Top 10 TV series finales
“Breaking Bad’’ creator Vince Gilligan talked to The Hollywood Reporter about how he felt while writing the final scenes from the series finale. “I haven’t told my crew this. I actually cried writing the end – ‘The end’ on the last episode,’’ he said in the interview. “I haven’t since then.’’ We can sympathize as the tentative fates of Walt, Skyler, and Jesse left fans in various stages of cardiac arrest leading up to the end. Whether Walt lived or died, viewers were forced to say goodbye to one of the most gratifying series of all time. To celebrate, we put together 10 of the best series finales that have hit that pitch-perfect note, leaving us somber yet satisfied.
10. ‘30 Rock’ (2013)
“30 Rock’’ was always better when it focused on Liz Lemon’s neurotic work environment and the writing room that produced comic gold, like “The Fart Doctor’’ and “The Star Jones Gastric-Bypass Cooking Show.’’ That’s why it came with great relief that in the series finale, “Hogcock!,’’ Liz switched roles with her working husband Criss and returned to NBC to produce one final episode of “TGS.’’ Jenna slipped in a final Mickey Rourke joke and a teary goodbye to “The Rural Juror’’; Lutz took revenge on Frank and Toofer with a brilliant Blimpie’s gag; Jack escaped the shackles of Cabletown; Pete almost pulled off a fake suicide; and Jack and Liz finally admitted to loving each other (although in a completely platonic way).
9. ‘Sopranos’ (2007)
When “The Sopranos’’ cut to black, viewers were infuriated. So much has been made of the ending in Holsten’s and the ambiguity swirling around Tony. Who was the man in the Members Only jacket? What was the significance of Meadow’s parallel parking troubles? The answer might have been right there in front of us. After a messy and prolonged turf war with the Lupertazzi family, Silvio lies comatose, Bobby is dead, and Uncle Junior has been permanently damaged from Alzheimer’s disease. We also know that Carlo Gervasi is working with the FBI and he’s soon to testify against Tony. The patriarch of the Soprano family is understandably jumpy and paranoid as his reign is threatening to crumble — just not in a dramatic hail of gunfire.
8. ‘Freaks and Geeks’ (2000)
Creator Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow were hesitantly optimistic regarding the prospects of the short-lived “Freaks and Geeks,’’ penciling in storylines for a season 2 that never happened. Martin Starr’s Bill was going to become a jock, Busy Philipps’s Kim was going to do a school play while pregnant, and Linda Cardellini’s Lindsay would be injured at a Grateful Dead show. Maybe we should be happy that it ended the way it did, with Daniel (James Franco) embracing his inner nerd in the the A.V. Club, Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel) abandoning his friends for love and disco, and Lindsay completely shedding the straight-A Mathlete for a free-spirited summer chasing the Dead.
7. ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’
Every late-night trope, from the opening monologue to the animal acts, to a guest list made up primarily of entertainers, was modeled after Johnny Carson’s 30-year tenure as host of “The Tonight Show.’’ Carson was leery of sentimentality in his final season, but his penultimate show, featuring Bette Midler’s performance of “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),’’ has become the stuff of legend. The final episode might have been a version of the dreaded retrospective, but Carson’s teary farewell, shot in front of his friends and family was unforgettable. Just Johnny, a stool, and a heartfelt goodbye was enough to cement this as one of television’s finest moments.
6. ‘Friday Night Lights’ (2011)
“Friday Night Lights’’ was never a show about football, a fact hammered home in the series finale, “Always.’’ The Texas state championship and a dramatic hoist by quarterback Vince Howard are abandoned mid-air to look at Coach Taylor’s new life eight months in the future. Eric and Tami have moved to Philadelphia, uprooted from Dillon so she can finally pursue her own dreams in academia. But they’re not the only ones who are forced to let go of Dillon’s charms: Julie and Matt Saracen get engaged in front of the Alamo Freeze, Landry is bound for Rice University, and Tyra is headed into politics and parts unknown. The only one left behind is hirsute bad boy Tim Riggins. When it’s finally revealed that East Dillon has indeed taken the championship, it hardly seems relevant. “Texas Forever!’’
5. ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ (1977)
“Cheers’’co-creator James Burrows called the series finale for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,’’ the “best last show’’ he’d ever seen and Time magazine claimed the sitcom “liberated TV for adults — of both sexes.’’ There would never have been a Liz Lemon or “Seinfeld’’ without the groundbreaking work of comedy legends James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. When the new station manager of WJM-TV decides to shake up the six o’clock news staff, he surprises everyone when he fires Lou, Mary, Murray, and Sue Ann; only retaining blowhard Ted Baxter. The Ed Asner “I cherish you people’’ speech, the group hug, and the slapsticky crab walk toward the exit was vintage Mary Tyler Moore, bringing both poignancy and plenty of laughs.
4. ‘M.A.S.H’ (1983)
The two and a half hour finale of “M.A.S.H’’ is the highest-rated television series finale in Nielsen Media Research history. Channels weren’t nearly plentiful in 1983 as they are today, but it’s hard to argue with the enormity of that success. More than 60 percent of all American households tuned in to see “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen’’ as Capt. Hawkeye Pierce suffers a nervous breakdown in the exhausted final days of the Korean War. The traumatic chicken scene is now famous enough to have been parodied by “30 Rock’’ and Hunnicut’s farewell, spelled out in stones, is still considered a perfect ending to one of TV’s most beloved shows.
3. ‘The Wire’ (2008)
David Simon is nothing if not a pragmatist, so it should have come as no surprise that cheerier tomorrows weren’t the crux of “30,’’ the bittersweet finale for his grand Baltimore epic. Sure, Carcetti has been elected governor and Bubbles is momentarily clean, but as Simon weaves his way through the streets, shipyards, and projects of his adopted hometown, it’s obvious that nothing much has changed. Chris and Wee-Bey are deliberating in a prison yard, Slim Charles is dealing with the Greeks, and Dukie is shooting up in a dirty alleyway. Call it cynical, but Simon, the former journalist, was always more interested in holding up a mirror than spinning a rosy yarn.
2. ‘Cheers’ (1993)
A fundamental component of any successful finale is the carousel of endearing characters dispatched to remind viewers of better times and fictional futures that lay ahead. Diane Chambers was perhaps the most grieved over loss in the history of pop culture when she became a casualty of Shelley Long’s contract dispute with NBC. “Cheers’’ endured for six more seasons despite Long’s absence, but it was a fitting conclusion to bring her back in “One for the Road’’ as Sam Malone contemplates leaving behind his Boston bar. Of course, his first love proves to be the quirky night spot, and he returns to shut off the lights in one of the most dramatic final images to ever play out on television.
1. ‘Six Feet Under’ (2005)
Along with “The Sopranos,’’ Alan Ball’s “Six Feet Under’’ made HBO the juggernaut that it is today. The story of the flawed Fisher family helped redefine conventional television, demanding more from its audience, while hacking away at the brittle beams that sustained blah network programming. Still shaken after the death of her brother Nate, Claire accepts a job in New York at a stock photographers office. On her figurative “road of life’’ out of town, we’re whisked into future milestones in the main characters’ subsequent lives. The montage, set to Sia Furler’s “Breathe Me,’’ is the most lachrymose six minutes ever, eventually ending with Claire’s own death in the year 2085.
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