow factor of putting Britney Spears on the judging panel, I doubt Simon has much to worry about. Although from a 10-minute clip reel Fox provided, it looks like Simon's amused banter with precocious Demi Lovato (who chides the "old man" to use breath mints if he's going to get in her face) throws off more sparks. In the early rounds, look for a 13-year-old girl belting out Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" to emerge as an early favorite. ... The six finalists compete one last time on NBC's America's Got Talent (9/8c), with the winner revealed Thursday. Seems obvious to me that comedian Tom Cotter is the only one left with star presence enough to be able to fill a room in Vegas. But I still miss the dog ventriloquist, so maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree.