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Wednesday, December 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
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A star is born on American Idol
Adam Lambert wins, no matter what
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Lambert reduces us to quivering wrecks.
Lambert reduces us to quivering wrecks.

I've always wondered what would happen if young, undiscovered Elvis Presley were a contestant on American Idol. Would Fox just shut down the season after a week or two? Would the other contestants simply give up, acknowledging that no one could compete with a performer so extraordinary?

Now I know: The season would continue as planned.

I know because something similar happened this year with Adam Lambert. Week after week, Lambert has towered over his fellow singers the way Elvis towered over normal entertainers in the 1950s. While the likes of Danny Gokey and Kris Allen turned in regular American Idol-style performances - sometimes competent, always earnest, never surprising - Lambert amused himself by reducing us to quivering wrecks. One week he liquefied our hearts with a delicate ballad; the next he fried our nerve endings with an incandescent rocker. He's insanely sexy and charismatic when the music starts, sweet and humble when it stops. He employs an upper register with no apparent ceiling. And he has Elvis' once-in-a-century gift for implying a good-humored wink even while blowing an audience away.

Still, the season continued as planned.

So here we have the American Idol finale (Tuesday & Wednesday, 7 pm, Fox), and never has it seemed so irrelevant. Winners, losers - who cares as long as Adam Lambert has arrived? To put things in perspective: Young Elvis Presley lost the talent competition at the Mississippi State Fair. 'Nuff said.

Jim Jefferies: I Swear to God
Saturday, 9 pm (HBO)

There's nothing unusual about the standup comedian's special until the subject turns to God. Then his viciousness becomes rather startling. Jefferies passionately hates God and isn't afraid of getting up in His grill. He calls Him an "asshole," ridicules the idea of Noah's Ark, and accuses Jesus of being short. "He looked like Super Mario," Jefferies sneers.

We're going to learn a lot about God from His response to Jefferies' blasphemy. If HBO goes blank at 9 pm on Saturday, we'll know that He is, indeed, all-powerful. If the program airs as planned, it will be an unmistakable sign of weakness. Some might even wonder if God is shorter than Jesus.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent
Sunday, 8 pm (USA)

This week's episode gets more mileage out of its first five minutes than most crime shows do in a whole season. In a brisk montage, we meet a sleazy sports doctor, a football player who hates him, the doctor's unhappy wife, her midday lover, the couple's preacher, and the preacher's own icy blonde wife. Before the opening credits roll, the doctor's wife is gagged by an intruder, who then kills the doctor, who's been lured home by a voicemail message from his wife, who later denies having left the message. The preacher is shocked by the murder - but how shocked, exactly?

At this point almost anybody could be guilty, and it's pure pleasure to watch no-nonsense detectives Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Eames (Kathryn Erbe) zero in on the killer. All the suspects seem to be lying even though they swear they're telling the truth.

I can't wait to see the next episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Really - I swear!

Tuesday, 8 pm (Fox)

An idealistic teacher named Mr. Schuster (Matthew Morrison) is disturbed that his high school has abandoned its glee club. He stares at the former glee club director's memorial plaque in the trophy case, reading her motto: "By its very definition, glee is about opening yourself up to joy." Mr. Schuster vows to get the club off the ground again in spite of derision from students and fellow faculty. He attracts only five questionable participants, including a girl with over-the-top delusions of grandeur. But his heart leaps when he hears the football team's star quarterback singing passionately in the shower. This kid could be the glee club's key to success, but would he consent to join?

Glee makes a bad first impression, oozing contempt for its characters. I was just about to turn off the pilot (a sneak peak, with the series set to premiere in the fall) when a snazzy production number caught my attention. At that point the tone changes, with much of the snark disappearing. The pilot's second half hooked me with the quarterback's conversion and the glee club's redemption, climaxing with a rousing version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." By then, I had fully opened myself up to joy.

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