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October 6, 2015

10 Best. Series. Finales. Ever.

by Kim Potts, posted May 9th 2011 6:00AM
'Stargate Universe' (Mon., May 9, 9PM ET on Syfy) and 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' (Thurs., May 26, 10:30PM, Showtime) air their series finales this month, but it's the end of 'Smallville' -- which flies off into the TV sunset after 10 seasons (Fri., May 13, 8PM ET on The CW) -- that got us thinking about the memorable ways some of our other shows have bid TV land adieu.

'Smallville' finale

Our top 10 series finales list includes a couple of polarizing picks (you either loved or hated that Journey-blarin', onion-ring-noshing ending for a certain family of New Joisey-ans), a couple we're pretty sure you'll agree are gems and a number one pick that we'd argue is the most clever, most unexpected TV series finale ever.

WARNING: In case you're still catching up with some of these shows on DVD ... there be spoilers ahead.

10. 'The Wire'
Episode: '-30-'
Finale date: March 9, 2008
The big finish: Carcetti became governor, fabulist Templeton won a Pulitzer, Michael continued on his path of crime, promising student Dukie spiraled into a life of drugs and recovering addict Bubbles remained clean and was invited to dinner with his family. But the best moments of the finale came during the wake mock for soon-to-be former Baltimore detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), one of the most complicated, hilarious, devoted and sometimes corrupt cop characters in TV history, from one of the most complicated, compelling and sadly underappreciated dramas in TV history.

9. 'Seinfeld'
Episode: 'The Finale'
Finale date: May 14, 1998
The big finish: Sure, we know, it's a polarizing episode, and some fans thought it was an ending unworthy of such a classic show. But we say it was a perfectly appropriate way to go out, as the "show about nothing" saw the four famous friends head off to the hoosegow precisely because they did nothing. Failure to do anything while they witnessed a man being robbed got Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer slapped with jail time after being convicted of criminal indifference, but it also provided the perfect opportunity to bring back a sea of the show's famous guest characters, from the Soup Nazi to nutty David Puddy and every Babu, Low Talker and Poppy in between. Not to mention the judge: Arthur Vandelay.

8. 'Arrested Development'
Episode: 'Development Arrested'
Finale date: Feb. 10, 2006
The big finish: 'AD' devotees are still bummed the show lasted just three seasons, but at least we got a proper series finale and the show ended on a high note. Bluth family martyr Michael (Jason Bateman) finally decided to put himself and his son, George Michael (Michael Cera). ahead of his greedy, self-obsessed relatives, so he scooted off to Cabo and left his fam to deal with their self-created messes. In Cabo, Michael awoke to find his father had followed him. And, in one of the show's best meta moments, underage studio exec Maeby, Michael's niece, pitched a story about her family to a big Hollywood producer: Ron Howard, an 'AD' producer and the man behind the show's voiceovers, who cheekily tells her the Bluths would inspire a better movie than TV show. PS -- We're still waiting on that movie, Opie.

7. 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'
Episode: 'The Last Show'
Finale date: March 19, 1977
The big finish: When new owners took over WJM and wanted to boost the station's ratings, they fired everyone competent -- including Mary (Mary Tyler Moore), Mr. Grant (Ed Asner), Murray (Gavin MacLeod) and Sue Ann (Betty White) -- and kept on Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), one of the main reasons the evening news was so low-rated. Most of the staff took the news in stride -- Mr. Grant flew in Mary's old pals Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) to cheer her up -- but in what has become one of the most memorable scenes in TV land, the pals all bid each other farewell in the newsroom with a teary group hug that included a group shuffle to the tissue box.

6. 'Cheers'
Episode: 'One for the Road'
Finale date: May 20, 1993
The big finish: The 'Cheers' finale showed us once and for all whether or not sitcom super-couple Sam and Diane belonged together; they did not. Sam, as pal Norm pointed out, would only be at home with his one true love, the place where everybody knows your name.

5. 'M*A*S*H'
Episode: 'Goodbye, Farewell and Amen'
Finale date: Feb. 28, 1983
The big finish: The only thing more shocking than Klinger's decision to remain in Korea after the war? The real reason behind Hawkeye's (Alan Alda) meltdown in the iconic show's series finale, one of the most-watched TV episodes ever. As the clip below shows, Alda (who earned an Emmy nomination for directing the series finale) turned Hawkeye's usual flipness into a full-on breakdown as his psychiatrist forced him to remember the crushing death of an infant, a death he blamed on himself. Fortunately, the episode ended on a lighter, yet still emotionally powerful, note, with Hawkeye discovering the special "Goodbye" his BFF Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell) had left for him ... spelled out in rocks.

4. 'The Shield'
Episode: 'Family Meeting'
Finale date: Nov. 25, 2008
The big finish: Oh, Shane. Mr. Vendrell and his family's demise is still so shocking and heartbreaking that it's made better only by the fact that Shane's portrayer, the incredible Walton Goggins, is now making his case for an Emmy on another great FX drama, 'Justified.' The Vendrell family was but a sample of those whose lives were ruined by the wily, completely corrupt Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), who, in the end, was on the receiving end of the most satisfying bit of karma in TV history: a desk job.

3. 'The Fugitive'
Episode: 'The Judgment'
Finale date: Aug. 29, 1967
The big finish: For four seasons, Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) had been on the lam, trying to clear his own name in the murder of his wife by tracking down the real culprit, the One-Armed Man. Every episode of the series was a gem, full of action and suspense, and it all paid off in the series ender, as Kimble finally cornered OAM at an amusement park, cleared his good name and reputation and even shook hands with Philip Gerard, the lawman who had been hot on Kimble's trail throughout the show.

2. 'The Sopranos'
Episode: 'Made in America'
Finale date: June 10, 2007
The big finish: Sure, everyone was yelling at their TV screens when it aired, and it was only with a bit of perspective that we came to appreciate the brilliance of this ending: Even when half of his friends had been whacked and he was potentially facing some serious jail time, life went on for Tony Soprano. Or, maybe it was about how he never saw the end of his life coming. Again, that's the brilliance of the hotly-debated, ambiguous ending, which series creator David Chase has only commented on vaguely in the years since the finale aired. We're choosing to believe Tony survived, though this incredibly comprehensive counter-argument could sway us to the other side.

P.S.: We've been to Holsten's and have sampled those onion rings ... killer.

1. 'Newhart'
Episode: 'The Last Newhart'
Finale date: May 21, 1990
The big finish: It was all a dream! But not in that Bobby Ewing–in-the-shower kinda way (actually, a lot like that, except hilarious ... intentionally so), as Chicago psychiatrist Bob Hartley -- the character Bob Newhart played in his other classic sitcom, 'The Bob Newhart Show' -- woke up in bed with his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), meaning the entire series of 'Newhart,' in which the titular star played Vermont innkeeper/do-it-yourself book author Dick Loudon, was all a dream. Yes, even Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl.

Did your favorites make the list? Are you ready to duke it out in the comments if not?

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FOr any Seinfeld nerds out there like me, below is the exchange between George and Jerry at the very beginning of the show's pilot:

JERRY: Seems to me, that button is in the worst possible spot. [talking about George's shirt] The second button literally makes or breaks the shirt, look at it: it's too high! It's in no-man's-land, you look like you live with your mother.

GEORGE: Are you through? [kind of irritated]

JERRY: You do of course try on, when you buy?

GEORGE: Yes, it was purple, I liked it, I don't actually recall considering the buttons.

August 18 2011 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In regards to the Seinfeld finale, one aspect of it I really enjoy and I feel is so "Seinfeldian" in its subtlety that I feel a lot of people overlook it: the very last thing George and Jerry are talking about (as the camera's shot retreats away from the four in the cell) concerning the position of George's second button is also the VERY first thing George and Jerry talk about in the show's pilot episode years before! They hint about this at the very end of the exchange. The lines have been copied below!

Jerry: See now, to me, that button is in the worst possible spot.

George: Really?

Jerry: Oh yeah. The second button is the key button. It literally makes or breaks the shirt. Look at it, it's

too high, it's in no-man's land.

George: Haven't we had this conversation before?

Jerry: You think?

George: I think we have.

Jerry: Yeah, maybe we have.

August 18 2011 at 12:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mick Weber

Star Trek: The Next Generation The season finale brought full circle the involvement of the life form Q who was an antagonist from the beginning. More importantly, it reflected the character change of Captain Picard who changed from a straight, by the book, indifferent commander to a person who came to realize that the greatest journey in life is exploring the relationships with the people around him and him finally sitting down with his crew for a game of poker.

July 19 2011 at 1:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shoot the Critic

Fine list. I LOVED The Shield's series finale. So fitting and satisfying - though also heartbreaking.
I made my own list, which you can see here:
I also enjoyed the Arrested Development finale, although it wasn't as strong as the series as a whole.
- Shoot the Critic

May 31 2011 at 4:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tracee Porter

what about Monk? he finally found out who killed Trudy!

May 21 2011 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I liked 24 as far as a finale that you knew was the end. now if you want to talk series enders that were cliff hangers, i would have to go with both "JAG" and "The Pretender" somehow i wish they would bring them all back, sure beat all these crappy reality shows!!!!!!!!!!!!!

May 14 2011 at 12:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The last episode of St. Elsewhere was a classic!! How could you not include that?

May 12 2011 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nina Louise

Thanks Mathman.....I remember it now!

May 11 2011 at 9:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Another vote for Six Feet Under. I explained why below, but it's kind of long. These words have been brewing since I first watched the finale a few years ago, so hold on tight. Lol


Never has a show's finale felt so complete. Using the theme of death AND what comes after(both for the deceased, and the people they leave behind), Six Feet Under used the day to day experiences of a funeral home, and more importantly the family who runs it, as a means of disecting/exploring the complex themes of life, as we/they live them. What is so great about the final episode is the knowledge that it is, in essence, the death of the show itself. This insight enables it to truthly define what the series so successfully tried to explain shows us, Death is not the end result or even something to be feared. It stands as the beginning of a new journey, one not unlike the many we encounters throughout our lives, and should be tackled full-steam ahead and full of passion.

wow, that felt good.

- mike

(i can be found as 'ctcher' on twitter, tumblr, and facebook)

May 11 2011 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Raymond Baró

There can only be one best. Six. Feet. Under!

May 11 2011 at 1:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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