The last series of a beloved TV show can either make you want to turn around head straight back to season one to watch it all over again, or slump into your sofa and have a good cry.
TV writer Patrick Magee dissects the best and worst series endings.
The Sopranos (2007)
The final season of The Soprano’s saw the systematic unravelling of every aspect of Tony Soprano’s life, played exquisitely by the late, great James Gandolfini. His renewed appreciation for life disintegrated into bitterness and a desperate struggle to survive, as his life of crime eventually caught up with him in a very dramatic way: all of his friends were either murdered or arrested and his relationship with everyone else was somehow poisoned by mafia business.
On the home front his feckless son AJ (Robert Iler), despaired at the state of the world and tried to commit suicide, leaving Tony and his wife, Carmella, (Edie Falco) overwhelmed and bewildered: clinging to each other and their money. And at the very end Tony was still asking, what does it all mean?
The Wire (2008)
What started as a hodgepodge team of police officers who were thrown together on a hopeless case turned into one of the most engrossing crime dramas in history. The final season of The Wire brought the whole five seasons to a fitting and gritty conclusion. Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), indignant at a depleted Police budget, schemes to filch money out of City Hall by inventing a serial killer of the homeless.
Improbably aided by an overly inventive journalist the story becomes a national scandal and McNulty tries to finish off the Stanfield investigation. Needless to say things don’t work out as planned: corruption, ambition and the broken state of American institutions interfere to leave the city in pretty much the same state that it was in at the start of season one. This did not have a happy ending but it certainly left a mark on fans.
Breaking Bad (2013)
One of the most watched and lauded finales ever, the internet was flooded with critics and fans trying to guess how creator Vince Gilligan would end the madness. Season five of Breaking Bad saw Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) crazed drug king ambition finally get the better of him – with brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) and the FBI closing in, and the skinhead neo Nazi’s he had been doing business with suddenly come back into his life in a very dramatic way.
Walt, exposed as super criminal mastermind Heisenberg, becomes too deranged for his own family and has to escape a nationwide manhunt by hiding in a log cabin in the east coast. Eventually he returns to make peace with his family and makes one last stand to save his partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), and at the end he is left lamenting, “I guess I got what I deserved.” Brilliant.
The Office (UK) Christmas Special (2006)
The two-hour Christmas special was a great way to cap off the 12 episode series after the very dramatic end to season two. The two-part final saw David Brent (Ricky Gervais), desperately lonely, working as a door -to -door salesman and a very minor celebrity. In between painful internet dates and depressing on stage appearance at small town nightclubs, he still visits the office.
Tim (Martin Freeman), who is still stuck at Wernham Hogg, now working under the increasingly painful Gareth (Mackenzie Crook) and amongst other awful colleagues, finds brief respite from the imminent return of Dawn (Lucy Davis) from Florida. At the Christmas Party, Dawn finally wakes up to her senses and dumps her fiancé and gets together with Tim. David Brent also meets a nice woman and tells his crass mate Chris Finch ‘Finchy’ (Ralph Ineson) to go f*** himself – perfect.
The Larry Sanders Show (1998)
The Larry Sanders Show may not be on every person’s great final seasons list but this was an unheralded sitcom classic of the 1990’s. The premise was simple: the backstage shenanigans of a fictional late night talk show. The finale fittingly staged the last episode of the show within the show, before Larry (Gary Shandling) was to be replaced by new host Jon Stewart (and remember this was 1998!): and featured cameos from Jerry Seinfeld and Warren Beatty. (The show had a knack for securing unbelievable cameos)
At one point, guest Sean Penn turns to Sanders and tells him how much he hated working with Gary Shandling on the film Hurly Burly – taking the meta fiction of the show to crazy mind bending heights.
Sex and the City (2004)
After years of being hailed as a celebration of women’s sexual independence, for it’s finale, Sex and the City decided to provide a Cinderella style ending for Carrie, who after running off with improbably rich Russian boyfriend wound up back again with Mr Big (Chris Noth).
Similarly the SATC creators made sure that all of the gang were in conventional relationships by the end of the series. It was like, huh? Then what was all that random sex and kvetching for over the last six years? Surely enough, the series was rebooted for two pointless and very successful films.
After having left Seinfeld at the height of it’s public acclaim, creator Larry David returned to pen the terrible finale to the series. The episode invented a ridiculous plot device where the cast were thrown into court for their lack of moral character, providing an excuse to bring back favourite and outrageous characters, before the cast were jailed.
For a ‘show about nothing’ it was a dramatic miscalculation to try and impose consequences on the foursome for being neurotic and self-involved. David would eventually redeem himself by returning to the small screen, creating and starring in the glorious Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Arrested Development (2006)
After a magnificent first two seasons that blazed with wit and originality, the third season of Arrested Development ran out of steam with the feeling that they were running out of ideas (especially with that Charlize Theron subplot).
For a show so dense, with so many crazed characters and insane plotlines it was inevitable that it would have a short creative lifespan. The re-emerged for an unnecessary and tired looking fourth season 10 years later.
Lost premiered to great acclaim and popularity: it successfully built up mystery and intrigue on the old premise of a group characters stranded on an island together. Then, slowly, over the years the show started to fall off the rails. And by the ending it really fell of the rails.
In short, Lost‘s finale implied that the cast had been dead the whole time (apparently not, debate still rages) and all their struggles on the island were a cosmic opportunity for the characters to redeem their mistakes in life before moving on to the hereafter. Needless to say viewers were left baffled – and rightly annoyed.
Dexter finished recently and was universally trashed by critics. After coming very close to being caught and paying for his own inaction with the wounding of his sister (whom he mercy kills), Dexter (Michael C. Hall) does not fly off to be with his girlfriend and son in Argentina, but migrates to a wood logging town to live out his life tormented and alone.
After being the most epic serial killer of all time, surely a more dramatic finale was called for? Such was the hatred for the ending, even Hall questioned it.
Me after the Dexter Finale pic.twitter.com/URkM44lVvk
— Best Of Dexter (@BestOfDexter) May 26, 2014