The Finale word on the TV Season

This season, all's well that just ends.

Seldom have viewers seemed more conflicted over a TV season -- unhappy with how shows performed in their post-strike runs and equally unhappy that the shows are cutting those runs so short. It's like the old restaurant complaint: The food was lousy, and there wasn't enough of it.

Clearly, timing has not been this season's strong point. As if to put the final odd coda on an off-putting season, some of TV's best shows waited until it was over to go off. ABC's Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty aired their finales Thursday, after the official close of the 2007/2008 TV season, and Lost hasn't ended yet. It won't wrap up until next Thursday.

Though some series are now gone for good, most of TV's most popular shows will return. That gives you all summer to wonder whether Warrick really dies (almost certainly), whether Horatio survives (almost certainly), and what the heck did the Housewives do to Mike?

And how were the finales? As you'd expect from an unusually inconsistent season, inconsistent. Here's a critical look at the seasonal bows of some of TV's best and most popular series.

Grey's Anatomy (ABC)

* * * 1/2 (out of four)

The finale word: How great to feel the love again at Grey's.

Love and what we do for it was the theme of the show's back-to-form finale. In two heartfelt hours, Grey's completed the spring task of re-establishing Meredith and Derek as a couple and lifting itself out of the sour rut it had fallen into.

Where last season's finale left each of the characters in a dark place, this one rescued them. George got a second shot at his intern test, Cristina got back her mojo, and almost everyone got kissed. The comedy may have been laid on a bit thick at times, but that was still a welcome switch from the bleak tone it replaced.

And if ever a crew deserves a little happiness, it's the staff at Grey's. There is no character or performance on TV more enjoyable than Chandra Wilson's Dr. Bailey. And as for Patrick Dempsey, he deserves better treatment than he gets from both Emmy voters and, at times, the show's writers. But the real beneficiary of Grey's rebound has been Ellen Pompeo, who has done a terrific job of making Meredith seem damaged and yet worth saving. The character is deeply flawed; the performance isn't.

Love her; love her show. The finale made both easier to do.

American Idol (Fox)

*

The finale word: Shouldn't Idol be better at this by now?

Granted, hyperbole and an insanely inflated sense of self-importance are Idol's stock in trade. Still, must the show continually turn its last broadcast into some grotesque combination of Miss America, the Oscars and Armageddon, all filtered through The Brady Bunch Hour? No wonder Idol never wins the Emmy: Too many people watch the finale.

Everything about the two-hour padfest seemed designed to undermine the series and make us ashamed we watched, starting with the weird opening announcement that the voting wasn't even close, and including the decision to shill everything from So You Think You Can Dance to Mike Myers' new movie to the show's own tour. There were some highlights: Donna Summer reaching the last note on Last Dance, Carrie Underwood showing her growth as a performer, Amanda Overmyer looking amusingly, painfully bored and out of place. But otherwise, if variety weren't already dead, this show would have killed it.

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