The end of the initial, six-episode season of THE WALKING DEAD was time to look back at the beginning of the zombie plague. The teaser segment revealed how Rick came to be left all alone in a hospital overrun with walking dead: Shane thought Rick had died because he couldn’t hear his heart beating during the army siege of the hospital. But on his way out, Shane propped a gurney against Rick’s door… and that kept the dim-witted, shambling walkers out of his room.

Back in the present day, Dr. Jenner (Noah Baumbach) left Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) band of survivors inside the remains of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and treated them to food, wine and hot water. Just about everyone got drunk – and good thing, too, because the next day, Jenner revealed that CDC was running out of power, and when that happened, the entire facility would be sterilized.
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GLEE 1.22: Journey’s End

Talk about going out on a high note! GLEE managed to save the very best for last, wrapping its inaugural season with an extraordinary episode filled with fantastic musical performances, suspense, and a really moving story. Oh, and grace notes in all the right places.

GLEE usually saves the sentimental stuff for the last act, but the finale started tugging at the heartstrings right away. And it also went for the heartbreak, too. While the kids were demoralized about their prospects at Regionals, Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison) talked about the importance of living the experience to its fullest, and he said something that really froze me. Looking ahead to the future, Will talked about how the kids will look back on this experience. “It’ll take you a second to remember everybody’s name,” he said. And that’s what got to me. That was the voice of experience talking about the tragedy and pain of nostalgia. Right now, these kids constitute are each others’ world, but someday everything will inevitably become hazy memories. And everyone who has ever dusted off an old yearbook or peered at a grainy scanned photo on Facebook knows how selective (and cruel) memory can be. Indeed, this was their time…
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MAKE IT OR BREAK IT 1.20: In Kaylie We Trust

Payson, Kaylie, Emily and Lauren

Everyone likes to see characters grow and change – but not for the worse. And that was exactly what I feared on the freshman season finale of MAKE IT OR BREAK IT this week, when Kaylie decided to blow off the China meet in order to protect her endorsements and make the dictator of the national committee happy.

I know she was having issues with Lauren (Cassie Scerbo), but had never seen Kaylie (Josie Loren) be so mercenary before – and the other girls did not deserve to be shafted. And her decision did not seem to be a matter of putting food on the family’s table, either. Miss Beals from the national committee was all about saving face – ostensibly for the USA, but it was really about her and flexing her muscles. In her way, she was as much a corporate toady as MJ (who at least has the excuse of being an agent). Still, no matter how many endorsements she may have been endangering, Emily (Chelsea Hobbs) was surrendering her scholarship to compete. Then the truth came out: Kaylie was insecure about being able to prove that she deserved to win the national title, so she was looking for any excuse to avoid competing.
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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 9/2/09

Now that’s hot! Bravo, Denis Leary and Peter Tolan! I was shocked and awed by the spectacular fifth-season finale to RESCUE ME, which featured a truly harrowing cliffhanger. At 22 episodes, this was the longest season ever, and (from beginning to end) the best. So this was the finale the series deserved. The story was all about waiting for the other shoe to drop — more than one shoe, in fact. And when they did, they landed with devastating effects.

First of all, Janet finally served Tommy with divorce papers. As Lou pointed out, this has been years in the making; years that Tommy has spent alternately looking over his shoulder and trying to rescue a long-dead marriage. But the relationship is burned beyond recognition. And it is not helped by Tommy’s dalliance with Sheila. He seems to have a good thing going — but Sheila’s idea of a “no strings” relationship seems even more binding than Janet’s idea of marriage. (Tommy is supposed to be watching over Sheila’s son Damian at the firehouse, but Damian is actually keeping an eye on Tommy for his mother). Not even new gal Kelly is what she seems to be. She seems to offer the ultimate “no strings attached” relationship — she can barely remember Tommy’s name. But even she draws the line at sharing personal information. When word of Kelly reached Sheila, she declared a truce with Janet long enough to tag-team Kelly. But of course they could not keep the claws sheathed long enough to take down a common enemy. The Sheila/Janet catfight turned into a rumble in the jungle, with the gals hurling shoes and bricks at each, and it ended with Sheila using a garbage can lid to beat down a passerby who tried to intervene. Which was fitting, because in a lot of ways, this has been Callie Thorne’s season, and she has really run with the role of Sheila. By turns shrill and crazy-sexy-cool, Sheila is the model of a passive-aggressive nightmare girlfriend.

But the life-and-death stakes came from Uncle Teddy, who was inconsolable over Ellie’s death. He finally found solace in a warm gun. This comes as no surprise to longtime viewers, who doubtless remember that Teddy shot the drunken driver who killed Tommy’s son Connor. (Teddy’s stint in jail for that slaying led to him meeting Ellie in the first place!) Calling attention to the fact that while Tommy himself is a train wreck, it’s always everyone else who ends up dead, Teddy decided to punish Tommy for pushing Ellie off the wagon. So Tommy shot him. Twice. In front of all his buddies from 62 Engine. So the season ended with Tommy lying on the floor of his bar, bleeding out while his closest friends look on, helplessly, held at bay by the crazed Teddy. Now that’s a cliff-hanger!

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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 8/28/09

The first-season finale of ROYAL PAINS was a microcosm of the series as a whole — and a lot like HankMed itself: appealing, but not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.

Case in point: The installment began with Hank and Evan behaving so completely out of character that it was as if their minds had swapped bodies. Hank was obsessed with the business of HankMed, while Evan was only interested in taking Sunday off. Since when? Evan was not even worried that a check sent to a medical supply house bounced. The week’s medical case involved Alexandra Holden (ex-Suzy, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) playing Zoe, a young woman who was experiencing hallucinations that her sister attributed to supernatural causes. Hank examined and treated her (in her backyard). She turned out to be suffering from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome brought on by an adverse reaction to cough syrup. Meanwhile, the time had finally come for Divya to put her finger where her mouth is, and get engaged.

On the good side, we got to see a lot of personal stuff. However, nothing was very original. Hank had to raise his little brother after mom died and dad walked out. The way Hank went out of his way to deliver the exposition left me expecting that their deadbeat dad would turn out to be behind the loss of the HankMed nest egg. But what was Hank talking about when he told Evan, “I’m surprised it took this long for you to let me down.” He hinted at a long history of secrets and lies that could prove to be very intriguing.

Divya’s desire to marry for love, not to fulfill her parents’ wishes, was also a far too-familiar tune. That dream sequence of her standing up for herself? Lame. I’m not sure I bought the idea of Divya knuckling under and letting Raj put a ring on her finger, but at least it ensures she will have a story next season. (Next season being summer 2010.) Another classic soap groaner came when Jill rolled up on Hank at just the right time to interpret something the wrong way. And then Hank got it wrong when he fell for the ol’ “aggressive ex-hubby pretending he’s still in his wife’s life” routine. Gee, will those two crazy kids ever get together?

At least the show dialed back the gore this week, which was a relief after last week’s grotesque chest injury. (In case you missed it, a man’s rib cage became detached inside his chest, and a crude device involving fish hooks was improvised to fix it. At least, I think that’s what happened; it was hard to see the TV after that scene caused me to vault off the couch and cling to the ceiling!) And I thought that compound-fracture of a leg a few weeks ago was bad!

Anyway, the stage was set for next season with Jill left alone after kicking Charlie out, and Hank left alone after Evan set off to confront their father, “Eddie R.” Not exactly nail-biting scenarios, and I doubt I will remember the situations next summer. But I will remember ROYAL PAINS as a pleasant warm-weather diversion.

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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 6/1/09

I have been waiting 13 weeks since the season premiere of BREAKING BAD to find out how a scorched, one-eyed pink teddy bear came to be floating in Walt’s swimming pool. And now we know: It plummeted from the sky after the midair collision of two small planes high over Albuquerque.

Well, even I didn’t see that one coming…

When last we saw Walt, he had just let Jesse’s blackmailing girlfriend Jane drown in her own vomit. That’s a long way from the mild-mannered chemistry professor who was looking to cook a little crystal and leave his family a nice nest egg when he dies of lung cancer. Now Walt is in bed with a major regional drug lord and his cancer is in remission so completely that he was able to have the (still giant) tumor removed. John de Lancie (ex-Eugene, DAYS OF OUR LIVES ) did a fine, sympathetic job as Donald, Jane’s grieving father. Don is the air-traffic controller who inadvertently put the planes on a collision course because he was so distracted by Jane’s demise. De Lancie was particularly moving as Don watched while his little girl was zipped up in a body bag like so much garbage.

Series star Bryan Cranston won the Emmy last year, and while he was terrific again this season, I don’t think he was given enough quality material to repeat. Cranston got perhaps his best scene of the year when Walt Jr. was being interviewed about the Web site he developed to raise money for his ailing dad. Walt had arranged to launder his drug money by funneling it into the Web page anonymously, and as Walt listened to his son praising him with words like, “My dad is my hero,” Cranston’s silent face was a mask of guilt, shame, pain and embarrassment. He looked like he didn’t know whether to cry or throw up when he was lauded as a decent guy. What kind of decent guy sells crystal, even for the best of reasons? What kind of decent guy allows someone he (sort of) knows to die horribly, even a blackmailing junkie?

Walt probably felt like he deserved it when Skylar walked out on him and took their new daughter with her. After all this time, she finally connected the dots between all his myriad little fibs, big lies and bizarre behavior. At first she assumed he was having an affair (of course she did — she’s a wife on TV), but soon realized that something else was going on. “Whatever it is,” she sobbed, “I’m afraid to know.”

Will Walt tell his wife the truth? Will Jesse get his act together? What will Gus do with the knowledge that Walt has a brother-in-law at the DEA? Will Hank figure out that Walt is “Heisenberg,” the maker of “Blue Sky,” the best crystal meth on the market? I, for one, cannot wait to learn what happens next season.

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Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/1909

So … what just happened on the two-hour season finale of 24? We know what appeared to be about to happen, but did it? Kim was just about to donate stem cells to save Jack’s life. And Renee was about to murder Alan Wilson. Well, the show was officially renewed for another season this week, so I’ll have to say that yes, Jack’s operation was a success, and no, Renee did not pull the trigger. I’d love to see Annie Wersching’s (ex-GENERAL HOSPITAL) character back next season. Day 8 will be filming in New York City this summer. In an atypical move, 24 devoted its final half-hour slowly tying up plot threads — including the political intrigue at the White House — but it did not resolve all of them. It was all rather low-key and, dare I say it, plodding. After yet another day of complicated action whipsawing through a single day, one could look at it as a chance to catch one’s breath and look back at what happened.

Jack’s trouble-magnet daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) was back, which meant she was in some kind of trouble. The bad guys threatened to kill her unless daddy Jack busted frenemy Tony out of federal custody. In a big change from previous seasons, Kim managed to save her own bacon and then actually contribute to finding her lost dad. Sure, there was chaos and mayhem all around her, but she did think for a change, and saved the assassin’s laptop, which contained valuable information. Tony, meanwhile, kept his cohorts from killing Jack by hatching a plan to use the pathogens in Jack’s contaminated blood to synthesize a new bioweapon. (Paul McGillion, best known as Dr. Beckett on STARGATE: ATLANTIS, played Levinson without the familiar Scottish accent, so it took me a second to recognize him as the doctor who analyzed Jack’s spinal fluid.) I loved that development. Jack himself became the threat! That was an ingenious inversion of the usual formula, in which Jack is our savior. And it also echoed the theme of the Senate hearings that opened the series: Is Jack Bauer more of a threat than the terrorists? Jack’s methods made him a monster, but is he our monster, or simply an uncontrollable force? Are we justified to use criminal techniques against criminals? Can we sink to their level and still call ourselves superior? Do the ends justify the means? This irony could have been explored a little more extensively, but at least it was there, indicating the-powers-that-be were not just paying lip service to the torture question for the early episodes. Recognizing the threat he posed, Jack tried to self-immolate with a flare in a puddle of gasoline, but Tony stopped him. (So why was Tony previously shooting at him?) The Big Bad was finally unmasked this week, and he turned out to be the force behind a lot of bad things that happened over the past few seasons. Alan Wilson (portrayed by Will Patton, known for portraying particularly evil slimeballs), was blamed for ordering the beloved David Palmer assassinated; he was the power behind the crooked President Logan; and he had Tony’s wife, Michelle Dessler, killed. It was that last crime that motivated Tony to spend almost five years trying to get close enough to Wilson to kill him. I must say, Tony really went through a lot to accomplish this goal — so much, in fact, that I kind of doubt this was the ending they originally had in mind. Tony’s involvement with the CIP device and the biological attack on Washington were both pretty unforgivable — even for a man avenging his wife and child (Michelle was revealed to be pregnant when she got blown up). It’s hard to believe 24 would set up Wilson as this tremendous baddie and then kill him offscreen. I’ll bet he shows up again on Day 8. Jack actually used what he believed to be his last minutes on Earth to have a philosophical discussion with Renee about the use of coercion. Jack warned it is a slippery slope. He said he knows in his mind the law in right, but in his heart he cannot accept it. In an even more shocking move, Jack summoned the Imam to seek forgiveness, and the Muslim holy man was beneficent, giving him absolution for all of his sins. What a bold choice by TPTB that was!

It was graduation day on GOSSIP GIRL, but the gang was more concerned with uncovering the identity of Gossip Girl herself. She chose now to deliver some of her most devastating gossip bombs ever, prompting Serena to actually fight back by unmasking her. Fingers were pointed, tears were shed, and in the end GG revealed that her motivation for the scorched-earth e-mails was to burn off all her reserves of secrets and give everyone a fresh start in college. The true identity of GG was never explicitly revealed, but the person widely rumored to be GG was clearly seen in the ending bar scene. (If you don’t know, I won’t ruin it for you, since the show seems determined to make it a continuing subplot.)

The key revelations of the night: Chuck learned that Blair slept with his Uncle Jack on New Year’s, and Blair heard about Chuck and Vanessa’s tryst. Chuck’s Beast continued to be powerless before Blair’s Beauty, and by the end of the episode he had to concede defeat and declare his love for her. What’s that, a happy ending for the Upper East Siders?

And the board was set up for next season:
•Jenny was crowned the new queen bee, and her first act was to ban headbands.
•Rufus finally proposed, and Lily accepted.
•Georgina announced her intention to attend NYU with Dan — and become Blair’s roommate.
•And then there was Scott, who’s really… Oh, but you already know who he is, right? If not, then I’ll never tell. XOXO…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/18/09

Surely you’ve noticed what an ordeal is it to … er, survive the season finales of SURVIVOR? Well, SURVIVOR: TOCANTINS — THE BRAZILIAN HIGHLANDS was no different. I love the premiere installments, but I usually just groan and labor through the finales, or even just skip them entirely. (The only thing worse is a BIG BROTHER denouement.) Sure, there’s initial excitement as the extra players are eliminated, but the actual last episode, with its emphasis on reflection and philosophizing at a glacial pace, is always…just…bleh. Occasionally the appeals to the jury are entertaining, but not often. It’s just begging, which can be sad; the last two players explain that they stabbed everyone else in the back out of love and the noble pursuit of $1 million, and hey, they were just “playing the game,” so how can you hold that against ’em? And watching the jury members posture during their “questions” and try to come up with zingers that will be remembered long after their season has ended is often painful. THE AMAZING RACE always has the eliminated teams on hand to cheer for the eventual winners, but SURVIVOR likes to create a sort of “trail of the dead” — symbolic reminders of booted hopefuls — that’s usually kind of morbid. (The voice-overs add to the air of mourning.)

I was surprised that the traditional final endurance challenge was replaced by one testing manual dexterity, with the players competing with one hand literally tied behind their back. J.T. won immunity and chose to take Stephen to the jury instead of the more-polarizing Erinn. It was a risky move, but it paid off in a unanimous win. And whether it would be a rout was really the only mystery left. J.T. was far and away the most popular player, so the decent guy was a lock to win as long he got to the jury phase. J.T. also took home the fan-popularity award, adding another $100,000 to his winnings. I was rooting for Sierra, who was actually a finalist for the award. I never understood why she was so loathed in a season that also featured the odious Coach. And one last bit of good news: this fall’s next installment will have a much briefer title, SURVIVOR: SAMOA.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/15/09

SUPERNATURAL’s season finales always deliver — from the shocking wreck of the Impala at the end of season one (Okay, yeah, the Winchesters were inside…) to Dean being dragged to hell last season — and this week was no different. You could say it was one hell of a finale. Sam messed up big time, and now the ultimate Big Bad, Lucifer himself, has been set free to loose the Apocalypse on Earth. One good thing, tho. If this doesn’t teach Sammy to listen to his big brother, nothing will! I really liked how it was shown that everything since the very first episode was leading up to this point. This is what Azazel, the Yellow-eyed Demon, was building toward… making Sam the instrument of Armageddon. Sam became so powerful that he could torture demons; and so cold-hearted he could drink the blood out of a demon’s human host to build up his powers.

While Sam was executing the demons’ game plan to perfection, Dean got a front-row seat for the angels’ counterplan, which was to…let it all happen. Huh? Zachariah told Dean that the heavenly host sees the Apocalypse as just another fight, “and we like our chances.” The angels think that licking Lucifer in a fair fight will pave the way for paradise on Earth. And the human race? Collateral damage. Eggs and omelets, and all that… Oh, and “God has left the building,” so it’s up to Zach and Castiel and…Dean. The angels hit on the bright idea of using Dean as their Holy Warrior instead of anything so prosaic as an archangel. Yes, the same Dean who was, 10 minutes earlier, encouraging Cass to rebel against the plan. The same Dean who unwittingly set the entire Armageddon process in motion. (There was a nice symmetry to Dean starting the process and Sam completing it, doncha think?) Next season will be all about the battle with Lucifer. And since next year is the last for stars Jensen Ackles (Dean) and Jared Padalecki (Sam) as well as creator Eric Kripke, anything can happen to the Winchester boys.

The season finale of BEING ERICA delved into the enigmatic Dr. Tom just a bit. He didn’t haul out a single quotation, which made him much more palatable to me. Erica wanted to tackle her biggest regret: not being able to stop her brother from dying in a fire. It was a classic (or, if you prefer, cliché) time-travel trope: Can you save a life? Should you? Are some people meant to die? Of course Erica broke her non-interference pledge and stopped saved her sibling’s life. This angered and frustrated Dr. Tom. Yes, he displayed elements of an actual personality. Sure, the universe corrected itself by killing Leo farther up the timestream, but the damage was done. Erica learned to accept the inevitable, and Dr. Tom was replaced by Nadia, a new therapist. She is a seemingly cold-hearted bitch in a starkly antiseptic office that was the antithesis of Dr. Tom’s cluttered warmth. Will there be a second season?

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/14/09

One thing I can count on is that stuff will happen in the season finale of LOST. Lives will be…er, lost, and stuff will get blowed up good. And boy, did stuff ever happen! Perhaps the biggest development was the death of Juliet. Is she really dead? I think so. But did she manage to detonate Jughead’s explosive core or did the electromagnetic bubble rupture and unleash yet another “white event” time jump? If the nuke was detonated, what effect will it have? Miles could have been correct: the nuclear detonation itself could have been the Incident. Wouldn’t Juliet’s wrenching, tragic, Shakespearean death (Juliet kills herself in despair over losing her Romeo — get it?) be wasted if she gets resurrected by a reset? From a meta standpoint, consider this: Elizabeth Mitchell, who played Juliet, has the lead role in the new version of V. And dying is no impediment to appearing on this show. But no matter what happened, I think the ultimate result of that whiteout will be to jump all the Losties back to 2007, so everyone can be together. And when I say everyone, I include John Locke’s corpse. The other giant reveal was that Locke is actually still dead. Apparently Jacob’s enemy took on John’s form — he didn’t reanimate the corpse. Which begs the question, was this guy responsible for the sightings on the Island, like Christian and Walt sightings over the years? (For that matter, did he play the horse Kate saw?)

We were introduced to Jacob weaving tapestry and lounging on the beach in the shadow of the statue. A “friend” joined him to look at a sailing ship on the horizon — I’m guessing it’s the Black Rock. The black-shorted man discussed how much he wanted to kill Jacob and vowed to find a “loophole.” Their stalemate sounds suspiciously like Ben’s arrangement with Charles Widmore. Mark Pellegrino (best known as the abusive Paul on DEXTER) played Jacob, and his unnamed frenemy was played by Titus Welliver (Kyle, LIFE; ex-Silas, DEADWOOD). In a series of flashbacks, we learned that Jacob touched the lives of many of the Losties: Jacob paid for the lunchbox Katie shoplifted; Jacob gave little James Ford a pen with which to finish writing his letter to Anthony Cooper, vowing revenge; Jacob distracted Sayid so Nadia could be killed; When John hit the ground after being thrown out the window by Anthony Cooper, he appeared dead until Jacob revived him with a touch; Jacob got Jack’s Apollo candy bar unstuck from the vending machine; Jacob told Hurley that talking to the dead is a blessing, not a curse, and encouraged him to board Akira Flight 316 (and bring that guitar); Jacob was a guest at Jin and Sun’s wedding. We even saw Jacob recruit Ilana when she was bandaged in a hospital — so does that mean Ilana and Bram work for Jacob? Is that what Bram meant when he told Frank, “We’re the good guys”? Good guys who torched the Cabin and lugged Locke’s body around in a box? What is Frank a “Candidate” for? When Ilana asked Richard, “What lies in the shadow of the statue?” Richard replied in Latin. I looked it up, and he said, “He who will protect us all.” So who is it?

Other important stuff:
•Ben said the island’s leader answers to Jacob. “Locke” was certain that Jacob was responsible for Richard never aging.
•Richard told “Locke” he’d never seen anyone brought back from the dead, and in light of “John’s” reveal, Ben may have been right when he previously said, “Dead is dead.”
•Vincent was with Bernard and Rose, living peacefully in the jungle. “It’s always something with you people.” Is anyone more in love than Bernard and Rose?
•Jack’s fistfight with Sawyer was brutal and a long time coming. Okay, so Jack is heartsick over losing Kate. But does that give him the right to alter the very fabric of reality for everyone in order to change that? “I don’t speak destiny,” Sawyer spat. “What’s done is done.”
•Chang’s hand was crushed by debris, accounting for the artificial hand seen in some of the films.
•The struggle to save Juliet was heartbreaking. There can be no doubt that Sawyer really loved her.
•Recognizing his enemy in John’s body, Jacob said, “You found your loophole,” but can Jacob really be killed?
•”They’re coming.” Who’s coming?

So, next spring will bring the final, 16-episode season of LOST. But will folks come back to watch? Was the sight of Locke’s body lying inert on the sand LOST’s official “Jump the Shark” moment?