The Five Best TV Series Finales

I know that the title of this blog post sounds sort of imposingly authoritative, but really — this is just my opinion. And since God knows I’m not a professional TV-watcher, there’s any number of wonderful TV shows I’ve never seen. But these five series finales are the best. Definitely. In my opinion. :)

It seems almost axiomatic that a truly kick-ass series finale caps off a truly kick-ass series. And, yeah, I think you’d have to dig up a lot of old TV graves in order to find a pathetic series that somehow managed to wind up a fastball for its last gasp. The opposite, though, isn’t always true: Sometimes truly awesome series limp to the finish line. So judging a finale is, to me, sort of difficult. On the one hand, a finale ideally sums up and puts a capstone on the entire series, so you would think taking the series itself into consideration makes sense. But does that make it possible for the quality and nostalgia of a great series to elevate an otherwise undeserving finale?

Probably.

So my criterion became quite simple: If a finale totally gobsmacked me, it went on the list.

Be warned — there will most likely be spoilers for the shows discussed. If you see a show you haven’t watched in bold letters…avert your eyes!

Here we go:

Honorable Mention: Lost — Believe me, as a Lost-head since I watched the entire first season over an insane three-day marathon, it pains me to say that Lost is not in the Top Five. But the series finale — while wrenching and satisfying on an emotional level — just didn’t live up to its intellectual promise. Lots of heart and very little brain means no Top Five love for Lost.

#5: Quantum Leap — “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home…” When those words came up on the screen, I was flabbergasted, shocked in the best possible way. The final episode of a series that had listed and careened from powerful drama to hokey comedy and everything in between managed to pull off a finale that it’s safe to say no one saw coming. Wondering who was responsible for Sam bouncing through time? Wondering what his “real” mission was? Wondering how he could get home? All of that was revealed and yet, in the end, none of it mattered, as the show pivoted into a meditation on self-sacrifice and heroism and friendship. Simultaneously dark and uplifting, downbeat and hopeful — damn, it was awesome.

(I almost listed the similar Journeyman instead, which lasted a single uneven season, but managed — in its final episode — to transcend its freshman jitters and land a powerhouse blow in its last moments. But I felt likeQuantum Leap deserved it by dint of its longevity. Consider Journeyman a very close #6.)

#4: Homicide: Life on the Streets — The finale to Homicide was so damn good that when the Homicide TV movie was announced (to “tie up loose ends from the series”), I was livid. “There are no loose ends!” I raged. But you know what? The movie was great, too. Still, I consider that separate from the show. Which means thatHomicide is unique in this list as having two phenomenal “final episodes.” That image of Lewis and Sheppard walking an alleyway, looking for clues, as Lewis repeats the first lines from the first episode — “That’s what’s wrong with this job. Ain’t got nothin’ to do with life.” — sticks with you. It’s a perfect circle to end a perfect show.

#3: The Nine — Odds are most of you have never even heard of this show. It was an ABC drama slated to run in the hour after Lost, but it only lasted 13 episodes. The premise was brief and brilliant: Strangers go to the bank, get taken hostage. Jump forward 52 hours later, and the crisis is over…but the drama is just beginning. The nine survivors of the crisis now have to deal with the repercussions of their time as hostages. Each episode revealed a tiny bit of what happened “in there,” but that wasn’t really the point of the show. It was, instead, a tremendously adult drama about the ramifications of one’s actions and the ways in which life pushes us to change. Brilliantly acted, incredibly well-written, there was no way in hell it could last on network television…and it didn’t. The last few episodes were never even shown on TV — they had to be watched online. However, the creators of the show somehow — somehow — managed to pull off the impossible: With the final episode, they pulled together enough plot and character threads that the show felt complete in just 13 hours, as though they had always intended it to run just that long. The Nine was a great show, but the series finale was a work of magic.

#2: Angel
 — I think what I liked most about this was that in the days before it aired, producer/co-creator/co-writer Joss Whedon gave an interview to debunk Internet rumors that the show would end on a cliffhanger. “Would I do that to you?” he asked. And then, of course, the show ended on a big, brilliant, beautiful cliffhanger, one so huge and audacious that you just had to slow-clap Whedon for giving us not what we wanted, but rather something we would never, ever forget.

#1: Twin Peaks — When I watched the last episode of Angel, I thought that maybe I’d finally found the show that could dethrone Twin Peaks from its top spot on my personal list of best finales ever. But I recently watched both of them in close temporal proximity and the David Lynch/Mark Frost surreality-fest still wins out. I can’t even find the words to describe how it first felt, back in 1990, to witness Coop babbling, “How’s Annie?” as the show closed, leaving me stunned and absolutely sure that I had just seen a most confident –and earned — display of genius. Yes, the show stumbled (badly) after the revelation Laura Palmer’s murderer, but in its last couple of episodes, it showed its original brilliance once more, building to a truly astonishing finale. More than twenty years later, it’s still haunting and mind-blowing, in a way I know the Angel finale — as terrific as it is — won’t be.

So, tell me: What’s your favorite series finale?

(To see the comment thread from the old barrylyga.com, click here. If you want to add to the conversation, use the comment form below.)

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