The ultimate survivor on TV may not be Richard or Tina, it might be the NBC sitcom "3rd Rock From the Sun."
It wasn't just that NBC put "3rd Rock" in a lot of bad time slots, it was that it put the show in a lot of time slots, period.
Would you believe 21 different changes in total? Given the fact that the show's first season was actually a half-season (it was a midseason replacement series that debuted in January 1996), that averages out to four different time slots for each season "3rd Rock" survived. And that's downright insane.
But, frankly, it might be a bit easier to get all riled up about how unfair all of this maniacal scheduling was if it had happened to a different show. A better show. Because, frankly, "3rd Rock" was never a better show to begin with.
My original review called the show "little more than one big, sophomoric sex joke" whose level of humor "falls far and fast." That came after viewing the first three episodes — and, 5 1/2 seasons later after viewing the last, hourlong episode, nothing has changed.
The finale (Tuesday, 7 p.m., Ch. 5) deals with the fact in last week's episode, Mary (Jane Curtin) witnessed Dick (John Lithgow) turn his nemesis into a chimpanzee — which is a bit difficult to explain. So Dick ends up telling Mary the truth — that he and his "family" are really aliens from another planet on assignment here on Earth.
But he has no more than delivered that news when they get a message from the Big Giant Head that their mission is over and it's time to come home.
And, true to form, this episode is loud, grating and over-the-top. Way back in that original review, I wrote that Lithgow was "often reduced to over-the-top, scenery-chewing histrionics. . . . If he isn't embarrassed by this show and his performance in it, he ought to be." And I'll stand by that as well.
(If "3rd Rock" has proven anything over the years, it's that we can't take the Emmys particularly seriously. That Lithgow could have won three best-actor Emmys and Kristen Johnston could have won two as best supporting actress for performances that require as much nuance and skill as your average "Saturday Night Live" sketch is appalling.)
Not that the "3rd Rock" finale is completely without laughs. There's some physical humor that's amusing, but the laughs are few and far between. Which, again, fits perfectly with that 1996 review: "There's the occasional laugh-out-loud sight gag . . . . But in order to get the payoff of those few-and-far-between sequences, you have to invest a lot of time in an awful lot of stupidity. '3rd Rock From the Sun' just isn't worth that investment."
It's quite obvious that the cast — which includes French Stewart and Joseph Gordon-Levitt — was quite emotional during taping of Tuesday's final episode. But it's hard as a viewer to get all chocked up about a show that was never all that good to begin with.