Not every show can go out on a good note. Sure, some shows like Breaking Bad come up with a conclusion that feels right and true to most fans. But usually, when a show has been on the air for a while, finding a tidy way to wrap things up can be a chore.
Even if it’s been planned out since the beginning, as was the case with the series finale of How I Met Your Mother, it’s hard to make people who have invested time in the characters feel like they’ve said goodbye in a satisfying way. While the fury swells over the HIMYM’s controversial ending, it’s helpful to distract ourselves with other epic finale fails Ted and his stupid blue French horn are up against.
It’s like the start of a joke… Tony Soprano walks into a diner.
That’s how David Chase sets up the finale of his landmark HBO series. The Mafia boss made famous by the late James Gandolfini rifles through a jukebox at his table and picks out Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” His wife Carmela (Edie Falco) joins him, soon followed by his son A.J. (Robert Iler). The diner is full. A guy in a hat sits at a nearby booth and may have eyed Tony when he was alone. Another guy in a Members Only jacket enters right before A.J. and seems kind of twitchy. Another pair of guys lingers near the counter. Tony’s daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) is late because she can’t parallel park. The jacket guy walks past the Soprano’s table and goes into the bathroom. Meadow, finally out of the car, walks towards the door of the diner. She reaches out to open it, the bell rings above the door and… nothing. Cut to a black screen.
Millions of Americans reached for their remote, sure that their TV sets had just completely screwed them over and were poised to call their cable company… when suddenly the credits started to roll. The shock that the series ended with a cut to black set fans howling and looking for answers. Did we go black because a bullet just went through Tony’s head? Did the bell mean something? Were the potential threats in the diner just a part of Tony’s normal paranoia? What the heck does any of it mean? Chase has steadfastly refused to provide much in the way of explanation, leaving a large section of the fan base furious over the ambiguity.
The show about nothing decided to make the end about something. That’s a problem. With Larry David back to write the final episode of the show that he created with his friend Jerry Seinfeld, the group is about to have some good fortune. The show-within-a-show created by Jerry and George (Jason Alexander) finds new life and the duo, along with Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Kramer (Michael Richards), are jetting off to Paris to celebrate in a private jet courtesy of NBC. But, some mechanical issues ground them and while they wait, they stand around making jokey comments about a car-jacking that they’re witnessing. Next thing you know, we’re in a court room with every ancillary character in the history of the show, each with his or her own story of how horrible Jerry and his friends are. The foursome is led to a single jail cell after being convicted under a Good Samaritan law and, essentially, starts having a conversation the same as they would at Monk’s or Jerry’s apartment.
As the credits role, Jerry, dressed in prison orange, performs a stand-up routine for the other inmates. The finale was bloated, lazy, and worst of all, not funny… with jokes falling flat left and right. Apparently most of the humor was supposed to come from the audience seeing the Soup Nazi or Newman one last time. For a show that had delivered consistent laughs throughout its entire run, not remaining true to the style of humor that had made it a cultural phenomenon was the ultimate sin.
The critically acclaimed ’80s medical drama had a very loyal fan base that kept it on the air. It’s hard to remember but the Boston-based show was the career launching pad for a number of actors, Denzel Washington and Mark Harmon chief amongst them, and was a major influence on later hospital series like ER and Grey’s Anatomy. In the finale, a bearded Howie Mandel leaves after finishing his residency and David Morse’s soulful Dr. Morrison collects his young son to depart as well. As the show’s moral center Dr. Westphal (Ed Flanders) returns to his office, his autistic son (Chad Allen) stares out the window at the falling snow.
Cut to: Westphal now dressed as a construction worker entering an apartment where his son is on the floor staring at a snow globe. What’s inside the globe? A replica of St. Eligius Hospital, or St. Elsewhere, as it’s more commonly called. So, the whole show was just something that played out in the mind of an autistic boy? Is that it? Really? The whole “it was all fake” ending worked exactly once with the brilliant final reveal on Newhart, but that’s it.
The closet serial killer played by Michael C. Hall is getting out of the game. With his girlfriend Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) and son Harrison (Evan and Luke Kruntchev) in tow, he’s going to skip out to Argentina and lead a more peaceful life… then a criminal shoots Dex’s sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter). Even though she seems fine, she suddenly lapses into a coma after a massive stroke. Dexter kind of matter-of-factly kills Saxon while he’s in police custody, sends Hannah and Harrison off to Buenos Aires, and then takes Deb off life support. He steals her body and dumps it into the sea, before faking his own death. Except when we see Hannah and Harrison way down south, Dexter isn’t with them and Hannah is reading a news story about his presumed watery demise.
We hear Dexter in a voice-over explaining how hard it is to be him. So, where is he? Well, why don’t we let every fan of the Showtime hit take over from here: “A lumberjack?! He’s a f**king lumberjack?! What do you mean he’s a f**king lumberjack?!” Before that final scream-inducing reveal — seriously, how many TV sets were broken when remotes went sailing into them immediately after the shot of bearded Dexter? — the episode was pretty lifeless, moving from point A to B to C in a paint-by-numbers kind of way.
Just like with Seinfeld, the ending to Roseanne Barr’s long-running sitcom felt like a cheat. Really it was a case where the show probably should’ve ended a couple of seasons before it actually did. The final season was an unmitigated disaster as the Connors won the lottery and the entire premise of the show changed, becoming a distorted rumination on the meaning of life. In the final episode, we see the cast of the show gathered around the kitchen table eating, laughing, and joking. Then a voice-over from Rosanne tells us that what we’ve been watching was a figment of her imagination. She’s changed things from real life as she’s written, including having Dan survive the heart attack that actually killed him two years prior. Worse, she calls into question what parts of the show going back before the heart attack were real (what do you mean David is really Becky’s boyfriend?). Considering that the show became a ratings juggernaut with its funny portrayal of the real issues that face lower-middle class Americans, being told that it was just the main character’s alternate reality was a slap in the face. And, while it’s fine for a finale to be packed with emotion — plenty of fans cried at the end of M*A*S*H and The Mary Tyler Moore Show — the final shot of Roseanne sitting alone on her couch was unnecessarily depressing.