Lost Season 3 Finale (ABC). Wednesday night's two-hour season finale left critics reeling—and captivated. For the first time, the show looked into the future, and viewers learned that some castaways do, in fact, make it off the island. The San Francisco Chronicle's TV critic wonders, "How much drama does that suck out of the coming seasons?" but concludes, "I'm willing to bet that there's plenty of smart ways to tweak the drama and keep fans captivated." The Boston Globe sums up the finale as "a radical two hours that gave us major fake-outs, an army of dead bodies, the possibility of rescue, diverse portraits of heroism, and the most touching loss of the series so far." And Entertainment Weekly raves, "Lost flipped the switch on itself, revealing new dimensions to its creative world and grander ambitions in its exploration of redemption and damnation."— D.S., May 25
American Idol finale. Critics brush off the season's anti-climactic conclusion to applaud or—more often—denounce the star-soaked wrap-up extravaganza. As Slate's Jody Rosen writes, "Jordin Sparks won. Shocker." Most of the evening was a parade of famous pop acts, from Green Day to Bette Midler. The Boston Globe approves: "Give 'American Idol' credit for knowing itself. Everything this show does, it does big." But Entertainment Weekly complains, "[T]he Idol finale should not be confused with the Grammys. …That's why [the] decision tonight to focus the bloated, 130-minute telecast on pretty much everyone except for this season's 12 finalists was so disappointing and, ultimately, infuriating." Either way, critics mourn the night that could have been. Maureen Ryan sighs in the Chicago Tribune's blog the Watcher, "Through all the filler and the fluff and the cheeseball medleys … it was possible to construct a Parallel Universe 'Idol' in one's imagination: You could watch Melinda Doolittle with BeBe and CeCe Winans and pretend that the presumptive winner was belting out one more joyous, gospel-inflected number before taking the crown." Viewers apparently agreed— Variety reports that 20 percent fewer people watched the finale this year than last.— B.W.
It Won't Be Soon Before Long, Maroon 5 (A&M/Octone). The unabashedly mainstream rock band's second album comes out five years after their wildly successful debut, and industry watchers nervously anticipate a hit. Reviews are mixed (not that it matters!). The album "establishes its smarmy, smooth-operator vibe immediately with the droll optimism of a grown man on permanent spring break," remarks Entertainment Weekly. Still, reviewer Neil Drumming admits that band members "score with their big, memorable, melodic hooks." Robert Christgau, writing in Rolling Stone, gives the album a surprisingly high three and a half stars out of five, noting, "In a flusher age, [lead singer Adam] Levine's handlers would be buying Caribbean islands. Now they'll at least stay in the record business." But the Village Voice is purely disdainful, yawning, "Man, it could sprout wings and fly up my ass and it'd still be as boring as owning a goldfish." (Buy It Won't Be Soon Before Long.)—D.S., May 23
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead). The author of the best-selling debut novel The Kite Runner returns to Afghanistan for a follow-up. A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two Afghan women living under the oppression of the veil, the Soviet occupation, and, finally, the Taliban. Most critics can't restrain their admiration. The Associate Press says Hosseini "exceeds every expectation." The San Francisco Chronicle commends the author for his "bewitching narrative" and "for skillfully inserting this human story into the larger backdrop of recent history." And USA Today gushes that Hosseini captures the "natural beauty and colorful cultural heritage of his native Afghanistan" and that "[r]eaders will feel the ache in [Hosseini's] heart" when they read his prose. The Washington Post is also positive, though warier, warning that "Hosseini is not above melodrama and heartstring-tugging," and adding: "A Thousand Splendid Suns is popular fiction of the first rank, which is plenty good enough, but it is not literature and should not be mistaken for such."— P.F., May 22
Sicko (Weinstein Co.). Michael Moore's new documentary—an indictment of the American health-care industry—screened to an approving audience at Cannes over the weekend, but not before an unauthorized trip Moore made to Cuba during filming prompted a stateside controversy and an investigation by the Treasury Department. In their Cannes Journal, the New York Times' Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott praise the movie, noting that "while Mr. Moore remains a radical partisan, he has learned how to sell his argument with a softer touch. He's still the P.T. Barnum of activist cinema, but he no longer runs the entire circus directly from the spotlight."Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum agrees, remarking, "[T]here's a certain robust clarity of political activism in this latest salvo from media provocateur Michael Moore that marks a new maturity." The Associated Press describes Sicko as a film about "ordinary Americans telling heart-wrenching stories of being refused vital treatment," while the Huffington Post calls it "a rejoinder for those who think we can fix the soulless monster by tinkering with an unconscionable system that puts us further in thrall to those who created the crisis."— D.S., May 21