The Best And Worst TV Series Finales Of All Time — Ranked
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TV writers have a tough enough job keeping demanding audiences interested in an increasingly competitive landscape, and creating a great series finale is perhaps the most difficult task of all. It’s not easy to close out a TV show that’s meant so many different things to so many people.
The problem is, they can’t please everyone. Some people want all the loose ends to be tied up, while others want something more creative. And then there are those who want both.
Some shows will go down in history for having great final episodes, while others will be remembered for a disappointing conclusion. As viewers, all TV watchers have their own opinions — but here’s what we think.
The ending of “Charmed” after eight seasons in 2006 didn’t fit with the rest of the show. In “Forever Charmed,” the Halliwell sisters got their perfect relationships and lived happily ever after, making viewers question the consistent rebellion against fairy-tale ideals that came before.
Perhaps “Charmed” should have ended after season seven — a planned-for possibility, since The WB was on the fence about renewing the series one more time — when the trio left their witch lives behind and went undercover with new identities.
The 1998 final episode of NBC’s “Seinfeld” (aptly called “The Finale”) divided opinion, which in itself is enough to put it firmly in the “worst” list. A sitcom with such iconic status deserves better than a love/hate sendoff.
The reviews were scathing: USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco called the episode a “slow, smug exercise in self-congratulation” and even Jerry Seinfeld himself admitted that he “sometimes” regrets the finale.
“I sometimes think we really shouldn’t have even done it,” he said in Us Magazine. “There was a lot of pressure on us at that time to do one big last show, but big is always bad in comedy.”
In this case, “big” was sending Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer to jail for laughing as a fat delivery man was carjacked.
“Lost” was known — and loved — for its mysteries, but there were simply too many of them to be solved in the final episode. This left many viewers frustrated by the broad-brush attempt at closure, leaving far too many questions unanswered. For example, what was the power of the magic numbers? Another letdown was the way all the characters got a happy ending in the afterlife.
“It’s hard to escape the feeling that it’s not quite an ending that matches our jumping-off point six years ago,” wrote The Guardian critic Richard Vine following the 2010 finale on ABC.
9. ‘Brothers & Sisters’
A victim of circumstance, ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” might not appear on this list had it not been abruptly canceled in 2011 after five seasons. What turned out to be the final episode did give closure to several storylines, but viewers were still left with a sense of unfinished business. Talking to TVLine, executive producer David Marshall Grant confirmed that “big drama” would have been provided if the sixth season had gone ahead, which would have been more fitting for a show that was all about the drama.
“Latching,” the 2017 finale of Lena Dunham’s six-season HBO show “Girls,” didn’t go down well with everyone. Not because it wasn’t a good episode, but because it wasn’t a great one. The storyline of Hannah’s pregnancy felt rushed, there was too little screen time for the other characters and it was too much of a stretch to accept that Hannah is now mature.
Co-showrunner Jenni Konner told The Hollywood Reporter that the final episode’s storyline was “the spinoff that will never be,” while Dunham called it “our own, special, deranged ‘Kate & Allie.'”
7. ‘House Of Cards’
The 2018 finale of Netflix’s “House of Cards” would have been a lot different if the President himself, Kevin Spacey, hadn’t left the show under a cloud of scandal. That’s not to say his predecessor (and wife) Claire isn’t a strong enough character to see it through to a satisfactory conclusion. She is — but for some reason, the last episode failed to deliver justice to its long list of victims or expose Frank Underwood for who he really was. Vulture called the ending “abrupt and preposterous.” Aka, simply not good enough.
6. ‘Gossip Girl’
Even for the viewers who hadn’t figured out who Gossip Girl is, the popular The CW show’s finale “New York, I Love You XOXO” was little more than a box to be checked. The remaining loose ends were tied up, but it delivered nothing extra. The show as a whole lacked depth and morals, and the finale was the same.
5. ‘Private Practice’
“Private Practice” is another example of a show whose fate was decided by the network (ABC), not the creators. Accordingly, 2013’s “In Which We Say Goodbye” felt like something of a rush job. Yes, all the main characters got their happy endings, but there wasn’t enough Addison or Amelia, we didn’t get to see Charlotte and Cooper resolve their issues, and where were all the children?
There’s nothing worse than investing in a TV show only for it to turn around way down the line and tell you it counted for nothing. That’s exactly how “Roseanne” viewers felt when 1997’s final episode (of the original show on ABC, not the spinoff) revealed that Dan had actually died after his heart attack at Darlene’s wedding, meaning the entire ninth season didn’t happen.
Instead, the character of Roseanne (not Roseanne Barr, the actress who played her) had been portraying a make-believe version of her life — which included winning big on the lottery, modeling for Playboy and appearing on “The Jerry Springer Show.” It was her way of coping with her husband’s death, but it wasn’t what viewers wanted.
3. ‘Two And A Half Men’
CBS’ “Two and a Half Men” went out with a whimper, rather than a bang. In the fourth wall-breaking finale, the character Charlie (not actor Charlie Sheen, who played him — he’d left a few seasons prior) is killed by a piano falling from the sky. The camera then pans out to see director Chuck Lorre in a director’s chair saying Sheen’s real-world catchphrase, “Winning,” before he too is hit by a falling piano. The show’s last episode in 2015 confirmed what many people thought: it should have ended long before it got to season 12.
“The end result was a big, fat pile of nothing,” wrote IGN.
Anything can happen on TV but giving “Dexter”‘s serial killer a happy-ever-after ending rubbed fans and critics the wrong way in 2013. Even Michael C. Hall, who played the lead character on the Showtime series, suggested that he was disappointed with the final scenes, in which Dexter gives his sister Debra a burial at sea and ends up becoming a lumberjack. The show’s producers defended the final season, telling Entertainment Weekly, “It seemed like the ending that was most justified.”
1. ‘How I Met Your Mother’
“The ‘How I Met Your Mother’ finale bailed on the entire show,” wrote Vulture in 2014, and millions of fans were inclined to agree. Of all the ways the story of how Ted met the mother of his future children could have wound up, nobody wanted it to involve killing off the mom and seeing Ted reunite with Robin (one of the worst romantic pairings of TV history). Then there’s the level of effort it had taken the audience to invest in the exhausting Robin/Barney relationship.
“You might even call it a slap in the face,” said Vulture of the CBS misfire.
12. ‘The West Wing’
Fans of NBC’s “The West Wing” didn’t have to worry about loose ends. The Bartlet Administration came to a neat, dignified end in 2006, handing the reins to the newly elected president Matt Santos.
But there was still plenty of emotion, largely due to several references to the character of Leo McGarry, played by John Spencer (the actor had died suddenly of a heart attack five months earlier), and also an overwhelming sense of hope.
“What are you thinking about?” Abbey Bartlet asks her husband as they fly back home to New Hampshire.
“Tomorrow,” he replies.
11. ‘Mad Men’
On the face of it, the 2015 finale of AMC’s “Mad Men” made fan service a priority: Joan offers Peggy a partnership in her new production company, Betty’s tragic fate is sealed with her cancer diagnosis, Peggy and Stan finally get together and tortured soul Don achieves spiritual growth.
But this is “Mad Men,” so it’s not that simple. While the other characters’ loose ends may be tied up, we’re left mulling over Draper’s fate. Has he really found peace at a meditation center in California, or has he just come up with the concept for one of the most famous ad campaigns of all time, Coca-Cola’s “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” from 1971?
The twist is the perfect ending for those who simply aren’t convinced Draper can change.
10. ‘Parks and Recreation’
The 2015 finale of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” jumps ahead to 2017 and sees the former P&R employees get together one last time to repair a broken swing. This seemingly simple premise allows a heartfelt swan song that’s as funny as anything else from the series’ seven seasons. The show continues to jump into the future — and while we don’t find out for sure that Leslie finally becomes president (she does, however, befriend Joe Biden and serve two terms as the governer of Indiana), the presence of the two mysterious, suited men who tell Leslie and Ben it’s time to go suggests she fulfills her White House destiny.
It was a “perfectly pitched finale,” according to The Guardian.
The final 2015 episode of “Parenthood”‘s six-season run on NBC, titled “May God Bless and Keep You Always” (the first lyric of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” which is the show’s theme song) manages to be both uplifting and devastating. Many tissues are needed to watch the Braverman clan come together to grant patriarch Zeek’s wish: scatter his ashes over center field of Marine Park then play a game of baseball over him. The fact that the show’s pilot ended with the family racing to get Max to a baseball game on time provides a beautiful sense of symmetry.
8. ‘Sex and the City’
The sixth and final season of HBO’s “Sex and the City” in 2004 could only ever end in one way: with Carrie back in Big’s arms. Not a single viewer was rooting for her to go to Paris with the tortured genius Aleksandr, but she had to do it to figure out that her heart belonged somewhere — and to someone — else: the guy who had been there, in one way or another, all along.
“An American Girl in Paris (Parts Une and Deux)” is full of moments that are almost painful to watch, like when Carrie is abandoned by Aleksandr in the art gallery. But other moments show the beauty and strength in female friendship, like when Big consults Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha before even setting foot on a plane to France to “go get their girl.”
7. ‘The Americans’
The final season of “The Americans” on FX won multiple awards (including a Golden Globe for Best Television Series — Drama and three Critics’ Choice Television Awards) in 2018, and it saved the best episode for last.
6. ‘Breaking Bad’
“Felina,” the series finale of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” that aired on Sept. 29, 2013, was described as “near-perfect” and “one of the most fulfilling and well-made farewells ever” by Rolling Stone. Fans agreed that it was right that the final episode belonged to Walter White, marking the end of what was, ultimately, his story.
Seth Amitin at IGN also praised the episode, calling it a “victory lap” and awarding it a score of 9.8 out of 10. “Felina”’s success didn’t end there: the popularity of the episode resulted in a 2,981% increase in sales of the Badfinger song “Baby Blue.”
After 10 years, “Friends” fans finally said goodbye to Monica, Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe on May 6, 2004. The finale, which was actually a two-part episode on NBC (called “The Last One” or “The One Where They Say Goodbye”), became the most-watched TV episode in the U.S. in the ’00s.
Fans — and most critics — were happy that Ross and Rachel ended up together, Monica and Chandler had their babies, and Phoebe and Joey were still, well, Phoebe and Joey. It won’t rank as one of the show’s best episodes, but it provided the closure diehard fans were hoping for.
“I like things you can count on,” says Cliff in “One for the Road,” the final (three-part) episode of the long-running NBC sitcom “Cheers” — and that could be said for the show itself.
Consistently endearing and funny, its audience stayed loyal throughout 11 seasons, and 93.5 million people watched the finale on May 20, 1993. One of the highlights was the return of Shelley Long as Diane; she and Sam were Ross and Rachel before Ross and Rachel were even a thing.
“It was one of those things where the audience really wanted to see these two people together,” the show’s co-executive producer Rob Long told Variety. “Not necessarily get together at the end, but they just wanted to see them together one more time on TV.”
“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” the TV movie that served as the 256th and final episode of CBS’s “M*A*S*H,” aired on Feb. 28, 1983, to a staggering 105.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched series finale ever. The very last shot of “Goodbye” written in stones remains one of the most iconic moments in TV history.
“It encompassed what everyone loved about ‘M*A*S*H,’” wrote Jason Schwartz on Geeks. “It had some very funny moments but also had one of the saddest moments in the show’s history.”
2. ‘The Sopranos’
Since June 10, 2007, when the final episode of HBO’s “The Sopranos” aired, people have been debating whether the last episode was a fitting end to the award-winning show. The case for “Made in America” being one of the best TV finales of all time is strong: The mob war was wrapped up and the final scene was the ambiguously perfect mafia hit in a diner, set to a soundtrack of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
The Ringer summed it up, calling the episode “the most influential series-ender in TV history.”
1. ‘Six Feet Under’
The final episode of HBO’s “Six Feet Under” on August 21, 2005, after five seasons was goodbye in more ways than one: It flash-forwards to the deaths of every main cast member in a perfectly heartfelt and captivating way, providing a life-affirming ending that the audience loved. Fans no doubt think of this finale every time they hear Sia’s “Breathe Me,” which played during the final minutes of the episode.
“People say they love it, that it was incredibly moving, that they watched it over and over,” the show’s creator Alan Ball told Vulture.