Welcome to the season finale/Upfront edition of our Week in Review, recapping one of the busiest weeks of any TV year. Every day a different splashy song and dance (in some cases, literally) heralding the new shows that are going to save network TV, while at night the season-ending sweeps frenzy means potentially game-changing moments on show after show. The irony is that Upfront week is also a social week, with parties and other commitments keeping a loyal viewer away from the TV for too many precious hours. Still, I managed to get through much of my playlist, so here goes.
First, in case you missed them, here are my Upfront reports from NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS and The CW. While much of the best-looking stuff, especially at works-in-progress NBC and ABC, is being pushed back to midseason, the fall doesn't look quite as unpromising as it did a year ago, when it seemed as if the networks weren't even trying to engage us.
Most promising trend: As usual, music, with Fox's The X Factor looming and NBC giving a fall berth to The Sing-Off while waiting until the new year to launch the Broadway-based Smash alongside a new season of The Voice. Prettiest trend: Aping the '60s look of Mad Men with ABC's breezy Pan Am and NBC's murky The Playboy Club. Riskiest trend: Fairy-tale legends and creatures living among us in ABC's Once Upon a Time and NBC's Grimm. Most annoying trend: a batch of sitcoms featuring men obsessed with what it takes to be a man in a feminized society (ABC's Last Man Standing, Man Up and the grotesque Work It, which I'm betting will never see the light of day; plus CBS' How to Be a Gentleman). Dudes, grow a pair and shut up about it.
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But all of that is projecting into an uncertain fall future. Let's get back to business with how some of this week's shows closed shop for the season — often with a bang.
DISHONEST JOHN: Shocker of the week, and for once living up to the hype: The Mentalist finally confronts Red John, the nemesis who ruined his life, and it's ... Bradley Whitford!?! Oozing a silky menace reminiscent of Kevin Spacey at his creepiest, John comes face to face with Patrick Jane in a crowded mall food court, where the psychopath's perverse cool is deliciously unsettling. Red John apologizes (but not really) for the pain he's caused, insists he's retiring to do good, and after acknowledging their special connection, tells Jane "I want to release you from your curse" of revenge. "I'm not a monster," he says. "I'm not worth ruining your life over." But Jane's already ruined, and as Red John attempts to make an ironically quiet exit, Patrick forces him to talk about the murder of his family — where the episode gets its title ("Strawberries and Cream") as Red John describes the scent of Jane's daughter. That's the last straw, and as Red John starts to walk away, Jane calls him back and shoots him three times with his concealed handgun. (A nice touch, as earlier on he chided the in-hiding Hightower, "You people and your guns!") With a cool "check please" as the mall crowd runs around screaming after the shooting, we leave Patrick Jane coolly awaiting his fate. And that's how you set up a fourth season from a position of strength.
KISS ME KATE: Runner-up shocker of the week: the emotionally charged Castle finale in which we learn Capt. Montgomery was in on the conspiracy involving the murder of Beckett's mom from the beginning. Inadvertently, of course, but he still has to pay the price, dying a hero's death to save Kate from the hit man. Naturally, there's someone else out there pulling the strings, and even with his life on the line, Capt. Ray won't tell her who. Castle spends much of the hour trying to persuade Beckett (with urging from her father) to play it safe and step back from this dangerous case, telling her she deserves to be happy. But it backfires, and in a very heated scene, she challenges him on the nature of their relationship and declares it to be over. Even sidekicks Esposito and Ryan come to blows over their boss being dirty. Everyone's reconciled at the Captain's sad funeral, but as Beckett is giving the eulogy, Castle sees the sun flashing off an object in the distance, and before he can tackle his partner to the ground, she takes a bullet. Castle declares, "I love you, Kate," over her fallen body as her eyes close — and ours roll a bit at the thought that anyone might actually think she's dead.
THE SUITE LIFE: Best of show honors, as has been the case most of the season, goes to The Good Wife for its classy and emotionally intense breaking of the Alicia-and-Will sexual tension barrier. Getting smashed at a hotel bar after their latest legal victory — engineered, in a clever twist, by none other than new State's Attorney Peter Florrick, who sent the smoking-gun bloody glove to Will's attention (one last swipe at his sleazy election rival) — Alicia and Will finally confront their mutual attraction. "What if we were suddenly to have good timing?" wonders Will, whose girlfriend has split for a new job in London. "What would that look like?" he asks, and Alicia answers, "I think that would look like an exceptional moment." And so it is, as Will secures a $7800-a-night (!) Presidential Suite and they ride an elevator that stops on every floor (courtesy of a brat's prank). The editing is sensational and stirring as the tension and passion mounts at each opening and closing of the door. Voyeurism has rarely been such fun. And then when they get to the suite, Will's key doesn't work. Bummer. Except it does, because Alicia knows how to work it. Read into that what you will. As they go in, we pull away, beyond satisfied.
Also of note: A smart move bringing Eli Gold (the terrific Alan Cummings) and his political consulting business into Lockhart-Gardner, and assigning Alicia as his liaison. And there's a great moment after Kalinda does some extra-curricular nuzzling with fellow sleuth Kelli Giddish, then blanches when she realized she's just bedded another unfaithful married spouse. Looks like someone's learned her lesson. I know Emmy voters tend to be in thrall to cable drama, but what a message it would send if this deserving show were to take Best Drama honors this year.
BABY BOOM: What would the end of a season be without some emotional turmoil? Especially on Grey's Anatomy, where the course of true love never met a pothole it didn't like. Cristina and Owen have their latest falling-out once she decides to terminate her surprise pregnancy, having no desire for motherhood despite Owen's joy and insistence that "I imagine such a huge life for us." (Seriously, Cristina? You'd say no to that?) While Cristina tries to convince Owen she's "not a monster" — the second time that line is used this Thursday (see above Mentalist item) — Meredith is strapped into the front car of the roller coaster, as Derek flips out over her tampering with his Alzheimer's trial, and he even seems OK with her losing her job. Which doesn't happen once Chief Webber realizes she did it for Adele, making him culpable as well. In the win-one-lose-one column, Meredith gets adoptive custody of baby Zola, but brings the infant home to a house without McDreamy, who's setting up camp at the unfinished Shepherd Estate. (The empty room we saw in the teasers belongs to Alex, on the outs with everyone after ratting on Meredith.) All of this trauma plays out convincingly, and is leavened by moments of happiness for Teddy and Henry, Bailey and hunky Nurse Eli, and perky April Kepner, who got the chief resident's job. Loved her panicked look when Avery made her realize she's going to have to boss people around. That oughta be fun.
Meanwhile, over on Bones, babies prove to be a good thing, as Angela and Hodgins deliver a boy with unimpaired vision and Bones surprises Booth with the news that their recent tryst has led to a baby bump. Booth is all smiles, and so in her way is Bones — no doubt because Emily Deschanel won't have to hide her own pregnancy. And fans can relax that their heroes are finally a couple, breathing a sigh of relief that Booth was more careful when it came to Hannah.
OFFICE-IALLY OVER: When Andy publicly turns down Erin's sock-puppet come-on in the one of the many subplots in the star-swollen overlong finale of The Office, he explains to us: "Aren't there some things that you really want to like, but you just can't seem to like it — like Mad Men or football?" To that, I would add The Office in this post-Steve Carell transition phase. The Will Ferrell character was a misfire, and so is this all-star job interview stunt. Only James Spader feels at home, smarmily staring everyone down with his "Everything is sex" philosophy and creeping out Jim, who nonetheless thinks he might be a genius. Andy's passive-aggressive desire to fail upwards is intriguing, and there is one amusing running gag of Pam running interference on Creed's attempts to poison Dunder Mifflin's client base. But unless Kathy Bates decides to stay on site for good — and she won't, because she'll be busy practicing Harry's Law (more's the pity) — I can't see a good reason to make The Office a Thursday priority any longer.
THE COUNTDOWN: We're in the final run for TV's two top talent competitions, so let's handicap them. Raise your hand if you think Scotty McCreery isn't going to win American Idol, and then tell me how the weather is out on that limb. Losing James Durbin a week ago took the wind out of this show's sails, leaving no tension or clash of styles in next week's finale. And it's now more clear than ever that the Tiger Beat generation is calling the shots with the two teenage finalists. One is unquestionably a star (Scotty), and the other is a perfectly sweet if under-confident ingénue (Lauren) who might have been better served if she'd waited until at least her late teens to play this game. (But hey, she's in the finals, so what do I know?) It's Scotty's to lose, but by now, I think we're all (to paraphrase the tiresome Randy) really just in it to end it.
The race feels a little tighter in the Dancing With the Stars finals, but Hines Ward will likely carry on the tradition of pro athletes winning, thanks to his chivalrous response to his partner Kym Johnson's injury this week. Wiping away tears after they finished their routine, Ward won on emotional points, and in this kind of contest, that matters. (And that really was a scary fall she took, with the football star landing on top of her neck.) But don't count out the resilient and hilarious Kirstie Alley, or the season's best overall dancer: Disney discovery Chelsea Kane.
HONOR ROLL: "Really? Still can't talk to me?" — This is Penny, waking up in bed with tongue-tied Raj "the morning after" on The Big Bang Theory's hilarious finale. Some fun resetting of the relationships, as Penny drunkenly confesses she should have never broken up with Leonard, who's rocked to learn new girlfriend Priya is moving back to India, while newly engaged Howard and Bernadette fight over the fancy watch she gave him — inflaming his insecurity at being the only non-Ph.D. in the group. As for Sheldon and Amy: They'll always have Skype. ... "Does the carpet match the face?" — This is evil librarian ex-wife Tammy (Megan Mullally) taunting Parks and Recreation's Ron Swanson after his eyebrows and much of his legendary mustache are singed off while lighting the memorial flame to the memory of Li'l Sebastian. Wonderful sight gag, and a great cliffhanger for Leslie Knope, as political headhunters recruit her to run for office, but tell her there can't be a whiff of scandal. Like her office romance with Ben? ... "His face looks like a candle." — This is Claire, one of many in the Modern Family flinching in horror at patriarch Jay's distorted-by-Botox face. "What were you thinking? You're a veteran!" shrieks Cam. I respectfully disagree with our Jeer earlier this week. Physical comedy and slapstick should be embraced when a cast can pull it off with this much panache, and the whole point was to explore the fallout when a loved one laughs at another's misfortune. Besides, even if you didn't think Cam falling in the kiddie pool was funny, his encounter with the screen door was a hoot. And then he gets the last laugh watching Phil and Claire stumble down the hill in their Sunday best: "It's the juxtaposition of absurdist comedy against the backdrop of a formal setting."
ODDS AND ENDS: Was there any sight more gruesome and graphic than the bathtub scene of House cutting into his own leg with a scalpel to remove cancerous tumors? (His own fault for taking a non-approved drug.) Naturally, Cuddy comes to his rescue, reminding him how "unhappy people do reckless things." How is House going to survive without her next season? (Lisa Edelstein's departure being one of the unhappier headlines of the week.) ... I don't know which Sue Sylvester bothers me more: the over-the-top raging cartoon villainess or the maudlin bully-with-a-heart-of-mush who turned up in this week's Glee to mourn her beloved sister Jean and then bury the hatchet with the New Directions altruists who stage and of course sing ("Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka) at the funeral. I don't trust the truce to last, but in the meantime, we get some outstanding solos (including Kurt dipping from the Gypsy well again, Santana in Amy Winehouse mode, Mercedes trying a little tenderness and Rachel channeling Barbra of course) during the auditions for lead singer at Nationals, which feels like it's happening in an entirely different episode. On to New York for the finale. ... The world of Game of Thrones expands again, to the remote Eyrie fortress where Catelyn's mad sister Lisa (widow of the previous Hand of the King) resides in exile, still suckling her weird and sadistic son at her breast. We are very creeped out by this. But at least we can escape, unlike poor framed Tyrion the Imp, trapped in the Eyrie's open-air cliffside prison. Still, he's better off than the Mountain's horse, cleaved in two after a disastrous joust. OK, maybe that was more gruesome than House's leg.