Monday, November 24, 2008

Best drama endings ever?

So, in writing my review of "The Shield" finale, I'm going out on a limb and declaring it my favorite drama series finale ever. This prompted a question from my editor about what other finales I would put in my top 5. "The Wire" is definitely on there (though, as with all things "The Wire," it was more of a cumulative achievement than anything in one particular episode). I'm also fond of the polarizing finales for both "The Sopranos" and "St. Elsewhere," and am considering "Six Feet Under" just for the final montage.

The problem with doing this kind of list is that most great series -- drama or comedy -- don't have great finales, because they tend to be on for so long that they lose all creative momentum, or because they try something big in the finale that doesn't work. (For the comedy equivalent of this, see the "Seinfeld" finale.)

While I wrestle with my list (and my review), I'm curious for some of your picks. They must be series finales, so suggestions like "The 'Friday Night Lights' season one finale, and pretend the rest of the series didn't exist" (that one courtesy of Fienberg) don't help.

104 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

Some older-school suggestions my friend Phil offered: The Fugitive (original version) and The Prisoner.

T said...

I agree with including "The Sopranos," "The Wire," and "Six Feet Under." I would also suggest "Extras" (if the special counts), "The Office" (UK, and ditto), and "Avatar" (the animated series, if eligible).

I love "The West Wing," but I'm not sure that last season really counts for these purposes, as it centered on newish characters (Santos and Vinick).

T said...

_Dramas_. Apologies.

joy said...

Alan, would you point and laugh at me if I said Dawson's Creek?

Chris Littmann said...

Alan --

Would definitely support your "Six Feet Under" nomination. That montage is off the charts.

I'm doing Christmas ideas right now, and wondering if you recommend The Shield highly enough to trudge through all of those seasons on DVD? Seeing that many seasons is sort of daunting, and I'm debating between that and Lost, two shows I've yet to watch ever.d

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I'm saying this, but, despite being a mediocre series, I actually though Dawson's Creek had one of the best finales of any show in recent memory.

Webeh said...

I'm particularly fond of the series finale for Angel, mostly because it wasn't all that concerned about giving us a happy ending.

Also, I think I would have really liked how Life on Mars finished if it stopped right at the rooftop jump. The pasted on happy ending reminded me too much of AI's stick-on fairytale ending.

You're right about the creativity usually being more or less gone when shows end. Most series finales I've seen don't make that much of an impression on me.

Sean said...

I'm a big fan of the Twin Peaks finale, though it was hardly a finale at all (if you don't recall, it ended with many cliffhangers). Lynch was back directing after a long absence, and much of the episode was composed of those amazing red room sequences. A one-of-a-kind episode. Not to mention (spoiler alert, I guess) "How's Annie? How's Annie? How's Annie?"

I also loved the finales for The Sopranos and Freaks and Geeks.

Phil said...

I'm going to be a nerd and suggest Star Trek: The Next Generation's "All Good Things..." Taking Picard back to the beginning of the series and into the future was a master stroke. There are enough holes in the plot to satisfy nerds, but it also does a very good job in bringing the whole series to a satisfying conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I am just glad neither Alan or any of the comments have mentioned MASH. It seems all list of great series finales include MASH, when in my opinion it stunk.

Amy said...

@joy I will back you up!! Even though the last season of Dawson didn't mean as much to me as earlier seasons did, I still can feels tears coming on whenever I tell someone about the finale. It was truly intense, well written, well acted...just over all well done.

Of course the show creator came back to write it, I believe. I think Glmore Girls could have had the same effect if Amy had come back.

I think the Wonder Years ended really well (again after having fallen off before the finale).

I guess I like finales that make me cry...

Alan Sepinwall said...

I also loved the finales for The Sopranos and Freaks and Geeks.

Freaks and Geeks!!!!!

(slaps forehead)

Note to self: any and all future TV best-of lists must always, always, always include F&G somehow.

J said...

The best series finale that comes to mind was Profit's, which both neatly and nastily tied up the series' ongoing family values assault. But as that went unaired it may not count. (Also, I recall the Star-Ledger as not very taken with the show, ptttph.)

I remember thinking the wrap-up for Star Trek: The Next Generation worked well, but that might have been me, then.

M said...

I'm going to be a nerd and suggest Star Trek: The Next Generation's "All Good Things..."

If we're going into nerd territory, I feel Quantum Leap needs a shout-out. The series itself was often too sentimental for my tastes, but that final episode of Sam meeting God and coming to terms with what his leaping really meant was a piece of haunting beauty.

Dean Winchester said...

Definitely the Angel finale, because it seemed triumphant and bittersweet at the same time, yet provided an adequate amount of closure.

I also second The Wire because whatever complaints you might have had about the final season, I think McNulty's sign-off perfectly captured the essence of what they'd been trying to say for five seasons; our cities are flawed and broken but they're still our homes.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if this list was being made six months in the future, BSG would certainly be on it.

Dark Tyler said...

Six Feet Under, Angel, Freaks & Geeks, The Sopranos and (I'm pretty sure) The Shield will round up my top 5.

Have to say, though, I'm inclined to agree with Feinberg on Friday Night Lights. What an amazing finale that show had.

Also, I never quite got the hatred for the Seinfeld finale. It was exactly what the whole show was about. Of course it would go out offending its audience as well as itself. How was that any different from the entire run?

Antid Oto said...

I'll echo "Life on Mars," and disagree with the argument that the happy ending was pasted on. I loved the idea of having what was essentially the guy's suicide be a happy ending.

Six Feet Under's montage was great, but most of that episode before that kind of stank.

The Veronica Mars final episode was pretty great, though the final season mostly wasn't.

As comedies go, I liked the NewsRadio finale.

shara says said...

My Top 5:

Freaks and Geeks
Veronica Mars (although I would LOVE to see some sort of followup)
Buffy
Angel
Star Trek: TNG

Travis said...

Maybe its saying something, but the only ending I even remember is the Cheers finale...

Of course I'm only halfway through my box set of Six Feet Under, and I wasn't a huge fan of the Sopranos finale (it was appropriate, I'm just stil on the fence)

Why don't I remember how Freaks&Geeks ended?

erin said...

Dawson's Creek! Yes!! I so agree. Surprising, since that show was such ridiculous fluff, but the final show was really quite touching.

Ditto to comments re: The Wire.

Don't really agree with Freak and Geeks, although I loved the show, because it didn't seem like a series finale to me (and maybe not even to the creators?).

I enjoyed Sex and the City, because I thought they really wrapped things up, but I don't know that it was the best.

I'm trying to remember the Buffy finale, but since I can't, I'm think it wasn't spectacular.

Oh, The O.C. finale made me cry too. Ryan working as an architect (or building constructor--can't remember which) and seeing a young screwed up kid like himself near the site? Good stuff.

Matt said...

The finale of "Sports Night" is solid, and even more of an achievement because it both left doors open for a subsequent season and provided resolution.

The final episode of "Alias" was ludicrous, but worth it if just for Victor Garber's priceless "You may have beaten death, Arvin, but you can't beat me."

And for everything wrong with seasons 5-7 of TWW (CJ had an affair with Hoynes?, "Access," the debate episode, etc.) the stuff with the napkin at the end still gets me all sniffly.

Alan Sepinwall said...

And for everything wrong with seasons 5-7 of TWW (CJ had an affair with Hoynes?, "Access," the debate episode, etc.) the stuff with the napkin at the end still gets me all sniffly.

And don't forget Bartlet and Charlie's final scene. Probably not enough to get it into a top 5 list, but it was much better than you'd expect from the Wells era.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Why don't I remember how Freaks&Geeks ended?

It ended like this.

Randy said...

First, Alan, thanks to your raves about "The Shield", I've finally gotten around to it. (I don't think it's airing on a station we get up here in Canada.) And after the first four eps of the first season, I'm completely hooked. Can't wait to watch the other 80-or-so episodes to get to the finale.

As for other great series finales, I also loved the finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". The final couple of seasons may have had their problems (although I'm one of the few who would defend them strongly), but that great finale just brought everything full circle, and even managed to catch me off-guard, too: it's not that there could be only one slayer, but that slayer-ness could be switched on. And that last shot, of Buffy silently smirking over the abyss that had been Sunnydale, was classic.

joy said...

Wait, no one mentioned Roswell, I don't think.

When they all piled into the love van into the sunset?

henry said...

Star Trek: The Next Generation had a great ending. So did its cousin Deep Space Nine. Buffy and Angel both had great series finales (Buffy basically had two, what with the fifth season finale serving as its farewell to the WB network).

I can't believe no one has mentioned Arrested Development on here. Michael's final speech to the family? Anyone?

Firefly had a great finale as well, though it didn't have the buildup that other longtime series had.

Those are some of my favorites...

Pamela Jaye said...

Ah, Quantum Leap. The finale that made all the fans say WTF? (i've actually never typed that phrase before).

We could always tell, on whatever internet forum we were currently hanging out on, when the finale reran. There were veritable *choruses* of WTF from people who didn't get to see it the first time (and new fans).

Don Bellisario attended the QL conventions *before* it aired and hasn't been seen at one since.

I didn't hardly ever watch the show when it aired on NBC, but this, I saw. it impacted me deeply enough to be thrilled when, during northern Exposure's non-finale, Joel actually did get to go back home.

and then there was the day sci-fi ran it right after the episode wher Sam comes home, and runs off again to save Al, vowing to his wife that he wil come back to her.
Journeyman did a better job.

We won't mention the finale of Enterprise either. The penultimate ep is widely regarded as the finale.

(and yes, All Good Things was good)

I have to think of show I watched which were not murdered but actually got finales. I have not yet seen Scrubs...
(Dark Shadow got a voiceover endeing that gave me goosebumps both times i saw it, but it had long since lost its charm)

Goosebumps are necessary for finales. How about Life Goes On? (I admit, I barely remember it) or Once and Again (never to be seen on DVD)?

Kevin Michaels said...

Definitely The Wire and St. Elsewhere, and the Six Feet Under Montage was one of those finales that answered the "what'f's" before you could even ask them. I also liked the ending of Cheers as well as The Mary tyler Moore Show (guess I'm showing my age....)

Pamela Jaye said...

I hear the Fugitive was good...
oh, never mind.

Pamela Jaye said...

I do think, however, that Boston Legal's finale should find a way to tie itself into that snow globe..

Ryan said...

I'll second the comments on The Wire, Six Feet Under, ST: TNG, and Alan's love the ambiguous ending of The Sopranos.

Some of the series finales mentioned here I have not seen (Freaks and Geeks, Buffy, Dawson's Creek, etc.), but I would also give props to the ending of Babylon 5. I could go on all day about things that annoyed me about that show but I loved its ambitious story arcs and found that its quiet, almost meditative capstone to an action-packed show to be worthwhile

Pamela Jaye said...

I believe that in the Buffy finale the Hellmouth fell into itself and the remaining cast stood next to the school bus echoing Scarlett O'Hara. (all those girls turning into Slayers was nice though)

TimmyD said...

Northern Exposure was good with the Our Town montage. Seems like you could do a Top Five for shows that were on too long or got cut short. Your list isn't fair to the non cable shows.

Anonymous said...

Methinks some people are putting their -favorite- finales on this list as opposed to the best. There is a difference.

Nick Edwards said...

Despite the large number of loose ends that it left (probably inevitable from a series that died so quickly), Journeyman had one of the best final episodes I can remember.

The main story was strong, and had some nice ties to the pilot episode, finally opening some windows on how the universe might fit together. But the last five minutes or so, from the beginning of the elevator conversation to the end were just amazing.

The look on his wife's face as she finally sees him timejump for the first time has got to be one of my favorite all time closing shots.

Tony Dayoub said...

I second the already suggested finales for The Prisoner; Star Trek: The Next Generation and even better, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Twin Peaks; and The Sopranos.

Let me add the quiet routine "day in the life" ending of NYPD Blue, where the complicated Andy Sipowicz starts his first day on the job as squad commander of the 15th.

joy said...

Eh. I'll readily admit that Dawson's Creek was a favorite show of mine. But objectively speaking, it gave us enough of an ending to be satisfied that we hadn't wasted all the preceding years watching in vain, allowed Kevin Williamson to end his show his way, and effectively drew out tears and emotions for characters we started out hating.

Taleena said...

Rome, as Pullo walks off with Caesarian.

Journeyman (seconded)

Firefly (seconded)

Taleena said...

Newhart /grin

Skeezix said...

I know this supposed to be best drama endings, but since some people are mentioning sitcoms, I can't not mention the finale of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

It did have its dramatic moments.

Justin said...

I'm with Veronica Mars and The Wire. VM really pulled itself together in the final eps, which made its demise all the more sad. I'm expecting agree with Alan that The Shield is the best finale ever. I've been saying to anyone who will listen that the pilot was the most amazing I've ever seen.

Ashman said...

I am old. By demographics, I am probably considered so old that my opinion just isn't worthwhile, and I acknowledge that there is always a bias towards the more recent present, but I feel compelled to ask.

How is MASH not the be all and end all of finales? It had emotional resonance, humor, heart, and honest to goodness finality (ignore the spinoff! the show MASH really closed out nicely there). It also pioneered the whole finale is longer then a standard episode thing.

Just cause it happened 30 years ago doesn't make it bad.

Cameron Hughes said...

Angel
Everwood

Jeff L said...

If we're including comedies, "Newhart" has got to be on the list. The last 30 seconds were so funny, and such a surprise.

And I *hated* the end to St. Elsewhere. A great big "F you" to the audience.

Yonatan said...

Doctor Who because of the final line:

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea is asleep and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do."

Nicole said...

Most of my top picks have already been stated: TNG, Six Feet Under both managed to overcome not so great final seasons and stay true to the theme of series, and I still ball my eyes out if I think about the final SFU montage. The Prisoner was also a good one even though I am confused by it, and I also enjoyed Life on Mars (although the Ashes to Ashes series sorta removes some of the impact).

And I'll throw one out there that I'm sure many have not seen: Forever Knight. The show was the original vampire detective show and while not always the best show on television, the last episode captured the essential themes of the series, which is really what we want all good series finales to do.

Anyway, I sure hope the Shield finale lives up to the high praise you have given it... Mind you I did like the Sopranos one, but I'm expecting greatness here.

Devin McCullen said...

I like to say Buffy had 2 great finale episodes - but they occurred at the end of Season 5 and midway through Season 6. (The "It's only a dream" episode.) Not that the actual finale was bad.

I thought the end of Deep Space 9 was one of the best series of episodes I've seen, although I don't know whether the actual last episode was specifically that great.

Captain Frederick said...

1. Six Feet Under - Absolutely brilliant. Very few things I've seen on television have surpassed the impact of that final montage.

2. The Office - I love that Christmas special. Tim and Dawn finally getting together, and David Brent getting a win for once. Ricky Gervais is a genius. I know the Office isn't a "drama" per se, but it had some dramatic elements from time to time, especially in the season 2 finale and in the Christmas special.

I'd add the Extras special as well, but apparently Gervais and Merchant are at work on either a new special or a new season, so the special doesn't really count as a finale anymore!

3. Sopranos - The very first time I watched it I thought my cable went out, but watching it again I've come to really love it. I'm 95% sure my interpretation that Tony was killed is correct, but regardless, that ending is going to be iconic for a very long time.



I have a feeling that The Shield will take the top spot, if it's half as good as Alan says, and I'm just going to go ahead and assume that the eventual BSG finale will be placing somewhere on the list in a few months. BSG has a knack for incredibly awesome season finales (Adama shot...Cylons on New Caprica...the revelation of four of the Final Five and the return of Starbuck...the finding of Earth). I have to assume the series finale is going to be way up there.

ithor6 said...

I've got to nix the Freaks & Geeks and Firefly finales. I love both shows and I enjoyed both finales but neither was suppose to act as a series finale and neither really felt like one. Firefly especially just felt like another episode and Freaks & Geeks, while more final, was definitely setting itself up for the second season that never was.

Oh yeah, Veronica Mars, too, more final than the other two, but still setting up for more. I wonder who won that sheriff election anyway?

Steven Timberman said...

The O.C. finale was a perfect coda to the series. Like the oft-referenced first season, there was self-referential gags galore, surprisingly sharp dialogue, and an emotionally devastating musical montage. I fell in love all over again.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Freaks & Geeks, while more final, was definitely setting itself up for the second season that never was.

It was only barely doing that. As Apatow and Feig have said many times, they knew they weren't coming back, and so Apatow went to Feig and told him to take every great idea he had for the hypothetical second season and squeeze them into that final episode. Yes, we're left hanging on what will happen when Lindsay gets back into town, whether Daniel will keep playing D&D, etc., but with the exception of Six Feet Under and that montage, I can't think of a series finale that didn't leave some questions deliberately unanswered.

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pamela Jaye said...

i would have mentioned MTM, MASH, Newhart, but he said Dramas.
St. E was as bad as QL (possibly worse) and my DVR ate the last two eps of VM.

didn't St E have two finales? (like 7th heaven annd Magnum?)

as a fan of Ally, the last season stunk and the only good thing about the finale was that it did end with the same song as the Pilot. and the Pratice? lost cast, new crossover, mostly non-memorable.

David J. Loehr said...

I'm surprised it took so many comments to bring up Newhart. I think that might be the best series finale of a substandard show--as a big fan of Bob, I never cared for the second sitcom.

As for dramas, I've said it elsewhere, and I'll say it again, the big montage at the end of Six Feet Under didn't elevate the boring hour that led up to it, and in my opinion, it didn't stick the landing, so to speak. It was a good idea, but it could have been great. (Which I've pondered elsewhere, too.)

I loved St. Elsewhere only because it was completely unexpected. As a writer, I like getting surprised, and Tom Fontana tends to surprise. The finale of Homicide, while not up to the best of the series, was a nice full-circle, and the last fifteen minutes of Homicide: The Movie are devastating. Though again, I could have done without the story leading up to that scene; I'm just glad they ended the story early enough to have that last act. (I don't know that that qualifies as a finale, though.)

Anonymous said...

Extras: Special Series Finale.

Six Feet Under's final fast forward montage.

China Beach's final episodes that brought the characters into present day.

Lost series finale (high expectations)

shara says said...

I already posted above, but I've been thinking about it all day and wanted to give an extra shoutout to Not Fade Away (the Angel finale), which I will go ahead and vote for the greatest finale ever. The closure for each character as they face their final battle makes me cry every single time. Then there was the serious butt-whooping that they lay down against W&H, which was extremely satisfying. And watching Spike and Angel, who have become dual vampires-with-souls/champions of the human race, put their unlives on the line to make a final stand against evil, was a powerful culmination of both of their stories. That show should NOT have been cancelled, but it went out better than I could have ever hoped for. And, since most of the characters on Angel were originally on Buffy, it was really a finale that had to cover both shows. The episode didn't miss a beat, and the closing line was perfect.

Paul said...

Blackadder Goes Forth's ending remains one of my favourite moments of TV ever.

Byron said...

Much love, as ever, to The Wire, but The O.C. finale stands alone in my mind. I cry like a little baby girl every time we see (SPOILERS FOR THREE YEARS AGO) Summer walking down the aisle.

Terrence said...

I am going to wholeheartedly disagree with the "Six Feet Under" haters.

I will admit that upon first glance, the final three seasons didn't live up to the power of the first two. However, I recently purchased the entire series and watched the final three seasons again -- convinced that not only was the finale fantastic, but the entire series.

So "Everybody's Waiting" goes to the top of my list. "Queer as Folk" also ended well for me. I also liked how "The Practice" ended.

I can't comment on "The Sopranos", "St. Elsewhere", "The Wire" or "The Fugitive" as I have not seen those finales.

"Everwood" had a satisfying ending.

I remember the "Dawson's Creek" finale and was very happy that they didn't whimp out and keep Dawson and Joey together.

On the comedy side,

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show"

"3rd Rock from the Sun" -- a finale that actually closed out an overall storyline

"The Lucy Show" -- I know, but Lucy spent the entire episode singing the praises of her boss, Mr. Mooney, to get him promoted and out of her hair only to be assigned to him permanently for thinking so highly of him.

"Newhart"

"Family Ties"

chinclan said...

How about "N.Y.P.D. Blue" or "Journeyman"? Blue was on for a long time, but the finale gave us a glimpse of Sipowicz running the squad. As for Journeyman, his wife finally saw him disappear...my two cents...

Ray said...

Without a doubt, the Buffy series finale is my favorite of all time. Thematically, tonally and emotionally, it was one terrific wrap-up.

I wasn't one of those fans that ragged on the final 2 seasons, and it got really annoying to hear them complain EVERY episode about something that wasn't up to their usual armchair-quarterbacking standards. I thought the finale was chock full of memorable moments:

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR BUFFY'S FINAL EPISODE.





Robert Duncan's music. I love the music from the finale and I have it on my iPod for posterity.

Buffy's giggle after slicing Nathan Fillion in two.

Buffy's hilarious and strangely appropriate "cookie dough" speech to Angel.

Buffy silently handing over the amulet meant for a champion to Spike, in acknowledgment of his transformation from villain to (sort of) hero.

Buffy's simple declaration at the end of Act One that "We're gonna win."

The Dungeons & Dragons game (which we were led to believe were actual battle plans beforehand)

Buffy and Dawn's confrontation, and its brief resolution.

Andrew's speech. Anya's end.

The excellent callback scene to the first episode, where the four main characters debated what they were going to do tonight, ending with Giles' second declaration of "the earth is doomed," and the four characters walking off in different directions in silence.

Willow's spell, and its aftereffects on her, "That was nifty!"

The twist that transformed every potential Slayer into a real one, prefaced by Buffy in a flashback, then accompanied by a montage of girls around the world standing up and claiming their power.

The moment where a wounded Buffy stands up again and knocks the ever-lovin' sh*t out of a group of vamps, followed by all the Slayers kicking butt in kind. I think that was where I started to mist up.

The final Buffy/Spike scene: Buffy grabbing hold of his hand after it began to burn and their final words to each other, including Spike's "I wanna see how it ends."

Xander and Andrew's exchange about Anya.

The final scene, with the long push in from all the survivors until Buffy's face filled the frame, then...

The smile. Thanks for seven great years, Joss! I watched that episode many times the first few years after it aired.

Also, I loved the end of Angel for very different reasons, not the least of which was its unwillingness to give us the same emotional closure as they gave Buffy. But thematically, Angel's ending was letter-perfect, if a bit rushed. (Should've been an extended episode by 5 or 10 more minutes)

I loved both of Homicide: Life on the Street's endings: The S7 finale where Bayliss vanishes after presumably killing the murderer freed on a technicality, and the NBC TV-movie that brought back every character for a true finale.

The Wire and Six Feet Under also had great finales, as did Sex and the City.

Outside of the world of drama TV, I have to say that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the best and most satisfying series finale ever made. Hopefully the two movies it will be split into can do the book justice.

Jeff W. said...

Dittoing many:

The Sopranos
Twin Peaks
Six Feet Under
Star Trek: TNG
The Wire

Really looking forward to the Shield finale, as well as Battlestar Galactica... and eventually, Lost.

Anonymous said...

Are you considering or would you consider the movie Serenity as the finale to the tv series Firefly?
If so, that's definitely one of my favorites.

Jeremiah said...

How about "Oz"? Sure, the show had pretty much gone downhill by that point, but I think they wrapped up a lot of things. Oswald gets shut down (temporarily; McManus did state "we'll be back"...maybe a spin-off show, Christmas special, something! C'mon Fontana!), Beecher/Keller story was resolved, a fuck load of characters were killed, and some old mysteries solved (such as the Rev. Cloutier's disappearance, but I kind of wish they didn't tackle that...should've kept it open-ended).

Other contenders:
Strangers with Candy - they knew ahead of time that the show was being canceled, which led to some great gags with the school being replaced by a strip mall, because the show was being replaced on the timeslot by a short-lived show called "Strip Mall".

Anonymous said...

The Wire
Twin Peaks
Arrested Development

and for my longshot:

Golden Girls

Vlada said...

Even though I skipped over the two blah middle seasons, "The O.C.'s" series finale was one of the most satisfying I've ever seen. It gave closure to all the characters and really came full circle for Ryan.

Thank you to the person who mentioned "Profit." One of my favorite shows ever. Adrian Pasdar is so wasted on "Heroes."

the Stanfield Org. said...

Agree on Sopranos, Wire, Freaks & Geeks, The Office Special, and really liked the satisfying, albeit rushed, Rome finale.
Also loved the Deadwood Season 4 finale... D'oh!

Marquis said...

I cannot disagree more about the Buffy season finale.

One of the central themes of the show was female empowerment. A theme that became literal when Willow cast a spell that turned all the potentials into Slayers.

Even ignoring the stupidity of waiting until after the battle has started before empowering the girls.

The real problem of the episode is that Buffy's grand plan doesn't work.

Buffy's new Slayer army is not strong enough to defeat the ubervampires.

All they did was provide enough time for Spike's Amulet to work.

An amulet used by a male vampire and provided by another male vampire.

An amulet that Buffy had no idea existed until Angel walked up with it. Even the holders of the Scythe didn't mention it.

So the theme now becomes girls be empowered all you want, but you're still gonna need a man to bail you out of the really tough situations.

It had it's moments, but Whedon sacrificing his central theme for fanservice in order to move an attractiv male star from one show to another, turns it into one of the biggest fails I've ever seen.

Drew said...

For me, the Everwood finale is as close to perfect as anything I've ever seen. Yes, it wrapped up too neatly; yes, we wished Hannah would go away to school as opposed to A&M; yes, both Stephanie and Jake were essentially good people who had to leave. So maybe those flaws make the episode actually imperfect.

But you know what? It didn't really matter because it was an earned happy ending. Those were characters that went through hell (I hesitate to say the writers put them through hell because the characters felt so real and vivid) and they deserved to be happy.

The O.C.'s final 30 minutes stands out to me big time, particularly the final montage. But the first 30 minutes always felt like a mess to me, and it makes it a little difficult to say it's the best ever. Though I certainly wouldn't dispute it. It's my favorite show of all time, even through the horrific Rebecca and Charlotte and Johnny and Darth Sandy arcs, and to see it closed out in the way it was closed out was really, really great.

erin said...

Damn, I had to go back to YouTube to find the O.C. final montage, and it made me tear up again (although I wished they'd put a nice bow on taylor and ryan like they did with seth and summer). The first part was ridiculous, but the last part made up for it.

I agree about Everwood, but that goes to the "favorite" vs. "best" debate, and I don't know which it would be. That whole show is a fave of mine (and why don't they produce seasons 2-4 on DVD?? Stupid), but the way they wrapped everything up was just so satisfying. So I guess favorite for me also = satisfying.

This is a fun recap of my past show loves!

Pamela Jaye said...

since someone mentioned Family Ties, may I add the semi-finale of Spin City, where MJF left, and voiced over that he met a young guy named Alex P Keaton?

Pamela Jaye said...

you gotta love a website where posters are considerate enough to include spoiler warning for shows that ended..um... 5? years ago?

truly - if i hadn't watched it back then, I would appreciate that :-)

the most hideous spoiler I ever experienced was on the Buffy newsgroup,

SPOILER

in a post titled Spoilers for (episode *before* the one where Tara died) someone posted
"yeah, too bad she dies next week"

I could have killed that someone.
(and I'd been trying very hard to avoid the spoilers, as I knew *someone* was going to die)

Pamela Jaye said...

so... how did 90210 end? or did anyone care by then?

Ray, you gave me goosebumps with your Buffy *synopsis.*

I hear the Friends finale was a big deal. I think I watched the thing on Lifetime where everyone was watching it. and even now I can't remember how that would work.

I've totally forgotten the Pretender finale, but i can say that *two* followup TV movies only made it *worse.*

I may have seen the finale of Cheers (can't really remember). I know i missed the Tonight Show followup, where the cast appeared, drunk. (mind you, I was living in (Greater) Boston at the time)

The first show I recall as actually having any permanent changes take place in it was My Three Sons. Wonder if/how that ended.

I didn't watch Frasier or Seinfeld (and in fact, at times confused the two)

Andrew said...

So are we considering movie followups to be the series finales (i.e. Homicide, The Office, and Extras) or only the final episode of the final season? Anyway, I thought Homicide had a very impressive finale (the final episode moreso than the movie) that really makes that final mediocre season go down easier.

filmcricket said...

If we're allowed to count comedies: "The Larry Sanders Show" stands out as the best finale I think I've ever seen. I also second the "Sports Night" vote.

I honestly can't think of too many dramas that a) I hadn't given up on because they went on too long and b) had impressive finales. I will agree that the "Northern Exposure" finale was quite nice, although I disliked most of the final season.

Adam said...

"Flip" is, indeed, brilliant. But it's not a drama. I want to second the love for Oz and Rome -- the first especially, which wraps up so much. To add something to the list, I'd point people to Crime Story, which made me smile.

But, really, The Sopranos is just a stunning piece of art, the ballsiest, most perfect thing I can imagine.

Anna said...

Wow. The only one I feel really strongly about is Firefly's "Objects In Space," which may not even technically count because it wasn't written to be a finale, plus then there was the movie... but it was the last episode of the series, and i think it works really well as a finale, too, because river is finally, truly accepted as a part of the crew. Everything about that episode is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Bix said...

For me: Angel, Dawson's Creek, Everwood, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos.

The Buffy finale had some good parts but overall I didn't like it too much, especially for the lazier moments: The deus ex amulet was bad. So was the destruction of 7 seasons of mythology for no apparent reason when Anya (I think) dusted a vampire with a sword slash to the chest. After hammering home the only ways to kill a vampire for all those years, they blatantly broke their own rules because they were too lazy to make a small edit.

Alias's finale was so bad that it made me very angry.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe no one's mentioned the brilliant finale to Deadwood...oh, right, that never happened.

Damn HBO, bunch of hoopleheaded cocks*ckers.

mac13 said...

Buffy's deus ex machina ending kind of reflected the entire series' modus operandi, didn't it? Considering that, I was satisfied by it.

Sopranos' ending was smart, engaging, interesting, and probably the perfect ending for a show that wasn't designed for a denouement.

Six Feet Under's ending wasn't as smart as Sopranos', but it was so crushingly beautiful and pretty much the dictionary-definition of "ending" that it wins.

And I'm eagerly anticipating both Shield's and Lost's endings.

Figgsrock2 said...

I know others have mentioned it, but I also have to chime in with Angel. Just a great way to send off the series (and I loved how one could think they characters would cotinue their fight).

I'd also mention The O.C, The West Wing and Homicide in there too.

Smiley Lee said...

My criteria for a great finale would be that it would have to get to me when I first watched it, but than stay with me, so that days, months, years later, when I think of it or see it again, it still makes me think and makes me happy, sad, or moves me in some way.

So, given that, these would be my top 3 picks:

Sports Night – It had heart, and it had hope, but yet it also managed to give closure to the show. The subtle, warm joy and relief coming from all the characters when they realized their show had been saved was a thing of beauty, and heartwarming. Even though the show ended in real life (that was a damn shame), that finale let me imagine that somewhere, somehow, the show within a show continued for those characters.

Quantum Leap – Wonderful end to a sweet show, even if it was bittersweet. It celebrated the love between the two main characters, and ended with sacrifice, loss, and fulfillment. Sending one character into a great mystery and giving closure to another. That final title card was a killer.

Six Feet Under – While the episode as a whole tied things up a little too nicely for this show (and capped a somewhat uneven season), the final scenes, from the “I Just Want to Celebrate” video to the end of the episode, were beautiful, moving, haunting and a fantastic end to a groundbreaking series. Flashing through the lives of these characters, after living with them for 5 years, got to me like no other sequence on television. “You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone.” I still can’t see a Prius, hear that Sia song, or think about Nate disappearing from sight while jogging behind Claire’s car without tearing up a little. Plus, I think I hugged the people I care about more, and was a bit kinder to people in general, after seeing SFU’s final season and this episode in particular. A tv show and episode that can change you; now that’s some powerful television.

StickUpKid said...

I'm not ashamed to say this, Six Feet Under, hands down. Maybe not the bes tall around episode but I was balling like a little baby during the final montage. To this day I can't hear Sia's "Breathe Me" without getting weepy!

The Wire was a close second but like you said, it was more of the overall end of an era feel with my all time favorite show coming to an end.

But I'm sorry, when those robbers shot Keith coming out of the armored truck, I couldn't hold it. My wife was looking at me like I had lost my damn mind!

I loved the Sopranos but Ireally wanted more. I din't need total closure but I still just can't feel satisfied by the cut to black.

Byron said...

The Buffy finale is not bad television, but it's not on the same level as the show. (SPOILER FOR AN EVEN OLDER SHOW) Really, Anya is the only one who dies? How does that feel epic enough for that show?

To the one person above about the lack of a "bow" for Ryan and Taylor: they barely dated, it would have been silly to act like they were 100% meant to be. I felt like they gave them exactly what they deserved: a chance as adults to see if they were meant for each other.

max_headroom said...

Been really great reading everyone's choices! My personal favorites are "Dawson's Creek", "Roswell", "Gilmore Girls", "Frasier", "The Office" (UK), "Wonderfalls" and the final montage of "Northern Exposure".

Anonymous said...

deadwood ending. just kill me now milch

DonBoy said...

A couple of comedies that tried to do something more than comic in their final eps:

Roseanne, which used the final episode as an apology and explanation for the roundly derided final season;

Will and Grace, which used the fast-forward approach to great emotional effect, although it does put a surprisingly heterosexist spin on W&G's entire history, he said somewhat vaguely.

Andrew Dignan said...

Glad the Homicide finale is getting a few mentions. Sometimes I feel like show has plummeted in esteem since (the admittedly similar and superior) The Wire has come and gone. I actually have trouble re-watching the finale just because the cumulative effect is so overwhelming particularly the rapid fire montage which manages to refocus the entire series (which began as a true ensemble) as the tragedy of Bayliss' fall from grace.

Steve said...

1. The Sopranos- perfect ending. Journey will never sound the same again. I challenge anyone to make an attempt to parallel park more suspenseful.

2. The Wire- The greatest drama ever could not have ended in a more satisfying fashion. The bar scene was beautiful.

3. Freaks & Geeks- I was angry that it was the finale. But "Ripple" was a perfect song choice to end the show.

4. The O.C.- The final montage and scene hit all of the high notes.

5. Veronica Mars- There was nothing special about the finale, except that it was an entertaining episode. Kristen Bell was great and oh so charming in her final performance.

Special nod to Six Feet Under. I never watched the series, but I saw the final montage, and I can see why people rave about it.

Comedies

1. Seinfeld- I am in the minority but I thought it was perfect and the only possible way to end the show.

2. Newhart- ingenious

3. The Larry Sanders Show- perfect send off

4. The Office (UK)/Extras Specials- Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are already legends as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

Having just finished Sports Night on DVD I have to second (3rd? 4th?) that finale. Excellent.

Also seconding Family Ties & Spin City - the Family Ties one especially. Oh and the finale of Cheers - particularly the last couple of minutes.

For dramas I'd say the last few minutes of the West Wing w/ the Bartlett for America napkin, but overall I don't think it was a finale worthy of a show that caliber -at least not what it was for the first several seasons.

Marquis said...

mac13 said...

Buffy's deus ex machina ending kind of reflected the entire series' modus operandi, didn't it? Considering that, I was satisfied by it.


it's not the deus ex machina aspect of the ending that bothered me. (though I would disagree with concept that Buffy's mdus operandi had a lot of deus ex machina)

It's the fact that it violates the core theme of the series which female empowerement.

You have a dozens of empowered women and they couldn't do what one male could.

Do I think Joss did that on purpose? No. He needed a reason to get Spike on Angel.

That being said in order to satisfy a plot demand for another show, he weakened the theme of the main series. It was Bad Writing and sadly it highlights Joss Whedon's weakness as a writer. He works so hard to get a little thing right he'll ignore what it does to the bigger picture.

But that's getting waaaay off topic.

bill said...

I'm adding another vote for the Our Town montage to end "Northern Exposure." Just on those 4 minutes, it's the finest finale I've seen --
just a beautiful pairing of images and words. Youtube

The song is by Iris Dement, here's a live version.

And you know the sun's settin' fast,
And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts.
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye,
But hold on to your lover,
'Cause your heart's bound to die.
Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town.
Can't you see the sun's settin' down on our town, on our town,
Goodnight

Steve said...

The Wonder Years closed beautifully.

"Things never turn out exactly the way you planned. I know they didn't with me. Still, like my father used to say, 'Traffic's traffic, you go where life takes you' and growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers, the next you're gone, but the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a time a place, a particular fourth of July, the things that happened in that decade of war and change. I remember a house like a lot of houses, a yard like a lot of yards, on a street like a lot of other streets. I remember how hard it was growing up among people and places I loved. Most of all, I remember how hard it was to leave. And the thing is, after all these years I still look back in wonder. "

Maura said...

That quote from The Wonder Years still chokes me up.

I hated Six Feet Under. I'd seen enough episodes to decide that the show was too clever and self-conscious by at least half. But I loved the finale. That it was seen through Clare's eyes only made it better. She was one of the few characters I liked.

Also:
Angel. Seeing Spike finally being appreciated for his poetry just killed me. And the ambiguity of the ending was perfect.

St. Elsewhere. Not an FU to the audience, but definitely a big WTF from the audience.

Rome. The only better would have been to see those two wacky kids, Pullo and Vorenus, walk off together. Theirs was probably the most powerful friendship ever portrayed on television, rivaled only by Mulder and Scully (before the romance).

Jordan said...

I love the finale of Sports Night. I still get chills when Jeremy translates the latin because I know what's coming next.

I think the end of Arrested Development was great, but I just might be blurring that entire fantastic third season.

I'm glad so many people mentioned Homicide (I'm counting the movie as the finale). The scene at the end with Bayliss and Pembleton is as tragic as tv gets, and the final scene in the station is nothing short of tragic.

And yeah, the Avatar ending was awesome, but the whole show was written better than most "adult" tv.

LA said...

Six Feet Under, absolutely. It had the most satisfying and unforgettable finale I've ever seen. I still get chills when I hear the song Breathe.

I don't necessarily think you should include it, but Sex and the City had a great ending until the stupid movie fouled it up.

Off to read the other 95 comments now.

dez said...

OT, but this is driving me crazy:

It's "bawling one's eyes out," not "balling." One means profuse crying, and the other, screwing. I don't think y'all are screwing like babies over the end of a show :-D

LA said...

Oops, the song that gives me chills is Breathe Me which I mistakenly called Breathe. Sorry 'bout that.

EAP said...

It says dramas, but what the heck.

The best finale ever is by far ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. It was genius how the Bluths ended almost the same way it started 3 years before. All the references to previous episodes, not to mention to FOX and Skating With Celebrities.

SEX & THE CITY also had a wonderful finale.

2 shows by Greg Berlanti who ended too soon: JACK & BOBBY and EVERWOOD had amazing finales.

And I concur with everyone who said DAWSON'S CREEK, VERONICA MARS and FREAKS AND GEEKS, but I'm actually very surprised no one mentioned MY SO-CALLED LIFE.

Fernando said...

I'm young and only recently started watching a lot of tv series from beginning to end so...

The Wire, without question. Definitely on a cumulative series factor but it did have some great standalone moments within the ep (Opening scene w/ carcetti, Daniels' file coming into play, bubbles going up the stairs, i could go on).

I never saw the entire run of Quantum leap, but i do remember catching bits of the finale here and there and Sam helping Al's wife and the last caption (Sam never made it home) seemed pitch perfect from what i saw and knew about the show.

Im currently watching the sopranos and im pretty sure ill add that 2 the list, just cuz some many ppl hate it.

Arrested Development was good, just for Michael telling his son Maebe was still off limits tho she wasnt technically related but still family.

Extras and UK Office both were really good and very well done. Extras especially for deviating from the norm (Andy walks away from fame and doesnt date maggie)

Ill go out on a limb that BSG and Lost will both be in my top 5 whenever i get 2 them.

Masters of Humility said...

Agree with Alan's friend Phil about The Prisoner. Hard to imagine an American series going that balls-out batsh_t insane in an finale (although Twin Peaks comes close).

And, just to make the Trek nerds feel less nerdy, how about BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Yeah, the last season was not the best, but that ending, where the reality sinks in that Buffy doesn't have to be the slayer, and for the first time in her life, she can chose her own life rather than have it imposed on her, was great, great stuff.

--Andy
MastersofHumility.com

Dan said...

Six Feet Under had the greatest, most heart-wrenching, fully complete, cannot be more perfect ending. I can't imagine another series even coming close to it, ever.

Also in my list of favs:
Arrested Development (comedy, i know, but still. . .)
The Sopranos
The Wire
Quantum Leap
Rome

Series that ended too soon
Freaks and Geeks
Deadwood
Carnivale
Jack and Bobby
Tell Me You Love Me
John From Cincinatti

Series that I expect to have satisfying endings:
ER
Curb Your Enthusiasm
True Blood
LOST

Anna said...

I'm partial to "Party of Five". I cried like a baby when they sold the house. Five seasons is about all you can get from a drama (with out adding too many new characters)

Old school.. I'm going with "Little House on the Prarie" when they blew up the town (except the church) and sang Onward Christian Soldiers"

I also liked Homicide and Oz finales.

Elisa said...

Marquis, I have to disagree with you about the Buffy finale. It did a fantastic job tying up the series because it handled the *multiple* themes that ran through the entire series well and brought them to a satisfying conclusion.
1) Female empowerment - Without Buffy's plan, and Willow's magic, they would not have won against the First, regardless of the amulet and Spike's sacrifice. Yes, that CLOSED the Hellmouth, but that isn't what saved the world. It was them fighting the First. (And empowerment of women shouldn't mean subjugation of men, it means judging on the content of character and ability rather than gender. Empowerment of women means taking hold of who you are and not accepting that you're less because you're "missing" a piece of equipment.) Dawn being the beginning of the new group of Watchers. The girl at bat who was afraid and then realized she doesn't have to be because she can *do* it.
2) Redemption (Good and Evil) - this is something that Joss explores throughout his series (which is one of the reasons I love him!). Spike, the ultimate bad (behind Angelus), changed to become the savior of the world. He *chose* to get a soul, to overcome his mistake, to be good. He was redeemed. And that theme - what defines good or evil - is one Joss explores over and over again.
3) It happened because of the Scoobies. What made Buffy different and more successful than any other slayer was her support system. And it was that support system that helped her defeat the First. Without them, she would have been dead back in season one.
4) And one of the central themes of the whole series, if not the biggest one - "I want to be normal! I don't want to be the slayer!" Throughout the series, Buffy rebelled against her traditional role because it wasn't one she chose. (How about that for female empowerment? Being able to choose your destiny rather than living the one forced on you because of your gender? And isn't the ultimate in female empowerment being able to *choose* how you want to live your life, even if that choice is valuing shopping? And wearing high heels to jump tall buildings in a single bound as they collapse into the Hellmouth?) She *hated* the costs of this destiny and what it did to her life, her dreams, her plans. "Anne" showed her running away from it after she couldn't deal. And the very last scene of the last episode, the moment I *still* cry over every time I think about it all these years later, is the fact that she gets to be what she's always wanted, just a normal girl. That smile on her face, where she doesn't have to tell anyone what to do anymore, where the fate of the world is not on her shoulders... One of the best endings ever.

Also, the ending to Angel was pretty awesome, too. "I kinda wanna slay the dragon. Let's go to work." It doesn't top my list because the series whipping boy, Wesley, died. Yes, he got to be with Fred, but as soon as I heard one of the characters wasn't going to make it, I *knew* it would be him, because everything horrible happened to him.