The Best Finales

All this talk about the final episode of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA got me thinking about the best, and worst, series finales.  Off the top of my head, the best ones were, in no particular order:

The Fugitive
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Larry Sanders 
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Boston Legal
The West Wing
The Paper Chase
Inspector Morse

Among the worst series enders were:

Magnum PI (both the original, intended finale and the one they did when they unexpectedly returned for one more season)
St. Elsewhere 
Hawaii Five-O (one of the all-time worst)
Miami Vice
Star Trek Enterprise 
Mad About You
Quantum Leap
X Files
The Prisoner 

My list of series finales that were simply fine, but not outstanding, would include:

Battlestar Galactica
Hill Street Blues
The Sopranos
The Odd Couple
Star Trek Voyager
L.A. Law
Deep Space Nine
Who's the Boss
Family Ties
Barney Miller
Everybody Loves Raymond
Will & Grace

And finally, my list of the best final episodes that were undone because the series unexpectedly came back for another season…

St. Elsewhere
Crime Story

I haven't seen the final episodes of THE SHIELD or THE WIRE (I am several seasons behind on both of them) or BUFFY (I lost interest in the show after a season or two), though I hear that all three of them were great. And there are a number of other finales I never saw simply because they were series I didn't watch. All that said, I am sure am leaving out a bunch. That said, in my opinion most episodic series aren't really designed to have final episodes and don't really need them. It's shows like GALACTICA, LOST, QUANTUM LEAP, MASH, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, THE FUGITIVE, THE PRISONER, LOST IN SPACE, etc. that are built around a quest, a pursuit, a war or the solution of a central mystery that merit, if not demand, the closure if a final episode. But I think that for the majority of dramas and sitcoms, it's not necessary to concoct a finale…and perhaps even a mistake. 

10 thoughts on “The Best Finales”

  1. I think The Fugitive, MASH, Mary Tyler Moore,and Cheers rate as the four best(no particular order either). A lot of those on your lists I have no opinion as I didn’t watch them

  2. Lee,
    The Mary Tyler Moore show.
    The group hug and the shuffling back and forth to the tissue box. That was the best ending.
    I only saw it once and that was when it aired originally, but as soon as you said MTM and finale, there it was perfectly preserved in my head.
    Excellent post. Thanks

  3. THE SHIELD’s final ep was working up to be a masterpiece, but then, in my opinion, they completely sold out, did something completely UN-Shield-like, in the last five minutes.
    THE WIRE’s was… eh.
    CHEERS and M*A*S*H were fantastic, and I must say that, while I hated SEINFELD’s when it aired, it has grown on me (from a place of respect more than entertainment) from the standpoint that it was extremely true to those characters.
    Maybe it didn’t give the audience what it wanted, maybe it wasn’t nearly as funny as the episodes leading up to it, but it was perhaps more true to the essence of the characters than any other show. Is that good TV? Probably not, but I think when you’ve achieved THAT level of iconic fame and fortune, do whatever the heck you want.

  4. THE PRISONER’s ending in particular was a disaster. I recently watched the whole series online at A&E’s web site (not a good way to see it, really) and the ending was incredibly lame. I don’t mind a “difficult” ending, but this one had no drama whatsoever.

  5. The Shield’s last season, after a few hiccups, was very good, and the last episode just brutal. Excellent series. The Wire ended basically the way every season ends, so nothing too special about it.
    You left out probably the best series finale, with the last 3 minutes absolutely breathtaking–Six Feet Under.
    I disagree about St. Elsewhere, thought the ending fit the show–hell, if Newhart can all be a dream, why can’t St. Elsewhere be the dreams of an autistic kid?
    I also thought the last episode of Mad About You was very well done and a good way to end the series. The others I mostly agree with you.
    Northern Exposure should’ve ended with Joel’s mystical journey back to NY, and while the show lost a god amount of its magic once he left, the series finale was actually pretty good.
    Fernwood 2Night had a a great last episode, although the show came back as Amnerica 2Night.

  6. In general I think special finales (or whatever you want to call them) are a bad idea. Most shows just don’t lend themselves to neat endings of that sort. (The exception is something like MASH — you gotta end the war, right?) Better to just go out with a great episode — the best story you can write.

  7. I will say that Seinfeld was the absolute worse finale’ ever. Not only was it horrible for its non-typical “episode” but I will never forget that while it was on…Frank Sinatra died. I don’t think that was a coincidence!

  8. I’ve never been a fan of the Newhart ending. Yes, it was funny, original, and unexpected. However, I love Newhart and tolerate The Bob Newhart Show. I’d much rather it were the other way around. (Yes, I know it couldn’t work that way since the other series was first.)
    And there’s no reason to continue on with Buffy. The finale he had to do at the end of season 5 (when it switched networks) was wonderful. Seasons 6 and 7 were horrid (except for the brilliant musical), and the ending was the worst of the lot. Angel’s ending was bad as well. Honestly, the reason I never started DOLLHOUSE is that I don’t think Joss Weadon can end a series to my liking.

  9. I hated the ending of Mad About You so much so that I have a hard time watching any of the reruns – what they did took the magic away from the show…hello: MAD ABOUT YOU. It was a great show – the idea that they split up might have been realistic but I enjoyed the idea that a couple could stay mad about each other always. And I always thought after Helen Hunt won those awards for acting she overdid it trying to ACT when before all that she was better.
    M*A*S*H was good – but making Hawkeye lose his mind always troubled me – again, sometimes I don’t want too much reality when I’m watching TV.


Leave a Comment