By Ken Tucker
May 27, 2010 at 12:46 PM EDT

Criminal Minds finished out its season last night with a scenario that was creepy even by Criminal Minds standards, featuring guest star Tim Curry as a filthy, smelly killer bent on dragging down every life into which he came in contact.

Similarly, American Idol finished out its season with an equally grisly spectacle: the departure of Simon Cowell, with Idol bent on dragging down his life on the show by drowning his memory with mawkishness.

Tim Curry and Simon Cowell — two dead men walking, still able to inflict pain and receive it. Frankly, I wouldn’t have subjected myself to the long montages of Cowell’s greatest hits (his barbs, his lip-locks with Paula, his facial variations on repulsion when faced with yet another dreadful singer) if I hadn’t been forced to switch away from Criminal Minds at a few points in its season-ender.

I can’t endure network TV dramas that depict children in the presence of horrible crimes — in this case, Curry’s character killing and/or raping a parent. I’m not against serial-killer entertainment; I’ve seen a lot of movies and read a lot of thrillers that use the serial-killer as the fulcrum for drama, but I can suspend my disbelief only when adults are involved. Add kids and my skin crawls too vigorously. Call me a wimp.

Nonetheless, when Minds guest star Eric Close started remembering his own childhood parent-murder trauma under the guidance of the BAU crew’s Morgan (Shemar Moore), and when Close’s daughter was being choked and held hostage by Curry’s psycho — well, at these and other, earlier moments, I had to turn the channel for a minute or two to escape from the sadism. It’s just that I never thought, watching Idol off and on last night, that Cowell would subject himself to the show’s sadistic default-mode: treacly sentimentalism, as in the endless farewells in his honor.

For me, there’s always been a subtext of ambivalence to watching both of these shows. With Minds, I’m glad that excellent actors such a Joe Mantegna, Paget Brewster, and Thomas Gibson have hit-show employment, yet worry that they’re too frequently squandering their time on material that isn’t worthy of them. With Cowell, I know he’s a canny businessman who used Idol to remind Americans that there is such a thing as criticism that involves both praise and dispraise, yet worry that he allowed himself to turn the critic’s role into that of the grumpy clown.

Minds ended in a cliffhanger (does anyone doubt Curry will be caught?), while Idol ended in an anti-climax (does anyone care about the winner rather than the real drama — who will replace Simon?). Either way, gruesomeness prevailed on Wednesday night.

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