<p>Summer Glau of 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles'</p>

Summer Glau of 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles'

Credit: FOX

Last week's finales: 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,' 'Life' and 'Friday Night Lights'

Thoughts on the finales of three critically adored, low-rated shows from last week

 

This is Passover and Easter week, if those observances happen to be faith-appropriate. Even if you don't have a spiritual festival of Spring that lines up with your creed, though, if you happen to pray only to the 500 Channel Television God, this was a week of renewal and rebirth.

ABC premiered "Surviving Suburbia" and "The Unusuals," NBC welcomed "Southland" and "Parks & Recreation," while CBS began the slaughter on "Harper's Island." That meant a lot of time writing reviews of new shows. [The only one I didn't get to, due to Seder-based time restraints, was "Parks & Recreation." In a nutshell, I thought it was a show that should have been funnier than it was, but I'm such a fan of the people involved that I'll give it an episode or two to find a distinct voice, rather than just coming across as a gefilte fish version of "The Office."]

If we're welcoming in the new, though, that sometimes means we need to say farewell to the old. A week that saw five major network premieres, also saw three major network season finales, with the wrap-up episodes of NBC's "Life" and "Friday Night Lights," plus FOX's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles."

All three shows completed their production in distinct renewal limbo, leaving their creative teams with the challenge of figure out how to settle things with fans and with the networks. "Friday Night Lights" has, of course, been picked up for an additional two seasons, but smart money suggests that "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" and "Life" may also have aired their series finales.

[Full thoughts on those three finales after the break... Obviously I'll be spoiling the finales, though I'll be doing it in order of "Friday Night Lights," "Life" "Terminator," if you want to skim...]

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<p>Eliza Dushku of 'Dollhouse'</p>

Eliza Dushku of 'Dollhouse'

Credit: FOX

'Dollhouse' hasn't actually been cancelled

Did FOX really decide not to air the show's season finale? Or is Twitter misinformed?

 

It's the blessing or curse of social networking and information sites that a simple piece of information can be posted, swirl through the conversational meat grinder and come out meaning a totally different thing within mere minutes.

Take, for example, the alleged cancellation of FOX's "Dollhouse," which occurred today when "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" star Felicia Day tweeted, "Man, day getting worse and worse. Found out my Dollhouse ep, #13 isn't gonna air. Only on DVD. Such a great part too. Thx Fox. :("

That was the frowny-face that shook the Twitterverse this afternoon, as a 140 character comment became a poorly sourced confirmation that "Dollhouse" was dead at FOX.

I have a little bit more information on the situation, facts that may not necessarily set Joss Whedon's devoted (and quick-to-panic) fans at ease, but which might at least explain the situation such as it is.

[Information after the break...]

Day's tweet actually came roughly 24 hours after FOX announced its plans for May Sweeps, plans with included the scheduled airing of "Omega" on May 8 as the "Dollhouse" *season* finale. But there's a catch: Sites like Wikipedia and EpGuides list "Omega" as Episode 12, which is technically accurate as it will, in fact, be the show's 12th episode to air. Said sites also, however, list an Episode 13, titled "Epitaph One." It's not a hypothetical or imaginary episode, mind you. It's not a figment of the Internet's imagination. It exists. It was shot. And it does, indeed, feature Felicia Day.

So the online panic goes like this: FOX isn't airing the season finale of "Dollhouse"! Therefore, the show must be cancelled and the last episode is obviously being withheld as an inducement for goosing DVD sales.

Here's the different explanation that I got from a network source: FOX ordered 13 episodes of "Dollhouse." This has been well-reported and is true. That number, though, included the original pilot episode, which was shot and then reconceived and never aired. 

The "Omega" episode is the 13th episode of that original order. It is the second part of a heavily-arced two-part closure to the season and it was written, produced and directed as the season finale. It brings the slow-developing Alpha storyline to a climax and answers a number of questions about the Dollhouse and its inhabitants. It also raises possible questions setting up a possible Season Two, but it isn't a shocking cliffhanger.

More importantly, the questions raised at the end of "Omega" aren't questions answered quickly in "Epitaph One." I'm told that "Epitaph One" was ordered by 20th Century Fox TV, the show's production company, but not by the network and the network had no commitment to air that episode. It's Hour 14 for the season.

It's not like FOX had "Epitaph One" scheduled for May 15 and pulled it. The series finale of "Prison Break" will air that night, a two-hour episode that will, if we're all being perfectly honest, almost certainly draw a bigger audience than a hypothetical "Dollhouse" episode would have. That's an important point, because May 15 is the last Friday of May Sweeps and of the official Nielsen-slated TV season.

The source tells me "Dollhouse" has not been cancelled. Granted, what else would they tell me, but still... The long and short is that the network isn't airing an episode they never said they were going to air, although some people are reporting that FOX did say it was going to air that episode, even though you'd be hard press to find any official record of that.

[Given the literal meanings of "Omega" and "Epitaph," maybe fans shouldn't be surprised that one is airing as the finale and maybe they shouldn't be so broken up that the other is not airing.]

Will "Dollhouse" eventually be cancelled? I can't tell you that today. I can tell you to look at the show's ratings. If you just look at overnight and Fast National figures, that will probably tell you that hopes are bleak for a second "Dollhouse" season. If you look at DVR and iTunes and other ancillary numbers, it might offer hope. Either way, though, a decision has not been made. Or a decision has not been made officially. Or nothing that happened yesterday or today constitutes a formal pronouncement of any kind.  It constitutes a twitter from a guest star and a piece of scheduling that wasn't really supposed to be noteworthy.

What I'm saying is that "Dollhouse" hasn't been cancelled until it has, but it currently hasn't been. So feel free to express your enthusiasm for FOX to renew the show, but don't jump to outrage just yet.

 

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<p>Elaine Cassidy of 'Harper's Island'</p>

Elaine Cassidy of 'Harper's Island'

Credit: CBS

TV Review: 'Harper's Island'

There's a difference between being a slasher film and an Agatha Christie-style mystery, but this show doesn't get it

On the grounds that CBS should occasionally be encouraged to do shows that aren't close-ended procedurals, I'm inclined to root for "Harper's Island," the network's new murder mystery serial, which premieres on Thursday, April 9 in the time slot previously occupied by the desultory gloom of "Eleventh Hour."

Any enthusiasm, though, must be tempered by the frustrating reality that "Harper's Island" is a show in the midst of a full-blown identity crisis.

[Full review after the break and after I decide how much I'm allowed to spoil about the show. Don't worry. It won't spoil much.]

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<p>Ben McKenzie of 'Southland'</p>

Ben McKenzie of 'Southland'

Credit: NBC

TV Reviews: ABC's 'The Unusuals' and NBC's 'Southland'

Two new cop shows, similar set-ups. One is gritty and familiar, the other quirky and intriguing.

While I enjoy a good whodunnit, I'm not a fan of cop dramas. It's a personal prejudice that I know costs me a lot of good TV. I can take or leave all manner of "CSI" or "Law & Order," watching few episodes per year out of professional interest and responsibility, not desire. I admired aspects of "The Shield" and "NYPD Blue," but not enough to stick with them. I'm embarrassed to say that I avoided "The Wire" for nearly three seasons before giving it a shot and getting sucked into the best TV show of our time.

So imagine my excitement at ABC premiering the New York police dramedy "The Unusuals" on Wednesday (April 8) and NBC launching "Southland" on Thursday (April 9). In nothing else, the synchronicity of these thematically similar shows gives me the chance to tackle both in a single review. So that's something, eh?

While both shows do a number of things well and boast top notch ensemble casts, I'm only looking looking forward to Episode Two for one of them.

[Which one? Full reviews after the break...]

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<p>Hugh Laurie of 'House'</p>

Hugh Laurie of 'House'

Credit: FOX

Last night's 'House' and the state of death on network TV

From 'House' to 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,' beloved characters are dying left and right

 

[This will obviously contain spoilers... I'll warn you again, but obviously I can only warn you so many times.]

 

An unexpected thing happened on Monday (April 6) night's episode of "House."

Yes, I could be referring to the impressively understated performance by a certain occasional rock star, first name "Meat," last name "Loaf." 

I could be. Obviously, though, I'm not. If I were, that would hardly require a spoiler warning. I've seen "Fight Club." I knew Meat Loaf could act. 

No, I'm referring to the shocking death of a main character, a demise that got me thinking about the way that network television generally treats death and, with a long plane flight in front of me, I've got nothing to do but type and muse until I land and get some Internet access.

[This is your last warning. After the break, I'm going to talk about last night's "House" and "24," last week's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" and as many other recent TV fatalities as I can consider.]

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<p>Zachary Levi of 'Chuck'</p>

Zachary Levi of 'Chuck'

Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Tonight's a good night to watch 'Chuck'

Scott Bakula and Chevy Chase guest star, as 'Chuck' begins the push to its season finale

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, Dear Readers.

I don't need to tell you that NBC's "Chuck" is the most purely entertaining show currently airing on network television. 

I also don't need to remind you that Monday (April 6) night's episode -- "Chuck vs the Dream Job" -- marks the beginning of multi-episode arcs for Scott Bakula and Chevy Chase and that Scott Bakula and Chevy Chase are inherently awesome.

I'm only repeating what you already know when I say that "Chuck" hasn't been renewed for a third season yet and that if NBC's bottom line is ratings-based -- something Jeff Zucker has adamantly denied -- the show's future is murky at best. 

I shouldn't even have to say that if you have a Nielsen box or know somebody with a Nielsen box or have access to specialized computer software capable of hacking into Nielsen boxes, now would be a good time to do your part for "Chuck." [Yes, that last part was a joke. the Nielsen measurement system may not actually use computers at all, hence a measurement accuracy somewhat below that of butterfly ballots from Florida.] 

And yes, having seen tonight's "Chuck," I feel inclined to join the Internet clamor flogging this particular dead horse: It's always a good night to watch "Chuck," but this Monday's episode is a particularly opportune time.

[Thoughts on Monday's episode (only minor spoilers...) and my opinion on the "Chuck" renewal limbo after the break...]

Last week's episode ended with Sarah and Chuck standing in front of an Airstream 100 miles east of Barstow awaiting the revelation of the long-absent Daddy Bartowski. 

As fans of the show (and viewers of NBC's promos) know, Bakula plays said father, providing a great opportunity to recall the versatility of the "Quantum Leap" star. Bakula's Steve is a twitchy ball of paranoid insecurities and, as he sees the pain his abrupt departure caused his children, he's also awash with regret.

"Chuck" has always been primarily either a comedy-with-action or an action-show-with-comedy, but it's used its myriad guest stars as a way to adjust the thematic mix. While Monday's episode doesn't lack for humor, Bakula's introduction primary serves as a catalyst for emotional moments that allow the cast to stretch. 

Zachary Levi and Sarah Lancaster, whose brother-sister dynamic has often had room for sentiment, do a great job of playing off both the betrayal they feel toward their dad, but also the desperate need to get the approval of a long-absent parent.

But Levi and Lancaster have always had dramatic chops. In Monday's episode, I was even more impressed with Ryan McPartlin, whose Devon has now had two meaty episodes in a row. I don't think of McPartlin as being the show's most versatile co-star, but he has scenes of vulnerability that are utterly stripped of any hint of Captain Awesome-ness.

Chase enters the mix as computer mogul Ted Roark and the "Chuck" team has no trouble tailoring the character to the Emmy winner's most defining attribute, his ego. He is, after all, Chevy Chase. And you're not. NBC's promo team has already cavalierly spoiled the semi-twist about Chase's character, but he's instantly likably unlikable.

"Chuck vs The Dream Job" is a mythology-heavy episode, which also means that it's a little light on Buy More antics, take that as you will. It's also light on Sarah/Chuck relationship details. There are, however, major revelations about the Intersect and Orion, plus important advancements in Chuck's attempts to recover the life that's been taken from him. Recent episodes have seen Chuck become increasingly proactive about getting the Intersect out of his head and that's a trend that continues.

After a couple stand-alone episodes bridging out of the Jonathan Cake arc, Monday's "Chuck" begins the process of building momentum as we move toward the season finale.

Want to know my opinion on the chances that "Chuck" will be back next season?

Yes, NBC's Jay Leno Masterplan is a mistake and yes, it's a slap in the face of the industry's creative community. But try this as a positive after-effect: If NBC's programming window for weekdays has been reduced by a third, that perhaps that makes NBC place greater value on putting original episodes in those remain slots? I mean, if you only have two hours of new shows per night, you can't use that time for repeats, right? I think that will lead to NBC picking up a number of shows for limited, cable-style seasons of 10 or 13 episodes, so that the network is able to constantly keep the hours between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. fresh before turning things over to Jay. 

My guess, without any sort of insider knowledge or evidence to back this up, is that "Chuck" should be well-positioned for, at the very least, some sort of 13-episode midseason slot. Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak have introduced more serialized elements into the storytelling this season and folks say that Fedak is particularly involved in fleshing out the show's greater mythology. Bringing "Chuck" back for a carefully arced 13 episodes would probably be positive for the show and it would also be a boon for NBC, which is bound to need some good faith from the critical community next year once audiences make it clear that Leno is better as an 11:30 soporific, rather than as a legitimate lead-in to local news.

It helps that "Chuck" skews young and performs well on all of the various off-network viewing platforms. It also helps that the show's creative team has proven to be perfectly willing to use the series as a vehicle for product placements, often extended plugs. We all know Ben Silverman likes shows that allow him to spread costs around and bring in money through alternative streams, so why would he jettison a series where the characters all love their iPhones, where they're eager to play any new video game on the market and where a Subway $5 Footlong is considered acceptable bachelor party grub. Let's just say that if the key to "Chuck" staying on the air is for Sarah to take a new cover job at Applebees or for Captain Awesome to espouse the virtues of the BowFlex or for Chuck to begin washing his hair with Garnier Fructis Fortifying Cream Conditioner, that's a sort of tiny creative sacrifice I'd guess the "Chuck" team would embrace.

So I'm cautiously optimistic, especially when I'm not looking at the Fast National ratings on Tuesday morning.

That doesn't mean, though, that you shouldn't watch. And that you shouldn't tell your friends to watch. I have no objections to making the rest of this spring into an extended "Save Our Show" campaign for "Chuck."

 

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<p>Bob Saget</p>

Bob Saget

Credit: Ian White/Comedy Central

TV Review: 'Surviving Suburbia'

Bob Saget spent 15 years mocking his generic sitcom roots for this?

 

The generic family sitcom made Bob Saget a lot of money, as did celebrating the infinite comic possibilities of pets getting drunk and people getting hit in the nads with wiffle ball bats. Then, Saget spent over a decade trying to bury his "Full House" and "America's Funniest Home Videos" Good Guy persona.

Assuming that you've forgotten the short-lived WB comedy "Raising Dad" (and Kat Dennings probably hopes you have), dating back to his memorable cameo in 1998's "Half-Baked," Saget has mostly cultivated a raunchy and rude, distinctly R-rated image. And you know what? It's worked. I don't think about Danny Tanner anymore when I think of Saget. Instead, I think about "The Aristocrats" and his comedy special "That Ain't Right" and his Comedy Central roast.

That's why I can hardly imagine that Saget was all that miserable when The CW and MRC's Sunday night programming pact tanked and his sitcom "Surviving Suburbia" was sent off into limbo. Even if the comedy had aired on The CW as planned, it probably wouldn't have been watched by more than a few hundred thousand people. Instead ABC snagged "Surviving Suburbia" and it's been given a time slot immediately after "Dancing with the Stars" on Monday nights (starting on April 6), meaning that 20+ million viewers are likely to find themselves watching the opening seconds before turning away.

[Review after the break...]

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<p>Jason O'Mara of 'Life on Mars'</p>

Jason O'Mara of 'Life on Mars'

Credit: ABC

Thoughts on the 'Life on Mars' and 'Damages' finales

Two of TV's twistiest shows had their finales on Wednesday, but were viewers left feeling like April Fools?

In the movies and on TV shows, whenever a corn-fed Midwesterner arrives in New York City, it seems like fresh-faced rube is immediately surrounded by hoods and hucksters playing 3-Card Monte. I've been to Gotham many times and I've mostly missed out on this seeming accumulation 3-Card Monte players, much less had my money taken by them.

But I guess there's a skill to 3-Card Monte. You don't just need the slight-of-hand to confuse the mark. You usually need a couple partners to sell the grift, to make it look like it's possible to beat the game, that it isn't rigged from the beginning. The minute the victims feel like they're being victimized, the game's over and it's back to the dark recesses of the alley for the dealer and his team. 

And speaking of 3-Card Monte, how about those "Damages" and "Life on Mars" finales last night, eh? Neither one really played a fair game and neither one really left me entirely satisfied. At least with "Damages," I could admire the sleight of hand and at least "Life on Mars" was surprising. 

Click through for spoilers galore...

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<p>Bobby Cannavale of 'Cupid'</p>

Bobby Cannavale of 'Cupid'

Credit: ABC

TV Review: 'Cupid'

Forget whether the new ABC drama lives up to its Jeremy Piven/Paula Marshall predecessor. Is it any good on its own?

Imagine you're going to sit down to watch ABC's new romantic dramedy "Cupid" without any awareness that it's a reboot of a show that aired for around 30 second back in 1998. Then imagine that you're settling in to enjoy the new "Cupid" oblivious to the notion that it (and its 1998 antecedent) comes from "Veronica Mars" mastermind Rob Thomas.

In short, pretend that you're not a TV junkie, that you aren't a pop culture maven. Pretend that you're just a person who likes to watch TV after a long day of work and after an arduous 62-minute "Dancing with the Stars" results show. Pretend you're like 99% of the viewing public.

I know that's a lengthy exercise. It's all just a lengthy prologue for the sad reality that if you didn't like "Cupid" in its first incarnation and you weren't predisposed to like it now for a litany of behind-the-scenes reasons, ABC's new "Cupid" is instantly forgettable and disposable. But many critics have such warm feelings for the original that a transferal process is likely to remain into effect.

This "Cupid" isn't that "Cupid" and there's no point in dwelling. So I won't.

[Review after the break...]

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<p>Jill Scott of 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency'</p>

Jill Scott of 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency'

Credit: HBO

TV Review: 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency'

Anchored by the tremendous Jill Scott and its Botswana locations, HBO's new dramedy is an appealing journey

 

HBO is premiering "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" roughly a year to the date of Anthony Minghella's death. This is a sad coincidence, but also a good chance to stop and recall the sublimely talented writer and director of "The English Patient," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Cold Mountain" and, lest we never forget, "Truly Madly Deeply."

The two-hour pilot for "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," which he directed and co-wrote with Richard Curtis, is effectively Minghella's final credit and it can be watched in various ways. It's obviously the point of introduction for HBO's ongoing series and to Alexander McCall Smith's series of novels, but it's also a satisfying stand-alone telefilm, should you only require a sampling.

[More on Sunday (March 29) night's "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" premiere after the break...]

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