In honor of Mother's Day, let's start there. I've already penned a tribute to the mighty Mags Bennett of FX's Justified, a poison-packing mountain mama fiercely and fatally devoted to her degenerate brood, as we saw in this week's fabulous finale. Brava, Margo Martindale. But that same Wednesday night, another Midwestern mom — The Middle's Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton) from Orson, IN — gave us a pungently funny reminder of why our moms deserve a big hug every day.
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"What present would she like?" Mike asks the kids, with a three-day deadline to "slap something together that doesn't suck. ... C'mon, this should be easy. The woman has nothin'." So what do you give the woman who has nothing? How about nothing? They give Frankie the Mother's Day gift of "not us," a day off to just lounge around the house. At first she's delighted, but being a mom, she can't help but putter around the empty nest, fixing drawers and defrosting the freezer and fishing stuff out of the toilet. You know, Mom stuff. And before you know it, Frankie's blown the whole Mother's Day — making matters worse, the rest of the family had a spectacular outing in Brown County (I know it well) without her. Cue the waterworks: "It's as if you had the Mother's Day you would have had if I was dead!" she sobs. I kind of wish the episode had stopped there, before they tried to recreate the weekend a week later, pouring salt in her wound. But still, genius.
The great Modern Family also found clever twists on the Mother's Day theme, as Mitchell eventually convinces Cam that "It certainly doesn't make you less of a man" to be a great mom — to which we add, "Girl, please!" Even more touching is macho Jay's response to Phil finding his "recipe for a perfect mom" (written when Jay was 9) tucked away in his late mother's cookbook, as Jay recreates his mom's legendary sauce. Donning Phil's ridiculous "onion goggles" to cover his tearful reaction, it's too late for Jay. He's busted. Phil of course can't help but milk it. "I shamed the proud lion," he reveals, though hugging it out is another matter. The whole family will later revel in "awwww" at Jay's inability to hide his soft side, especially when he smells the sauce. It even prompts Claire's impossible kids to apologize for their bratty behavior on the hike. Guilt trip accomplished. What a splendid show: moms, dads, kids, all keepers.
And now, a brisk walk through some of the other highs and lows of a busy sweeps week:
ANGRY MAMA: Continuing our maternal theme, how amazing is The Good Wife's Julianna Margulies in the scene when she levels with her distraught, confused kids about tossing philandering Peter out of the house on election night. (I understand the haste, but that's one fast-working real-estate lady.) "You're not those kids. You're our kids," she tries assuring Zach and Grace that they're not mere stats or pawns or even tabloid fodder. "There's a lot of attention to families like ours, and I don't want to feed that." As she urges them to keep the situation under wraps, Alicia keeps her composure until Grace cries, "Mom, you need to protect us more." That breaks her, and us. A big sob as Alicia admits, "You didn't ask for any of this." But she doesn't crack in the equally awesome encounter with Peter's irate mother Jackie, who demands to know why Alicia has hurt her son at this very moment. Margulies is magnificent as she flickers a Cheshire grin when Jackie declares, "I have come to admire aspects of you." And then when Jackie asks, "How can you talk this way?" Alicia shoots back, "Because I am this way. Your son has made me this way." To Jackie's frosty "Damn you to hell," Alicia merely walks away, seeking that elusive high road.
Her scenes with Peter are killer as well: luring him to his new furnished bachelor pad on election night, refusing to answer his query, "What can I do to make this better?" Later, he makes it easier for her when he ambushes her at their old place and accuses her of sleeping with Will. "Oh My God, the gall," indeed. "Say something that will make me fall in love with you again," she challenges him. Next stop: a clash with Kalinda. Julianna Margulies is really earning that Emmy she was robbed of a year ago.
HERE COME THE BRIDES: As you'd expect, lots of weepy hand-wringing before Callie and Arizona can tie the knot on Grey's Anatomy. "What bothers you most, my bastard child or my lesbian fiancée?" a shattered Callie asks her disapproving mother, who tells her daughter, "You are not a bride." Leave it to Bailey, everyone's surrogate mom, to remind Callie that God is in all of us, and that "your church just hasn't caught up to God yet." But the ceremony goes off without a hitch — and also without Meredith and Derek, because they're busy executing their own surprise insta-marriage in a judge's chambers so they can adopt an adorable African orphan baby they just met at the hospital. Beats a post-it note, I guess. I'd like to think this will finally convince the Mer-Der fan base that Shonda Rhimes is not going to break these two up. Ever. But the smoking gun of Meredith switching the Alzheimer-trial files is bound to blow up in their faces. That won't be pretty.
MAC AND CHEESE: Fleetwood Mac, that is, with the cheese happily provided by our friends at Glee in one of the more musically focused and enjoyable episodes of late. Sam's family dilemma brings a dose of reality to the gossipy mess of rumors — get it, Rumours? — stirred by muckraking Sue, while April (Kristin Chenoweth, always welcome) tempts Will to follow his own dream with an unlikely Broadway lure. Enjoyed most of the songs, especially Santana's Songbird and Quinn and Finn's feisty frolic with I Don't Want to Know, but Brittany stole this week's show with her "Fondue for Two" webcast featuring the feline Lord Tubbington, who seems worthy of an Animal Planet spinoff.
WHO'S THERE: Actually, Doctor Who is everywhere, and in the conclusion to this season's sensational two-part opener, we learn he's responsible for President Nixon taping everything in the Oval Office. "Dare I ask: Will I be remembered?" the pres asks the Doctor after the threat of "The Silence" has been cleverly averted by a subliminal interruption of the moonwalk feed. "Oh Dickie, Tricky Dickie, they're never going to forget you," quips the Doctor. "Say hi to David Frost for me." Oh, to be a Time Lord. (Kudos to Alex Kingston's River Song for her badass gunplay. I'd like to see her face Community's "Ace of Hearts" Annie in a round of paintball.)
CLIFFHANGER OF THE WEEK: Seriously, The Killing? You're killing me. Barely have we got past the emotional trauma of Rosie's funeral, six days into the investigation, when grieving dad Stan Larsen gets word — during his daughter's visitation — that the new prime suspect is her skeevy teacher Ahmet Bennet, who just happens to be paying his respects at the time. (Bennet's pregnant wife, a former student, is busy hiding from the cops, clutching a hammer. What's their story?) "Let me give you a ride," Stan offers an unsuspecting Bennet, and as they drive off into the (what else?) rain, we fear the worst. As does detective Sarah Linden, who goes in pursuit. Meanwhile, Bennet's participation in candidate Richmond's "all-stars" program sinks the councilman in his mayoral debate. Did we just witness a political death right there?
SOUNDS LIKE ...: A great moment in Showtime's single-mindedly carnal The Borgias, as lusty little Lucrezia takes her pet Narcissus (the stable boy Paolo) to bed, and we then see her hobbled bedridden brute of a husband, Sforza, hear a relentless creaking sound. Bedsprings? It must be, because on The Borgias, it must always be. He struggles to get up to investigate, and in a fun fake-out, we discover it's a churn making butter. Who knew anything else got pumped in 15th-century Italy? Meanwhile, wee little Joffre is betrothed to the sensual grown-up Sancia for political reasons, but while the boy primps and preens alone in the marital bed, raunchy Sancia is busy with his older rake of a brother, Juan. Those naughty Borgias!
DUMPING ON TRUMP: In the annals of presidential TV history, it's hard to imagine there has ever been such a triumphant switching of gears as President Obama swatting the gnat that is Donald Trump on a Saturday night, then announcing to the world 24 hours later that Osama bin Laden had been killed. In terms of pure schadenfreude, though, there's nothing like watching NBC types eat their own. There was Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers at the White House Correspondents Dinner dais alongside Obama, trashing his network's Celebrity Apprentice media clown by noting Trump "is running for president as a Republican, which is surprising because I though he was running as a joke." Even Obama nearly bust a gut when Meyers quipped that Trump "said recently he has a great relationship with 'the blacks,' though unless 'the Blacks' are a family of white people, I bet he's mistaken."
A few nights later, Jimmy Fallon got into the act, donning Trump drag to skewer The Donald's egotism, protesting the president breaking into the final act of Apprentice on Sunday to announce the bin Laden news. "To me, the message is clear: President Obama is so scared of me and so desperate for attention he felt the need to hunt down Osama bin Laden in the middle of my show." He then takes credit for the killing, closing with, "And God bless Donald Trump." Well, the comedy gods are blessing all of us with Trump, that's for sure.
SACRIFICE PLAY: It takes a lot to shock Survivor's Jeff Probst after this many seasons, but steadfast tin soldier Mike (actually a Marine vet) surprises everyone when he wins the Redemption Island challenge and a visit with mom, but opts to deliver the family prize unto his enemies, like the Good Book told him to. That's right, the schemers and back-stabbers of the Ometepe tribe win again (leaving pious Matt and a disgruntled Ralph from hanging with their loved ones as well) because, quoting Biblical logic, "If I give the most good to the most people, and make friends from enemies, I think that's the only play here." Ralph smells a snake, not a saint, in Mike's attempt to move himself further in the game. But Mike is resolute that "it was the right thing to do," though he apologizes to his friends. Mike's mom sides with her son in her worshipful tribute: "This is who my son is. He is a hero."
The real hero of the Redemption Island season, though, is Boston Rob, playing his team like a pro, as amazed as we all are that no one is gunning for him even now. Rob isn't coasting, though, and his strenuous efforts to win the grueling stair challenge leaves him with heat exhaustion and cramps. "Can you guys help me stand up?" he asks his tribe, shrugging off Jeff's attempts to bring in a medic. And of course the tribe rallies to lift their leader. At this rate, they'll be carrying him straight to a bed of $1 million.
FAMOUS FIRST WORDS: "You can't outrun me. I'm wearing tube socks." Who knew that before becoming such a dapper NCIS special agent, Tony DiNozzo was a scruffy Baltimore detective whose own partner once advised him, "With the right clothes, you'd be unstoppable." This week's enjoyable flashback shows us Baltimore Tony tackling (with the help of said socks) an undercover Gibbs in something of a meet cute. "You don't waste good," Gibbs later says, explaining why he brought Tony on board. Too right. Their better-than-good chemistry is one of the main reasons NCIS continues to soar in its eighth season.
TWISTS AND TURNS: Alias alert: Such a Rambaldi moment in Fringe when Olivia and Sam Weiss open the box in the museum to find an ancient image of Olivia on the parchment. She's the "crowbar" whose telekinesis will allow Peter to enter the doomsday machine. And when he does, after emotional scenes between Olivia and Peter and Walter, we're thrust into an apocalyptic future. Hello, season finale! ... They don't call it a sacrifice ritual for nothing. The body count on the penultimate Vampire Diaries includes Elena's and Jeremy's poor Aunt Jenna, turned into a vampire just so she could be brutally killed alongside werewolf Jules so Klaus could drink from Elena and break the moonstone curse. (Got that? Just kidding.) Bonnie works her fiery witchy mojo so Elijah can deliver the killing blow to his evil brother, but Klaus convinces Elijah otherwise, and the ancients literally fly the coop. "How could it get any worse?" foolishly wonders John. Well, John, you could die because you've bound your soul to Elena to save your daughter from a vampiric fate worse than death. And so it goes in Mystic Falls. Never a dull moment. ... On the CW's little-show-that-could Nikita, dastardly Percy (the great Xander Berkeley) reveals his stripes. He's been letting Division lose many of its rounds against Nikita & Co., the better to put his chess pieces into place. "Everything is about to change," he nyah-hah-hah's to an imprisoned Michael (!) as Percy sends a compromised Alex back to Nikita, her kill chip reactivated and her sense of vengeance aimed at the mentor who Percy says killed Alexandra's father. We're left with Alex pulling the trigger on Nikita, while Percy gloats over the CIA taking his bait: a "Trojan horse" black box. By the way, is there a less menacing super-villain name than Percy?
FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS: Revisiting last season's paintball classic as an elaborately produced Spaghetti Western parody, Community is in great form as it wraps its why-aren't-you-watching second second. (Part two, which goes into Star Wars/storm troopers mode, airs next Thursday.) How fun to see Lost's Josh Holloway stalking the halls as the mysterious and "network-TV-good-looking" (Abed's words) Black Rider. A hired gun for the game's ice-cream sponsor, Josh falls victim to Pierce's feigned heart attack, but not before bestowing a Sawyer-ian nickname on "Bean Allergy" Annie. "I'm winning!" Pierce announces, Sheen-style, after learning he avoided being blackballed from the study group by one solitary "red card" vote. (Could it be "Ace of Hearts" Annie?) Truly, the winners here are those lucky enough to have discovered this endlessly inventive gem of a comedy.
THE LAUGH TRACK: Maybe it's because the hilarious The Book of Mormon on Broadway raised my expectations, but I've been underwhelmed so far by the new South Park episodes. The German "Funnybot" didn't tickle my funny bone, but the running gag of Tyler Perry doing anything to accept a comedy award — and then refusing to leave the stage — cracked me up. "Oh God, how embarrassing," groaned Token, as the only kid who finds him (or Madea) funny. ... Opposite of a slam dunk: the abrasively unfunny character that The Office created for Will Ferrell. As the sadistically divisive Deangelo Vickers, Ferrell fumbles the ball in his swan song, coming alive only in the goofy air-juggling scene. Glad he's gone. ... Outside of Victor Garber purring "Very wool," another frantic and feeble misfire for 30 Rock, whose season ended not a moment too soon. ... On the other hand, loved watching Leslie and April mess with birthday-phobic Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation. His panic grows as April tortures him by making calls to party planners — "I would never make a work-related call, you know that" — and we laugh as Ron cringes in terror while Leslie leads him to his fate. Which turns out to be a private screening of war movies with all of his favorite meats and breakfast foods on a platter. She knows the way to his (and our) heart, even before we learn she rejected the Eagleton job because "you only have one home town."
AS HEARD ON TV: "He's just furniture. No offense." — Santana's riff on the ever-present, never-speaking piano player on Glee. ... "Are you planning to populate a small country?" — The Good Wife's Will to the very fertile opposing counsel Patty Nyholm (Martha Plimpton, doing double duty Tuesday in Raising Hope and this terrific recurring role). ... "You look like you sell plasma for a living." — The boss has spoken, to disheveled Detective Holder on The Killing. ... "The people that we're not turning our chairs around for could win American Idol." — The Voice's Adam Levine, indulging in possibly premature hyperbole. ... "I know which teams of girls won the booby prize." — Dirty Old Len (Goodman) on Dancing With the Stars, responding to Team Hines' cha-cha. Which, naturally, features the ill-fated Kendra, to whom Len remarks, "You were like a James Bond martini. You were shaking, I was stirred." The home audience? Not so much, Bye, Kendra. ... "Nothing to judge there." — Jennifer Lopez after Lauren's lackluster rendition of Unchained Melody on American Idol. Um, nothing to judge? Then why even show up?
That's a wrap. What else about the week in TV pleased or frustrated you? Send thoughts and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to the comments below. And in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!