EXCLUSIVE: Top Ten TV Series Finales

You never want to see good TV come to an end. As May rolls around, many shows reach the end of their seasons, as others reach the end of their primetime life spans. With that in mind, we decided to take a look back at some notable series finales from shows we watched and loved. Series finales are always bittersweet. While it’s often fulfilling to see all of the narrative arcs come to a close, the realization that you aren’t going to be spending any more time with your favorite characters is a bummer. So, in the order in which they left our screens for good, here are our top ten television series finales.
—Danielle & Joe

(Warning: Serious SPOILERS ahead!)

The Wonder Years
May 12, 1993: “Independence Day”

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This series about growing up in the 1960s was pretty much the antithesis of the maudlin sappiness of other “family” sitcoms like Full House. The opening credits feature home movies and Joe Cocker’s iconic Beatles’ cover from his Woodstock performance, setting the nostalgic and sometimes melancholy tone of the show. The two-part series finale was pretty heavy stuff for my young mind to fully grasp. Looking back, it truly does capture what it’s like to grow up and grow apart from childhood friends and first loves.  In the end, The Wonder Years’ message was that life is about change, rather than happy endings.—JK

Seinfeld
May 14, 1998: “The Finale”

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Series creator and generally hilarious misanthrope Larry David returned to write the series finale of one of the best comedy sitcoms of all time. Seinfeld‘s finale isn’t anywhere near the best episode of the show’s nine-year run, but it’s notable in its strangeness. New York City is practically another character on Seinfeld, so having the finale take place in a small town in Massachusetts where their plane has to make an emergency landing is an odd choice. Even more strange is having the entire cast go on trial for neglecting to help a carjacking victim. Really, the entire set-up is just a plot device to have all of the reoccurring characters show up to “testify” against the cast. It was a great send-off for fans of the show, but probably pretty confusing for anyone tuning in to see what all of the hype was about.—JK

Boy Meets World
May 5, 2000: “Brave New World”

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The two-part finale to my all-time favorite show, although disjointed and lacking continuity from a storyline perspective, was a fitting send-off to the TGIF sitcom. It was one of those perfect hour-long clip episodes that took you back through everything you knew you loved about the show. Seven seasons’ worth of favorite moments play at rapid speed, so even though the show ends in tears, at least it has the good form to give you 45 minutes of hysterical laughter first. (The Eric montage is my personal fave—and, of course, the Feeny Call.) My heart starts to pound a little when they step into the classroom because I know what’s coming … and then, the very second the music dips into that three-staccato-note melody and Mr. Feeny tells them to believe in themselves … dream … try … do good … the tears are already flowin’. I cannot handle this finale, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. I learned more from that man than I ever did from any teacher in my own life, so I feel their pain as they say goodbye to him. That final scene is brutal, especially coming from a show that went heavy on the silly humor and light on the heavy stuff for seven seasons. I’m a sobbing mess by the time Cory says, “You’ll always be with us. As long as we live, OK?” (Because truth.) And when Feeny finally says those final words? Oh, it hurts so good.—DT

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
May 20, 2003: “Chosen”

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Joss Whedon’s supernatural series spanned seven seasons (try saying that five times fast) and chronicled Buffy Summers’ transition from high school new girl to college student to struggling young adult, all while battling vampires, demons, and “the forces of darkness”—the big baddies ranged from half-human/half-robots and immortal gods, sometimes her own friends (and boyfriends) and finally, to evil itself. The epic finale found the Slayer and her trusty Scoobies (plus a legion of potential slayers) battling it out down in the Hellmouth, trying to save the world (for real this time). They don’t all make it out before the high school starts to crumble and the entire town of Sunnydale, CA is sucked into the ground. It’s not really a tearjerker (unless you have a soft spot for Spike’s champion moment, which I kind of do), but it does have a certain finality to it, made all the more poignant with the final line spoken: “What are we gonna do now?” as they all stand together, contemplating their victory and their futures. I’ve always thought season seven doesn’t feel as connected to the previous six, but it still ends on a perfect note of closure. Buffy, no longer the one and only, can do whatever she wants. Her future is no longer written in stone. Her mortality is no longer in question. That last frame of her simply smiling into the sunshine always makes me smile too. Go get ‘em, Buff.—DT

Friends
May 6, 2004: “The Last One”

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You can’t get much more final with an episode title like that. Another two-parter, the long-running popular sitcom about “the lives, loves, and laughs of six young friends living in Manhattan” came to a close with this episode that not only tied up loose ends, but allowed for happy endings. Ross and Rachel’s will-they-or-won’t-they dance finally stopped on a resounding “They will!” and Monica and Chandler, now the proud parents of unexpected twins, are ready to start their next chapter. The friends tearfully all turn in their keys and stand in the empty apartment where nearly every episode for ten seasons took place. “This is harder than I thought it would be,” Monica says, crying, and I always well up, because even though I wasn’t a fan of the show while it was currently airing (it became one of my many late-to-the-party favorites after I started binge-watching shows on Netflix) and even though I didn’t have a deep-seated connection to any of the friends or their experiences, we’ve all had to say goodbye at some point. We’ve all had to sit and watch, unable to do anything about it, as a situation we were used to finally came to an inevitable end. Time to grow up, the show says. Life moves on. And you can understand it all you want, but that didn’t stop me from sobbing in my car for 30 minutes after I left college. So it’s that bittersweet resonance that always gets me.—DT

Will & Grace
September 29, 2005: “The Finale”

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Another after-the-fact binge-a-thon, I started watching Will & Grace because I’d crawl into bed with my college roommate at night and watch a couple reruns with him every once in a while. The show was definitely funny and it piqued my interest enough that I thought I’d give it a shot. It instantly became a new favorite. The writers put some of the snappiest one-liners I’d ever heard into Jack and Karen’s mouths and, at times, I found myself thinking it may have been the funniest sitcom I’d ever watched. The finale was, in my opinion, a wonderful twist. The characters didn’t get an easy way out; even though it was sad to see that Will and Grace eventually stopped being Will & Grace, it was more rooted in reality than most sitcoms would dare to venture. Just when you think you have the ending figured out, fate steps in. Having their kids wind up exactly where they were (across-the-hall-mates in college), fall in love, and get married, bringing the two soul mates together again, this time for life—even though it’s been 20 years, it’s beautiful to see their paths cross again in such a permanent way. And despite being middle-aged parents, they instantly revert back to the best friends they were when the show first started out. They simply know each other too well to ever be strangers. In a way, they had to have their falling out so that the rest of their lives could fall into place, but their story was never meant to end. I just love it. (P.S. Tearjerker moment: Jack and Karen’s impromptu performance is ‘Unforgettable.’ Gives me chils.)—DT

Gilmore Girls
May 15, 2007: “Bon Voyage”

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One of the most famous mother/daughter duos in pop culture, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore redefined “fast talker.” The seven-season exploration and inadvertent glorification of what could happen if you get pregnant at 16 (best friend for life, yay) was equal parts hilarity and heartache. The drama came to a reluctant close with Rory, journalist extraordinaire, setting out to cover Obama’s on-the-road presidential campaign. Having just graduated from Yale and declined a marriage proposal to her hunky Huntzberger boyfriend, Rory is ready to take on the world. Her tiny hometown of Stars Hollow sends her off with a spectacular goodbye party thrown in the town square in the middle of the pouring rain. Meanwhile, Lorelai adjusts to the idea that she may not see her daughter for months at a time. Luckily, our lovelorn Lorelai at least gets one happy ending by reuniting with on-again/off-again Luke. The finale may not have been what I expected, but there really would be no other way to fully close on the Gilmores’ story without shipping Rory somewhere. Otherwise, we’d all still be suffering from severe FOMO. The final shot brings us full circle to the pilot, something I’ve always liked about it and any other show that does the same.—DT

The Wire
March 9, 2008: “-30-“

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Former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon‘s look at urban decay and institutional corruption is rightly touted as the best cable drama ever by many critics. The show, with its dense story and huge cast of characters, is more like a novel than a traditional television narrative. Over the course of the series, Simon explores crooked cops, shady drug dealers, failing schools, corrupt politicians, and unethical journalists. The final season, which features a crusading editor of a daily newspaper rallying desperately for truth in the face of unending lies and manipulation, is particularly interesting to me. In the end, Simon’s message is not a hopeful onethere is nothing you can do to change a rotten system, he seems to posit. If you want to be happy, you have to either accept it or just stop caring. The show’s final montage is a harrowing look at where many of the characters end up.—JK

The Shield
November 25, 2008: “Family Meeting”

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I remember watching the pilot of The Shield when it first aired on FX and being put off by its over-the-top machismo. I mean, a montage set to a Kid Rock song? That is not a good sign. However, the show eventually became a story about the consequences these men have to pay for their tough guy posturing and less-than-ethical behavior. It was a story about paying the price for evil deeds—one that culminated in the final episode when a major character kills his young family and then himself as the police raid his home. Alpha dog Vic Mackey, played perfectly by Michael Chiklis, is eventually resigned to a fate worse than death for someone who prides himself the ultimate cop—a low-level desk job after his name is disgraced by testifying against fellow officers.—JK

Breaking Bad
September 29, 2013: “Felina”

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The Breaking Bad finale left a gaping hole in my Sunday night TV watching that even The Walking Dead can’t fill. The antihero, Walter White, admitting that all of his horrible deeds were done out of ego and hubris rather than rationalizing that he was “doing it for his family” is the perfect end to this series. We last see Walter wandering an empty meth lab, slowly dying from a bullet wound while Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” plays on the soundtrack. He has lost everything—his family, his partner and surrogate son, Jesse, his good name—but he collapses and dies with a smile on his face, knowing that he earned respect. Sure, it might be respect from meth dealers and other terrible people, but he’s no longer the meek chemistry teacher he once was. Bryan Cranston, who played Walter White, was downright amazing in the role; check out his reading of “Ozymandias” in this promo as evidence of his dramatic line-reading chops.JK

Honorable Mention
How I Met Your Mother
March 31, 2014: “Last Forever”

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I wanted to hurt somebody after this finale and a quick glance at Twitter showed I wasn’t alone. Some people have applauded the show’s full-circle attempt at Ted’s happily ever after, but countless others, myself included, feel gypped at the laziness of Ted ending up with Robin after nine seasons of telling us at every turn that it wasn’t Robin. All of season 9—and I mean all 22 episodes leading up to the finale—was spent on Robin and Barney’s wedding weekend. (Don’t even get me started on the wasted 22 minutes of total RHYMING.) Then, in less time than it takes to say “I do,” they’re divorced. Barney is back to his old womanizer ways until he knocks some poor girl up and becomes a father. Robin and her 17 dogs are still living in what looks like the same apartment. Ted’s wife, who we didn’t feel we knew well enough to defend so fiercely but did so just the same, was indeed sick and passed halfway through the episode, leaving the path clear for Ted’s kids to say, really, that’s it? That wasn’t a story about Mom, that was a story about how you’re in love with Aunt Robin! Aaaaand cue the blue French horn from the pilot … the culmination of the story just felt so cheap. I’ve read a number of arguments and analyses and opinion blogs and critic reviews and I still can’t come at that controversial finale from any other angle. It gave the entire show a “What’s the point?” connotation, which irritates me given how much I truly liked the comedy and its characters. I can’t happily cry at Barney’s beautiful rooftop proposal anymore, knowing that it’s eventually all for naught—and that upsets me most of all.—DT

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