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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Top Ten Greatest TV Series Finales (so far)

Well, this is it. In a little less than thirteen hours from now Lost will have aired its series finale "The End" and this most iconic television shows of the past decade will belong to the ages.

I had originally thought of doing a "Top 23 Lost Episodes" feature on this blog, but everyone and his brother is probably doing that today already anyway. So instead, how about we take a look at what many consider to be the best and most unforgettable final chapters of some classic television series. Will Lost's stack up to these? We shall soon see...

10. The Mary Tyler Moore Show: "The Last Show"

One of the funniest television comedies ever went out solid, on-top and just plain hilarious right up to the final moments! This is how to end a sit-com, people! And hey in retrospect, having Betty White in it made it all the better! The "group hug" where everyone embraces and reaches for the tissues en masse has become one of the most beloved (and parodied) scenes in television history. Such a testament to a show that took its bow in 1977.

9. Star Trek: The Next Generation: "All Good Things..."

Some die-hard Trekkies are prolly gonna jump flunky all over me with "...but Deep Space Nine's finale was much better!" I can see where that can be argued but let's face it: "All Good Things..." broke the ground for how a Star Trek series should wind down (barring the inevitable movies 'course). Not just an excellent episode in its own right, but brilliant as a "bookend" piece to the pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint" seven years earlier. But personally, my favorite part of "All Good Things..." was the very last scene: Captain Picard finally taking a seat at the poker table with his colleagues. If there had been nothing further done with The Next Generation cast of characters, that would have been the perfect note to have closed their story out with.

8. Cheers: "One For The Road"

"Sorry, we're closed." Sam Malone straightens up a few things around the place - hearkening back to his appearance in the very first episode - and then a quiet shot of the bar at night. That's all that was needed for this, one of the most exquisitely executed finales ever for a television series. By the way, to date I've never seen an episode of Frasier and it's partly because of "One For The Road": this is how I most wanted to remember Cheers and its characters. With everyone happy and Sam realizing that he is indeed "the luckiest son-of-a-bitch on Earth".

7. Six Feet Under: "Everyone's Waiting"

Many have called this the finest series finale... ever! I don't know about that since in my mind it borrowed too much from the series finale of Blake's 7. But if you're gonna kill off EVERYONE among your cast of characters, Six Feet Under did it with dignity rather than forcing viewers to watch them get violently dispatched one by one.

6. The Sopranos: "Made in America"

"Don't stop..." Hard cut to black. The ensuing bewilderment was so thick it could have been cut with a knife. Three years later and loyal fans of The Sopranos still debate what happened to paterfamilias Tony Soprano in those final moments. Ultimately, it is simply... what it is. And I think that with the passage of time many others will agree that this was not only one of the best finales ever, but the spot-on perfect way to end The Sopranos' run.

5. The Prisoner: "Fall Out"

And then there are some television series that the passage of time does nothing to lessen the confusion and controversy! Witness "Fall Out", the last episode of The Prisoner. Look, I don't know of how else to put it than this: anyone claiming to completely understand "Fall Out" is either a genius savant, or outright lying. The only person in history who ever did "get" The Prisoner and its bewildering final chapter was series creator and star Patrick McGoohan... and he passed away last year. So strange was "Fall Out" that broadcasting network ITV's phone system crashed within a few hours of it ending and McGoohan had to go into hiding for several weeks because people kept coming to the door of his house demanding answers (Lost producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof should take note!). More than forty years later, The Prisoner fans are still trying to suss it all out.

4. The Fugitive: "The Judgement"

"Tuesday, August 29: The day the running stopped." Dr. Richard Kimble had been an innocent man on the lamb for 120 episodes across four seasons, trying to stay one step ahead of Lt. Philip Gerard while also trying to track down the one-armed man who was the real murderer of Kimble's wife. Until the "Who Done It" episode of Dallas this had been the most-watched episode of television in American history. Couldn't have ended better than this: Dr. Kimble a man exonerated, leaving the courthouse... and shaking hands with Lt. Gerard before starting out to begin a new life.

3. M*A*S*H: "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen"

The one television episode that almost destroyed the entire New York City sewer system! With 77% of the country's TV sets tuned in to the last episode of M*A*S*H after an eleven-year run, so many people waited until the show was over to use the bathroom: all those toilets flushing at the same time wrecked havoc with Manhattan's water pressure. Curiously, for an episode of M*A*S*H that was two and a half hours long (as opposed to its regular half-hour format) this is probably the least funny episode of the entire eleven seasons. Looking back, it was like Alan Alda wanted to ramp up the "war is hell, dammit!" for the last episode even as the ink was drying on the armistice in Kaesong. But even so, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" remains a most fitting capstone to a sitcom about war and dying that lasted nine years longer than the actual Korean conflict.

2. Babylon 5: "Sleeping in Light"

You know that this series finale stands out from the rest when even the credits rolling at the end are enough to break your heart (thanks in no small part to composer Christopher Franke's epic score). Creator J. Michael Straczynski fought tooth and nail for five years to bring Babylon 5 to this: the final moments of the series, set twenty years after the story proper. And when it came time to turn out the lights on that last best hope all alone in the night, who better than Straczynski himself (playing the technician, and just look at that mixture of relief and sorrow on his face) to hit the switch? This is just about the most PERFECT episode of television in the history of anything. There hasn't been a show like it or since... and I really don't know if anyone else will come close to pulling off what Straczynski and his crew did with Babylon 5.

And the #1 Greatest TV Series Finale (so far) as listed by The Knight Shift's eclectic proprietor is...

1. Newhart: "The Last Newhart"

Awright look, I gotta get this off my chest: I am absolutely positive that I read somewhere back when this show was running that the name of the town in Vermont where Newhart took place was "Johnnycake Lake". I read that in a television listing magazine that came with the local paper, but to this date I haven't seen that name given anywhere and in fact most authorities say that the town's name was never given. Maybe it's called "Newhart": which sorta has a Vermont-ish/New England sound to it. But anyhoo, even before this episode aired twenty years ago this week in 1990, it was arousing no small amount of crazy interest. Most of it had to do with the rumor that Bob Newhart's character, the longsuffering Dick Loudon, was going to get killed off! The tidbit about him getting hit in the head with a golf ball had even leaked out well in advance. What happened? Well when Dick really did get conked on the noggin by the errant ball and began slumping down in slow-mo, many viewers immediately turned their TVs off, numbstruck with horror! But those who kept watching were treated to one of the most clever and funniest wraps to a television show ever: Newhart's character Dr. Robert Hartley from The Bob Newhart Show waking up bed in his Chicago apartment and telling his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) about "the dream I just had!" The idea to have the final scene take place on the bedroom set of The Bob Newhart Show had been that of Newhart's wife. And the episode is also memorable for featuring the only occurrence during Newhart's eight-season run in which Larry's brothers Darryl and Darryl actually spoke ("Quiet!") I hope and pray that more Newhart season DVDs will be coming out: 'twill be worth it just for the buildup to "The Last Newhart".

And those are the ten greatest and most memorable finales to various television series, up 'til now, per my rough reckonin'.

Might Lost join the ranks as one of the most renowned? We'll find out tonight. But no matter what, these ten and others that I could also mention (including St. Elsewhere and The Cosby Show) will definitely stand the test of time.


Todd W said...

I've got things I need to get done before the Lost finale tonight, but with it in front of me, I couldn't resist... I had to watch the Babylon 5 video you posted.

Babylon 5.


James S. Hodges said...

Oh Chris! You should definitely watch the Frasier episodes. Especially when you get beyond the first season or two. The finale of that was quite emotional and one that left you thinking at the 'twist' in the very last minute.

qemuel said...

Good entry, broheim! Our mutual love of B5

Let’s see, what do I have to offer up…not sure if you ever watched it or not, but the Ricky Gervais show EXTRAS had one of the most emotionally draining and wonderful series finales I have ever seen. Also, ending of THE SHIELD could not possibly have played out better, complete with perfect exit music. The final episode of ANGEL was pretty amazing as well (especially considering how much the show floundered through its middle seasons before recovering during the final), containing maybe my favorite closing line to a series ever. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT came together quite nicely at the end (a triumph, considering the complexity of the storylines), and I remember being blown away by the MILLENNIUM finale. I’m sure there are others…

bmovies said...

Not many series had "finales". Many got canceled without having an official finale. So the pickings of official series fianles are quite slim. I kind of think that these finales are a bit overrated. Not bad, just overrated.

sonsoftaurus said...

I'd second that Frasier is definitely worth watching. Great writing, very enjoyable watching how they tie seemingly unrelated threads together into massive wackiness.