Here’s a look back at the best and worst of TV in the past week (Sept. 18-24), and a look ahead at what’s coming up.
1. Shocking endings. A handful of good episodes became all the better with final-second jolts this week. Among them: A favorite villain rising from the grave in the spectacularly gripping “Being Human” finale (BBC America); Chuck’s mom (Linda Hamilton) blowing away a rival to give a bit of an edge to an otherwise ho-hum “Chuck” (NBC); and a shadowy figure sneaking into a jaw-dropping hiding place in the background on “Terriers” (FX).
2. Shocking deaths. Bodies, bodies everywhere. Poor old Mrs. Blankenship keeled over at her desk on “Mad Men” (AMC): “She died as she lived: surrounded by the people she answered phones for.” That led to a “Weekend at Bernie’s”-style moment trying to remove the body, plenty of snappy lines (“I would have my secretary do it, but she’s dead) and ultimately a touching tribute from Bert. “Boardwalk Empire” (HBO) ended an impressive pilot episode very bloodily, with a Chicago mob boss getting a shotgun to the face soon after the forest massacre of bootleggers. And “Sons of Anarchy” (FX) needed a Cleaner, played by a creepy Stephen King, to dispose of a body after Gemma and Tara got their hands bloody.
3. Shockingly good premieres. A lot of shows kinda cruised through their season premieres on autopilot, and the results were disappointing (“Glee,” “Modern Family,” “Cougar Town”). But two shows kicked it up a notch with outstanding episodes. “30 Rock” (NBC) was by far the funniest thing on TV this week, smart as a whip and firing a barrage of jokes that all hit their targets. From Jack’s war on relationships to Tracy’s post-traumatic Kenneth syndrome to Liz’s wanting to wear her boyfriend’s pube shirt for life rather than be alone (you’d have to have been there), it was hysterical. (My girlfriend, who was trying to go to sleep in another room, said I started at Level 2 chuckles and moved up to Level 4 belly laughs; sorry babe, it was all Liz Lemon’s fault.) But the best season premiere of them all was “Fringe” (Fox), which picked up where it left off last season and dove right into an alternate reality, delivering an hour of mind-bending, pulse-pounding action. I love the detail of the mirror universe, from the Broadway musicals (“Dogs”) to UN ambassador John F. Kennedy to the flights to the moon. Plus there was Bubbles from “The Wire!” Olivia’s battle with her own identity was mesmerizing, and the experiment itself was chilling. My theory on Walternate’s mind-melding effort: He wants so transfer everyone from the corroding Earth B into our universe, using our bodies as shells for their imported minds. Yikes.
1. Unfunny sitcoms. So much talent, but such a lazy, disappointing debut for “Running Wilde” (Fox). The apple dropped far, far away from the “Arrested Development” tree. And “Outsourced” (NBC) was even more unfunny. Let’s see, a joke about funny Indian names, a joke about funny Indian accents, a joke about how gross Indian food is . . . . I don’t know what other lame setups there were, I turned it off after 11 minutes.
2. Unnecessary guest stars. Haven’t we reached the guest star overload point yet? They typically bring nothing to the table other than a distraction (Matt Damon on “30 Rock” being a notable exception, as he’s playing so well and so wildly off his persona). Jennifer Aniston played a kooky shrink on “Cougar Town” (ABC) and didn’t add a thing. Betty White played a kooky professor on “Community” (NBC) and didn’t add a thing, other than a check mark on her to-do list of appearing on every series on TV. I couldn’t bring myself to watch Justin Bieber on “CSI” (CBS), but I feel comfortable saying I would have hated that too. Come on network TV, stick with the casts that made these shows hits in the first place, and save guests so that their appearances really are special occasions.
3. Alex McLoughlin, proving on “Hawaii Five-O” (CBS) that you don’t need charisma to be handed series after series on CBS (this is his third). He’s a dud, and his co-stars, especially Scott Caan, steal the show.
Looking forward to . . .
1. “The Amazing Race” (8:30 p.m. Sunday, CBS). A new season begins in Gloucester, Mass, and heads to England. The start of “TAR” is always one of the highlights of my TV year.
2. “Dexter” (9 p.m. Sunday, Showtime). OK, so I don’t get Showtime but I just finished Season 4 (which was astoundingly good) on Netflix. Can’t wait to see how it picks up the pieces. I’m really going to be looking forward to when this comes out on DVD next year.
3. “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” (10 p.m. Friday, IFC). Forget “Running Wilde,” I’m turning to this reunion of “Arrested Development” co-stars. David Cross stars as a meek corporate drone mistakenly transferred to a high-powered position in London. Will Arnett is his boss.