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

04.13.09 8 years ago 5 Comments


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…]

I had an odd relationship with “Friday Night Lights” this season. I watched the first seven or eight episodes on DirecTV, which I had at my lovely former employer, but after coming to HitFix, I found myself waiting until the NBC season made it up to the episodes I hadn’t seen, a process that produced a multi-month hiatus. I went back-and-forth on the quality of the first pack of episodes, which had peaks — “Hello, Good-Bye” is one of the season’s very finest hours of TV — and also a few valleys. The last six episodes, though, were uniformly top notch, as the show retained its position at-or-near the television heap, almost entirely wiping the taste of Season Two out of my mouth. 

The third season finale for “Friday Night Lights” was as satisfying a finale as anybody could ask, providing tremendous comedy — the Riggins/Collette wedding was classic, through-and-through — as well as peerlessly under-stated emotional moments. 

If I hadn’t given up on Emmy voters long ago, I’d say that the last few scenes with Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler ought to be the sort of sequences that bring in awards by the bushel. The sequence with Taylor Kitsch and Derek Phillips outside the limo, post-wedding, brought a tear to my eye. There were tiny beats between Aimee Teegarden and Zach Gilford that were as subtle as TV acting gets. And Adrianne Palicki followed up on last week’s college essay scene with a powerhouse exchange with Jesse Plemons.

The episode flashed forward five months from last week’s properly crushing State Title defeat, giving us a chance to push all of the season’s seniors into important decisions, choices that forced several of them to grow up in a hurry. It was unacceptable for Lyla to go to San Antonio State, which she had to realize, a move that caused even Buddy Garrity to have to grow up and turn to her uncle for financial assistance. It was unacceptable for Tim to let Lyla sacrifice her future for a day-to-day relationship with her and he let her know that in no uncertain terms. Was his reaction somewhat steered by his desire to ditch school himself and go to work and drink wtih his brother? Yes. But Billy wouldn’t let Tim drop out, instructing him, “We’ve got to do better by our kids!” [Sniffle.] The character who didn’t get to do the thing that was best for him was Matt, who decided he needed to pass up art school in Chicago to make sure that his grandmother wasn’t stuck in a nursing home with strangers. This isn’t going to make Matt happy next season and it probably won’t actually be a boon to his relationship with Julie, but it was almost certainly true to the character, so I accept it. 

Most of the finale’s arcs were about bringing closure, while also possibly setting the show up for a season without almost all of our main characters. To my mind, the best of storylines, appropriately, went to Coach Taylor, victim of a hostile takeover orchestrated by nefarious child abuser Joe McCoy.

Do I believe that Buddy Garrity has suddenly lost all power and would allow that to happen? I’m not sure. Do I believe that a football-hungry Texas town would so casually run out a coach whose resume includes two State finals appearances, one title and one additional playoff appearance? No, but the writers were smart enough to emphasize that there was a financial component to bringing in Wade Aikman instead. 

I loved that Coach wasn’t able to sway the board with his speech and didn’t really even try. I loved the way Tami broke it to Coach at the wedding and his reaction. And I loved the final shot as Coach and Mrs. Coach stood on his new field, the rundown gridiron home of the East Dillon Lions. He’ll be able to start over next year at a team with an entirely different history and a completely different dynamic. Does anybody honestly think that after early season struggles, the Lions won’t rally next year in time to somehow, miraculous either face the Panthers in a playoff game or in a season-ending showdown with the playoffs on the line? He’s a miracle worker.

The casting department will also have to work miracles, though. That leaves me worried. “Friday Night Lights” didn’t leave itself with many returning players for next season and they’re going to start fresh. Maybe they need to bring in Peter Berg and whoever cast the original pilot. That team couldn’t have done a better job landing untested actors who evolved into splendid actors. Since the pilot, though, many (most?) of the new additions to the cast — Convict Tight End Santiago, Cruifictorious’ New Lesbian Musician, The Running Back Whose Parents Didn’t Know He Played Football — failed to click on any level. I just wish I could be assured that the casting directors are prepared to find the next Gilford, the next Palicki, the next Plemons, the next Scott Porter or Giaus Charles. My fear on that count is so great that I *almost* wish the show had ended with the finale, “Tomorrow Blues.” I also *almost* wished that the series had ended after the first season finale, a feeling that was validated by Season Two. Almost.

As of now, I’ll be plenty happy to have “Friday Night Lights” back next season.

I would also be plenty happy to have “Life” back, though I don’t anticipate it happening. The show’s second season renewal was already a gift. That NBC relocated “Life” from Friday to Wednesday, rather than pulling it entirely, was another gift. But NBC has very few holes for next season and if I’m going to hold out the torch of optimism for a single NBC bubble show this spring, it’s going to be “Chuck.” 

[Speaking of… BRING BACK “CHUCK,” NBC!]

“Life” is a critical favorite, but not on the same level as “Chuck” and thus the Save Our Show campaigns are going to be more muted. 

I can’t decide if “Life” did itself any favors with its Wednesday finale, titled “One.” The finale played like more of a series finale than a season finale. It neatly wrapped up the mystery behind Reese’s FBI assignment and kidnapping (other than Sarah Shahi’s pregnancy, I mean). It swiftly and abruptly tied things up with Garret Dillahunt’s Roman Nevikov, one of TV’s finest serial villains. It also provided enough answers in the seemingly neverending “Who Framed Charlie and Why?” mystery. It even implied a potential romance between Crews and Reese, though that’s something Sepinwall sees, but I prefer not to. 

It was a fine note to go out on, but despite a number of still-pending questions, it didn’t launch a foundation for a third season. That meant that it was cliffhanger-free and that no individual plotline is so compelling going forward that fans will get agitated at NBC to bring it back. To my mind, Rand Ravich and company made it too easy for NBC cancel the series without guilt. 

Or maybe the closure-heavy finale was part of how Ravich pitched NBC on “Life” for next season, as a slightly more conventional detective drama about a quirky cop and his oft-exasperated partner. Without a reliance of Charlie’s Wall of Blame, maybe “Life” just becomes a simple procedural next season and could be brought back as a 13-episode midseason fill-in for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” or “Southland” or something. “Life” has occasionally received ratings bumps from better lead-ins, not that NBC is going to have much to offer by way of fertile lead-ins next season.

If it’s cancelled, I’m going to miss Charlie and his fruit and Damian Lewis’ uncanny performance, long one of TV’s finest. I never would have guessed after the pilot that I’d find myself missing Shahi for her acting, but she ended up providing Lewis worthy support. 

“Life” was always an erratic show. The cases-of-the-week were so deliberately confusing that I found myself ignoring the investigations and only concentrating on the relationships. Even after jettisoning Brooke Langton and Robin Weigert in the first season and bringing in Donal Logue in the second, “Life” could never really figure out how to expand its world beyond Crews and Reese. Adam Arkin is too good an actor to have spent two full seasons floating directionlessly on the periphery, serving only as an excuse to occasionally bring in Christina Hendricks for cameos. Gabrielle Union was a good addition for the closing stretch this season, but not such a good addition that I’d watch a regular series focusing on Crews and Jane Seever.

So if NBC brings “Life” back next year, I’ll be happy enough, but if they don’t, it’s down the list of cancellations that would lead me to active revolt.

If FOX pulls the plug on “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” that probably won’t anger me either. It would disappoint me, but I’m not fool enough to close my eyes to the realities of how networks treat shows that draw under 3.6 million viewers for their finales. If “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” were a cheap show, that might be an argument. If “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” were a 20th Century Fox show, that might be some argument. If “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” were a show that pulled in a deceptively largely young adult audience, that might be some argument. But no, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is expensive, Warner Brothers TV produced and its lost its finale night to a repeat of “Wife Swap” in the 18-49 demographic. Building hype for “Terminator Salvation” hasn’t helped the ratings for FOX’s small screen incarnation at all and since “Salvation” and “Sarah Connor” will exist on separate continuity streams, there’s little reason to think that even if “Terminator Salvation” is a huge hit this summer, that it would have any impact on “Sarah Connor” next fall.

If FOX brings “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” back next season, it would pretty much be an altruistic gesture directed at a vocal fanbase, but I can’t really imagine both “Terminator” and “Dollhouse” coming back next year and the smart money would probably say “Dollhouse,” a 20th Century Fox TV production, has a better chance to grow its audience after a 12 episode tryout than “Terminator” after 31 episodes. And, that being said, “Dollhouse” also has to be considered a heck of a longshot if upcoming episodes don’t show an uptick to get back over the 4 million viewer plateau. 

That was all just me being a pragmatist.

I like “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” or at least I mostly do. 

Series creator Josh Friedman would be the first one to admit that this season hit a real creative pothole when it moved to Friday nights, reaching a nadir with the “Why the Heck Are We Spending an Hour at this Stupid Funeral” episode “Desert Cantos” and the “Yes, I Read a Book About Dreams” mind-bender “Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep.” 

Like “Friday Night Lights,” “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” found a good rhythm as the season ended.

The penultimate episode, “Adam Raised a Cain” including a shocking death and a chilling conclusion set to Dillahunt’s bizarrely haunting rendition of “Donald Where’s Your Trousers.” It was just good TV.

And Friday’s finale, titled “Born to Run,” may have been even better. It did what Friedman and company have done best over two season, blending fairly pure and thoughtful science fiction in with semi-cogent spirituality a dollop of action and the excellence of Summer Glau.

I’m not a pure sci-fi guy and I stopped passionately engaging in the show’s potentially paradoxical exploration of time travel long ago. But I was still interested, even if I wasn’t taking notes.

The episode’s title may call to mind a song by that New Jersey guy who stuck his crotch in America’s face during the Super Bowl, but I like it more as a call-back to the franchise’s one true obsession, with the intersection of fate and destiny, but also human agency to save the future. 

As we ended, John Connor found himself transported into the future, but a future where nobody knew John Connor, including Jonathan Jackson and The Notorious B.A.G. and as Daddy Kyle and Uncle Derek and Glau as Allison-Who-Will-Be-the-Model-for-Cameron. It was a brilliant ending because it forced viewers to ask: Does this screw up an already torturous timeline, or was this the way John Connor makes it to the future? Was this how he meets Derek and Kyle? As John left 2009 in a nudity-inducing bubble, had that John learned everything Sarah could teach him? Was he ready to be the John Connor he would eventually need to become? If the answer is no, that’s a dilly of a pickle he finds himself in. If the answer is yes, then not only does it once-and-for-all erase all traces of “Terminator: Rise of the Machines,” but it makes for a fitting end to the series. The “Terminator” mythology has always had that John Connor Is Jesus Christ undercurrent to it and maybe this was the futuristic equivalent of a virgin birth? 

Because this post, being written on an airplane returning to Los Angeles from Boston, is already of epic length, I’m just going to list a few of my other favorite parts of the “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” finale. That saves me the trouble of crafting transitions and whatnot.

*** The Weaver/John Henry/Ellison arc, much more successful than the Riley/Jessie arc in the season’s middle, came to a surprising end. Weaver’s trying to stop SkyNet also? John Henry is important to John Connor’s future? The three dots were from the Turk? All good to know, I guess.

*** Josh Malina is always a welcome, albeit relatively superfluous in this case, presence. I like how Friedman tried to write Sorkin-esque dialogue for Malina and I’m sure the “West Wing” and “Sports Night” star also appreciated it.

*** The not-sex-scene with John straddling a topless Cameron, impaling her and checking on her internal core was a deviantly naughty culmination of the season’s ongoing sexual tension between the two, the moments of Cameron getting into bed with John or pointlessly disrobing in his presence. Director Jeffrey Hunt crafted the intimacy well and both actors left a deliberate enough amount of ambiguity. 

*** I’m somewhat confused by why Shirley Manson was naked when she came out of the time travel bubble. Her clothing was also liquid metal. We saw that when it healed over her bullet wounds from the T-888. So she wouldn’t have left her clothing in the past, because it never existed. And then, once she got to the future, she presumably generated new liquid metal clothing. So that was odd.

OK. That’s 2700 words on the three finales. Any thoughts y’all wanna share, dear readers?

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