Several shows conclude seasons

Thursday, May 15, 2003

The FBI drama "Without a Trace" (9 p.m., CBS) wraps up a remarkable first season tonight. Remarkable? OK, "Trace" is not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but it is still the first hourlong drama to take on "ER" and not only survive, but thrive in its competitive time slot.

Tonight's hour picks up from last week's cliffhanger. Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia) has taken charge of a hostage standoff after a ransom drop at a downtown bookstore goes badly. Things get worse when the kidnapper, a 9-11 widower with many axes to grind, accidentally shoots agent Samantha Spade (Poppy Montgomery) in the thigh.

This taught-but-belabored season-ender gives LaPaglia plenty of screen time and a chance to expand the emotional range of his buttoned-up character. On the minus side, this episode leans too heavily on the characters' (and audience's) emotional response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Friends" (7 p.m., NBC) also leaves the domestic scene behind as the gang travels to Barbados to cheer on Ross' speech at a paleontology seminar. The last time this crew left the U.S. of A., romance erupted between Chandler and Monica, and Ross found himself married to Rachel. "Friends" will need a surprise ending of monumental proportions to make this viewer care about its 10th and final season.

The comic quartet on "Will & Grace" (8:15 p.m., NBC) takes to the waves aboard Karen's late husband's yacht. Maybe the writers of this clever series can find a way to throw Harry Connick Jr.'s character overboard. He's provided nothing but unfunny ballast to this fine ensemble cast.

Grissom faces up to his hearing loss on the season finale of "CSI" (8 p.m., CBS). Let's hope this move toward a more personal story doesn't become permanent. Viewers don't tune into "CSI" for the melodrama. That's what "ER" is for. This weird drama has built its No. 1 rating with audiences by sticking to the facts and the forensics, and taking a few sidelong glances at the pervy underside of Las Vegas society.

Tonight's other highlights

Late night

Renee Zellweger and Jack Johnson appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (11:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno welcomes Jim Carrey, Amanda Bynes and Tim McGraw on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC).