since when did fall finales become standard?

TV is evolving every day.

Just a couple years ago, people started to notice that every TV show on the air finished with a cliffhanger. Even sitcoms. It had been a decade-plus since the Simpsons openly made fun of the whole cliffhanger mentality, but that didn’t stop shows from indulging.

I blame 24. Its season-ending cliffhangers were so good and so riveting that people couldn’t help but talk about them for eight months. Just thinking about Jack walking off into the sunset at the end of season 4 Bruce Banner-style still gives me chills.

So every other TV show just assumed, “If we leave people with questions, they’ll come back” and every show adopted some kind of cliffhanger. When Jim kissed Pam on the second season finale of The Office — thereby allowing sitcoms in on the whole cliffhanger thing — it was on like Donkey Kong. Or at least like Ms. Pac Man, a thoroughly better game.

Now, we’re at the next evolution of the cliffhanger — the fall finale. It basically breaks the season up into two parts and gives the audience reason to come back in a couple months when the shows return from hiatus. This is the perfect year for networks to test out the fall finale because shows will be on longer hiatus than usual to avoid the Winter Olympics in February.

With so many “fall finales” out there the last couple weeks, here’s a look at some of the biggest and where these shows stand right now:

hello. i know you know me, but i'm just going to pretend like you don't. if you could do the same, that would be super. now run along and fetch me some water!

hello. i know you know me, but i'm just going to pretend like you don't. if you could do the same, that would be super. now run along and fetch me some water!

Brothers and Sisters: Give them credit, whoever “they” are. They finally pulled off an episode that equalled the range, emotion and basic coherence that the show reached in its very good first season but completely and utterly lost to the depravity of what has become “Those Crazy Walkers” for the last three years. But Kitty’s possible death is just what the show needed to be humanized all over again. They’ve already tried it with Robert and with a baby death, but it didn’t work. Here’s to hoping it works this time around. But there is still soooooooo much that bothers me with this show. Like this: Robert still introduces himself to everyone simply as “Robert” and people just shake his hand right back and say, “Hi, nice to meet you” like it was anyone else they’ve met in their entire life. Just once I want him to introduce himself, but the person then would say back, “Oh, you’re Robert? You mean my senator? The guy who was about to run for governor but dropped out so he could be with his cancer-stricken wife? Who stayed in the race after a heart attack? The guy who ran for president two years ago? That Robert? Yeah, nice to meet you too” and then faint. Just gimme something that shows he’s one of the most powerful, recognizable men in California.

FlashForward: I found it! I finally found out how to watch this show! Since it’s an hour-long bore, the best way to cram it in to your already busy schedule — since they’ve set up interesting questions, but are executing the answers in a manner that is the opposite of interesting — is just to watch the last five minutes. Maybe 10 if you’ve got time. Then, you find out who’s still alive, you see the resolution of whatever that week’s problem was and you get to see the cliffhanger for the next episode. Easy peasy! But if you don’t want to watch, that’s fine too, since it’s miscast, mismanaged and 95 percent of the dialogue may or may not be written by a brain-damaged monkey. It’s gone now til March, and the American public will decide if they’ll be able to pick it right back up after the break. Until then, a new legal drama starring Billy Zane will replace it come January.

Nip/Tuck: Cheating here. It’s fall finale isn’t until next week. We’re adding rule #462,953 to my life — when one of my favorite shows goes so far as to base an entire B-story on hardcore, man-boy, Swedish incest, we’re talking about it. I’m diming out Pocono Record online producer John Misinco here, who took slight umbrage with the fact that I recently compared Nip/Tuck to a fictionalized version of The Jerry Springer Show. Now? No one can defend the shock-depths this show routinely sinks to merely out of habit rather than for any reason relating to plot or character development. And in the hack move of all hack moves, the show decided to “invent” a brother for Sean, who was gone as quickly as he arrived in LA. As far as I know, said brother has never been mentioned before, but he was only there to make some kind of go-nowhere comparison to Sean and Christian’s relationship about how you can still be brothers without being blood relations. It would have ranked among the worst, needlessly raunchy Nip/Tucks ever — comparable to being the dumbest porn star — if it weren’t for the intriguingly bizarre behavior of Christian to callously stab Sean right square in the back.

i'm going to vomit down your back.

i'm going to vomit down your back.

Glee: I’m afraid I’m starting to know Ryan Murphy too well. Maybe it’s getting the Murphy double-dose on Wednesdays, but I know what’s happening before it happens. I was already humming “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” before the New Directions started singing it as their “secret” song. Even though I know what’s coming in Glee, I’m more than happy to go along for the ride. I’m really disappointed about the fake pregnancy Internet backlash, I thought it was a well-planned, nicely executed side story that essentially brought Will and Emma together. That’s the only reason it was there. The Finn-Quinn-Puck thing was more of a drag to me, despite Puck being my second-favorite new character of the TV season. The first? Sue Sylvester. Every inch of praise she’s been hit with this year is well-deserved, even if she’s also the mean-for-no-reason champ of the world. But what Glee has is an understanding of high school that most shows don’t. The rule of thumb is that if you want to attend a TV high school, it isn’t based in any kind of reality. Who in their right mind wants to go back to high school, anyone? Everyone wanted to attend Bayside, West Beverly High or even be part of James Buchanan High’s Sweathogs. Know why? Because they didn’t look like any high school that ever existed and even the geeks could be cool. No one wanted to go to Sunnydale High School to be tormented like Xander was and no one wants to go to McKinley High School to possibly get the Slushie treatment. Especially since McKinley is a FAILED PRESIDENT!!! That means it’s really like high school. As far-fetched as 90 percent of Glee’s stories are, at least they’re grounded in what we can believe is a real high school somewhere in Ohio. That’s more than most teen shows can say.

Fringe: There’s something about Fringe this season that’s made it seem more immediate. More intense. Whatever “it” is, it’s exactly what FlashForward doesn’t have, and at this point, looks like it never will. Even Anna Torv (Olivia), who last year was easily the worst actress put into a major TV role, has become extremely tolerable. If that doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, then think about last year when she was turn-the-channel bad. The exploration of Walter’s psyche and the depths of his inability to connect with other people — even if it’s not his fault, as we found out Thursday — has been fascinating and the brooding, brilliant Peter’s new-found love for his old man has added a layer that just wasn’t there last year. Plus, the story-telling has been top-notch, even the stand-alone episodes that give us a break from The Pattern, William Bell and The Observer. It’s too bad it’s getting trounced — but making headway — in it’s impossible Thursday 9 p.m. slot, it’s a show that deserves an audience.

you have nice hair. you run fast.

you have nice hair. you run fast.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Where did those first nine episodes of this season come from? Too bad the last three reminded me why it’s the most hit-and-miss show on TV. But at least the season finale Thursday gave us reason to believe they didn’t come out of thin air. For whatever reason, the comedy gods smiled on this show for two months and made it one of the funniest things on TV. Everyone has to end their run sooner or later, I guess. Thursday’s episode was sullied only by Flip Cup. I have friends who still play it, the same game we played when we were underage begging older siblings or upperclassmen to buy us beer. I don’t understand it either. But it was wholeheartedly refreshing to hear, “Flip Cup? What are you, a freshman?” So why can’t I get, “Flip, flip, Flipadelphia!” out of my head? That’s the great thing about Sunny, even if 99 percent of it totally misses, there’s always something you can talk about the next day.

The League: Still boring. I can’t get over the fact that if I was in a fantasy league with these dorks I’d not only win it every year, but I’d never talk to them either. It got slightly better as the year went on, but I looked forward to the Archer commercials more than the show. For some reason, it’s coming back next year.

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