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2011 Season Finales: An Illustrated, Alphabetical, Very Subjective Recap
May 29, 2011  | By David Bianculli

As we say hello to June, and new and returning summer series, it's time to give nods to some of the shows that recently wrapped up for the season -- many with dynamic, daring surprises and shifts.


If you've still got the year's final episodes of, say, Fringe and Justified and The Good Wife waiting for you on your DVR, you may want to wait before taking my illustrated, subjective A to Z tour. Well, A to S, anyway. Starts with American Idol. Ends with Survivor: Redemption Island...

American Idol (Fox). This series disappointed me near the end by voting off the two singers I considered strongest, James Durbin and Pia Toscano. But in the season finale showdown between teens Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery, the show's judges and mentors may have lost her the match by stacking the deck in her favor.

Not only did the normally all-praise, all-the-time judges give the contest to Lauren before opening it up to viewer votes, but she was also given an absurdly manipulative final song to sing -- not only about her mom, but sung TO her mom. With Alaina given the mom franchise, what was poor Scotty supposed to do? Sing his song to a piece of apple pie? So perhaps, with that unfair a match-up, voters rallied for Scotty because they felt they had to.


Celebrity Apprentice (NBC). The season finale showdown here was between deaf actress Marlee Matlin and country star John Rich. Once again, I wasn't emotionally involved in the outcome, but I did enjoy the moment, during the live show, when they worked side by side rather than as adversaries.

He sang and played a song as she performed it in sign language. Afterward, the well-coached audience, instead of applauding, raised its hands in unison and vibrated them in a silent show of support.

It was the sound of no hands clapping -- and it was really a nice touch.


Fringe (Fox). All season, this show has alternated between two almost universes, featuring two different Walters, two different Olivias, and one Peter (the other having died as a child in one of the alternate worlds). For the season finale, Peter found a way to guide them all to a gateway between two worlds, where the two Waters, and two Olivias, came face to face. Or faces to faces.

But just as that happened, Peter vanished, as did the other characters' memory of him. He'll be back next year, but I'm not sure how, or where.

With Fringe, I'm not sure of much... but it's certainly not dull.


Glee (Fox). The final episode of an iffy season got things back on track.

It started perfectly, with a shot of Lea Michele's Rachel arriving in Times Square as George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue played on the soundtrack -- a musical nod to Woody Allen's use of the same tune in his iconic cinematic love letter to, and called, Manhattan.


And Glee ended with a nice surprise, with the New Directions troupe doing so poorly at the Nationals competition that the singers didn't even place in the Top 10.

That left plenty of room for growth next season -- as did the moment that cost New Directions the competition.

Former couple Rachel and Finn (Cory Monteith), lost in an intense on-stage moment, kissed passionately -- at which time the music (and all sound) stopped as the camera circled around them. Unexpected, very nice.

The Good Wife (CBS). This series, too, had a plot-driven, long-anticipated reunion kiss, with Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Will (Josh Charles) embracing passionately in a hotel elevator.


When they got to the door of the penthouse suite they had booked impulsively, Will's key wouldn't open the door, which he took as a sign.

But she took her own key, swiped the key card and got the green light -- at which point she gave it to him, metaphorically, smiled invitingly, and they disappeared behind closed doors.

Very nice touch. And I'm not just talking about Alicia's way with a hotel key card.

House (Fox). When House (Hugh Laurie), after treating Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) even more terribly than usual, went to her house with a symbolic gift of apology.

But when he arrived, and saw her entertaining another man there, he instead drove his car into one of her downstairs rooms, in a violent, vehicular sort of home invasion.


She ordered him kept away, with a restraining order, from both her and her hospital, and House was next (and last) seen downing a drink, and walking the surf, in some tropical paradise.

He didn't quite walk away into the sunset -- just limped alongside it.

But next year, things back at the hospital at Princeton will be different.

They have to be.

Justified (FX). My favorite season finale of the entire season.

The year ended just as it began, with Mags (Margo Martindale), once again, serving a jar of home-made moonshine to an unsuspecting adversary.

At the start of the season, she killed a young teen's father by lacing the jar with poison -- then, all season, gained and lost a fortune, and her reason for living, as the girl Mags came to love as her own eventually learned Mags had murdered the girl's own dad.


At the end of the season, it was Timothy Olyphant's Marshal Raylan Givens who was nursing the drink opposite Mags. As the climactic scene began, there were four mathematic possibilities. She could have a) poisoned Raylan's glass, b) poisoned her own, c) poisoned them both, or d) poisoned neither, and accepted that she was about to be arrested and put away for murder. (Which one? The accompanying picture tells a thousand words, at least.)

When I talked to series creator Graham Yost last week at the Peabody Awards, he told me they were nervous, initially, about ending the season on such a quiet note, with just the two of them in a room, and without offering a cliffhanger. But the entire season, he said, pivoted on the choices Mags made in that first episode, and in the love she developed for that young girl, which became her ultimate undoing. Nice, brave call. Fabulous season finale.

(Another thing I learned? That scene where Olyphant's Raylan was strung up by one leg like a pinata? That was Olyphant's suggestion -- and it was shot in very few, very short, very intense takes.)


The Mentalist (CBS). Whoa. As shockers go, this one was hard to beat. First, we get introduced to Red John, the serial killer and murderous mastermind who has eluded and haunted Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) for years -- and he's played by lovable Bradley Whitford from The West Wing!

Then, after the two meet in public at a shopping mall food court, and Red John taunts Jane with details about how Jane's family looked, acted and even smelled before Red John killed them, Jane shoots Red John point blank, three times.


Then Jane sits down calmly and waits for the police to come arrest him -- serenely drinking coffee from his cup, while Red John's cup sits abandoned in the foreground on a nearby table.

Next year? It seems likely Jane will be in jail, at least for a while. And it seems that Red John -- this incarnation, at least -- won't survive his wounds.

But it wouldn't surprise me if the details spouted by Whitford's Red John -- the details which convinced Jane that Red John was, indeed, who he claimed to be -- were provided by the REAL Red John, who still exists, and will resurface next season played by yet another compelling actor.

Regardless -- way to shake things up, folks.


Modern Family (ABC). Three things about this sitcom's season-ender really impressed me.

One: The trick by Julie Bowen's Claire, using a man's shoe, a sturdy post, a few hard whacks, and her own teeth to uncork a bottle of wine without an opener. Huh? How? And how long before I dare to try it myself?

Two: The raw birthday-salute video footage gathered -- clearly, throughout the entire season -- to present in this season finale. It meant the writers were really thinking ahead, as fans of the show could recognize extra scenes clearly shot at the time, rather than recreated later. Halloween costumes? Rental signs? Clown makeup? It's all there -- again.

Three: The final shots, without any words, underscored the love and strength of family. The show, which is so sharp and funny and often cutting, dared to be quietly, brazenly sentimental.


The Office (NBC). The season finale here was just a place-holder, buying more time as producers scrambled to replace Steve Carell with a new paper-pushing boss next year. But of all the candidates paraded through the office for this finale, the next boss, for me, already has been found.

James Spader, as a management candidate so forceful and confident he made even the search committee cower (and the faux documentary camera crew, as in the photo at the top of this column) was hilarious. He also brought a completely different type of dynamic to The Office, which would be a healthy thing next year.

Survivor: Redemption Island (CBS). Now that Boston Rob finally won Survivor, on his fourth try, he should have the good grace to never appear on any other reality TV show for the rest of his life. That goes for his wife, Amber, whom he met (and eventually proposed to) on Survivor.


This year's Survivor season finale also had another contestant propose marriage on live TV -- this time to a contestant from a previous season, seated in the audience. He asked, and she said yes. Which means, I think, that Survivor can claim to have generated more successful marriage proposals than The Bachelor and The Bachelorette combined.

I'm just saying...




Yada said:

I was happy to see you agreeing with my assessment of who the next boss should be for The Office; James Spader was brilliant as the extremely confident genius. The chemistry between Mr. Spader and each of the show's regular characters with whom he had contact was terrific.

Comment posted on May 29, 2011 5:15 PM
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