This is the End

Mark Evanier links to two TV critics and their lists of the Top Five Series finales of all time.  For me, the best would include MARY TYLER MOORE, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, NEWHART, THE FUGITIVE,  LARRY SANDERS,  M*A*S*H, THE PAPER CHASE and CHEERS.

My list of the worst finales would include SEINFELD, MAGNUM PI, MIAMI VICE,  FRIENDS, ST. ELSEWHERE, QUANTUM LEAP, NYPD BLUE and the two that MAGNUM PI had (the original,  which ended with Magnum getting killed… and the second,  after they talked Selleck into doing one more season, which  ended with Magnum getting married).

I’m a big TV geek, and a sucker for finales, but I’m not sure they are a good idea. Sure, you get a ratings pop, and they give audiences a chance to say goodbye to characters they love.  But I think one reason the majority of "final episodes" are mediocre at best is because most TV series, by their very nature, are intentionally conceived to be open-ended and run forever. How do you conclude something that was never designed to be concluded?

It’s one thing for Dr. Richard Kimble to finally be proved innocent, or for the castaways on LOST to finally discover what-the-hell-is-going-on. THE FUGITIVE and LOST are series built on ongoing quests for absolution and answers.  But do we really need to tie things up for private eyes, doctors, and homicide cops who we watch because we enjoy seeing them do their jobs?

In many ways, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND had the best finale of all — just another great episode.

17 thoughts on “This is the End”

  1. It’s difficult to know how to end a story. I’m dealing with that part now in a novel. The juggling act it takes to keep a TV show going must be daunting.

  2. Agree with you on Larry Sanders, Cheers, and MTM is still probably my favorite ever. Newhart was great but only because of the last minute – which was a classic moment in the history of TV.
    Agree with you about Seinfeld – maybe the worst in history – as well as Miami Vice. I thought The X-Files finale was weak, too.
    The Barney Miller finale was very good – if memory serves. I was done with Magnum two seasons before it ended. It was a show – like NYPD Blue – that I felt went on too long.

  3. The Barney Miller finale was great.
    It’s a shame that series isn’t more popular now in syndication. I know people in their twenties who’ve never even seen it.
    Too bad for them. It was a classic show.

  4. The only series finale for me that is simultaneously best and worst was the final episode of The Prisoner.
    McGoohan’s purposeful refusal to give clear answers to the series’ key questions left viewers fascinated and also frustrated.

  5. Biggest mistake ever made on VICE was killing Calderone so early in the series. Had it been Calderone the Government had been protecting all those years then Crockett tossing his badge would have been justified. As it was, the finale was weak as a baby.
    Biggest mistake X FILES made was drawing out the Samantha Mulder storyline. Fourth season classic “Paper Hearts” had Mulder confronting the possibility his sister had been murdered by a pedophile; everything Mulder ever believed in was called into question, and as horrible as the possibility was, that should have been the end of it right there. Tom Noonan was excellent in his work, as always, and it would have made sense. But no, the storyline goes for another four years, only to find out…. Mulder’s sister was murdered by another pedophile. Weak, bad, atrocious, and overall stupid. The actual “finale” of XF was so bad, so poorly done, it was ridiculous.
    THE WEST WING is a current example. Leo McGarry’s death became the “B” story for an episode, and that was all. A two hour finale to the series could have been done so easily, and there are plenty of loose ends they could tie up. Instead, due to disagreements on cost, we get a rerun of the Pilot followed by a one hour episode. I’ll watch it, but I don’t have high hopes for it.

  6. Cheers was great. Newhart still makes laugh to this day. Everyone Loves Raymond was great. I watch the last episode of 7Heaven two nights ago. Too sugar coated for me. But the worst had to be, St. Elsewhere. I am still screaming at the television over that one.

  7. Ending of 7th Heaven was fine until the last 30 seconds. Seemed like a cliffhanger to get me to come back next fall. (The whole series was sugar coated, so that didn’t bother me in the finale. And it also explains why I liked it.)
    I actually liked the Friends finale as well.
    Love the MTM finale, and I’m probably one of the few people who doesn’t appreciate the twist of the Newhart finale. Then again, I have seen very few episodes of the Bob Newhart show, and those I have seen weren’t nearly as good as Newhart.

  8. I loved the season finale of ANGEL.
    The entire last season was a meta-narrative about the troubles between the show and the WB. As such, the “let’s go down fighting” open-ended conclusion was a message to the network: You may cancel us, but we will not go quietly.
    Plus there was a lot of cool fighting and stuff.

  9. I have a soft spot for finales as well (and even run a website devoted to them –
    The truth is, it’s a rare series that quits while there’s still fresh stories to tell. A a result, many finales aren’t as good as they could be.
    I think that Newhart was the best — if only for the last few moments. It was so clever, I don’t think anyone’s done better since. A similar idea didn’t work as well for St. Elsewhere.
    I like the MASH finale but it has a whole different tone from the series. Though the series dealt with the war in a respectful way, it was a sitcom after all. The series finale had few comedic moments in it.
    I wasn’t a big Magnum PI fan but I really liked the original series finale (when he was shot and presumably killed). The show wrapped up a bunch of plotlines and was inventive and sensitively done. The reworking of the episode (so the series could continue) and following season was a shame.
    The Fugitive isn’t great but at least they didn’t leave us hanging like so many shows did.
    Here are a few others that come to mind:
    Favorites: Mary Tyler Moore, Buffy, Angel (though the last moments were very abrupt), The Cosby Show, Star Trek: TNG, Family Ties, I Married Dora (the cast came out of character to aknowledge the show was over), Jack & Bobby (though abrupt), Everyone Loves Raymond, Barney Miller, Happy Days (though the show was long overdue) and of course Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
    Shows that left us hanging: Benson, Soap (a bit resolved on Benson), Reunion, Tru Calling and many other Fox shows.
    Shows that thankfully wrapped up later: Dynasty, Dallas, Gilligan’s Island, Alf (sort of).
    Least Favorites: Roseanne, Seinfeld, Quantum Leap (there’s been talk of reviving the series in one form or another).

  10. Maybe another post could be the worst attempts at comebacks/spin-offs after the original series was over…
    Sugar Ray Leonard.
    Oh, wait…

  11. I don’t like finales, they almost always strain to conclude every little thing, like the “happily ever after” ending of a fairytale. Many series that get to this point should’ve ended much sooner, and perhaps it would’ve been best just to leave the audience hanging with all the elements they loved still intact. No shark jumping, no getting married after twenty years of courtship, no catching the one-armed man (though that worked well in the movie).

  12. Agree with many of the comments here:
    Best final episodes: Six Feet Under, Odd Couple, Mary Tyler Moore
    Worst final episode: Seinfeld (by far!!)


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