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The Ten Best Television Series Finales

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As you may have heard, Battlestar Galactica, the most geek-friendly show on TV, came to an end last week. It was a stirring finale, and one that has garnered more than a little controversy in certain online circles. So it got me to thinking: How does it stack up to other great finales? Which has led to this list, all about the best television swan songs.

As a note, shows which didn't get a chance at a real finale, like Firefly or My So-Called Life, weren't considered. Also, there will be spoilers, so read at your own discretion. You have been warned.

Now to start the countdown:

10. "Exeunt Omnes," Oz

For such an innovative and influential show, Oz is rather underrated. It rarely pops up on lists of best TV series, and it's relatively difficult to find out any substantial information about the show online. I mean, this is the show that, with its stark depictions of brutal violence and graphic sexuality, not to mention its sharp and perceptive character studies and social commentaries, paved the way for such later HBO series as The Sopranos and Deadwood. It didn't break the mold, it created the mold. And it remained true to that mold until its final 100 minutes, in which all of the major storylines were resolved in fitting and, in some cases, desperately depressing ways. At the end, everyone is forced to evacuate the prison, leaving behind the ground on which so much blood was shed and so much cocaine was snorted. As dense and dark as ever.

9. "Discos and Dragons," Freaks and Geeks

Unlike so many shows that got canceled after just one season, Freaks and Geeks had a creative team that knew the axe was about to fall and who decided to actually go out with a real ending instead of praying for another year. Daniel finds happiness at a Dungeons & Dragons game, Nick finds disappointment on the disco floor, and Lindsay finds herself by listening to the Grateful Dead's American Beauty, surely the sweetest and least embarrassing spiritual transformation the Dead have ever been responsible for. It's a typically hilarious and poignant hour of perhaps the most down-to-earth and realistic teen saga television has yet to see, and if it doesn't seem to have the immenseness or finality of a last chapter, that's because it wasn't meant to. These kids have got their whole lives ahead of them.

8. "Made in America," The Sopranos

"Made in America" was forever embedded in the collective cultural conscience as soon as it ended; its infamous cut-to-black ending was so widely reported and commented on that even Hillary and Bill Clinton did a parody of it. But by focusing on that last ambiguous parting shot from creator David Chase, we run the risk of forgetting just how beautifully structured and executed an hour of television "Made in America" is. Except for Phil Leotardo's brilliantly succinct whacking, there's no outpouring of violence. So much of the series had been divided between Tony's dual lives with his family and The Family, and there's no doubting that its final hour was all about the lowercase "f" family. A.J. almost dies in a car fire with one of his many girlfriends, and decides to join the Army, only to be seduced by the more glamorous life of a movie producer, not to mention the shiny new car accompanying it. There couldn't be a more fitting denouement for the character: a rash, quasi-idealist who sells his integrity for the easiest way out. Meanwhile, Tony's final visit with Junior is heartbreaking, and that much-discussed ending shows Tony looking around at every slight movement or sound, waiting for the next attack, waiting for the next hit, waiting for death. This time, as he gives the camera one last glance, it's only his daughter. But the next time…

7. "Christmas Special," The Office

The original U.K. Office is darker, more cynical, more uncomfortable, and more awkward than the brilliant U.S. version could ever hope to be. It took its darkness and cynicism to the greatest lengths possible for the two-part, series-capping "Christmas Special," in which everyone has moved on, is trying to navigate life after having been featured on a semi-successful documentary series (curiously, the U.S. version has never commented on the fact that they're taping a show which will presumably be seen by the public), and absolutely no one is happy. Ricky Gervais' David Brent is the saddest, trying and failing to be a comedian; he wants to make others forget their problems yet hasn't even begun to work on his own. And then there's Tim and Dawn: Tim is still sadly stuck at Wernham Hogg and Dawn is off in Florida living with her wretched fiancé Lee. How all of this manages to turn into one of the happiest, most life-affirming endings of any sitcom is exemplary of Gervais and Stephen Merchant's twin ability to turn the mundane into the magical. When Dawn finally ditches Lee and comes back to Tim, there isn't a dry eye in the house.

6. "Daybreak," Battlestar Galactica

Through numerous political, social, and spiritual upheavals, Battlestar Galactica's driving theme was always, "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again" (even though it took some time for that now-iconic phrase to be voiced). It opened with a healthy, Earth-like planet being nuked by the man-made Cylon robots, which were thought to have been destroyed in a violent war. It turned out that they had been so efficiently made that they had evolved into humanoid form to come calling for revenge. The series ends with a new healthy, Earth-like planet (heavily implied to be our own) on its way toward the same kind of omnipresent technology that led to all of this in the first place. In between, its characters grappled with fate, destiny, and all manner of other heady, life-or-death matters.

And yet it was always about cycles. As "Daybreak" so brilliantly shows, there was always a script these people were unknowingly following, and as prophetic vision after prophetic vision is fulfilled in an extremely intense final battle, we begin to realize that the show's still got a frakking hour left. So then it goes on to pose the question: once your purpose has been executed, what's next? You live. You continue on. You find new destinies, new purposes. It may all lead back to the same thing, but it's crucial to realize that it doesn't have to. If "Daybreak" is frustratingly vague on a few storytelling points, that's okay, because emotionally, it's as satisfying a conclusion as I've ever seen. Adama's ode to departed love Roslin, as he watches a fresh morning dawn on their new planet, is particularly heart-tugging: "When the sun rises behind the mountains here, it's beautiful. It reminds me of you."

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

There's a reason that "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" remains the highest-rated television program in U.S. history after 26 years: It is one of the most satisfying, gut-wrenching finales ever made. The Korean War finally comes to a close (M*A*S*H famously ran eight years longer than the actual war), and the occupants of the 4077 have to decide what's next. Hawkeye winds up in a mental hospital for a short time, Klinger marries a Korean woman and decides to stay behind, and, well…everyone has to say goodbye, farewell, and amen. The best part of the episode, though, is that B.J. refuses to say goodbye to Hawkeye. He just can't. So when Hawkeye's chopper lifts off and he sees a giant "GOODBYE" message B.J. has spelled out for him on the ground, it's the ultimate lump-in-the-throat moment. In fact, I just watched it again, and it still makes me tear up.

4. "Development Arrested," Arrested Development

One of the things that made Arrested Development so brilliant was that it was one of the only sitcoms that demanded you watch every single episode without fail in order to process all of its obscure references and surprisingly complex storylines. As the show was forced into a close, Mitchell Hurwitz and the gang took one last shot at the network and the situation it had put them in, crafting a final episode that was three things at once: A resolution as zany and surreal as the show had ever been, an intricately structured parallel to the first episode, and a scathing attack on FOX and its head idiots. Arrested Development asked a lot of its viewers, and that's one of the reasons it never found a large audience, but it was their loss: this was the smartest, funniest, and most relevant show on the air from 2003 to 2006, and the finale was an utter masterpiece. And, of course, FOX dumped all four final episodes onto one night, opposite the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.

3. "Chosen," Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy was always about female empowerment. So what better way to end the series than with Willow using the Slayer Scythe to activate every single potential Slayer on the planet? With "Chosen," Buffy had reached her goal of breaking free of the shackles of the patriarchal system which had so many centuries ago tied down the First Slayer, and with it, some sense of freedom. Of course, with Joss Whedon at the helm, the journey to the end of this final hour was filled with action, twists, angst, and plenty of clever dialogue. The final battle on top of the Hellmouth is one of the most rousing in the series' (and television's) history, perhaps rivaled only by the Scoobies' masterful take-down of Glory in "The Gift." My favorite moment? Buffy: "I love you." Spike: "No, you don't. But thanks for sayin' it." And then he who had originated as one of the series' most thoroughly evil characters sacrifices himself to save the world. Redemption, tragedy, triumph: All in a day's work for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

2. "Not Fade Away," Angel

If there was ever a more powerful show about redemption than Buffy, it was its spin-off, Angel. After Angel and the gang took over the Los Angeles branch of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart at the end of the fourth season, attempting to defeat the enemy from within, they soon realized that it would be all too easy for them to be tainted by corruption. But for this lesson to finally take hold, they had to lose Fred to a demon goddess resurrected by employee Knox. From then, Angel became hellbent on destroying Wolfram & Hart by any means possible, seemingly allying himself with the Circle of the Black Thorn to get the job done. And in "Not Fade Away," everything comes to a head: Angel, Spike, Wesley, Gunn, Lorne, and Illyria all spend one final day before assassinating every member of the Circle in one of the most kick-ass action sequences ever put together.

What each of them does on their last day is touching, and telling. Angel spends time with Connor, the son he couldn't raise. Spike goes to a bar and, in a lovely shout-out to longtime fans, reads aloud poetry he wrote way back in the 1800s when he was just the meek William. Gunn helps Anne (who, if you were paying attention, is the same character that started out as Chantarelle in the season two Buffy episode "Lie to Me") pack up shop. Lorne sings karaoke. And Wesley…well, Wesley cares for Illyria, who resides in the body of his beloved Fred. Wesley's eventual death is a scene poignant beyond all reason; as he lies dying in Illyria's arms, she asks him, "Would you like me to lie to you now?" Then she changes her appearance to Fred, and I honestly can't think of a television moment that's made me cry harder. As what remains of the group gathers in the alley for a final showdown, a series that was never meant to end this soon charges to the finish line as Angel declares, "Let's go to work." Fighting to the last.

1. "Everyone's Waiting," Six Feet Under

This is, quite simply, a perfect episode of television. After five long, stressful, and depressing seasons that saw each episode open with a death, Six Feet Under's finale opens with a birth. Brenda gives birth to she and Nate's child, only of course the recently departed Nate isn't there to see it. Plus, the baby's premature, and requires an extended hospital stay, which shakes Brenda to the core. Ruth, of all people, is the one who comforts her. And that seems to be a running theme in this episode, as well as in the series as a whole: People struggle with overwhelming problems, only to find them solved in the most unlikely of ways. Rico and Vanessa want to buy a funeral home, but can't afford it; David and Keith then buy Rico's 25% of Fisher & Sons so that not only can Rico get his own funeral home, but David can keep his. Claire's doubts about her artistic ability are cured by Ted, the lighthearted right-winger she can't believe she's falling for.

Nate appears to most everyone in this episode; he taunts and insults Brenda, he eggs David to face his fears, he has a poignant chat with Claire. This is all quality, top-notch stuff, just the emotional and fitting tying up of loose ends you'd expect from a series finale. But what pushes "Everyone's Waiting" over the top to become the grandest of them all is a final montage, as we watch Claire drive to her new life in New York, of the deaths of every single major character, all set to Sia's beautiful "Breathe Me." It's an unprecedented move, and one that completely works within the context of the series; after all, the tagline for the season had been, "Everything. Everyone. Everywhere. Ends." The montage is a gut punch, one that hits you hard. Ruth dies with her family around her, seeing visions of Nathaniel, both Jr. and Sr.; Keith is shot to death, the only violent demise any of the characters face; David dies at a family picnic watching his sons play football, right after he sees Keith come up and catch the ball; Brenda dies as Billy blathers on; and Claire lives to be 102, blind, a cruel fate for a photographer. It is quite possibly the single most affecting piece of television I have ever seen.

One of the things that made Six Feet Under so great was that all of the characters were fully realized people, to the point that getting to look in on their lives felt like some kind of privilege. "Everyone's Waiting" conjures that feeling more than any other episode. The years of each character's death are listed after we watch them die, and there are times when I'll take a strange sort of comfort from knowing that somewhere out there, Ruth is still alive, and she's still got time. They may have been fictional, but these people were one hell of a family.

What were your favorite series finales? And if you're going to divulge spoilers, don't forget to give a little warning!

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About Arlo J. Wiley

  • Will Penley

    My favorite series finale would definitely be the long-slaved-over culmination of Clerks: The Animated Series, graciously provided to the series’ creators by the wonderful network that is ABC.

  • You’ve left off quite a few classic endings that are legendary moments in television. Where’s Newhart, St Elsewhere, The Fugitive, Howdy Doody, Mary Tyler Moore?

    Nice to see OZ get a mention, but the majority of these fall into such a narrow timeframe and nerd mindset that who knows if some of your choices will be able to stand the test of time. Surely, that terrible BSG mess will long be forgotten for some bad writing that too many fans are sadly willing to overlook.

  • Well, these are totally subjective choices, and they’re definitely the ones that mean the most to me.

    I wouldn’t really count a show like Howdy Doody on a list like this, by which I mean a show that didn’t tell a story. If I did, the last episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson would’ve made the cut. I can’t say that I’m too partial to the other shows you mentioned (I keep meaning to watch The Fugitive, though).

    And as for BSG, do you mean the series as a whole or just the finale? If it’s the finale, I can certainly understand where you’re coming from, and I’ve had discussions about its arguable shortcomings, but it worked for me.

  • Stellar choices, AJ! “Six Feet Under” is certainly a worthy number one. What a stunning 75 minutes of television.

    Good to see the likes of “Arrested Development” and “Buffy”, too. Personally, I’d have found room for “Frasier” and “Cheers”, but I can’t disagree with any of your picks here — well, of the seven I’ve seen. Great stuff.

  • Rebecca

    Whenever this topic comes up, I always think of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Even if you didn’t watch the series, the final episode is so brilliantly written and acted, an undeniably amazing cap to a great show. Arlo, if you’ve never seen that one episode, grab a box of Kleenex and give it a whirl. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll see what all the fuss is about (and probably replace something on your list, I’d replace BSG).

    And kudo’s for choosing “Oz” at all – totally underrated show – and “Six Feet Under” as number one. What an amazing ending.

  • Baron

    The Shield is absent. Really? It was far better than the majority, if not all, of these listed.

  • Chris

    was hoping six feet under was number 1… “wonder years” is right there though!!

  • Rev

    The Shield was by far the best series finale I have ever seen…just as their series blew the Sopranos out of the water, so did their finale…hands down.

  • Rev

    wonder years was a really good one, too.

  • Jen

    The finale of the West Wing is one of my favorites. The behind the scenes of inauguration day was cool.

  • alastor

    I’m a really emotional guy but I DO NOT cry easily. But Six Feet Under just blew me away, I cried all throughout the final montage of the deaths of all the characters. Though others say that that sequence was a bit over the top, I have to agree with you that it was fitting to end the series that way. As to its being number 1, I don’t think I’ve watched enough shows to agree with you. 🙂

  • Mike

    Seriously, where was The Shield? Did the writer just not watch the show or was it just a mistake? I haven’t seen a lot of these, but for as much as I enjoyed AD, The Shield’s finale blows it out of the water.

  • Mike

    Newhart, Mash, Six feet Under, but what makes me mad are when networks like ABC terminate shows like Life on Mars, Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone, and only LOM’s will get a proper ending

  • Terry

    The Twin Peaks finale is superior to most of these. In fact, all of these are from very recent shows. Is the writer sixteen-years-old?

  • Everything is subjective, but if you are going to title something the ten best, you should have some sense of history. Throw out M*A*S*H and this would be better titled “…of the Past 10 Years.”

    The Shield was a very good one as well. I can’t remember Twin Peaks.

    In regards to BSG, the final season was an absolute mess.

  • Bonkerz

    If you really want to see compelling television, check out the finale of Wonder Showzen

  • Sara

    Um, no. We’re forgetting “Friends”… the way they all walked out of the apartment one last time, leaving the keys, and onto a separate and more grown-up existence… plus Ross and Rachel finally reunited. It was exactly what the fans wanted (including great comedy), and there wasn’t a dry eye when that finale aired.

  • MissLobyt

    Will & Grace : The Finale. To me, it was the best finale ever. Jack & Karen are the funniest couple in the tv history and that duet was really “Unforgettable”!!!

  • John W

    I think you already mentioned my two favorite season finales: Buffy and Angel.

  • yinzer b

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned “The Wire” Amazing finale for an amazing show.

  • My favorite TV finale was Everybody Loves Raymond, because it meant that show wouldn’t be on any more.

  • Well, sorry that almost all of these are fairly recent, guys. I considered adding the finale of All in the Family, but apart from that, I can’t think of very many older finales that have meant as much to me as these do.

    Also, I’ve only seen the first season of The Wire (which I loved to pieces), and as soon as I finish that, it’s on to The Shield.

  • Johnnycakes

    Good piece but this nonsense about the Sopranos finale needs to stop. Please watch the scene again, Tony is as happy as he can be. He isnt paranoid at all. Chase has all but said Tony died. It’s the greatest finale in TV history.

    Below is an astonishing piece on the ending. Just read Part 2 of the essay linked below to fully understand the depth and beauty of ‘the Sopranos’. Actually you should read the whole the thing but Part 2 is really a moving elegy to the show.

    What is most impressive is that the writer has crafted a rather exhaustive critique of the conclusion of the final episode, while also providing a larger contextual view, of which the ending is a piece.

    The writer also offers an analysis of the final scene and the sequence of shots that I havent read elsewhere. The essay also contains a fascinating look at the Kevin Finnerty coma dreams, the connection between Phil and Tony in the final season and of course, the meaning of those ducks and how they relate to the final scene.

    What it expresses more than anything else is that David Chase created one of the great works of art of the last century. Reading this I want to watch the whole series again.

  • alirai

    good choices in general…Six feet under was definately AMAZING.im not ashamed to admit that i wept like a baby the last three episodes of that show.
    another show i’d like to mention is ‘the wire’ which is arguably the best hsow of all time and the finale was definately up there and extremely fitting, quite possibly the best piece of television i have ever seen.

  • alirai

    its also great to see ‘freaks and geeks’ get the credit it deserves, probably the most underrated and overlooked show in tv history.

  • Kate

    Funny you said you’re happy Ruth is still out there…a friend turned to me shortly after the show had ended and said, “What do you think Claire is doing in New York right now?” LOL This show rocked, and the finale was the best I have EVER seen.

  • WOW. You are a person after my own heart. I saw the headline thought, “If I were doing this, Angel would be at #2, Six Feet Under at #1, and I’d include MASH and Buffy and BSG in there somewhere.” And then… you wrote it for me. 🙂 Brilliant list. I agree about the sobbing at the end of Angel and Six Feet Under. I watched that end montage over and over, and never with a dry eye. Man. Now I have to go back and watch them both again…

    And yes, definitely, watch both The Shield and The Wire. Both amazing endings as well. You know, I never finished watching Oz — it lost me in the 4th season — but seeing as you named so many of my other fave endings (Arrested Development, The UK Office, Freaks & Geeks) I’ll have to go and watch it now.


  • Mac

    No love for The Shield? The best cop show of all time went out with a figurative and literal bang.

    Also, how can you even compare the original Office to it’s pale American imitator? The writers of the stateside version all too often resort to making Michael Scott an idiot with too-dumb-to-be-believed story lines, e.g. planting drugs in Toby’s desk, driving his car into a lake, or crawling around on the floor in a recent episode.
    David Brent’s craven desire to be liked and embraced made the British Office truly brilliant. His dance-off scene against his boss tops anything the American Office has ever produced.

  • “The Shield…the best cop show of all time”

    Wrong. That would be Homicide. While The Shield went out on a high point, it had plenty of low, silly ones throughout its run.

  • Mike the Watcher

    Star Trek Deep Space Nine by far had one of the best finales I ever saw on many shows,certainly in the Trek franchise

  • V2Blast

    Well, I guess it’s not so much a finale as a movie version of one, but I’d say Firefly/Serenity would be at the top of my list 😛

  • fiver

    The Wire. The best show series TV you have yet to watch.

  • Paterick

    Ow. I been slowly finding and watching the Six Feet Under series. I was up to season 4. Now I know how it ends. *sighs* I’m gonna watch some Family Guy or somethin.

  • I agree with most of these, although I would definitely add The Wire. But I can understand if it’s not considered a great ending simply because every moment of that series is just pure genius. What most people think makes an ending great is that it almost unexpectedly raises up what has come before. But it’s almost impossible to raise up The Wire to new levels, it’s already there. So somehow the brilliant finale was almost expected.

    Also, I would personally add Farscape to the list. Peacekeeper Wars ties up the series in a fantastic way.

    And, incidentally, the three series (apart from Farscape) that touched me the most were the ones you place at 1, 2 and 3. In other words, great list!

    PS. Have just seen season 1 of The Shield, but I love it so far.

  • Mallory

    I’ve been saying Six Feet Under had the best finale I’ve ever seen for years! Glad to see someone agrees. I cried so hard during much of that last season, especially the last 5 minutes.

    Angel, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Office are also shows I thought had great endings too. Angel’s ending with Wesley and just the killing of Fred made me weep.

    Also, I was SO glad Tim ended up with Dawn in the Office.

  • Cog

    I thought the Shield’s recent finale was much better than the Sopranos, definitely more definitive, and even a touch better than BSG’s. I only saw a handful of episodes from all 3 series, but the Shield’s by far went out in a style more suiting that show, the writers deserve credit.

    The series montage during the end credits to Concrete Blonde’s “Long Time Ago” only added to the dramatic finish.

  • James Coleman

    I’m going to throw in some further British ones, as I feel we are underrepresented in this tally.

    Life on Mars (British version) has by FAR the best series finale I’ve ever seen, where they managed to not only tie up all the loose ends and recognise every aspect and theory of the show so far, but manage to reach many emotions, close up relationships in a genuine fashion, and also keep you guessing right until the end. Honestly, it’s just bloody PERFECT. (Haven’t seen Six Feet Under, but find it hard to believe that it could beat it)

    Another British series, a comedy from the 1970s called The Good Life. A more heartwarming comedy you’ll never know, and while by no means the most outloud funny show you’ll ever see, it reaches emotional levels other shows can only dream of. The finale Anniversary (though not the last episode, there were two Specials that followed) is just superb, with some brilliantly funny moments, crashing down into one of the saddest turns any series has ever managed, and ending on a wonderfully optimistic note that will keep the tears warm. Confused? Watch it, you’ll see what I mean.

    Actually, a lot of 70s Britcoms had good endings: To The Manor Born, Dad’s Army, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Hi-De-Hi!, Porridge, Only Fools and Horses (Time on Our Hands – not actually the last episode but intended as such in 1996), and some later ones like Goodnight Sweetheart.

    Also Goodbyeee!, the last episode of Series 4 of Blackadder, Blackadder Goes Forth. Perhaps not really the series finale (one further special 8 years later), this is an utterly stunning piece of television.

    Other than the omission of The Good Life and Life on Mars, you’ve got a pretty good list (although I might put the Buffy finale above the Angel one… prefer Angel as a show but thought Buffy tied it all up better, prob owing to having 22 episodes to prepare rather than 6)

  • Baronius

    I loved the final episode of Alias. Some people didn’t. The finale didn’t tie everything together, but it resolved the main story lines, and did so with the same chaotic spirit the show always had. Ed was another show that resolved nicely in the finale. I didn’t think Angel was a very good show, but it definitely ended the way it should have.

    Some shows try to end on a completely different note. Star Trek finales have usually made that mistake. Seinfeld is a perfect example of a show ditching its formula for its finale, leaving all its fans in a lurch.

  • Sorry about ruining Six Feet Under for you, Paterick, but I said upfront there would be spoilers!

  • Tanru

    Someone mentioned “Twin Peaks” series finale. You can’t use that episode – it was a season 2 finale – it had all sorts of cliffhangers. It wasn’t a resolution to a series. They expected to come back for season 3.

    Personally I’d add Star Trek: The Next Generation “All Good Things…” and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “What You Leave Behind” as wonderfully fitting endings to those series. I still like the ones that you have used here though.

    No one mentions the X-Files finale… but I don’t blame them. In fact I only JUST watched it a couple of months ago – and I was a big fan of the show too. Season 8 and 9 just weren’t needed. I was surprised though that they basically just explained EVERYTHING – after a decade of WTF? Chris Carter was just like “Here – have it! This is what was going on.” And you were like… Oh! heheheh.

  • runa

    I’d say The West Wing, but in hindsight, the finale was a bit of a disappointment. No Toby and not nearly enough Josh/Donna, quite a wasted opportunity.

  • Ezra

    My list would certainly have Star Trek Next Generation… an ending that I couldn’t stop thinking about during Battlestar (since I think Ronald D. Moore also wrote that one). Unlike Battlestar’s turbulent (and logically uncertain) ending, Next Generation had one of the best finales for what was essentially a procedural–Multiple time lines that show possible futures for many major characters (including a Data who has (of course) developed emotions (seemingly without the need of the ridiculous chip)… Finally, Q is brought back to put the perfect book end on the series–completely altering the reading of the first episode… Q has put humanity on trial, but the trial never ends–we must always prove ourselves. Broad, yes, but in its own way–very profound… possibly more than head Six and Head Baltar’s stroll down Times Square.

  • Jet

    Everything being “subjective” it’s still inexcusable that Newhart wasn’t mentioned in your list.

    Anyone whose a fan of “The Bob Newhart Show” and all of it’s associated “hi Bob!” drinking games will tell you that at the end of “Newhart” when Bob gets hit with that golf ball and wakes up in the dark, in bed with Suzanne Pleshette, and in the Hartley’s bedroom, no more histerical laughter was to be had anywhere. And when it was revealed that the entire “Newhart” series was a bad dream induced from Bob Hartley eating Japanese food before bed, just the sight of Emily Hartley was incredible.

    …Especially after she realized what Bob had said about his dream wife wearing sweaters and turned their bedroom lights back on.

    But of course it’s all subjective.

  • James,

    Totally agree with you about the Only Fools and Horses and Blackadder finales. TV at its finest.

    And, although it’s not a finale (it’s the world’s longest-running sitcom and shows no sign of petering out!) I think the episode of Last of the Summer Wine when Compo dies is worth a mention. The show’s never been the same without the late Bill Owen.

  • Zelda Rose

    -The Shield (Vic gets stuck in his own personal hell)
    -Newhart (One of the most creative, funniest, and unexpected endings to any series)
    -Babylon 5
    -West Wing (Say goodbye to the Bartlett Adminsitration, hello to the Santos Administration and you wish you could have seen how that would have turned out)

  • Kathy

    Completely correct with the Six Feet Under finale. I was so taken by the entire episode and felt priviledgedto have seen it.

  • YouGottaBeKidding

    No Newhart? That negates your entire list. Schmucks!

  • MV

    Correction about Anne from Angel – that character first appeared as Lilly in the Buffy season 2 ep “Anne” – when Buffy goes back to Sunnydale, Lilly asks if she can take the name Anne.

    PS: Totally agree with Buffy, Angel, Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development on that list. Not sure if it was one of the best but I kinda liked the finale of Quantum Leap…

    Oh definitely agree with the Blackadder finale (not counting the specials that followed)

  • Robin

    @MV: Correction of your correction — Anne/Lily/Chanterelle first appeared in ‘Lie To Me’ (BtVS s.2, ep.7) as a vampire groupie calling herself Chanterelle (which she later learned is a type of mushroom). When she next appeared in ‘Anne’ (BtVS s.3, ep.1), she was going by Lily (possibly her real name) and, as you said, adopted the moniker Anne along with the waitressing job when Buffy didn’t need it anymore. [/continuity geek]

    I haven’t seen all of the shows on the list, but I can’t disagree with any of the ones that I have. Sadly, many of my favoritest shows couldn’t be included because they were axed prematurely. (Surprisingly, not all by Fox. I’m still kind of miffed about Sports Night.)

  • karmelrio

    Kudos on your list. I teared up just READING your write-ups on “Angel” and “Six Feet Under.” What wonderful memories this story brings back.

  • karmelrio

    …now trotting out to YouTube to watch the SFU montage… the most gorgeous 10 minutes of television I’ve ever seen.

  • Jet

    Here is a link to the final 9 minute act of the “Newhart” series finalie. The neighbors who sold their land for millions, return to see if Bob is still the last hold out after the entire town was bought by a Japanese corporation and turned into a huge golf course/hotel complex… all except the Stratford inn of course.

    The final four minutes contain the incredible scene when he wakes up in the bedroom of “the Bob Newhart Show” with Suzanne Pleshette in bed with him and the audience goes wild.

    Click here

  • KBL

    DIscos & Dragons is probably my favorite single television episode of all time (though the Season 1 finale of Friday Night Lights runs a close second). Every now and again, even ten years later (has it really been that long?), I am still saddened that it was the last episode of Freaks & Geeks.

  • I’m glad to see that people in this thread are hip to The Shield. “Family Meeting” was the greatest dramatic series finale you’re ever likely to see.

    The particular “family meeting” of the title was one of the harshest things ever on a tv – and it was particularly brilliant in the very quiet and still way of the reveal. The endings for both Shane and Vic caught me by surprise, even as the world’s #1 fan of the series.

    But then after seeing the finale and sleeping on it, the basic results for these two now seem to have been inevitable since early in the series. Fans -including me- got our seven year series long moral blindness all rubbed properly in our faces. We made excuses for Vic Mackey these years, but we really knew in our hearts that he was all along the rat that he openly became in his last scenes.

    And odd as it might seem, it ended up making perfect sense that the truest and deepest moral judgments were outlined specifically by Shane Vendrell – the core cast member with the worst and wickedest behavior of them all.

  • But not getting any love and deserving much, Titus. The show was brilliant all along at couching fairly serious ideas about human nature and relations in often the most studiously inane sitcom conventions.

    But holy smokes, “The Visit” was the climactic next to last episode, and about the most amazing damned thing I ever saw that was labeled “sitcom.” Wonder if that social worker ever got her damned muffins.

  • Jaim

    I like the series finale of Gilmore Girls although I wish Lorelai and Emily could have at least hugged. I miss that show.
    Will and Grace was another good series ender.
    I liked the end of The Cosby Show with Cliff and Claire dancing off the set together.

  • Wow, your top three show endings are my top three shows of all time. I’ve never watched BSG, OZ or F&G, but I agree with you in that, while I loved some endings of the past, particularly Newhart’s, these more current shows had much more appeal to me.

    I actually felt weird about the ending of “Six Feet Under”. I’m not sure why. I’m not really certain that I needed to see all of their deaths. I believe I would have been happy just seeing Claire drive away in the end and the credits start rolling from there. It could just be that I didn’t want the show to end and that I really hated how Keith died, but I dunno. Something about it felt forced to me.

    The Buffy and Angel endings however were better than I could have possibly asked for. And your favorite part about the ending of Buffy is mine as well. I was actually a little bothered that they brought William into Angel in season five, but James brought so much to the season, I soon felt different about it.

    Great article!

  • Jessica

    Agreed that the final moments of Battlestar and the ending of Adama and Roslins epic romance was the most moving moments I have I have ever watched on TV…I still cant bring myself to rewatch it.

    I do agree though that the final Blackadder *over the top* was amazing too…and as much as I loved the West Wing the finale didnt really do it for me, except for the final scene with Jed and Abbey.

  • pauld

    This is going back a ways, and it was a “small” show, but its finale stayed true to the classy tone and spirit of the entire series run — Barney Miller.

  • Jet

    On the flip side, the most horrid finale that killed everyone’s hopes and anticipations for years afterward had to be Dallas with JR wandering around with an angel in the guise of Joel Gray.

    MAN I was pissed.

  • Adam

    The Wire and Star Trek: The Next Generation both deserve mention. “All Good Things…” was one of the best episodes of the series.

  • Georgia, USA

    Here is another vote for The Wire as the best series and finale that television has ever produced. But I’m still happy to see the MASH and Buffy finales here too.

  • Jet

    Hey-No one saw the ST Voyager finale when the Captain and her future self did battle with the Borg to finally get back home?

  • marc

    Lost is the best one!!!!!!

  • Carlos Gregorio

    I just started to watch OZ last weekend and, oh God, I am in a marathon since then. It is so far the best show ever made for TV.

    I will be very very very sorry the moment I reach the last episode. I will miss the show so much…

  • James

    My favorite Would have to be life on mars, the British edition. I love that ending where he has to choose between ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’. That was great TV, him realizing that he was more alive in 1973 than he ever was in 2006. “if you can feel it man then its real, if you cant feel it then its not.”

  • STM

    Yep, great ending for the British version … but I think the American show is a great version too.

    Loved the fashions and shocking hair cuts (did we REALLY look like that???) on both sides of the Atlantic, circa 1973

  • yo

    That wasn’t coke on oz it was heroin.

  • dewey

    I was hopping for six feet under as number one…

    However I can’t understand why scrubs is not on the top ten

  • dante

    six feet under .. awesome finale, the best ever

  • Ryan

    I was ready to discount the entire list if SFU wasn’t #1. I also got weepy just from reading your description of it.

  • Im so glad I found this blog!

  • Uncle

    Six Feet Under is the clear winner of all time. For those name shows like friends, come on… its not that you just liked the show, there has to be something extra that makes the final episode great. Just leaving the appartment is totally predicable.

    • John Lake

      When the kitchen is empty… so sad.

  • michellew_

    Quite a nice list. I, being a devoted Wonder Years fan, would have given that a nod as well. But, I must agree that the finale of Six Feet Under was the most gut-wrenching, riveting, piece of television that I have ever seen. Still get choked up just thinking about it!

    Here’s hoping LOST makes it to the next list. I’m a little scared. 😉

  • David

    I’m with a few others on here that have mentioned Star Trek: The Next Generation’s series finale, “All Good Things” as being one of the best finales in the history of television.
    Amazing episode with a more than fitting end to a fantastic series.

  • Amar

    I agree with your number one choice. Not even the amazing Lost finale tonight topped that. I doubt any tv series ever will.

  • BSG

    why does everyone hate BSG so much? Personally it was the best series – almost every episode 100% excellent – in my opinion.

  • Mike

    The Wire may be the best television series of all time. And I may have watched LOST more extensively than any other television series. But nothing, NOTHING, beats the genius, emotional ending to Six Feet Under. It was so fitting, so perfect. Everything. Everyone. Everywhere. Ends.

    • Random Musings

      I can’t remember when I agreed so much with one written sentence.

  • ti,

    I have to say, as much as I love six feet under, would be Skins series 2. Apart from moving onto a second generation of characters in the next. Series 2 finale hit home with me with a few words in mind. You never know what you have till it’s not there, one being friends.

    The gang departed there seperate ways, some together, some till never see each other again through distant universities. Some in a distant country. But the final hug and tears with Sid and Tony, reminded me of so much of my own life. I cried at my prom and graduation because I would see some of my olds friends again. Series 3 and 4 couldn’t match up to series 1 and 2 at all.

  • BJred

    Great to see OZ mentioned & the UK Office Christmas finale. Wonder Years had a great ending.

  • Twosents

    I don’t think you can pick the 10 best show endings and put them in a list. Issue being you need to weigh the final episode to the body of the total of all seasons. I’m sure out there in TV land there’s a show that only ran two seasons and had the most amazing ending ever.

    You have to weigh your decisions based on how much you like the show. Yes personally I’d have Friends, Seinfeld, and Frasier in there somewhere. But glad to see Oz getting a little love. Take a walk on the wild side and let yourself love that show, truly amazing it was on cable, HAhAHHAa!

  • Brandon

    So where’s Lost?!!??!?!!?!?!?!

    • Randl Lieb

      Your forgot to use the sarcasm font.

  • majec

    1.Six feet under
    4.Breaking bad
    i didn’t include comedy series where Fawlty Towers(UK made) reigns!

  • Paul

    Agree with Six Feet Under as the most powerful ending… I still replay that episode sometimes when I just need a good heart wrenching scene.

  • Paul

    Wow… you really messed up not having Newhart on here. Pure brilliance.

  • Alex C.

    Way late to this party, but I want to say that the original ending to Futurama should get a nod. As a show that for all intensive purposes should not have made me cry as many times as it did, whenever Lelah tells Fry, “Please don’t stop playing, Fry. I want to see how it ends…” I just lost it. That was so beautiful, and seeing Fry in his own dumpy way show himself and Lelah walking off, holding hands was intensely gorgeous, to me.

  • Great list! I also really loved the finales to The Sopranos, The Wire, The Office and Battlestar Galactica. I’m working on my own short list, which will also include The Shield, which was an outstanding show and ended quite nicely. We invest a lot emotionally into the series we watch (at least I do), and when they end giving us a feeling of closure – that we can walk away okay with never coming back -, it’s really a great thing. Thanks for the list. It was also a fun read.

  • WGH

    Did anybody ever see Monk? It tied the entire series perfectly.

    • John Lake

      I am Adrian’s biggest fan. Love the series!

    • Randl Lieb

      Wow. Forgot about Monk. That finale was also well done.

  • Frumpy Jones

    Newhart and St. Elsewhere were two of the best ever. I think Newhart was the best.

    And though I love most of the shows mentioned, Angel’s ending sucked hard.

  • dude

    Forsure one of the best written show ever.

  • Bryan Munich

    For me, the finale (and penultimate episode) of The Shield had me spellbound. So powerful. I was actually speechless after it went off for the last time. I also love the Angel finale, though at the time, I felt short-changed. I have come to appreciate it with time.

  • Bryan Munich

    @majec – You realise this article is about series finales, don’t you? Two of your five are still being aired and so haven’t had their finales yet! Also, Fawlty Towers, while undeniably brilliant, isn’t exactly a showstopping ending! Have you just listed your favourite shows, perhaps?

  • Haren


    • Inamorta

      Well said.

  • WireFan

    I’d say #1 is The Wire and #2 is Sopranos.

  • Dan Counts

    He missed all sorts of episodes. Good to see Oz on the list, same with M.A.S.H. but what about Mirror Image from Quantum Leap, The Last Show from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

    Of course, the classic twist ending of all time, The Last Newhart from Newhart. Maybe it was because I was in the studio audience for that show, and there was no one that saw that end coming. For the uninitiated, the end of the last episode of Newhart, the set went dark, they changed the set to the bedroom of the old Bob Newhart Show and Bob wakes up next to his wife and tells her about a weird dream he was having and she tells him to go back to sleep.

  • Drakkhen

    The Shield not listed, REALLY ?!!?!

    Humm, may be an april fool ^^

  • Dd

    I’m with you. Best final montage of any show ever.

  • Inamorta

    Very good choices, I may recommend The Wire’s finale as well as it maintained a relevance to the story and to the ongoing of life even after one moment has ended. I would include the final Star Trek: The Next Generation. The last episode provided closure to the series without limiting the film releases (which maybe it should have), and providing the fans with a wonderful story holding true to the spirit of Star Trek.

  • Mike


  • Miriam

    I watched daytime network soap operas in my youth and early wife and motherhood years because the acting was superior to evening network dreck. I’ve enjoyed commercial free series via Netflix and series I purchased online like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. I’m here to tell you that every cable series has the same daytime soap opera plots but with better production quality and spit control (watching daytime soaps was fun for the spit delivered among the actors.)
    All of TV is garbage, the only worthwhile theater is THEATER. Crap on the small screen enforces an advertiser’s message towards mind control. I won’t allow a SHAMPOO dictate how I should live.

  • The Shield? How is this list missing The Shield? Only the greatest finale of all time!

  • Random Musings

    Couldn’t agree more with #1. The memory always makes me shiver and instantly want to listen to the song, which I’m gonna do now 🙂

  • Anna

    No lie, I just teared up reading your description of the Six Feet Under finale. It is one of the best hours of television ever made and was such a ridiculously perfect ending to the show. And now I wanna watch the show again – off to HBOGo!

  • Randl Lieb

    Couldn’t agree more about number one. A true piece of art. Who says television is just a wasteland?