Aug 16 2013

Five Sterling Examples of How To End a TV Show

Published by at 10:00 am under Lists,Television

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s finding a spider in the bathtub.  Ewww.  If there are two things I hate, then the second one is a story that doesn’t have a good ending.  You know the phrase, “it’s the journey, not the destination”?  That’s true to an extent, but when it comes to stories, it’s not quite the whole picture.  I don’t want to go all Philosophy 302 on you, but one of my favorite Nietzsche quotes is this one:

“Not every end is the goal. The end of a melody is not its goal; and yet: if a melody has not reached its end, it has not reached its goal. A parable.”

Like a great piece of music, when it comes to a long-running, beloved television show, there’s something necessary about a satisfying ending.  And it’s harder than it looks.  To provide a sense of completion, acknowledging the rich history of the show as well as pointing to a possible future WITHOUT making things feel too neat or contrived…well, it’s a tall order.  Few shows get it right.  Here are five that did.

**Spoilers, obviously, for all shows mentioned**

Star Trek: The Next Generation – “All Good Things…”

There’s a reason why so few TV shows end well.  Unlike movies or books, television shows are open-ended.  They end when they end, and when they end is controlled not only by the showrunners, but by the network, the ratings, and the whims of the public.  It’s getting more common these days for shows to announce their own end-dates, but this a relatively new phenomenon.  Most shows go until they’re no longer financially viable, and when that happens your chances of getting a satisfying ending are relatively low.  Most television shows stumble to the finish line in a confused mess of sagging plotlines, creative differences, low ratings, and audience fatigue.

That’s why it’s so surprising that, hands-down, Star Trek TNG had perhaps the best, most satisfying series finale I’ve ever seen.  It’s an episode that both addresses and pays homage to the past and points to a possible, but not set-in-stone future.  Using the kind of device you can only get away with in sci-fi shows, Jean-Luc Picard jumps between the past, present, and future, trying to put the pieces of a Q-engineered mystery together with the fate of humanity on the line.  It’s a great callback to the very first episode, where Q put humanity on trial and challenged Picard to solve a mystery to prove humanity’s worth.

The most amazing aspect of the episode, to me, is how relatively understated it was.  There were no huge revelations, no twists that stood the entire show on its head.  It was an episode that didn’t oversell its significance.  It was very much about the characters.  By seeing the show’s past, present, and possible future through the lens of Picard, we see how these important character relationships have changed, and more importantly, where they might go from here.

Of course, they end with the poker scene.  The beauty of that scene is that, while it was hugely memorable and highly effective, it was understated.  They didn’t need to make a big deal of it.  It was just the crew sitting down to play their weekly game of poker, like they always do, and their Captain joining them, musing that he should have done this a long time ago.  The significance of the moment carries itself.  And it hits the show’s central themes of friendship and comradery as its final note, not indulging in some epic space battle or scenery-chewing speech.  Rather, letting the characters go out on a comfortable, warm note.  A truly brilliant series finale.

 

The Office (US version) – “Finale”

(Embedding disabled, watch here.)

 

I know, I know.  Everyone gave up on The Office sometime around Season 5.  Can you believe this show lasted 9 freaking seasons?  And boy, did it go through some rough patches.  In a previous article, I pinpointed the exact episode that The Office jumped the shark, effectively killing it as a viable TV series for me.  So how can I say now that it had a brilliant finale?

Because it did.  I suspect in ten years when we look back, historically, at all the things The Office did right (and did first), the obvious inconsistency and sometimes whiplash-inducing mood swings will be smoothed over in our minds.  For all its flaws, this show had heart, and “Finale” perfectly encapsulated the sometimes frustrating, sometimes eye-rollingly mawkish, but ultimately endearing tone of the show.

You had Erin meeting her birth parents (Joan Cusack in a pretty decent cameo), Jim and Pam finally resolving their legitimately painful and tense relationship issues, Dwight finally acknowledging Jim’s status as a friend by firing Jim and Pam out of friendship so they could enjoy a nice severance package (a perfect Dwight moment if there ever was one), the return of Ryan Howard (his scene where he and Kelly abandon the baby is a perfect example of that mood whiplash where you go, “wait, what?”).  But the real heart of the episode was this scene.

For better or worse, The Office was all about Steve Carell.  Personally, I think the inherent childishness of his character, combined with his stupidity (the level of which seemed to vary episode to episode, and sometimes was so over-the-top as to be painful) made him an untenable lead character.  He was much better suited for the background, the quick hit, the big moment.  And here, at the very end, boy did they figure out how to use him right.  This is why television can be the most powerful medium.  No other place do you have stories that go on for this long.  There are some book series that rival 10+ seasons of television, but not many.  The sheer weight of these characters, the amount of time we’ve spent with them, makes moments like the above possible, and amazing.

 

Friday Night Lights – “Always”

Because in the end, even though it was the glue that bound every character together, the game of football itself wasn’t even that important.  You would expect the last game of the last episode of the last season, the State Championship, in a show that’s ostensibly about football and references football in its title, to be the definition of epic.  To take 15 minutes and show highs and lows, dramatic, tension-filled plays and heartrending halftime speeches.  That’s what a good show would do.

But Friday Night Lights isn’t a good show, it’s a great one.  Instead of the expected showdown, the final game is soft, removed.  The soundtrack is the only audio, and its languid pace sets the distant, almost ethereal tone.  As the final, game-deciding pass floats through the air, you get a long shot of almost every character’s reaction, the pass coming down…and then a cut to six months later.  Because in the end, it wasn’t about the winner of the game.  The show is taking a step back from football, widening the lens.  Because the stakes of the episode are more personal, and yet more dramatic than the outcome of the football game.  That game takes a backseat to Coach Taylor and the titanic, sea-change of a decision he has to make about the future of his family.  Coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tami, had one of the most realistic portrayals of a working marriage on television, and what more could you ask from a show like this one than to highlight that strength in the last episode?

Of course, the show tells you who won not by saying it, but by quick flashes of the Lions’ state championship rings.  It’s the classy way to do it.  And there’s the obligatory closing montage.  Every character gets a beat, and there’s a sense of resolution without the feeling that things ended too neatly or perfectly or unrealistically.  Things change, things stay the same.  There’s a shot of the Panthers practicing, and damn it if Buddy isn’t there on his damn golf cart, just like in the first episode.  Even with how much he’s changed as a character, there’s a sense that the town itself is a character, that the inertia of its traditions and way of doing things have a life of their own.  That things will continue, off-screen, even after we, the audience, have parted ways and moved on.  And that, ladies and gents, is how to do a moving series finale.

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Chosen”

Buffy_Chosen

 

For a series as fundamentally campy as Buffy, damn did the show have some heart-wrenching moments.  Say what you want about some of the choices made in the later seasons, but I believe that fundamentally, start to finish, Buffy was always the show it wanted to be.  You can’t say that about a lot of television.  Joss Wheadon had a message, damn it, and he stuck to it.  If it got a little garbled at some points, if the characters lost their way, well, it’s unfortunate, but understandable.  Any show longer than a few seasons is going to have its rough patches.

The last episode, “Chosen,” was the rare finale where the expected felt inevitable and yet so, so right.  There’s no subversion of tropes here: it’s an epic, balls-to-the-wall, scenery-chewing showdown from start to finish.  There’s the highs and lows of battle, the unexpected character death, the heroic sacrifice, and the gallows humor.  Everything you’ve come to expect from a Final Battle ™.  It’s the execution that makes it so powerful, though.  Buffy, as frustrating a character as she can be sometimes, is purely herself in the finale.  She’s everything you want from a female action hero.  She’s spunky, but vulnerable.  Passionate, but clever.  She gets her moments of almost ditzy comedy that are so uniquely her, and she gets to give the Big Speech:

The Big Speech

* apologies for the quality.  Searching for any kind of Buffy videos gets you 10,000 horrible “two characters set to sappy music” montages for every 1 actual scene.

Engineering a moment like that takes a lot of skill, especially for it to come off as well as it does.  And as for the other characters… well, they get their moments in the sun, as well.  Of course no one has a “moment in the sun” quite like Spike.  No matter what you thought of the incredibly screwed-up relationship between Spike and Buffy, you can’t tell me it wasn’t a perfect moment, absolutely true to their characters, for things to end the way they did.  Spike, staying behind to be stupidly heroic and sacrifice himself.  Buffy, thanking him in only way she knows how: “I love you.”  To which Spike responds, in a moment so perfectly him that you can’t help but choke up: “No, you don’t.  But thanks for saying it.”

 

Firefly – “Objects in Space”

I can hear your screams of indignation.  Of all the TV shows there, you know, are, how could this one end RIGHT when it ended so WRONG?  And by that, I mean because it ended at all, when it did.  Yes, the unjust cancellation of Firefly is a wound that will never heal in the pop culture psyche, and rightly so.

But if it had to end, it absolutely ended on the right note.  “Objects in Space” is a tour-de-force.  This is what sci-fi can do for you, folks.  You can take a concept as existential as “do physical objects posses the qualities we imbue them with?,” give it a physical manifestation, both light and dark, in enigmatic, deadly, flower child River Tam and sociopathic, bounty-hunting Jubel Early, put the crew on a space ship – confined, close quarters, nowhere to run! – and watch the tension ratchet itself up to insane levels.

There’s a sensuality to the episode, a very definite and pervasive focus on things, and people, and the differences (are there any?) between them.  Each character is confronted, in their own way, by Jubel, and while ostensibly he’s there to collect a bounty, what he’s really doing is putting a mirror in front of the cast and saying, “Okay, who are we?  What kind of day has it been?”  Beneath the overt plot is a “taking stock” of where the series has come in its brief, glorious run.  Persistent themes are brought to the surface – Book’s mysterious past, Simon ‘growing up,’ Mal and Inara’s comedy-of-errors (and stubborn wills) romance.  And River – the ultimate cypher.  For the entire series, she’s been an enigma, incredibly helpful on rare occasions, but often a burden or a problem unto herself, her speech, goals, and worldview almost unintelligible.  When she saves the day at the end of “Objects in Space,” though, she has a moment, a beat of lucidity that points to some kind of future without taking you there – something that’s a hallmark of great series finales.

Again, no YouTube link.  Sorry.

Right after pulling off a double-bluff and defeating Jubel Early: (this is directly from the script)

River exits Early’s ship and pushes off, floating down toward Serenity as Early’s ship takes off Mal waits below on Serenity, catching and steadying her as she comes in reach. He holds her hands.

RIVER
Permission to come aboard?

MAL
You know, you ain’t quite right.

RIVER
It’s the popular theory.

MAL
Go on. Get in there. Give your brother
a thrashing for messing up your plan.

RIVER
He takes so much looking after.

It’s a moment that’s almost out-of-character in its clarity, at least for River.  But in the end, amongst the wrap-up surgery and good-natured banter of the crew as they wind down, there’s River, right there in the mix of it, playing a game with Kaylee.  Just one of the crew.  And if that isn’t a perfect end to a great series, I don’t know what is.  Granted, it would have been nice if this was episode 200 instead of episode 14, but, such is life.

Shows that I’ve heard have great endings but haven’t watched:

M*A*S*H – because there are like 16 seasons and they’re impossible to find unless you buy DVDs, and who buys DVDs?

The Sopranos -

Six Feet Under – because I’ve heard that it’s good, but incredibly depressing.

Cheers – because I’ve heard it’s a worse version of Friends, and I didn’t particularly like Friends.

Newhart - I’ve heard from a few people that the finale for this is amazing.  I’ve also never heard of this show.  Do I just have a huge cultural blind spot, or what?

Sound off below, folks.  Agree with my picks?  Am I missing a great one?  Should I watch those shows I’ve never seen immediately?

 





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66 responses so far

  • Chris

    If Community had finished after Season Two…

  • Oddjob

    M*A*S*H is fantastic. I loved it when I watched quite a lot of episodes on TV when I was young and then when I was like 20 I bought the whole set on dvd.
    It’s one of my favourite tv-series and the last episode is really good.

  • https://twitter.com/XenoIrish XenoIrish

    M*A*S*H may be my favorite tv show of all time, I have watched the entire series several times and it is still great.

    It you get TVLand (In the U.S) its currently on in the evening for a few hours a day. The finale just aired a few weeks ago, so it’ll be a while before it swings back around.

  • DaveyJ

    @Chris: Come on, Season 3 had plenty of great episodes.

  • Cold_War_Relic

    Space: Above and beyond had a pretty intense finale that left the viewer yearning for more. As did Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

  • TotesMcGotes

    @DaveyJ I agree. The first few episodes weren’t great(except for the brilliant Remedial Chaos Theory),but it really picked up in episode seven or so and ended with greatness.

    Also,shit,there are so many concluded/cancelled shows I have to watch. On my radar for now are The Sopranos,Buffy,Veronica Mars (kind of),Six Feet Under,and those are just the ones I remember right now. AND there are still the ongoing shows I’m still watching AND the ones I haven’t started yet (like Game of Thrones,I’m still surprised that I haven’t came across spoilers for that famous season 3 episode)

    And there are also a crapload of movies I have to watch. I wonder if someday I’ll catch up with all that stuff.

  • cosyish

    Another Joss product I know , but I always loved the ending of Angel. Dramatic heartfelt and so stirring. The last line ” I don’t know about you but I’ve always wanted to fight a dragon ” is a classic.

  • Caleb K

    You nailed it with TNG. My favourite finale still to this day. Almost made me shed a tear there.

  • Mr B

    Six feet under does indeed have an absolutely amazing finale. It really is final, like no finale has ever been-if that makes any sense.

    So how about worst finales? Star Trek Enterprise.

  • ponder

    futuramas season 4 ending was fantastic

  • beckett929

    I loved Cheers.. and while it wasnt as great in later seasons as it was in the first three or four, the final spoken line of that show in my mind can’t be topped.

    Sam locks up the bar and is turning down the lights, a fellow knocks on the door, and Sam just kind of waves and says “sorry, we’re closed”…

  • http://commanderbedlam.com Benny Bedlam

    * apologies for the quality. Searching for any kind of Buffy videos gets you 10,000 horrible “two characters set to sappy music” montages for every 1 actual scene.

    SO TRUE

  • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

    Wow, someone just referenced Space: Above and Beyond. Cold_War_Relic is now cooler than you.

    I don’t know about Buffy. The finale was only great in comparison to the previous two seasons and I very annoyed with the halfass way they just kind of slaughtered Anya and that was that. One derpy line in memorium and eveybody’s happy. I did appreciate the metaphor of Buffy literally empowering young women all over the world, but then they kind of took it one sappy step too far when they started passing the scythe around. I GOT IT, WHEDON! She’s sharing her power with the other girls in a show of solidarity and that’s cool, but I think the metaphysical gesture was cooler than the “DO YOU GET IT?” physical gesture of tossing the scythe around.

  • Ugo Strange

    Frasier.

  • Indy Zoeller

    @Chris – Season 2 of community ended with “Fistfull of Paintballs/For a Few Paintballs More”. While I enjoyed those episodes, I’m not sure they were anywhere close to a fitting send-off (if Community ended there) of the show. They definitely had that epic feeling, but there wasn’t enough character arc resolution.

    @Oddjob – I’ve been hearing more and more good things about M*A*S*H. It was before my time, but I’m very interested. Does Amazon Prime or Hulu have it? Netflix doesn’t.

    @cosyish – Agreed about “Angel.” I didn’t want to put three Joss shows on a list of 5, though. The ending really did fit the overall tone and theme of the show, though.

    @Nick Verboon – I think a lot of your perception of the last episode of “Buffy,” and the show in general, has to do with when you watch it. Watching it as a teenager really makes the message of empowerment resonate, as well as mitigating the heavy-handedness.

  • coatl13

    Sorry, but everything Star Trek:TNG did, Deep Space Nine did better, including final episodes. Now that was a character driven episode and the conclusion of the Federation/Dominion War was just an awesome bonus. I’ll also agree that Space: Above and Beyond’s finale was not only intense but also worthy of mention in the article.

  • Naavep

    The Shield

  • David R

    I’m glad you mentioned Firefly. Part of the reason I don’t really want more of that show these days is because what’s there seems so oddly perfect in its incompleteness. When you add in Serenity, I don’t have anything left to spill tears over.

    (Also I’ve been AWOL and finally got around to replying to your “write right” article. Just FYI)

  • Mark

    The Shield had an incredible ending

  • C

    “Agreed about “Angel.” I didn’t want to put three Joss shows on a list of 5, though. The ending really did fit the overall tone and theme of the show, though.”

    …And what would be wrong with that? :)

    Also, my addition to this list: SPAAAAAAAAAAATRACCCCCCCCCCCCCUSSSSSSSS

  • AhzeeDahak

    Quantum Leap’s finale. Can’t leave that off the list. That one’s a kick in your recently knifed guts. I’ve seen grown men weep at this one.
    Flashpoint’s finale; not as well known in the States, but awesome. Very satisfying without being mawkish.
    The West Wing; After several increasingly sucky post-Sorkin seasons, they pulled it together for a big finish.
    Rosanne; Not my favorite show, but damn what an ending.

  • artwk

    No mention of Monk? That was a great ending.

  • Joe

    Yeah Quantum Leap was a great finale. First ending to a show that didn’t have a direct “happy” ending.

  • Pytorb

    The ending for Babylon5 was brilliant. Also a quiet character piece rather than an epic battle, but brilliant for it.

  • davszo

    The Prisoner still sits at the top of the heap with the most uncompromising last episode ever. Then I’d put Blakes 7 with the gunfire over the closing credits, the Fugitive where Kimble finally catches the one-armed man, Babylon 5 because they had the last episode written when the first episode was filming, and Blackadder where they ended the series five times, if you count the Christmas special.

  • Matt

    Newhart gets mentioned when it comes to finales because it had the first meta-finale. Bob wakes up at the end of the episode and he’s in the bedroom from his previous TV series lying in bed with his wife from the previous series. It was pretty groundbreaking and I think it was a joke about some Soap that tried to use a dream device to erase a whole season that hadn’t gone well.

  • mossum

    Battlestar Galactica (the newer version) loved how they ended it.

    M*A*S*H was good as was others, but it was weepy and I prefer uplifting.

  • dr nick

    Seinfeld. The characters are put on trial basically for being the selfish narcissistic people that we’d enjoyed watching for so many seasons. It was the perfect end.

  • Mick

    The Shield, definitely.

  • Cindi

    You’ve never heard of Newhart? Turn in your reviewers union card now!

  • conal

    simply here to third:

    Space: Above and Beyond

    formative

  • anon

    Scrubs had a great ending too

  • http://fark.com Patrick

    Wonder Falls – short lived series ( 4 aired episodes). It was wrapped up on the DVD ( 13 episodes on DVD). It had the best ending of any sitcom ever. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonderfalls

    Of course Space Above and Beyond and Angel were exceptional.

  • Patty O’Heater

    “Cheers – because I’ve heard it’s a worse version of Friends, and I didn’t particularly like Friends.”
    Whoever told you that was deluded. Friends was pathetic – I was persuaded to watch it but only managed one and a half episodes as it was so stupid and unfunny. Cheers was great and the ending was understated brilliance.

  • Chris Johnston
  • Lucy

    I think I’d like Firefly more, if people stopped go on and on about it was unfairly cancelled. It had great episodes and so-so episodes. It had few viewers and it’s difficult to sell a space Western. But the movie brought nearly everything to a good ending. I think it had a fair conclusion. Not everything can last a decade.
    For example if they had ended Dexter, X-Files, Office, countless others at a certain point. They’d be remember as consistently great shows versus “this is the season I gave up on it”.

    There are also *several* Firefly comics. It was a TV show, movie, and comic book series. It’s legitimately considered a media franchise. It no longer qualifies for ‘unfairly’ cancelled.

  • Indy Zoeller

    @coatl13 – I’m a huge DS9 fan. The only issue I had with the finale was what they did with Sisco. I was never a fan of the whole “his mother was a Prophet” angle; I thought it dehumanized him to a certain extent. So much of what he went through was struggling with his own demons, with the grey and white morality that characterized that show – I mean, “In the Pale Moonlight” might be the best Star Trek episode EVER – so it was kind of strange to see him getting a theological Get Out of Jail Free card there in the end. Other than that, I totally agree with you.

    @David R – Agreed. Part of the appeal is that it was so short, and yet so sweet. I think if Firefly had been canceled after, say, 2 whole seasons, it wouldn’t be seen as such a tragedy. Oh, and I read your response on the “Write Right” article. Very interesting points. I agree with you about different styles being equally valid, and non-traditional grammar being a vehicle for a writer’s personal voice. However, there’s a subset of “non-traditional” grammar that isn’t helpful in this way, and that’s the focus of the article: homophones and bad apostrophe use. Meaning one thing and saying another. It just takes you out of the piece, trips you up. This subject really requires more time and effort than a simple comment… maybe a follow-up article?

    @AhzeeDahak – I keep meaning to watch Quantum Leap. Your excellent description of the finale pushed me over the edge. OK, I’m off to watch the pilot.

    @Matt – thanks for the Newhart clarification. Sounds like it had a historically significant ending but not a great one in and of itself?

    @mossum – BSG had kind of a divisive ending. I had mixed feelings about it. It’s definitely worthy of discussion, as it was really ambitious and got more right than it got wrong, at least I think so, but it definitely wasn’t so all-around brilliant that I had to include it.

    @Cindi – Done and done. The Reviewers’ Union has a really bad lunch spread, anyway. :)

    @conal – Well, Space: Above and Beyond has gotten enough love in the comments that it’s another show I’ll have to watch immediately. Good thing I wasn’t planning on getting anything done next week…

    @Patty O’Heater – Noted. At some point I’ll give Cheers a try, but as you can see, my dance card is rapidly filling up…

    @Lucy – very much agreed. Not only how short it was, but how good it was in that short a time. I mean, very few TV shows are that good in their first 14 episodes. And yes, it’s getting to be a bit old hat to bitch and moan about “Firefly” being cancelled. It’s even become a bit of a meta-joke these days… remember that bit on “Community” during the first documentary episode, where Troy says if he and Abed ever die, they’re going to stage it like a suicide to protest the “unjust cancellation of Firefly?” Loved it.

  • http://saraclemens.com Sara Clemens

    “The Sopranos – ”

    I see what you did there.

  • GaryG

    ‘Six Feet Under’ was the best ending ever, I certainly wouldn’t call it depressing.

    Sure, there was a major upset in the last season (trying to avoid spoilers… :)) but they resolved it beautifully by the end, you could genuinely feel the characters had dealt with it realistically.

    The actual ending was pretty uplifting imo, I felt the character concerned was finally put centre stage and you realised pretty much the whole series was about his/her journey.

    I guess the ‘glimpes’ of future events are what some people would say were depressing but bearing in mind the whole darn series was ultimately about death I found them a perfect inclusion; completed the series perfectly. You weren’t going to see into these peoples lives any more so knowing their ultimate fate was the next best thing.

  • Gill

    mash finale goodbye farwell and amen very good episode look it up

  • Josh

    Seems like every other Whedon show has been thrown out there, so we might as well mention Dollhouse. The ending to that show, the last two episodes, turned it into one of the greatest sci-fi shows I have ever watched. Topher’s sacrifice still brings a tear to my eyes.

  • Kevin

    How can anyone leave out the end of Babylon 5? ‘Sleeping in Light’ is the best ending to a series, period.

  • Paldasan

    Whoever told you Cheers was a poor man’s version of Friends is an idiot.

    Cheers did have it’s bad moments but they were few and far between, and the last episode… ouch it still pulls at the heart strings.

  • Kev

    The only thing I would ad is “Life” (Starring Homelands Damian Lewis) it was a show that was canceled, it was a show that got lost (both ratings wise and story wise) in it’s second season because of the writer’s strike… but dag nab it… did it end perfectly, did it ever find itself in that final moment.

    Honestly I think it is my favorite final moments of ANY TV series. I was sad it was going, knowing this was it… I knew they couldn’t finish the story, get to the bottom of the big mystery by the end… I was dreading the ending, every moment that went by onscreen I was worried this show I LOVED the first season of was going to end with a total lose of what I loved as most of the second season was starting to feel… then… BOOM… there it was, that single moment, wrapped up the entire series. One single action, one single swift action, three lines… boom.

    PERFECTION.

  • Jim Sullivan

    The MASH finale is very good, it can usually be found as a stand alone. Look up “MASH: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”.

    One of the classic sitcom endings was the Mary Tyler Moore show.

    But my favorite for understated finales would have to be Everybody Loves Raymond. In that episode, Ray has a problem during surgery and doesn’t come out of the anesthesia right away and everyone panics that he may have died. Which requires all of the cast to come to terms and think about what Ray really meant to them, in spite of the years of family squabbling.

    And it ends as it should, with the family gathered together around the breakfast table, bringing out the point of what the show was always about: Family (and food).

  • Jason

    ok, now can we see alist of shows that ended in the worst ways? I.E….No Heroics and Farscape

  • Torben Leth

    Not entirely THE ending but -Spin City when Michael J. Fox stopped. Which for me is the ending of the show.

  • Damien

    Aside from TNG, Scrubs had the best series finale I’ve ever seen, hands-down and no question about it. Mind you, not that horrible extra season about the med school, but the actual main series.

    A perfect review of the past with a beautiful look to the future. Bawled my eyes out and I don’t mind admitting it.

  • Joe

    Angel is probably my favorite show ending of all time. I like when a show is about the struggle, and the ending allows for that struggle to continue. Because it was never about defeating all the evil in the world (because that’s impossible), it was about fighting against that evil.

    Along a similar vein, Space: Above & Beyond had a “we keep fighting” kind of ending, because it was a show about marines fighting.

    Any show that has a clear story to tell with a set ending in sight will feel like it’s got a better ending, though. Babylon 5 falls into this category, because the writers had a set goal. Dollhouse felt the same way. As will, I’m sure, Dexter.

  • Dominga

    If you don’t own the Firefly series to go cue up and watch the final scene written about in this article right now, then you’re wrong. Buy. It. Now.

  • Mike

    Really!? No Seinfeld? Not only was it an EXCELLENT ending with subtle and obvious references to all their old episodes, it was the #1 watched sitcom on tv when they ended it. Epic!

  • Russ

    How can you possibly leave the Charmed finale off your list? It is certainly one of the top 5 show finales of all time.

  • Emi

    Charmed always sticks out in mind. Althoygh the final season wasnt really that grear the finale is amazing. It brings back so many of the beloved family members and gets so much story out without feeling rushed.

  • Dan

    I’m with Damien on Scrubs. It was so fantastic. A shame they tried to stretch it out another season after the finale.

  • Straata

    Chuck, while it had multiple ending points, fans still argue over the ending and make futile efforts to bring it back.

    While a true ending would certainly bring more closure, it would truthfully ruin the beauty of the ending. The whole finale is an homage to the first episode, as well as the series as a whole, and the fade to black while originally unsatisfying has resulted in a (mostly) pleasant memory that enables the show to live on with us. Not to mention it allows each viewer to craft their own ending to sit their sensibilities and preferences. Truly amazing.

  • Rusty

    Charmed was left off because the last 2-3 seasons were garbage. That show hit a scantily-clad low point and stayed there.

  • Mary Alice

    Newhart was amazing! It played on what everyone was talking about (an entire season devoted to “Who shot JR?” that turned out to be a dream, much to everyone’s disgust), and combined the two shows that Bob Newhart starred in. It made the entire “Newhart” show a dream that was had by the /other/ Newhart…and it was awesome. Super zinger of a last line!

    Whoever told you that Cheers was a bad version of Friends was off their nut. Cheers was overall an amazing show about the nature of people, their life goals, their frustrations and joys. The occasional bad script didn’t spoil the show. The ending, after all those years, about rips your heart out, because it really is over. It is brilliant.

  • David Ackerman

    Not sure if it’s been mentioned, but ‘Freaks and Geeks’ had a brilliant ending even though it was another ‘too short a season’ series.

  • MegaSolipsist

    I think that Misfits would definitely be there, if it had ended after season 3.
    There’s stills season 5 to go though, so who knows where it will end up?

  • http://thedarkword.wordpress.com Silent_Dan

    All the Stargates, in my opinion. Although SG1 was the weakest of the 3. Atlantis pissed me off the first time, but on rewatching I was touched by how vast the war with the Wraith was. It would go on… and I wanted more. In retrospect, I felt like it knew just where to end it, and yet leave the viewer wanting more. And Universe… God, Universe… Suffered the Firefly Syndrome, pretty much.

    Venture Brothers season 4 had the best ending of the seasons thus fur. I wasn’t sure if it would continue, but yes, it is. Brock wanting Mol so bad, but she’s willing to die for the big guy. She goes down in flames and Brock can’t do a thing to save her – but what he CAN do, is get to the party before midnight and see everyone dancing… (to such a prom song, no less) before the prostitutes mutate and everyone ends up fighting. Only thing missing (I think) was explosions as he ran up the massive runway/driveway. I’m going to rewatch it, though. I know there were lots of lasers going PEW PEW PEW though. Honestly thought it was to the song that goes “Don’t you, forget about me” that they play in like, every prom movie ever. Kinda the same vibe, anyway.

    His speech to the henchmen in season 2’s finale was great, too. “Today, you are no longer butterflies. Today… You. Are. MURDERFLIES!”

  • Brian

    For my money, the single greatest series finale of all time was “Six Feet Under.” IN the last 15 minutes we learned the eventual fate of every one of the remaining major characters.

  • Bill

    Other then the already-mentioned MASH and Newhart, I would have to say the finale of Hill Street Blues May 12, 1987

  • Billy

    It’s funny, because I NEVER watched (or even cared to) 4 of the 5 you rated as the Best…but 3 of the 5 you say you never watched were IN FACT some of the BEST Series Finales there have ever been (M*A*S*H*, Cheers and Newhart)

  • Scott Brody

    It seems many of you are young but if you are placing ST: TNG so high (and deservedly so) then there is really no excuse to not have seen M*A*S*H at all as it has continually been in reruns and on TV since it’s 5th season in 1977. As stated above you can find it weeknights at 7pm and other times on TVLand and also on MeTV. Newhart, Seinfeld, and Cheers were all groundbreaking shows in their day and all had great endings. Now a truly great (slightly disturbing) Series Finale that gets little recognition these days and is a little harder to find was St. Elsewhere. It was a doctor show with some great actors including a young Howie Mandell as an actor even while being known as a stand up comedian and a young Denzel Washington who displayed his true talents even then. In the finale at the very end you learn and see that the hospital and all of the characters you’ve come to love were just part of the autistic world of one of the doctor’s autistic son. He stares at a snow globe with the St. Eligius Hospital building inside. Absolutely great ending. Two other honorable mentions for finales should be The Wonder Years and Boston Legal.

  • Rick

    The finale of Northern Exposure was one of the best endings of a tv series ever. Seeing these characters we had grown to know and love over its six years move on with their lives with Iris Dement’s “Our Town” playing out to the fade out was fantastic.

  • Jude

    I buy DVDs LOL My pics..
    M*A*S*H great ending…but you have to know the show and its characters to truly understand the ending
    Yea Newhart was cute , but AGAIN you need to know the show as well as his first show The Bob Newhart Show to understand the joke
    I loved F*R*I*E*N*D*S but even if I didn’t, the finale was extremely well done and highlighted each character and his/ her future
    The Nanny had a goof finale that wrapped up the show nicely

    WORST finale? SOAP that left the story line completely hanging and ended with one character holding a gun on someone but never showed sho

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