The 8 Ball: Top 8 Worst Series Finales
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 09.02.2014
From The Sopranos and How I Met Your Mother to Seinfeld, Dexter and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 worst series finales of all-time!
Top 8 Worst Series Finales
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
The last year has been a bad one for series finales. We had one very good one in the Breaking Bad finale, but by and large the year has proved that showrunners are losing grasp on their ability to effectively end a series. The last hurrah of a beloved series is always a tricky thing to pull off; you need to be able to satisfy a lot of fans and with many different opinions out there, it's impossible to please everyone. But there is a difference between leaving some people unsatisfied and leaving everyone in a frothing fury, and it seems showrunners are heading more toward the latter. This week we're going to celebrate those laughably bad finishes by looking at the worst series finales of all-time.
Caveat: It's pretty self-explanatory here; if it was the final episode of a series, it was eligible. I gave preference on the list to shows that knew they were ending as opposed to ones that were canceled after the fact, but one did make it in that was not necessarily intended to be the last episode just because it was so bad. And as an important note: you will note that Lost is not in here despite many thinking it was the worst of all-time. I get people's problems with it, but I was mostly satisfied with the Lost ending and while it wasn't one of the great closers, it wasn't bad enough in my opinion to make the list.
Important Note: There are spoilers for series that ended within the last year. You've been warned.
Just Missing The Cut
• Dinosaurs (1994)
• Little House on the Prairie (1984)
• Roseanne (1997)
• Quantum Leap (1993)
• The X-Files (2002)
#8: True Blood (2014)
The newest is first on the list, and while that wasn't an intentional choice it's as good a place to start as any. True Blood's series finale came a week ago this past Sunday and instantly fans were comparing it unfavorably to some of the most terrible series enders of all-time. Obviously it doesn't make the top of my list but it is absolutely an example of how premium cable shows don't seem to know how to end a TV series. Over the course of seven seasons, True Blood seemed to pride itself on being the craziest, campiest and most over-the-top TV show on the air. Alan Ball's adaptation of Charlene Harris' novels loved going as far out there as possible. We went from vampires to maenad orgies to werewolves to werepathners, took a detour into fairy town and then came back for Lilith the vampire goddess before Bill became the vampire messiah and then lost it. And that's just the major plots; we're not even getting into the Ifrit, the shapechangers and the like. And all of that was fine, because it's what viewers wanted (well, maybe not the werepanthers). So what did they do for the finale? They gave us a vampire-to-human wedding that was as conventional as it gets, killed Bill Compton in the most drawn-out death scene since The Matrix Revolutions and then flashed ahead to a happily ever after around a giant picnic table at Sookie's. It was all so dull and by the numbers that it seemed to betray the very essence of the show. Only the brief teases of Eric, Pam and Sarah gave us any sort of the kinds of fun the show could be at its best. Everything else was incredibly dull and seemed like the ending to a sitcom or a Nicholas Sparks novel, not a campy and gorily-fun supernatural horror-dramedy.
#7: ALF (1990)
ALF is an early example of what the major networks thought they were able to do with science fiction and gain a good audience. In their mind the answer was simple: turn it into a children-friendly sitcom. And that's fair to a degree; it worked for Doctor Who for years, after all. ALF, about an alien who crash lands in the suburban Tanner family's garage, ran for four years and was a lot of fun (if distinctly dated these days). But the finale prompted a lot of controversy, and for good reason. Show creator Paul Fusco had a lot of conflicts with NBC over the content, always wanting to push the envelope but never really getting the chance. When the final episode came around, they didn't know that the show was about to be canceled but really, this was the wrong way to go anyway. The season (and ultimately, the series) ends with ALF nearly making contact with two newly-discovered survivors, only to get captured by ominous-looking government men. The Melmacian ship flies away and ALF is in the hands of the military--which, as most kids already knew from E.T., never have good plans when aliens are involved. This was not intended to be the series finale but even as a season closer it was a bad idea. The fact that NBC was done with the series means the idea wasn't shot down and the end result was that we needed a terrible ABC TV movie to resolve things.
#6: Dexter (2013)
Dexter is possibly the most hated series finale of the '10s, and for good reason. Like many, I was a huge fan of Showtime's serial killer series (itself based on Jeff Lindsay's novels); I felt that Michael C. Hall did a fantastic job of portraying this ultimate TV antihero. While the show peaked around season four, it still had a lot of creative juice through the last few seasons and many felt season seven was a return to form of sorts. Thus when season eight was announced as the last, it seemed like a good idea. But that entire last season was a bust and I stopped watching--the first time I've given up on a show that far into its run. After the finale aired I went back and watched just to see if it was as bad as people said, and it was. Most of the last season didn't feel like a last season; it just felt like a show that had creatively run out of gas and needed to rehash old plot points. But the final episode--that was abominable. Dexter's sister Debra dies, which is a cop-out considering all the complications it conveniently cleared up but that's fine. Then Dexter takes Deb's body into his boat and heads out in a hurricane...then becomes a lumberjack in Oregon. A show which had played the moral ambiguity line for eight years refused to make a choice and were scared of the idea that fans couldn't figure out whether they wanted Dex to get away with everything or not. The end result was not making a choice and for a show that seemed so fearless during its run, it really was the ultimate betrayal.
Also? I have to mention again that Dexter became, of all things, a lumberjack. Because it really deserves multiple mentions for being an emblem of how bad and tangential the whole finale was.
#5: The Prisoner (1968)
The Prisoner set the bar for bad series finales early in the TV game. This cult series starred Patrick McGoohan--who also created the show--as an ex-secret agent who was kidnapped and held prisoner in a mysterious village on the coast as his captors try to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job. The agent is referred to as Number Six and is regularly trying to figure out whose side everyone is on, escape and undermine the village's operation. The show ran for only one seventeen-episode season, and it's probably best that this was the case because expanding this out would have made the ending even more aggravating. In the finale, Number Six encounters the leader of the Village, Number One, after having regained his own identity. Six pulls Number One's mask off, finding a gorilla mask underneath. He then removes that to find his own face staring back at him. Some action occurs after and then Number Six, with two other escapees, make it back to London. When people complain about the Lost finale, I get it because of it seems like a complete diversion but at least there was a certain sense of logic to it. The Prisoner's finale was so infuriating that McGoohan had to go into hiding for a while, and while I would never condone anything that makes someone have to hide, I can at least understand being that outraged over the ending.
#4: How I Met Your Mother (2014)
As much as people hated the True Blood and Dexter finales, How I Met Your Mother has to take the cake for the worst series finale of the past year. And the reason is simple: no other show teased something for so long only to make it utterly and completely irrelevant in the finale. The CBS show ran for nine years, with Josh Radnor's Ted Mosby telling his kids in long, long detail how he met their mother. The show was legitimately funny for years and then began to seriously taper off as they began to run out of story around the middle of the seventh season. By season nine it was clearly time to end the show, and they did. But when the ended it, it was clear it should have ended much, much sooner. There was a rumor going on throughout the final season that the mother--introduced in the season eight finale as played by the wonderful Cristin Milioti--would die, and I was okay with that. The important thing wasn't the mother so much as the journey that got them there. But then in the finale we learn that she died essentially, from a writing standpoint, so that Ted could get together with Robin. In order to do that they had to split up Robin and Barney in a contrived way and then kill the mother, effectively making her the victim of the slowest fridging of all-time. (For those not familiar with the concept of "fridging," it is killing someone solely as a plot device to facilitate a particular course of action.) It didn't help that the Robin/Ted relationship was already irritating to fans considering they kept going back to it throughout the show's run. Killing the mother: that was fine. Treating her like an afterthought? Nope.
#3: The Sopranos (2007)
This is one that's gonna get some people telling me I'm wrong, and that's okay. The Sopranos series finale is definitely a polarizing one; for everyone who hates it there's someone who says that it's brilliant. It has certainly become famous (or infamous) and the final episode has caused many people to go into very in-depth explanations of why it's so brilliant. And I'm okay with what happened in the episode; it's how it happened that made it fail. In the final episode, Tony Soprano and his family gather together at Holsten's diner. Tony comes in and sits down, followed by Carmela and A.J. while Meadow is unsuccessfully trying to parallel park for an inordinate amount of time. With a potential hitman moving toward their table, Meadow finally gets to the door and then--
Yeah. And then nothing. There was darkness for ten seconds before the credits rolled, prompting people across the country to suspect their cable had gone out. Ambiguity is just fine; we don't need every answer and David Chase's attempt to put some mystery into the characters' ultimate fates was okay. But the ten seconds of pure blackness and silence was basically trolling the audience. Execution is everything and the execution here (or perhaps the lack thereof--we'll never know) resulted in one of the worst ways to end a series that has ever occurred.
#2: Seinfeld (1998)
The biggest crime of Seinfeld's series finale was that it was lazy. While I personally wasn't quite the fan that others were of the Jerry Seinfeld-starring sitcom, it definitely had its moments and it is considered to be one of the most beloved sitcoms of all-time for a reason. After nine seasons, the show had carried fans along on a lot of fun rides and whether you liked it or hated it, you had to appreciate its following. An astounding 76 million people tuned into the last episode and found themselves watching what was essentially an hour-long clip show, the kind of thing that you would expect as filler to pad out a season as opposed to a way to finish off a revered comedy's run. The issue was conflated by the fact that NBC aired an hour-long clip show ahead of the finale that made the actual episode somewhat superfluous. That wasn't the only problem though; the final episode was condescending and mean-spirited in how it took all those beloved moments and basically said "if you thought this was funny, you should feel bad" via the trial framework that piled on Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and George for essentially doing the same thing. A series finale can often be a bellwether for how the show will be perceived in the years after its conclusion and Seinfeld is an example of how a show suffered because of how bad its finale was.
#1: St. Elsewhere (1988)
There isn't a question in my mind here. Say what you will about all the other finales on this list; none of them completely undid every single event that took place within the series. St. Elsewhere did exactly that. The beloved show wasn't the biggest ratings hit but people rightly loved it and it made legit stars out of Denzel Washington, Helen Hunt, Ed Begley Jr. and others. But the final episode undid all the show's goodwill when it was revealed that it was all just the delusions of a young autistic child staring into a snow globe. What's more, the episode felt the need to condescend to its viewers by spelling it out in case they didn't understand it. St. Elsewhere's finale is so infamous that it has even been referenced in other series finales as an in-joke, most recently in the 30 Rock finale where Kenneth is holding a snow globe. "It was all a dream" became the standard for poor cop-outs and it destroyed any sense of meaning the show had. That's more than enough to label it as the worst series finale of all-time.
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.