The final tip-off nears

On the day of the NCAA basketball championship, it's hard to focus on anything else.

Please try to; catch my previous two blogs, on TV finales and "Sunshine Cleaning." First, however, a few comments:

1) The game is 9 p.m. today (Monday) on CBS. The network has promoted Clark Kellogg to its top commentator spot, which is good news. He's been doing a great job all season.

2) Detroit sees this game -- on Ford Field, which is usually for football -- as a chance to project a warm image. Alas, what many people will remember about Detroit is that it snows there in April.

3) There's a good side to that, though. On warm days in East Lansing, students traditionally have post-basketball riots. This time, they might confine themselves to a few ill-advised snowballs.

4) It can make a huge difference when the team playmaker takes control and wills a victory. We've already seen two such MSU players produce championships -- Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves. Now MSU has two such players -- Travis Walton and Kalin Lucas -- on one team. That's a very good sign.

5) Yes, it would be nice if MSU wins.  That will be the first time in an eternity or so that any team from Michigan has won on Ford Field.


TV finales -- good, great and other

The world needs special honors for TV shows that have good finales. It
also needs penalties -- something short of capital punishment,
but not too far short -- for the ones that don't.

(Also, please read my previous blog, reviewing the new "Sunshine Cleaning" movie.)

Some penalties should go to the producers who
let their shows die weakly. "The Sopranos," "Seinfeld" and
"X-Files" all disappointed.

But often the villain is the network. It will introduce a great concept,
then dismiss the show without explanation. Fox has been the prime offender,
with "John Doe," "Reunion," "Vanished" and more.

With that in mind, let's honor:

-- NBC. It let "ER" build to a fairly good finale. Some moments
were so-so, but others -- centering on John Carter (Noah Wyle), on Mark
Greene's daughter (Hallee Hirsh) and on a grieving husband (92-year-old
Ernest Borgnine) -- were deeply moving. The network also lets "Friday
Night Lights" run in logical bunches, matching a football season. Last
week's episode, a terrific one, saw the Dillon Panthers jut miss a
state championship; this week (9 p.m. Friday, April 10) the season ends
with Coach Taylor's job on the line.

-- ABC. Its decision to give "Lost" a finite lifespan has helped viewers immensely. And it gave "Life on Mars" a warning that the end was near; the result was one of the best finales I've seen.

The odds were against it. "Life on Mars" has a cop arbitrarily waking up in 1973, where he must resort to solving cases the old way. How do you explain that in a fun way?

The original, British version, I'm told, simply dismissed it all as a brain injury. (There's an excellent sequel, "Ashes to Ashes," Saturdays on BBC America.) But the American version came up with something much better. It tied together lots of things, from David Bowie songs to the name of one of the characters. I won't tell you more, because the finale should still be available at Catch it; it's worthy of our mythical Fini Award, for great moments in TV finales.

"Sunshine" at the movies

As "Sunshine Cleaning" begins, you kind of expect "Little Miss Sunshine" re-visited.

The two movies have several things in common -- a couple of producers, one actor (Alan Arkin), an independent-movie sensibility and ... well, the word "Sunshine." It doesn't show up a lot in movie titles, you know.

Still, almost everything is different -- the writers, the directors and, often, the tone. "Cleaning" is a comedy, but a dark one.

And no, the darkness doesn't really involve the new career cleaning up crime scenes. For these two sisters (perfectly played by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt), it goes much deeper. They had tough times in childhood; they definitely haven't figured out adulthood.

The more you think about it, however, the more you realize what the movies share. Both involve people with schemes that don't quite work. Both involve families that seem thoroughly dysfunctional -- then come together when really needed.

Adams is a marvel, as usual. Under that too-placid exterior -- sort of the sorority-girl-next-door -- she gets remarkable depth. Now she's wonderful as someone who was a high school cheerleader, but hasn't had much go right since then.

Blunt plays her younger sister, someone Adams has been sort of taking care of most of their lives. She bumbles and fumbles along, a nice person with a clueless life.

You like both of these people, mistakes and all, plus the others around them. There are some funny moments and some quietly moving ones. In its own way, "Sunshine Cleaning" brings a sort of "Little Miss Sunshine" charm.




The end of Joy

In the end, Megan Joy offered a parody of Megan Joy.

She danced her silly dance. She sang badly. She weaved and bobbed and lost her place in the lyrics. Then she headed back to Utah. She seemed glad she was going there; I shared the feeling.

Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) Yes, Megan Joy is immensely beautiful. Still, facial and vocal beauty don't automatically match. That fact is known by anyone who heard Pierce Brosnan sing in "Mamma Mia."

2) Wasn't that in Utah that a town once passed a local ordinance against dancing? In retrospect, I'm not entirely against the idea.

3) I wasn't surprised to see Anoop Desai in the bottom two. After two straight terrific ballads, he had diverted to a so-so rock number. It may seem logical to show your range, but it can get you voted out.

4) I was, however, surprised to see Allison Iraheta in the bottom three. I had predicted the same thing Simon did -- Megan, Anoop and Matt Giraud. Allison drew some criticism for her Wilma Flintstone hairdo and offbeat dress, but she sang terrifically, as usual.

5) Then Lady Gaga stepped onstage and people roared. Allison must have been thinking: "They thought MY hair look was weird? And I didn't even have a zipper over one eye."

6) Speaking of clothes, who told Lil Rounds to wear her prom dress tonight?

7) I did like Gaga, though. And David Cook is a true star. The way he can take control of a song is matched this year by Adam Lambert and Kris Allen.

8) The group number was better than previous ones, for a basic reason: It left lots of room for individual voices, instead of so-so harmonies.

9) Next week, each person sings a song from his or her birth year, which is hardly fair. Allison almost gets to sing a current hit.

10) I think these lists should total 10, don't you?


An upside-down "American Idol"

Tonight's "American Idol" seemed like a crazy, upside-down pyramid. It was awful at first, then got better and better.

Anoop Desai was kind of OK, which isn't the way to win a contest. Megan Joy was kind of awful, which isn't the way t do anything.

And then everything clicked. Most of the others were good; the final two -- Adam Lambert and Kris Allen -- were wonderful. Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) Who knew that the early-Flintstones look could work? Allison Iraheta -- with everything except a bone in her hair -- looked and sounded like great fun.

2) I'm pretty sure Megan Joy is the first person in Utah to have sung a Bob Marley song. There's a good chance she'll be the last.

3) "Idol" kind of likes an Elvis look this year. Tonight, Matt Giraud had the jacket; Anoop Deai had the sneer. Only Adam Lambert, however, can come up with the full attitude.

4) Adam, for that matter, can come up with any attitude. Until now, "theatrical" or "Broadway" has been an insult. Now it's a sign of a master showman who also has a great voice.

5) Maybe they should let Paula talk after Randy again. Sometimes, I don't like it when she thinks of her own stuff to say.

6) And yes, Paula did once tell Scott MacIntyre to perform without his piano. She denies it now, but she did. Tonight, we learned that his combination (good voice, great piano-playing) really clicks.

7) They finally came up with the perfect Matt Geraud song. Unfortunately for Matt, Kris Allen did it; it was superb.

8) Lil Rounds can do no wrong with me. She did "Heat Wave" last week, a Celine Dion ballad this week; each time, she wails it.

9) My should-go, based just on tonight -- Megan Joy first, then Anoop, then Matt.

10) My will-go prediction? I'll say Megan Joy. But then again, I said that last week and she wasn't even in the final three. I was stunned; she seemed super-stunned.