Top Ten: TV Series Finales
In recognition of the phenomenal Lost finale the other night, I thought I would take a look at some of my other favorite TV series’ finales that made their exit in memorable fashion. I’m refraining from adding Lost to this list at this time to be fair, and last night I thoroughly enjoyed the series finale of Law & Order after 20 seasons on the air, sure to be a shoe in for similar lists in the future. I enjoy the concept of Top Ten lists, so I might from time to time drop more here on my blog. (A Spoiler Alert applies to all of these!)
Still the most watched finale of all time, I rank this one at #10 simply because it is such an easy and obvious choice. Although M.A.S.H. was before my time, I have enjoyed almost every episode of the series through reruns and I can agree that the cultural impact of the show is undeniable. After 11 years of humorous and emotional commentary on the nature of war, M.A.S.H. bid its farewell to characters that were like family. Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) and company had anticipated the end of the war for so long, it was almost unthinkable that it would ever come, and although their time in Korea had worn heavy on their spirits, saying goodbye to each other was the most challenging battle to fight of all. I don’t think another TV show will ever end in such an iconic and memorable manner.
This was a quirky, funny little show. After his wife left him, Ed Stevens (Tom Cavanaugh) moved from New York City to his hometown of Stuckeyville, Ohio, to run the local bowling alley. The show centered on his pursuit of his high school crush Carol Vessey (Julie Bowen), now a teacher. The charm of the show was mostly derived from the eccentric small town folks, from Ed’s childhood best friend and his wife to the odd bowling alley manager. The final season saw Ed & Carol finally embarking on a relationship and it built up to their wedding in the finale. It was a touching wrap up to their journey.
8. Quantum Leap
An enjoyable time-travel sci-fi romp from the start, Dr. Sam Beckett’s (Scott Bakula) journey ended premature as the show was cancelled. The writers were able to wrap things up in a satisfying yet ambiguous manner, leaving many of the show’s central questions unanswered and raising new questions, yet the ending felt natural. After years of jumping into people’s bodies in the past and using his best friend Al’s (Dean Stockwell) records of history to change their lives for the better, Sam finally jumps back into his own body and confronts the man who might be responsible for guiding his travels all along. It really left you wanting more, but it was a rewarding conclusion to a classic show.
Another show canceled before they could properly plan for the end, this was one of my absolute favorites during my middle school and high school years. Gary Hobson (Kyle Chandler) was such a likable every-man hero, noble and self-sacrificing. Upon getting tomorrow’s newspaper today, he reacted out of a compulsion to prevent tragedies and save lives rather than use it to his own gain. Although two more episodes followed the “finale”, they were of the typical episodic flair that didn’t truly befit the conclusion of such a fantastic show. Instead, the episode that was billed as the finale by CBS was a great addition to the mythology of the show as Gary learned more about his connection to the previous recipient of the future-predicting newspaper, and eventually saw Gary choose a new successor to someday take over. It brought things full circle for a show that ended before its time.
NewsRadio was such a funny show with a lovable cast of eccentric characters. The finale brought the perfect amount of sardonic humor as billionaire radio station owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root) prepared to sell the station and retire to New Hampshire. In a move that felt natural because of the close-knit family these oddballs had formed, Jimmy is intent on recruiting everyone to move to New Hampshire with him. Only level-headed news director Dave Nelson (Dave Foley), the voice of reason amongst the typical insanity surrounding him, refused to give into Jimmy’s overtures. His sole consolation in the face of this mass abandonment was the prospect of being rid of office pest Matthew Brock (Andy Dick). As everyone departed and bid Dave goodbye, he walks into his office, finally rid of all the chaos of his coworkers. As he sits down in his chair he is confronted by the hilarious reveal of Matthew hiding underneath his desk, refusing to abandon his “best friend”. The weary, exasperated expression of regret on Dave’s face sums up the series best for the laughs it had brought us over the years.
This was another one of my favorites from my youth that still brings me a chuckle. We watched Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong), & Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel) grow up from elementary school through college, always under the watchful eye of the wise Mr. Feeny (William Daniels). The finale saw Cory & Topanga contemplating a move to New York City for Topanga’s job, a move Cory struggles with. Shawn, his brother Jack (Matthew Lawrence), and Cory’s brother Eric (Will Friedle) decide to make the move as well. The end sees all of them visiting Mr. Feeny’s classroom one final time to seek his sage advice. He sends them off with his blessing and these final words: “Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good.” Eric tells Mr. Feeny to admit that he love them all, but Feeny refuses. After they leave though, he says aloud to the empty classroom “”I love you all. Class dismissed.” It’s a touching scene that demonstrated the heart of this teacher-student relationship that was really so much deeper.
4. The O.C.
Angsty teen drama that it was, The O.C. started out as something more profound, examining in depth the subjects of what makes a family and the sociological influences, both positive and negative that can impact the growth and development of teenagers. Or perhaps I’m just reading that all into it. Regardless, the emotional hook of the show from the beginning was a rich family adopting in a troubled teen from the wrong side of the tracks and giving him a chance to realize his potential. Of course, he found that there whether you are rich or poor, all people deal with the same issues of looking for fulfillment and dealing with temptations to make destructive choices. The heart of the show was the loving bond that develops between the Cohen family and Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), and the deep friendship Ryan has with Seth (Adam Brody). The finale capitalized on all of the relational dynamics with a rather cliché montage advancing ahead in the lives of these characters to future weddings, graduations, and other milestones that still manages to be emotional resonant. The final scene of Ryan as an architect leaving a job worksite and encountering a teen not unlike himself all those years back and offering help brings the story full circle in a striking way as Ryan reaches out like the Cohen’s did for him.
Although I never got into most of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I did enjoy much of its spinoff, Angel, with its detective story elements. It definitely had its ups and downs, but the final season was by far the peak of its creative prowess. As the season ended, Angel (David Boreanaz) and his crew made plans to make one final stand against the forces of evil they had been fighting throughout the show’s run. There are some great story beats as you see how each character chooses to spend what will most likely be the final day of their lives, and emotional tugs with the death of a major character. The final scenes of the surviving members of Angel Investigations regrouping in an alley set things up perfectly as they turn to face an overwhelming army charging them and they go down fighting the good fight.
The greatest sitcom of all time had one of the best finales as well. As our favorite friends Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Kramer (Michael Richards) find themselves on trial for breaking the “Good Samaritan” law in a small New England town, an array of character witnesses come to air their grievances against our foursome in a hilarious recap that brought in almost every single supporting character from throughout the show’s ten year span. It did a great job of reminding us of what made this show so funny all along. Again, the show comes around full circle as they are found guilty and sentenced to a year in prison and they make a call-back to one of the first “observation” jokes that they became known for from the very first episode.
Seinfeld may unofficially be the king of sitcoms, but if ever there was a contender to dethrone it, that show was Arrested Development. Full of zany, clever characterization and a complex web of humor that built upon itself, this sitcom about the financial, legal, and relational woes of the Bluth family was ahead of its time. Although tragically cancelled after only three seasons, the positive side of that is the show never had the chance to decline and went out at the top of its game. The finale brought things around full circle for the show, paralleling the pilot episode in many ways and capping things off in typical AD style for Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) and his eccentric family.