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Tuned In: Taking a look back at season finales

Thursday, June 10, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Musings on series from the TV season just ended: "Ally McBeal" -- Many people have complained to me about "Ally's" season finale. Seems viewers have become so accustomed to cliffhangers they wanted something more than the quiet ending creator David E. Kelley delivered.

Some of the show's serious turns this year explored new ground -- Cage's realization that Ally is only happy in her fantasy world -- but other times "Ally" rehashed old topics ad infinitum.

"Chicago Hope" -- Though the firing of half the hospital staff in the season finale (written by series creator David E. Kelley) was unrealistic, it was fun to see Mandy Patinkin and his toy trains back at Chicago Hope. When Patinkin's Dr. Geiger complained about the hospital's descent into mediocrity, I had to wonder if it were Kelley commenting on the show as it was run by other producers in recent years. Lauren Holly, who appeared in Kelley's "Picket Fences," joins the cast next season.

"Dilbert" -- Love the theme song. Too bad this animated UPN comedy isn't funny.

"ER" -- Yawn. Aside from Jeanie Boulet and Kerry Weaver, few of the characters remain compelling. The Corday-Greene romance has potential, but this drama is beginning to show its age.

"Futurama" -- Started out so-so, has emerged as a genuinely funny show and worthy successor to "The Simpsons."

"Felicity" -- What a cop-out. Felicity chose which guy to leave school with (Ben or Noel), but viewers won't learn her pick until fall. Cliffhangers are one thing, but this seemed like an easy out to give the show's writers time to figure out which way to send the story.

"Home Improvement" -- Ended with a whimper. Tim literally moved the family house to Indiana for Jill's new job, but no one will remember this as one of the great endings in TV history.

"Melrose Place" -- Ho-hum. Despite a few good lines in the final episodes reminiscent of how much fun this show once was, the last "Melrose" was a letdown. No return visits from characters past, only passing mentions of them.

"Millennium" -- So let me get this straight: Watts is dead, Emma's a bad guy, and Frank and Jordan are on the run? Since the show won't be back, I guess they'll keep running. FYI: Terry O'Quinn, who played Watts, is a regular on Chris Carter's upcoming Fox show "Harsh Realm" and Lance Henriksen ("Millennium's" dour Frank Black) is in at least the pilot.

"NYPD Blue" -- Poor Andy Sipowicz. First his son dies, then his partner, now his wife. While the Job story lines are wearing thin, Dennis Franz's performance is as riveting as ever.

"The Practice" -- What a loopy season finale. The last episode until September ping-ponged between "Ally McBeal"-style comedy (Bobby's proposal to Lindsay as Helen kept interrupting) and murky mystery. Learning George was Lindsay's attacker, and presumably guilty of the head in the bag murder, was a shocking disappointment to those of us who believed in his innocence.

"Providence" -- Yes, it's predictable and sappy, but darn it, I still like this show, mostly because of its characters and themes: family and responsibility. Sadly, neither of those are dealt with much in prime time, which makes "Providence" a welcome, if semi-generic, diversion.

"7th Heaven" -- Sometimes the solutions are too easy and the tone a little too sweet, but no matter. "7th Heaven" is the best, most entertaining family show on TV with well-crafted, believable kid characters and parents who set a fine example in these morally ambiguous times.

"Sports Night" -- This show continues to perplex me. Creator/writer Aaron Sorkin insists on writing repetitive dialogue that's neither clever nor realistic.

"Did he say repetitive dialogue?"

"He said repetitive dialogue."

"Why did he say repetitive dialogue?"

"Because he thinks our dialogue is repetitive."

"You really think he thinks our dialogue is repetitive?"

"I think he thinks our dialogue is repetitive."

Yet when the show skips trying to be funny, it actually works. The dramatic moments soar, as proven in the season finale when Casey's son was afraid his lack of sports skills would embarrass his dad or when Gordon broke off his engagement to Dana or when Isaac returned following his stroke.

My advice: Stop trying to be a comedy. "Sports Night" is best as a drama.

"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" -- There were some marked changes in the journey from script to screen of the show's final episode. In a final draft of the script, dated March 26, there's no doubt that Capt. Sisko is dead ("Your corporeal existence is over," a prophet tells him). In the episode that aired, Sisko said he'll be back from the white limbo beyond.

"Star Trek: Voyager" -- I've been critical of this show on a regular basis, but the season finale was a triumph. There was juicy drama about the nature of right and wrong and several characters were left in cliffhanger-style jeopardy, including Capt. Janeway (Kate Mulgrew). In January, Mulgrew expressed a desire to leave the show and now there's a path for that to happen. But she's since signed on for the seventh season.

TV TONIGHT: Clearly there are too many awards shows on TV, but the "MTV Movie Awards" (9 tonight) is a welcome relief. While stalwarts like the Oscars and the Emmys have forgotten what it means to be entertaining, the "MTV Movie Awards" makes having a good time its priority.

An advance tape of tonight's broadcast (taped Saturday in Santa Monica, Calif.) reveals new parodies of "Armageddon" and "Star Wars," and there's even an "Austin Powers" sketch to kick off the show. All three skits star host Lisa Kudrow, who seems game for a good time.

The awards themselves mean nothing (how can they when "There's Something About Mary" beats "Saving Private Ryan" as best picture?) and the winners all know in advance they've won so there's no element of surprise (some winners are particularly ungracious).

But no other awards show would dare tweak the film industry with an award for "best dramatic pause." That alone makes the show worthwhile, even though you'll have to endure a musical performance by the obnoxious Kid Rock.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or by e-mail at: rowen@post-gazette.com

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