The Five Most Disappointing TV Series Finales

OK, so recently I rambled about the Five Best TV Series Finales. Consequently, I am bound by ancient Internet law and rite to devote equal time to…The Five Most Disappointing TV Series Finales!

Please note: “Disappointing” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad!” It just means that the finale in question didn’t meet the demands and/or expectations of the series that preceded it. Whereas the very best finales leave you fist-pumping or — even better — speechless/Keanu-ing (“Whoa…”), a disappointing finale leaves you shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Really? That’s it?”

I think I’m about to make some enemies. Yikes! When I say something below that spikes your blood pressure, take a deep breath and remember that it’s just my opinion. And then beat the hell out of me in the comments. 😉

Here goes…

(As before, spoilers may follow! You’ve been warned!)

Honorable mention once again goes to Lost. Oh, Lost. So much potential. With just a little more foresight and a tiny bit of planning, your finale could have been brilliant and tugged on my heartstrings. Instead, it nearly brought me to tears, but never got my brain out of first gear.

#5: Friends — Oh, this may be a controversial choice, as Friends is almost universally regarded as having concluded well. And I don’t mean to imply that the series finale was bad. By almost any definition that matters it was, in fact, quite good. But I do remember feeling a sense of “Was that all there is?” when it was over. And when I recently happened to catch the finale in syndication, I found myself anticipating something significant…but it never seemed to come. The end of the show was sweet, gentle, funny…but it didn’t feel like the end of the show, even with the abandonment of Gramma Geller’s apartment. It just felt like Another Day with the Friends: Ross and Rachel are back together (again), Monica and Chandler are hilariously in over their heads (again), and Joey and Phoebe are sort off in their own worlds (again). In some ways, it’s daring to make a series finale “just another day” and I get it — just because the show ends doesn’t mean that the fictional universe ends. But there are ways to conclude a narrative, leave us with a sense of ongoing life, and still satisfy our need for closure. Friends, in my estimation, hit two out of three. And it was a well-produced-enough show that I expected the trifecta.

#4: Seinfeld — I’m not even going to get into this one because it was excoriated so much at the time, and I think it’s pretty much commonly agreed to have sucked. It’s low in the list because (and this may seem hypocritical) I find the conclusion of a sitcom’s looser narrative structure less fundamental than that of a drama. Sitcoms — even those with tentative continuity, such as Seinfeld or even Friends — don’t have to finish as strongly as a drama. So even though Seinfeld’s conclusion was, frankly, awful, it just didn’t disappoint me as much as some of the others on this list.

#3: M*A*S*H — Halfway through the list, which makes sense, since this show ended up being half-comedy and half-drama. And, yeah, I know: the finale was one of the most-watched episodes of television ever. But guess what? There was nothing else to watch! You didn’t have five hundred cable channels (hell, you didn’t have fifty!) when M*A*S*H took its final bow, so that number doesn’t impress me. And believe me, it’s tough to put this show on this list because I generally loved M*A*S*H. Inventive, risk-taking, funny, serious, political… This is a show that stumbled almost as much as it ran, but when it ran — look out! Some fine, fine actors in great roles, with top-notch writing (for the most part). But that finale… Damn. Way too long, for one thing, and it rambled, as though desperate to fill all two-and-a-half hours, with BJ leaving, then coming back seemingly for no good reason, Hawkeye’s mental issues tortuously explicated, then tossed aside as if someone realized they had to wrap up the show… It was a decent enough farewell, I suppose, but it dragged and felt too self-important in all the wrong ways.

#2: Buffy the Vampire Slayer — I expect to be harangued — and viciously — for this one, but I have to stick to my guns. The Buffy finale was just so-so. If the season leading up to it had been stronger and more consistent, it might have fared better, but as it was, by the time we hit the finale, the audience was bored, a bit confused (by bad internal logic), and desperate for some last minute magic to save the day. Well, Willow conjured up that magic, but even her witchery couldn’t lead us to ignore the sudden ability of Slayers and mere mortals like Xander to stand up to Ubervamps with ease. And even blowing up Sunnydale couldn’t compensate for the anti-climax of Buffy facing off against the First Evil and doing…what? Snarking at her? Yeah, yeah, I get it — Buffy was always about subverting expectations, but it was a road too far here. Angel, a show about the perpetual quest for atonement, ends with its hero standing up to evil despite impossible odds. Buffy, a show about growing up, ends with… I dunno. What message does the destruction of Sunnydale impart about growing up? That once you grow up you can never go home? An arguable point to begin with, and one that isn’t bolstered by literally sucking one’s hometown into the bowels of hell. Not a bad finale at all, but just lacking.

#1: Millennium — Sometimes, a higher climb just means more room to fall. Millennium’s second season finale was audacious and brilliant, a work of true television genius. It was up there with the series finale of Twin Peaks. And then, to everyone’s surprise (including the showrunners’), Fox renewed the show for a third season! Suddenly, the producers were forced to scramble to write their way out of a season finale that had been a perfect, crushing, downbeat ending to the show. The result was a lackluster third season that near-invisibly retconned all the power out of the second season finale and then limped to an inevitable (and weak) series conclusion. To add insult to injury, the Millennium story was then continued and definitively concluded in a terrible episode of The X-Files. Frank Black deserved so much better.

Now it’s your turn: What series finales disappointed you?

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