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In a lackluster season, five finales that matter

Dale Roe, On TV

Staff Writer
Austin 360

As each year's television season begins to wind down, I start to see a lot of stories from fellow critics lamenting how quickly it has flown by.

"Can you believe that the TV season is ending already?" they will write. "Doesn't it seem like just yesterday that the new fall shows were rolling out their pilots?"

Well, no. Not really. Not this time, anyway.

In fact, this has seemed like a particularly long and drawn-out television season that has painfully overstayed its welcome. If this season were a house guest, it would be waking up one morning soon and stumbling down the stairs, bleary-eyed, to find its bags packed and waiting by the front door. "You can stop at Starbucks and grab coffee," I'd tell it. "I didn't make any. It was nice seeing you, but it is time for you to go. Don't let the network cancel you on your way out."

Maybe it was the lack of any breakout hits like last year's ABC winner "Modern Family" or Fox's "Glee" that leaves me with that weary, "meh" feeling (or maybe it was "Glee's" precipitous decline in quality). Perhaps it was the giddy promise of thrills both dramatic and comedic heartlessly teased — and then failed to be provided — by spectacular flame-outs such as NBC's non-event "The Event" and Fox's disappointing "Arrested Development" placeholder, "Running Wilde." Maybe it was the viewing public's rejection of quality shows such as Fox's "Lone Star" and FX's "Terriers." Or it could be the fact that AMC is giving us no new "Mad Men" episodes to look forward to until 2012 (and it certainly didn't help that bona fide water cooler hits such as that network's "The Walking Dead" had such short, quick seasons).

Last year's roster of highly anticipated, series-ending blockbuster finales such as "Lost" and "24" only hammers home the perception that the 2010-2011 season is limping to a finish. (Granted, we did see "Big Love" peter out a while ago and we have "Friday Night Lights" to look forward to — that is, if you haven't already seen the whole season on DirecTV or DVD.)

The biggest series saying goodbye in May? Arguably it's Disney Channel's "The Suite Life on Deck." Besides that, there's Syfy's "Stargate Universe," NBC's awful freshman series "Chase," Showtime's "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" and — slower than a silver bullet — The CW's way-past-its-prime Superman saga, "Smallville."

That said, there are more than 50 series concluding their seasons this month. Here are five for which I've been able to work up some enthusiasm:

"Community," Thursday, 7 p.m., NBC:I'll admit to being a bit worried that TV's most inventive comedy was going back to last season's brilliant, paintball-inspired "Modern Warfare" episode for a two-part season finale (the first installment aired last week), but I'm going to give Dan Harmon and company the benefit of the doubt. This season, they have pushed the envelope by parodying tired television conventions such as "bottle episodes" and "clip shows," so why not sequels? Plus, "Lost's" Josh Holloway guest stars as a mysterious (paintball) gunslinger. How can you beat that?

"The Good Wife," Tuesday, May 17, 9 p.m., CBS:It's hard to believe that this show — inspired by real-life political sex scandals — is on the bubble for renewal as I write this. Julianna Margulies and cast have garnered accolades from critics, Christians and feminists, and racked up awards including an Emmy, a Golden Globe and, this year, a Peabody. Yet, it's ratings-challenged, and if it comes back there's talk of moving it to a less competitive night. Can Alicia and Kalinda repair their strained relationship or, at least, work around it? Is it time for Alicia and Will to finally hook up? Either we won't have to wait long to find out or we might not ever. How's that for a cliffhanger?

"The Office," Thursday, May 19, 8 p.m., NBC: In all honesty, I wish this one-hour season-ender was a series finale, because I think it's time for the ultimate Dunder Mifflin downsizing. Sure, it'll be fun to watch guest stars Ricky Gervais, Will Arnett, James Spader, Ray Romano and Catherine Tate vie for departed star Steve Carell's management position, but the clumsy and directionless handling of Will Ferrell these past weeks leaves me less confident than ever that a post-Michael Scott "Office" is a good thing (and I haven't been crazy about Michael Scott for a long time).

"Saturday Night Live," Saturday, May 21, 10:30 p.m., NBC: Yeah, the legendary sketch show is less and less legendary, and this season is no exception, but Justin Timberlake's hosting the finale and — from the street-singing, costumed shill for Omeletteville to appearing with cast member Andy Samberg in the show's only funny "digital shorts" — his episodes are routinely top-notch and likely to produce some viral sensation or another.

"The Event," Monday, May 23, 8 p.m., NBC: Although it hasn't been canceled yet, there's no way this spectacular mess is coming back, so I'm eager to see if they can explain anything before it ends. Like, oh, I don't know ... what the titular "Event" is. How about answering that, NBC? We know what it's not: the assassination; the weirdly aging children; entertaining; coherent; etc. So, I'll be watching. The finale can't be any worse than "Lost's," and at least we didn't have to slog through half a dozen years to get to it.

It's really the perfect ending to a disappointing season.

droe@statesman.com; 912-5923