There are TV shows that touch us. There are TV shows that move us. Some are shows that inform who we are as people.
The problem is, they end. Some end well. Some end in a way that we think “My god, that is correct. That is right. That is how that should have ended.” I’m doing two lists. This second one (well after when I promised it, I know) is those shows. These are the ones that left us crying in happiness, or grinning, or just… satisfied. In no particular order, here are my favorite series finales.
The Best TV Show Finales
I know, I know. This was also on my list of worst finales as an honorable mention. That’s only because it was so divisive, and honestly because a lot of people just didn’t get it. They gave us all the answers we needed, if not all the ones we wanted. I didn’t need to know what happened with Jacob and the MIB, I didn’t need to know what happened to the Hanso Foundation. And if you don’t know where the polar bears came from, you weren’t paying attention. The sideways purgatory world was after everyone had lived out their lives and died normally, but they were together because in the words of Christian Sheppard, “This is a place that you… that you all made together so that you could find one another. The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people on that island. That’s why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone, Jack. You needed all of them, and they needed you.” And for me? That was satisfying.
The cylons are defeated, those of the Final Five that we loved best stay on with the remains of the fleet as they finally find a habitable home world (later revealed to be our own modern Earth, 150,000 years in the past), Starbuck vanishes after fulfilling her destiny as an “Angel”, and the mysteriously born hybrid of human and cylon, Hera Agathon, is later revealed to be “Mitochondrial Eve”, essentially the progenitor of modern humans. Inner Caprica Six and Inner Baltar wander off through Manhattan, theorizing, as we realize that Jimmi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” must have been some kind of long dormant genetic memory. I don’t care what you say, I loved it.
No other show on TV was as emotionally honest (and weepy) as Parenthood. Based off the idea of a Steve Martin movie, and given amazing life and style by Jason Katims, the show was just a brutally honest look at a relatively close-knit family. In the finale, the patriarch, Zeke (Craig T Nelson) dies, but not before giving permission for one of his daughters to be married at a ceremony photographed by their autistic grandson Max, who has found a way to exist in adulthood. The rejoined couple of Joel and Julia adopt a second child, the sister of their other adopted child. Adam and Christina trade roles running a school for kids on the autism spectrum. Mae Whitman (the best cryer on television, bar none) has a place to raise her baby, and a new beau to help. It was emotionally satisfying, as well as letting you know that these people will continue to struggle and support each other forever. It ends on a baseball game dedicated to their recently departed dad, Coach (erm, I mean Zeke).
For ten years we spent Thursday nights watching NBC (seems weird now, huh?) and following our favorite group of NYC misfits in unreasonably affordable apartments. After all the relationship drama (Ross and Rachel, an icky Joey and Rachel, Chandler and Monica, Joey and Chandler, etc) we’re down to the sitcom holy grail of the late 90’s/mid’00s. Will Ross and Rachel end up together? Of friggin course they will, and if you doubted it, you don’t know how TV works very well. It’s got unexpected twins for Monica and Chandler, a classic “chase-to-the-airport-to-reveal-true-feelings”, a ridiculous Chandler and Joey side story, and an emotionally satisfying empty apartment final scene. It’s everything we could have hoped for (which is why Joey should never have been made.)
Shawn ends up leaving his consulting role at the Santa Barbara PD (where, speaking as a resident of that county, there were way more murders than expected) in order to be with who he should have been with this whole time. No, not Gus, Jules. He follows her up to her new job in San Francisco, where maybe they need a psychic detective? He leaves, in true Shawn Spencer fashion, video messages for everyone he’s leaving behind, in order to minimize his personal emotional distress. Shawn even goes so far as to try and reveal to Lassiter that he’s not really psychic, but Lassie breaks the dvd in half before getting the full message. Shawn and Jules get engaged, but not before a thief runs off with the ring, and we fade to black as our heroes chase him off into the distance. It’s not over. No really, there’s a movie coming out soon.
Six Feet Under
This was a show that dealt with death, constantly. Set in a mortuary, every episode started with someone dying, and then the main characters dealing with not only their own lives, but that of the person they were embalming/burying. With such dark subject matter, such complex relationships developed over time, it was so emotionally satisfying that they ended it the way they did. After Nate dying, he starts appearing to the various relatives and bringing them to ease with his fatal stroke. As Claire leaves for New York, we see flash forwards of the ways that all of the characters eventually die. Some prematurely (Keith defending his own company) some of old age (Ruth, the mother, David of a heart attack, Brenda of natural causes, and finally Claire at age 102.) If you watched that show and didn’t cry for the last five minutes, you are a monster. Arguably the best series finale of all time.
Honorable mention, but not on my list of best finales (Firefly/Serenity)
There was no way this could be counted as a best finale, because it wasn’t one. Fox canceled the show, unfairly, after only 13 episodes. That said, it remains a nerd/geek staple, and some of Whedon’s finest work. Space Cowboys. The Steve Miller Band would have been proud. Following Chaotic Good archetype Malcolm Reynolds (portrayed by Nathan Fillion at his snarky finest) and his crew of interplanetary misfit/criminals, Fox slotted the show badly, and poorly advertised it. However, it also drew such a massive underground fan base that it warranted a movie for closure. Serenity gave us a lot of the backstory the show never got to, a reason for the reapers, and demonstrated without really explaining just what exactly was up with weirdo River Tam (with Summer Glau doing some of the best ballet/brutal close quarters fighting ever). It wasn’t a finale, and it didn’t give us everything, but damn was it good.