The 16 Best And Worst TV Series Finales

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by The Playlist Staff
October 1, 2013 2:49 PM
77 Comments
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"Friday Night Lights" ("Always," original airdate: February 9, 2011)
The finale to "Friday Night Lights," which limped along, first on NBC and then on satellite channel DirecTV for five-ish seasons, satisfied on every possible level—emotionally, intellectually, viscerally. Those of us who watched the episode did so through a wavy curtain of tears, certain that we were seeing the end of one of the very best dramatic series on television. In the oversized episode (it runs a full hour on the DVD), the concerns of the show, both macro (the small town of Dillon, Texas' rival football programs, now consolidated once more into one unstoppable team) and the micro (the relationship between Kyle Chandler's Coach and his wife Tami, played by Connie Britton), were brilliantly seen to their logical, heart-tugging conclusion. There's a lot of stuff in the finale, including one time football star Matt (Zach Gilford) asking young Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden) to marry him, plus the swarm of controversy and attention that the new "super team" gets from the local media (much to the chagrin of Michael B. Jordan's wrong-side-of-the-tracks player), but what the finale makes perfectly clear is that none of that matters. What the finale double-underlines is that all the high school sports drama (and occasional misstep, remember season two's weird murder plot?) was merely window dressing for one of the most evocatively drawn portraits of marriage ever committed to television. In the final episode, we see Coach give up his career pursuits, which have steered the direction of his marriage for many years, in order to be a loving and supportive partner for his wife. In the grand scheme of finales, it's kind of tiny. But it's also deeply profound. This was a marriage full of push and pull and the longer it went on the more you felt like you were actually a part of it; the fact that the series didn't just end on a happy note but a note that felt emotionally real might be its greatest accomplishment. Thankfully talk of a follow-up movie (reportedly involving Buddy becoming Dillon's premiere football coach) have fallen by the wayside, leaving only this peerless finale behind. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose. 

"Twin Peaks"

"Twin Peaks" ("Episode 29" aka "Beyond Life and Death," original airdate: June 10, 1991)
Rumor has it that David Lynch, who had launched the buzzy and bizarre series the previous year only to see the phenomenon prematurely flame out due to network interference and general audience listlessness, rewrote large chunks of the finale screenplay that was credited in the end to series co-creator Mark Frost, Harley Peyton and Robert Engels. And over the years, this seems to have been verified, with Lynch having the biggest impact on the adventures FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) has in the Black Lodge, an interdimensional halfway house with a groovy zigzag carpet. Rewatching the episode, a shocking percentage of the episode takes place in this surreal plateau, which is alternately terrifying and hilarious (the two Agent Coopers, running around the heavily curtained Red Room is too silly not to laugh at). Critics and audiences revolted against "Twin Peaks" once the show's central mystery ("Who killed Laura Palmer?") was resolved halfway through the second season (at the network's insistence; Lynch wanted the mystery to continue forever), but without that premature resolution, the show would have never been able to spiral out of control so beautifully. The "Twin Peaks" series finale is chock full of some of the most terrifying and indelible imagery Lynch has conjured forth, in any medium, and even the non-Black Lodge flourishes Lynch provided are seared into our collective memory (like the jaw-dropping bank explosion, punctuated with an unforgettable shot of a pair of eyeglasses, accompanied by a $100 bill, soaring through the air). The fact that this episode of "Twin Peaks," untitled but given the moniker "Beyond Life and Death" when it aired in Europe, ended in possibly the biggest, greatest cliffhanger in the history of series finales (Agent Cooper, possessed by the demonic murderer Bob!) is only amplified by the fact that the follow-up film "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me," didn't even bother answering of the questions. Instead, it was a prequel that was equal parts horror movie and emotionally incisive investigation into the familial and psychological dynamics of child abuse, and it made the series finale seem like an even ballsier act of singularly strange outrageousness. Lynch was wise to throw away the more plot-based beats that the script originally contained; it's his crazy, freeform version that has made such a lasting impression. 'Fire Walk With Me' isn't too shabby either.       

"30 Rock" ("Last Lunch," original airdate: January 31, 2013)
Oftentimes "30 Rock," Tina Fey's brilliant send-up of her time working for "Saturday Night Live," was so gleefully bizarre that it lacked any real emotional connection; it might as well have been beamed in from a neighboring galaxy. Thankfully, the absurd and the emotionally resonant sat side-by-side for the finale, which saw the show-within-a-show "TGS" facing its final episode, something that Tracy (Tracy Morgan) wants to ruin in order to exploit a contractual loophole that would award him a sizable payday (he has Al Roker announce a "snowicane"). In its typical ribby, winking fashion, "30 Rock" acknowledges and pokes fun at finales of the past (even making a reference to the "sideways nonsense" of "Lost") and the tropes it had established over the past seven seasons (at one point Jane Krakowski, on the verge of some nutty Mickey Rourke joke, looks into the camera and says, "I can't do this anymore, I've never even met Mickey Rourke"), culminating in a gag that pays tribute to the infamous "St. Elsewhere" ending, while still fortifying a strong emotional base. Liz (Fey) and Jack (Alec Baldwin) are facing a fallout after the previous episode ended in Jack telling Liz, "I called you in for one meeting, seven years ago, and you keep coming up," which leads some to believe that Jack is suicidal. The episode is alternately odd (Jack giving away a bag of his own hair is priceless) and oddly affecting, sometimes at the same time—witness Jenna's performance of a musical number from the "Rural Juror" Broadway show or, in a callback to the pilot, Liz's heartfelt goodbye to Tracy in a sleazy stripclub (bonus points for Tracy's great line, "Give it up for Liz Lemon, the least molested person in here!"). The finale of "30 Rock" made you mist up, in spite of yourself, even during the montage dedicated to Jenna's mirror.  

"Enlightened" ("Agent of Change," original airdate: March 3, 2013) 
The title of the series finale of Mike White's short-lived, little-watched but much-missed (by the few who did see it, at least) "Enlightened," serves as a nice summing-up of the series. Throughout the show's two seasons, Laura Dern's Amy Jellicoe has set out to be the titular agent of change—fresh out of rehab, she wants to be a better person, and to make a better world. That she's, for the most part, a deeply self-centered, terrible human being isn't that much of an obstacle to this, and in the final episode, she finally gets something done. The article by journalist Jeff (Dermot Mulroney) that she turned informant on her company for is published, something that will cause serious legal issues for Cogentiva and CEO Charles Szidon (James Rebhorn). When written and filmed, it wasn't clear that this would be the series finale, and as such, there are some dangling plot threads, not least Szidon's threats of legal action against Amy, which would have provided the kernel for season three. But the writing was on the wall in terms of ratings, so White does provide a deeply satisfying finale that both calls Amy on her bullshit (her mother, played by Dern's real life ma Diane Ladd, finally asks her to move out, pal Tyler hangs up on her), and lets her have the triumph that she deserves, even as she comes so close to fucking it up for herself once again. It's the perfect microcosm of the show as a whole, and while it's a shame that the series didn't go further, it would have had a touch act living up to this ending.

"Freaks & Geeks" ("Discos and Dragons," original airdate: July 8, 2000) 
Paul [Feig] was supposed to direct one of the first episodes, and at the last second I pulled him off it because we weren’t in a groove with the staff writing the show yet, and it was so much Paul’s vision that he couldn’t disappear. Then when I realized the show was probably going to get canceled, I said to Paul, ‘You should write and direct this finale.’ And it’s clearly the best episode of the entire series,” producer Judd Apatow recounted to Vanity Fair earlier this year. And while we’ll leave debate of “best episode” to the fans to hash out, “Discos and Dragons” is a prime example of what happens when real care and vision about the characters is allowed to be fully realized. So much about “Freaks & Geeks” and its all-too-short, gone-too-soon single season was capturing lightning in a bottle, but for the few who watched it during it original run and even more who caught up with it on DVD, they couldn’t have asked for a better, more heartfelt sendoff. So much of what made “Freaks & Geeks” special was its authentic portrait of teenage-hood, and the continual journey of trying to find and define oneself. And thus there is something truly touching about the super-cool Daniel Desario and Sam and his gaggle of geeks finding validation in each other’s presence over a game of “Dungeons & Dragons.” Meanwhile, the ever lost Nick (Jason Segel) tries to find a new purpose in the fading trend of disco, a favorite of his new girlfriend Sara (Lizzy Caplan). But rightfully, it’s Lindsay (Linda Cardellini)—the center of the show—who makes the biggest decision, one that could forever alter the path of her life. Invited to a prestigious academic summit, she instead ditches the pressure and responsibility to join some new friends who are spending the summer following the Grateful Dead. But Feig wisely doesn’t judge her behaviour or any of the characters. “Freaks & Geeks” succeeded because it knew that sometimes we don’t win in life, we make the wrong choices and have to fight to find our place in it all. The finale is truly satisfying because it didn’t attempt to tie everything up in a neat bow. Instead, mistakes, small salvations and questionable choices sign off the series, with the faint but distinct hope that as long as these characters are around each other, they’ll come out alright in the end.

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77 Comments

  • Resigned Sidekick | April 13, 2014 1:28 AMReply

    " Jack (Matthew Fox) discovers the truth about what is going on with the characters in this universe, there was a decided lack of dramatic tension and any real thrills. Adding insult to injury was the episode's two-and-a-half-hour airtime (the final episode runs over 100 minutes) and the fact that the ending most predicted for the series in the first season (They're all dead!) was actually a component for the finale.:"

    This further proves that one shouldn't comment on something they don't understand. No, they all didn't DIE in the crash. That was just misinterpretation that many people til this day still believe. Even though that idea has already been debunked several times.

    "Instead of coincidence and fate, the show became about two warring white guys, and much of the mystery was replaced by flimsy plotting and awkward pacing, culminating in this final season, which seemed even more directionless than usual. "

    So the fact that they actually gave an answer to some biggest questions on the show made it more directionless? That makes little sense. The theme of coincidence and fate can only go so far until it becomes tedious. People have to make up their minds is their problem with Lost is answer too much or not enough?

    "It's one of the more disappointing finales, series or otherwise, that Whedon has been responsible for; thankfully this was partially rectified by the brilliant "Season 8" comic book that followed. "

    Other than your assessment on Season Eight (which I agree was great). You couldn't be more wrong about this finale. It was about Buffy redefining the mythology that only one girl in all the world could be a slayer.

  • Resigned Sidekick | April 12, 2014 8:55 PMReply

    " Jack (Matthew Fox) discovers the truth about what is going on with the characters in this universe, there was a decided lack of dramatic tension and any real thrills. Adding insult to injury was the episode's two-and-a-half-hour airtime (the final episode runs over 100 minutes) and the fact that the ending most predicted for the series in the first season (They're all dead!) was actually a component for the finale.:"

    This further proves that one shouldn't comment on something they don't understand. No, they all didn't DIE in the crash. That was just misinterpretation that many people til this day still believe. Even though that idea has already been dunked several times.

    "Instead of coincidence and fate, the show became about two warring white guys, and much of the mystery was replaced by flimsy plotting and awkward pacing, culminating in this final season, which seemed even more directionless than usual. "

    So the fact that they actually gave an answer to some biggest questions on the show made it more directionless? That makes little sense. The theme of coincidence and fate can only go so far until it becomes tedious. People have to make up their minds is their problem with Lost is answer too much or not enough?

    "It's one of the more disappointing finales, series or otherwise, that Whedon has been responsible for; thankfully this was partially rectified by the brilliant "Season 8" comic book that followed. "

    Other than your assessment on Season Eight (which I agree was great). You couldn't be more wrong about this finale. It was about Buffy redefining the mythology that only one girl in all the world could be a slayer.

  • Maz | April 2, 2014 4:17 PMReply

    What about The Closer ??!! It was a great show maybe one of the best police phorensic shows in recent years and wrapped up quite nicely !

  • Scott | April 1, 2014 9:40 AMReply

    Really, no M*A*S*H*?

  • Rob | March 23, 2014 12:50 PMReply

    I must have missed something about "The Shield" finale. I didn't get that he was in a cubicle years later. I've watched whole series plus finale twice. Finale was immediately following the events from what I saw. Explain how I'm wrong if I am.

  • Donovan | March 23, 2014 10:14 AMReply

    of of the best endings to a series ever had to have been one of the least-watched ...

    The Mortal Kombat tv series ending was AMAZING. Say what you will about the show overall (had a cult following), but the ending was absolutely PERFECT. You couldn't get any better.

  • Topster | February 13, 2014 9:33 AMReply

    "Worst" list is debatable. Although I don't see why this writer didn't just stop at best list. There are in fact worst finales than what was on the list, like those of shows we didn't really care about or of ones that got canceled before they get a chance to conclude the story. The title should have been best and debatable/least favorite finales according to list compiler.

  • charlie | February 11, 2014 8:46 PMReply

    i hate people who actually believe that " they were all dead " refers to the finale of lost!! i mean how narrow-minded does one have to be, it is made so abundantly clear in the end that what happened on the island happened. Jack, just before the final church scene is told by his dad that they " are all dead" referring to how in the end everyone died, as one does, in both the normal life and the afterlife but the people on the island were the most important in making each other realize how to properly live it.

  • Sarah | April 2, 2014 12:01 PM

    Thanks for pointing that out, I was about to write that too!

  • Rosie | January 29, 2014 12:00 PMReply

    You placed the "BUFFY" finale on the "worst" list? The hell with that opinion.

  • Nicole | December 31, 2013 3:36 PMReply

    The Medium finale ruined the entire series for me. The entire show was built on Joe & Allison's relationship. Obliterating that was just terrible. Also, every ghost on the show was stuck at whatever age they died at. Why did Allison's ghost get to be young again? A perk of being a medium? Ugh.

  • Joel | December 30, 2013 7:19 AMReply

    Awful list. They bash Buffy (which I thought was a great show ending, leaving the "silly" behind until the very end, encapulating how the show "grew" with it's fan base over the years, becoming more mature and serious....well, as serious as a show with Buffy, Vampire, and Slayer in the title can be anyway. So he bashes that, but puts LOST and SEINFELD on the list??? Really? The two WORST endings to a series in the history of the world. Simply awful list from someone who seems to have chosen which shows to list by throwing darts.

  • Drew | January 12, 2014 5:53 AM

    Did you not notice that this was a list of best AND worst? Seinfeld and Lost were in the worst category.

  • Jim | December 21, 2013 10:06 AMReply

    Ok, I hate to be this way but everything listed is within the last two decades. Maybe there was a disclaimer that I missed. As if TV series just started with the 30 somethings. Guess what? There were great shows before that. I'm not even that old. For the record, my favorite ending of all time was "Newhart". Simpler times I guess.

  • a p garcia | November 11, 2013 1:40 PMReply

    My nomination for worst TV finale is Stargate. After 10 seasons, "no ending" on broadcast TV! Episodes were leading up to a grand finale, but it was cancelled and stopped production before the end so there was no proper end.

  • tv prime time | November 11, 2013 1:12 PMReply

    i guest walking dead is the best one and shoud be the first horror movie on this year

  • Jake M | November 7, 2013 7:44 PMReply

    I'm sorry but Breaking bad deserves number one mate. No loose ends, ended on time, perfect ending basically. Felt like reading an amazing book or watching a great play, no show has captured me more.

  • Scott j | October 15, 2013 3:07 PMReply

    Sorry, the Lost finale was great. People just went overboard thinking that every single shot on the shot had some deep meaning, which is ridiculous. And please don't try to sum up the show by saying everyone was dead. Everything that happened on the island really happened. It wasn't until the sideways universe in the last season that the characters were in a purgatory-like state.

    There should be no debate about The Sopranos finale. Pay attention to the POV shots throughout, and it is clear that Tony gets killed by the man in the members only jacket.

  • guy | December 18, 2013 9:21 AM

    I thought Lost finale was good, not great, and it is still one of the best shows of all time. They told us why they were on the island, what they had to do, and whether the characters did it or not. It showed what happened to them, some died, some finally managed to escape. Yes, the side-way universe was a little weak, but "The Wire" was also weak in its last season, and that did not diminish the show. I do not understand what more people wanted without a character just answering questions around a campfire, which is telling not showing. They answered like 100 questions and 40 or so are left to the imagination. The answers had to fit into the story and those that did not were unanswered. Also, the snark about two white guy deities was a little unfair, the cast was very diverse. Also, they already joke about the "magic minority" in movies, and if a minority was the evil one, people would have complained even more.

    There is a difference between not liking the answers and complaining about the story. Lost, like Battlestar Galactica, told the story the writers wanted to tell. If you did not like the answers fine, but saying they did not answer the questions is unfair, they did.

  • Trebuchette | October 26, 2013 8:38 PM

    The Lost finale was an incredible cop-out. It showed how bad the producers had LOST their way, but that's about it. Cringeworthy. People who stopped watching in S3 when Jack wanted to "go back" had been right all along — the show could never make sense. And they even missed the really bad stuff (travel back in time, flash-sideways, "make-a-heaven"). It was really that bad.

    But ITA about The Sopranos finale being pretty clear-cut. Also genius, because you can *still* watch the show and come away with something new, or change your mind about what may have happened after Tony was killed. (Sometimes, I'm sure Paulie worked with New York to whack Tony because he was paranoid about becoming capo; other times, a Patrisi hit sounds good.) To this day, the penultimate and that finale sends shivers down my spine.

  • Keith | October 14, 2013 12:27 PMReply

    Never knew there were any questions about the Sopranos ending. Pure class, just like pretty much every episode (other than the extended dream sequences).

  • j jay | October 12, 2013 9:59 AMReply

    if the buffy the vampire slayer finale looked like a deleted scene from lord of the rings that it was obviously the best finale ever

  • Daniel | October 28, 2013 3:38 PM

    Screamy, it wasn't until The Hobbit that the Tolkien world went mostly digital. The LOTR films were shot mostly on location in New Zealand, with most characters altered by camera angle or makeup. Also, CGI doesn't make a film suck.

  • Screamy | October 21, 2013 12:55 PM

    Lord of the Rings sucked. You must live in a state of constant amazement if CGI effects bedazzle your mind so much.

  • m | October 12, 2013 2:18 PM

    HA. So true.

  • - | October 6, 2013 10:58 AMReply

    Of the ones I've seen, I'd say Six Feet Under was the best. I think it's far from the best show, but the finale was so perfect and I don't see any show surpassing it. I would say The Sopranos' is the next best (although obviously that's controversial) followed by The Wire's.
    I haven't seen The Shield.

  • Derek | October 5, 2013 8:56 PMReply

    You missed the mark on the Angel Premise. Angel didn't set up to stop Wolfram & Hart for good, they were extra dimensional, and thus out of his reach. Because he knew he could never stop them for good, they were cut off from the slayers because of joining the firm, and working at the firm was tearing him and his friends apart, he decided that working from within long term would be pointless, and he decided to cripple Wolfram & Hart, temporarily to show people that they weren't invincible.

  • Dan | October 5, 2013 8:10 PMReply

    In The Shield when Vics at the office cubicle thats surely not years later, but like the first night on the job.

  • MBlaize | October 4, 2013 5:50 AMReply

    Disagree with Lost.
    I thought it an extremely beautiful ending.

    Concluded everything
    SPOILER ALERT.
    Though they were in Limbo, and chose to move onto the next life together, it tied up the ending of them moving on from the island together.

    For people, who claim it was "confusing" I agree with you in certain in certain episodes you were "lost." Could that have been the intention of the writers? I believe it was. The ending was not confusing and if you didn't understand you weren't really paying attention.

    Not only was I blown away as a huge Lost fan, but I honestly couldn't have come up with such a great storyline to conclude their journey of being lost. The island brought them together, they tried to leave the island on their terms, the island chose candidated them for someone to take Jacobs place, and the candidate was chosen and they moved on back to reality, and the conclusion of them being woken up in Limbo and brought to the church where they moved on in the afterlife together was so beautifully written. And yes the show ended where it began with Jack lying back down.

    Wonderful show and conclusion.
    This writer is pretty bias about saying it was terrible.
    I know certain people, who were in favor of it, many who didn't use their brain and understand it, and others, who just weren't happy with it.

  • Trebuchette | October 26, 2013 8:43 PM

    No, pretty much everyone hated LOST except fangirls or shippers. Maybe there was a bit of bait-and-switch going on, like letting people believe they were going to watch Monday Night Football, showing a little football for a while, then finishing the football game with a random teenage beauty pageant that has nothing at all to do with football. There will ALWAYS be hatred for LOST on that point, alone: bait-and-switch.

  • MBlaize | October 4, 2013 5:54 AM

    I would also like to add that Battle Star Galactica was a phenomenal ending. Another disagreement in this article.

    The ending summed up the show (which is the rise and fall of civilizations)

    I really don't think you were a fan of Lost or BattleStar. B/c they were both exceptional.

  • Fairportfan | October 3, 2013 7:34 PMReply

    The "Seinfeld" finale should be at the top of the list of great finales: It put that lousy excuse for entertainment out of our misery forever.

  • KG | October 5, 2013 2:09 AM

    boo this man.

  • Viewer | October 3, 2013 6:44 PMReply

    I agree on the ones I've seen, except Buffy and Angel - I'd flip them. Those shows were about character arcs; on Buffy, we were given conclusions for all the main characters, while on Angel, we were not. I'm a little rusty, but with the Buffy finale, Spike makes a true sacrifice, Anya becomes truly human/mortal by dying, Buffy becomes almost a regular girl by being only one of many slayers, etc. With Angel, we don't have that completion, and the show was about redemption one day at a time, but it ends in the middle of a suicidal battle? That was weird and didn't seem true to what had been the message of the show.

  • Monique A Williams | October 3, 2013 3:19 PMReply

    I'm so glad to see both Angel and Buffy on this list. Angel's final season was such a great turnaround, given how awful that 4th season was, and the finale was ultra satisfying. Buffy, possibly my favorite show of all time, had a weak 7th season and didn't have that same feeling. Though I enjoyed what season 6 brought to the show, if it ended at season 5, it would have been on the list for best finales.

  • Randall | October 3, 2013 10:23 AMReply

    Roseanne really needs to be on the list of worst finalés. And as someone else mentioned, Newhart is among the best.

  • Karan | October 3, 2013 7:42 AMReply

    You probably missed the Scrubs Finale... I think it was one of the best finales for a show ever!.. A reason why you might not consider it is because they came back another season with an all new cast & setting. But the original finale was a perfect to an amazing series.

  • Fenil | October 3, 2013 4:42 AMReply

    You cannot be serious about Seinfeld. You might dislike the finale but to put it in the worst finale list is totally bonkers.

  • Monique a williams | October 3, 2013 3:15 PM

    I remember thinking it was crap too. Especially for as amazing a series as Seinfeld.

  • Shame | October 3, 2013 5:44 AM

    "Seinfeld" is a perfect choice here. The finale felt like the creators were saying, "I'm so sick and tired of these characters and this show. I hope you are too." It was a big middle finger to all "Seinfeld"'s fans.

  • AV | October 2, 2013 10:29 PMReply

    Babylon 5 had a very satisfying ending (actually filmed the season before its final year but only aired at the end of that final season). I would love to say my other 90s sci fi series DS9 had as good a final ep but to me it fell short (although I appear to be in the minority on that front).

  • Marcelo | October 8, 2013 8:36 AM

    Babylon 5 had -probably- the best final in scy-fi series and one of the best in tv. Really great! Now, so may years later, i cry when i watch it again. I invited to watch the serie ant specially the final ep.
    Saludos desde Argentina!

  • Dara | October 4, 2013 3:02 AM

    Oh very much this. Just fantastic. Series 5 was... not all it could've been, but that ending episode was just phenomenal.

  • Rita | October 2, 2013 7:52 PMReply

    Don't you watch anything before 1995? What happened to the Newhart finale, one of the best; or the Dick Van Dyke final show; and of course, the last show of Mary Tyler Moore.

  • TOM JORDACHE | October 2, 2013 7:31 PMReply

    Rich Man Poor Man had a poor ending too

    the good guy dies in the gutter with the villain

  • Paul Borawski | October 2, 2013 3:41 PMReply

    Great article! One I have to throw out there for worst was Night Court. I loved that series and it ended soooo bizarre that it's incomprehensible as to how it got made. Bull went to space with Alens?! Dan Filedling became a wuss to follow Christine?! Harry had all of these amazing life choices and he chose to stay in Night Court with Mac?! WTF?!! That episode really hurt to watch.

  • Monique A Williams | October 3, 2013 3:14 PM

    That's why Kenneth wanted a do-over on 30 Rock for Night Court's series finale. It was terrible!!!

  • Rick | October 2, 2013 2:09 PMReply

    Seinfeld was one of the funniest finales of all time. Bringing back all the characters that made us laugh over the years was a perfect way to wrap it up. It didn't need to be deep, just funny. Cheers is Meanwhile, Cheers, M.A.S.H and Newhart are almost universally accepted as all-time great finales.

  • Alex | October 2, 2013 1:41 PMReply

    I have to disagree with your opinion on Alias. I just watched the Alias finale last night and thought it was absolutely wonderful. Sydney had wanted to be out of the spy game since episode 2. She told Vaughn she wanted to take down SD6, and then she would be finished. The problem was she always kept being pulled back in. The fact that she's finally able to relax easily is a great thing for her character. Even if she didn't have kids, I'd imagine she'd be doing the same thing with Vaughn. Is a strong female character supposed to keep up the fight forever just because she represents something positive? How long does a marine have to serve their country before they can finally relax? My only complaint about Sydney is that she still wanted to save her mother. That was her only weak point I thought in the final episode. Also, Jack Bristow and Sloane had fantastic endings, fitting their characters, I think.

    And I love Buffy but I can agree about that though.

  • X | October 2, 2013 12:13 PMReply

    The Spartacus finale was EPIC. It had everything you'd want in a finale, tying up loose ends....some characters having a happy ending, others not so much. After a stellar season one the show struggled to get back on its feet after the talented Andy Whitfield passed away but the Finale really delivered.

  • Pupster | October 2, 2013 9:34 AMReply

    Perhaps it's because I'm an oldster, but the most perfect series finale I can remember is the one for Newhart. Can't imagine a better one.

  • oobug | October 2, 2013 3:02 AMReply

    While I like this list, the worst finale I can think of is that of the 2000s Battlestar Galactica series. After 4 seasons of episode introductions claiming that the Cylons "have a plan," this plan appears to get subverted without ever being revealed. Instead, we get highly dissatisfying emotional... resolutions? ...for the lead characters, which play out as if they were specifically crafted to disappoint optimistic fans.

    Granted, the show was on a steady downhill climb since the midpoint of season 3.

  • guy | December 18, 2013 9:31 AM

    They had a plan, it was the destruction of the colonies in the first episode, and they did it. I do not know what other plan people wanted revealed. I thought the finale was very well done. It called back to the original series, as the premise was our ancestors were "up in the stars", and it turned out (spoilers) they were our ancestors. It was a popular "junk science" theory in the 70's that there were advanced civilizations on Earth before recorded history, like Atlantis, and the original series played up on that. The finale showed what happened to the characters and finally gave them a home and they broke the cycle of destruction. It was a very good finale.

  • serena | October 1, 2013 7:58 PMReply

    The worst series finale in recent memory was THE OFFICE (USA). The most mundane thing any storyteller can do is to give their characters--and their audience--everything they want, finale or not. THE OFFICE began as an awkward comedy about everyday embarrassments, and its big clincher was the Jim/Pam romance, all about withholding romance. So for it to become so saccharine in the last few seasons, and end on a note where literally every single character, even the minor ones like the real estate agent, get what they want, it strikes me as a finale that will not stand the test of time.

  • Alan B | October 2, 2013 4:19 AM

    Not everyone got what they wanted, although they all got what they NEEDED. By the end of last season, Andy got everything he wanted: his nemesis was gone, he got the manager's job back, the usurper was demoted, he brought David Wallace to the company, he had the respect of his workers and he earned back the love of his life, Erin. In the final season, he lost his job, his girlfriend, his status and the affection of the staff. However, in the final episode, he got what he needed, which was self-respect. That arc is important and ignoring it diminishes your little "everyone gets everything" narrative.

  • Sean | October 1, 2013 9:04 PM

    It died when Michael Scott left. I pretend the series when the last shot was Pam was watching Michael fly away (not the awful tag of Will Ferrell and how he snapped mentally)

  • HS | October 1, 2013 5:15 PMReply

    "Why didn't Dawn finally, you know, show us what a Key is all about?"

    She did. In Season Five.

    Taste is subjective, of course: it's more than fine not to like the Lost or Buffy finales (and Whedon fan that I am, the latter did underwhelm me somewhat). That said, your write-ups of them do kind of betray a failure to understand certain aspects of the episodes / shows. Snark is all well and good, but it's worth backing that snark up with something substantial, otherwise it comes across as hollow.

  • HS | October 1, 2013 5:20 PM

    Silly me: the Lost and Buffy entries irritated me enough that I leapt in before I got to the end of the article. Your Alias assessment is pretty duff as well: much of the final season of that show rang false, but the ending was something of a grace note for all the regular characters. If you think that being able to retire with the man she loved was out of character for Sydney Bristow, you probably didn't pay much attention to the character and her motivations over the course of the previous several years.

  • Keil S. | October 1, 2013 5:03 PMReply

    The Shield's finale is the best of all time, though I feel The Wire and The Sopranos are better series overall.

  • Alan B | October 1, 2013 4:34 PMReply

    "Instead of coincidence and fate, the show became about two warring white guys"

    If you can get through that many hours of television and still only see those characters are white, then you are obsessed with race to an extremely unhealthy degree.

  • Rob | October 1, 2013 3:48 PMReply

    I agree with all of these, but there is one giant hole in this article: WHERE THE HELL IS STAR TREK: TNG?!! The last episode of TNG was one of the only shows to end PERFECTLY and you completely disregarded it.

  • Nicole | December 31, 2013 3:42 PM

    AWESOME finale. It still pops in my mind every now and then, like I'm still trying to figure out how all that time-jumping and beginning of life on Earth unmaking worked... Also, Picard joining the crew for poker - *sniff* Absolutely perfect!

  • Eric | October 5, 2013 9:29 PM

    Yes - I was going to post the same comment. It was a perfect finale. But I think there's a certain snobbery and sadly trek doesn't get taken seriously.

  • DrAsimov | October 2, 2013 8:34 AM

    Bless you.

  • o_O | October 1, 2013 8:54 PM

    Totally agree with you!

  • TheoC | October 1, 2013 3:38 PMReply

    I loved Six feet Under but I remember being very disappointed with that final episode. The Sopranos finale is genius but overall the final season was disappointing.

    I just loved all of Enlightened, weirdly it not being renewed is a good enough ending for me.

  • Wesley | October 1, 2013 3:31 PMReply

    @Andrew, I completely agree with about Lost. If you were in it for the mysteries you probably hated it, but on a thematic, emotional and character level the finale was perfect.

  • Mark Johnson | October 1, 2013 3:29 PMReply

    Once again, a group of people who don't "get" what LOST was all about, and bash the perfect ending as a result. Ugh. Tiresome.

  • FehtaCheese | October 13, 2013 5:22 PM

    The LOST finale was fine. It was emotional, action packed and true to the characters. The entire sixth season of LOST was NOT fine. It was a terrible season, with characters trapped inside the temple with people we neither knew nor cared about for weeks, barely advancing the plot, and with other precious series-ending episodes devoted to Jacob/MIB as tweens and their crazy mother. It seemed intent on NOT giving us resolution and that was what was frustrating. The length of "The End" seems to be a huge problem for this writer but I have watched it probably ten times since the show aired and I like it more each time. As a final season, it ended weakly but the final episode was lovely.

  • MBlaize | October 4, 2013 5:57 AM

    Mark, I am totally with you.
    I feel like people just didn't get it.

    It was the most beautiful ending. I don't cry much, but I was in tears in that finale.
    Amazing writing. I have never been that blown away by a show in my life.

  • Sean | October 1, 2013 4:06 PM

    Fans need to stop telling people that their opinions are wrong. LOST, Breaking Bad, Sopranos, whatever you like, just learn to like it yourself (or dislike) but accept that others are different than you and might not have the same view.
    If LOST was a good finale, maybe instead of doing the LOST fanboy tactic of saying "you just didn't get it" and maybe elaborate why.

    I was a huge LOST fan for 4 seasons. I loved season 1 like everyone else, and when people said seasons 2 and 3 where weaker, I didn't agree and still loved it. Then season 4 happened, and the show had a season to rival season 1. Season 5 is where it lost (bad pun) me. Once 6 rolled around, it became tired. It still had good twists and turns, but it got mixed in with the whole having to tell the story but with a twist.
    People say the show was about the characters and not the story. To a degree, yes that's right. But I also exclaim bullshit on that. It was show that sold itself on the mysteries this island had. we watched because we wanted to know what was in the hatch or what that monster was. Season 6 and it's finale did the incorrect thing by still introducing story plots that they had to wrap in a few episodes, along with new characters that they had to get us viewers to love and care for in 13 episodes. That was Lindeloff's mistake: introducing too much in it's final hour (or 13), rather than bringing everything to some nice, warranted closure.

  • Lauren | October 1, 2013 3:26 PMReply

    Anyone who thinks the Sopranos finale was good is an absolte idiot.

    Signed,

    The Universe

  • FehtaCheese | October 13, 2013 5:21 PM

    The LOST finale was fine. It was emotional, action packed and true to the characters. The entire sixth season of LOST was NOT fine. It was a terrible season, with characters trapped inside the temple with people we neither knew nor cared about for weeks, barely advancing the plot, and with other precious series-ending episodes devoted to Jacob/MIB as tweens and their crazy mother. It seemed intent on NOT giving us resolution and that was what was frustrating. The length of "The End" seems to be a huge problem for this writer but I have watched it probably ten times since the show aired and I like it more each time. As a final season, it ended weakly but the final episode was lovely.

  • 0_O | October 1, 2013 7:05 PM

    how dare you speaking for the universe. that ending was genius and i'm form the universe so.

  • lol | October 1, 2013 3:33 PM

    "absolte idiot." Amazing

  • Andrew | October 1, 2013 3:14 PMReply

    For me personally it's hard to imagine that any show will be able to top The Shield's finale. It really is the perfect end to an incredibly great show.

    I personally do really love the Lost finale. I understand that for many the show was about the mysteries, but for me the most interesting aspect of the show was the whole theme 'Science vs. Faith' and the finale I thought really embraced that very concept without definitively choosing a side. On an emotional level, I couldn't imagine anything more satisfying. The final season as a whole certainly wasn't the greatest, but I did really like the finale regardless.

  • Marco | October 1, 2013 8:08 PM

    Well put, Andrew. It got to be a pain to defend the entire series based everyone's anger over the final season, but for those that were invested in more than the mythology, that finale worked on an emotional level. Also, they didn't rewrite the character storylines, it was a bait and switch tha didn't impact the characters original stories at all. It was just - ah to hell with it, I give up.

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