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The season finales: ''Friends,'' ''Ellen,'' and more

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The season finales: ”Friends,” ”Ellen,” and more

”It’s London, baby!” shouts Joey (Matt LeBlanc) — over and over, a mindless refrain that drives Chandler (Matthew Perry) bonkers — on an hour-long season finale of Friends that is every bit as fast, funny, and farcically intricate as this crackling series has been lo these last few months. The episode, shot partly in England, builds to the marriage ceremony of Ross (David Schwimmer) and his British sweetie, Emily (the low-key luminous Helen Baxendale).

At the last minute, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) decides she’s still in love with Ross and flies over the ocean to bear anguished witness to the nuptials. I’m not giving away the ending, but I will say two things: (1) Tom Conti is hilarious as Emily’s boorishly eccentric dad; and (2) about mid-show, two of the series’ regular Friends become more than that, in a plotline that’s every bit as promising as the Ross-‘n’-Emily union.

This time of year shows are wrapping up right and left — is anyone excited about that other season-ending marriage on The Nanny? How ’bout the exchange of vows between Paul (Richard Kind) and his girlfriend on Spin City ? Didn’t think so. (Hey, remember when Michael J. Fox used to be the star of that show? There’s such a thing as being too much of a team player — next season, more Michael, less ensemble, please.) One marriage to definitely attend will be Everybody Loves Raymond‘s, as a two-part finale it’s a sustained flashback to the time Ray (Ray Romano) and Debra (Patricia Heaton) tied the knot, knottily and nuttily.

Most finales, of course, are fizzles, but by all means, go out of your way to catch the one for Ellen — it’s an absolute flameout. DeGeneres, whose comedy’s turned rancid ever since her post-outing ratings sank and ABC scaled down promotion for the show, has turned in an hour’s worth of unfunny in-jokes (with a few nonetheless amusing cameos by unlikely laugh getters like ER‘s Julianna Margulies and Chicago Hope‘s Christine Lahti) that conclude the groundbreaking Ellen with a sullen I-did-it-my-way defensiveness that just seems bitter and flat.

Amid the finales, you’ll also find the nets’ sweeps specials and miniseries. This time around, the pickings are a little thin, with more theatrical films larding out the schedules.

Of the minis, the best that can be said of Witness to the Mob is that it stands out for its ambition. If you’ve been wondering where Nicholas Turturro has been on NYPD Blue, he was busy working the other side of the law, portraying Mob‘s ”Sammy the Bull” Gravano. If you don’t follow organized crime, the Bull was the rat who squealed on New York king mobster John Gotti, here played by Tom Sizemore (The Relic, Heat, and the forthcoming Saving Private Ryan).

Mob lays out the niceties and atrocities of Mafia life with meticulous detail and a smooth sense of pacing by director Thaddeus O’Sullivan, an interesting artist who started his career as an experimental filmmaker influenced by avant-gardists like Stan Brakhage — in other words, as far away from TV-movie commercialism as possible.

O’Sullivan’s problems with Mob are that this Godfather-style stuff has been done too often (just last week, in fact, in the livelier Last Don II) and that his protagonist, Gravano, sure ain’t much of a guy to root for. An admitted hitman and extortion expert, Gravano is shown talking endlessly about the rigorous loyalty code of his chosen tribe, yet ultimately, he betrayed that code thoroughly, testifying against his former best bud Gotti after coming to the conclusion that ”you can’t count on nobody or nothin’ in dis crazy world.” Who cares about dis weasel for four hours?

Turturro’s performance is sturdy but unimaginative; to be fair, there’s not much spin you can put on trite pseudo-Scorsese lines like ”You don’t know what bein’ in the life is like until you been in it.” Sizemore, who increased a size more or two to play the big, bluff Gotti, has the flashier role, but since this is Gravano’s story, he keeps getting pushed into the background.

The result is yesterday’s news, presented with a grave stateliness that ultimately becomes stultifying. If you’re saving up some time for a miniseries, better to wait for the pleasant surprise of Peter Benchley’s Creature. Sure, it’s Benchley’s own Jaws rip-off, but it features a good monster (half human, half shark, all menace) and solidly heroic performances from Craig T. Nelson and Giancarlo Esposito.

And you may now thank me: I got through a whole piece without mentioning Seinfeld (ta-ta, bye-bye, yada yada). Friends: A- Raymond: A- Ellen: C- Witness: C Creature: B-

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