Friday, May 28, 2010

The Five Worst Series Finales

As with yesterday's season finale list, I have decided to confine this list to shows within my lifetime. Like I said yesterday, this is a purely subjective list, and hopefully it will spur some of you to comment with your own picks that I missed.

In retracing all the TV finales I've watched over the years, I've realized there are a lot of final episodes that range from "meh" to "okay." Most shows manage to turn out a sendoff that is at least passable. In the cases where there's greater pressure on a finale to wrap up a major epic, or a more demanding premise, that's usually where you'll see shows fall on their face.

With that in mind, it's not surprising that there are few sitcoms on this list. In a lot of ways the bar is lower for them. Most of the episodes on this list are ones that provoked epic amounts of "Fan rage" upon their original airings.

5) Quantum Leap: "Mirror Image" - I debated if this one was fair, as the creators shot it when the future of their series was in doubt. Still, this was intended as a launching pad into the next season and they had supposedly been warned it could be the final episode. The episode is a bizarre bore that has Sam leaping into his own adult body and finding himself in a strange metaphysical bar on the exact day of his birth. Others in the bar appear to be either leapers or odd echos of previous leaps, along with a bartender who might be the God/Time/Whoever that sends Sam on his leaps. There's a nice moment near the end where Sam uses his one "free leap" to fix things for Al rather than go home, but then the episode concludes with the biggest middle finger to fans it could have had: a caption reading "Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home."

4) Enterprise: "These Are the Voyagers" - Poor Scott Bakula. He's a great actor but is the star of two of the worst finales of all-time. This episode was a slap in the face to the Enterprise cast, as the whole story is framed as a holograph simulation being played by Next Generation's Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) in a segment that's meant to take place during TNG's seventh season episode "The Pegasus." The regulars play second-fiddle in their own finale with an utterly boring story that pointlessly kills off Engineer Tucker, and then denies the audience any real closure by neglecting to show a historic speech the captain is supposedly fated to give.

3) 7th Heaven: "Goodbye and Thank You" - I didn't watch the show regularly, but I couldn't resist tuning in for this trainwreck. Not only does all the interesting stuff happen off-screen (such as a bride and groom canceling their wedding while at the altar). Not only does the show eat up time with three badly staged, acted and written fantasy scenes that seem to be there only to incorporate Jessica Biel into the show. Not only does the twist that all three Camden couples are pregnant with twins cause eye-rolling of epic proportions. But the ratings for this episode (no doubt from people like me who came to dance on this show's grave) were high enough to motivate the CW to bring the show back for yet another year. The casualty: Everwood.

(I know the mere fact that this wasn't really the end should disqualify it from this list, but it's MY list and it was fully intended as the end right up until the week after it aired. I say it counts.)

2) Star Trek: Voyager: "Endgame" - The entire premise of the show was about a Starfleet ship, stranded decades from home. For seven seasons, we watched as the crew struggled to find a faster way back, even as they pulled together. I could have forgiven the time-travel cheat that sends them home 17 years ahead of schedule, essentially amounting to a deus ex machina. I could have looked past yet another use of the Borg, a once-threatening enemy that Voyager declawed through overuse. I even could have looked past the complete lack of sacrifice or consequence here. What I can't ignore is that the audience waited seven years to see what would happen when the crew made it back - and the show fades to ending credits before Voyager reaches Earth orbit.

And the Worst Finale of All-Time (in my humble opinion)....

1) The X-Files: "The Truth" - The only thing the show got right here was bringing back David Duchovney. To really explain everything wrong with the finale would probably mean discussing what went wrong with this series as a whole. Suffice to say that at least half - if not more - of the episode is taken up with a trial that serves only to lecture to the audience about what they already know of the alien conspiracy. The main character is passive, sitting there while everyone else is stuck rehashing old territory (not unlike the Seinfeld finale, actually.)

Worse, though the episode was advertised as explaining everything, it's clear the writers can't fold all their red herrings into a single coherent conspiracy explanation. The one bit of the conspiracy that never made sense to me was the whole super-soldier plot, which emerged from thin air in season eight. The trial scenes attempt to skirt this, but it's clear those twists can't be made to work with the bees, the black oil, the alien embryos and all the other malarkey we were asked to swallow for nine years.

With "The Truth" as its valedictory address, The X-Files makes an excellent case for why one shouldn't follow a series that's based on a never-ending circle jerk of mysteries and conspiracies - or at the very least, why one shouldn't expect any satisfaction out of the ending. After being burned on this show, I watched the first two seasons of Lost, always on guard that nothing would ever make sense. I finally quit during the third season when I realized that not only was I completely indifferent to the mysteries, but that I actively hated 2/3 of the characters.

I know there are people who would argue that Seinfeld's finale deserves to be on this list. My feeling is that Seinfeld never had anything it needed to resolve. That last episode was surely a disappointment, but it feels so unlike a normal episode that it's easy for me to divorce it from the series. It doesn't taint the rest of the series for me.

What are your picks?


  1. An additional note, the caption at the end of the final Quantum Leap actually misspelled the character's name as Becket with one T encouraging the rumor that Beckett with two T's may have in fact returned home at some point. In reality it was a huge slap in the face to the people behind the show that nobody caught the typo.

    Also I think Seinfeld deserves at the very least an honorable mention here. Nothing beats ending one of the best written shows on television with a clip show.

  2. You can always identify a true Leaper by their knowledge of the typo. Good to find a fellow member of the tribe.

    Yeah, the Seinfeld finale definately counts as a huge disappointment, but I think it's not QUITE bad enough to deserve honors on this list. Don't get me wrong - it's deeply flawed on a conceptual and dramatic level, for reasons I'm hoping to get into in a post next week.

  3. I remember staring at that final Quantum Leap caption in utter disbelief back when it aired. Mind you, the show had let me down plenty by that point, what with the Evil Leaper and the episode where Sam has a fight with the goat. Or the Space Chimps one. Anyway, not Worst Ever but (dis)honourable mentions to:

    Alias 'All The Time In The World', for taking a once great show and shoving a previously layered and engaging character into the role of a pantomime Bond villain, and sapping a lot of the heart of the show in the process. Points scored back for the fabulous way the two SpyDaddys reach the ends of their stories, but points off for an eye-rollingly twist-y ending.

    Lost 'The End' - listen, Darlton, I forced myself to accept a long time ago that your smug refusal to give anything other than vague lip service to central conceits of your show's mythology was never going to change, but you simply don't take all these people on a life-changing voyage of adventure, get them off the Island then refuse to show even a glimpse of what they did next, fast-forwarding instead to the ends of their lives. It's not 'closure' for the characters to see what happened to them AFTER their lives were over. Too many significant and poignant potential character beats were simply ignored, meaning many of these guys get no sense of resolution whatsoever.

    Stargate SG-1 'Unending' - again, one not originally plotted as a show finale, but the timey-wimey, circular plot hijinks of this episode were a strong individual story but offered absolutely no sense of resolution to the proud series itself. Knowing you had your movies to wrap your stories up in is no excuse for not crafting a satisfyin finale within the show itself, ya hear?

  4. Amongst Enterprise fans, your #2 episode is either "The Abomination" or "The Episode That Shall Not Be Named", Trip didn't die by sticking his finger in a light socket, and the true finale is "Terra Prime".

    Bermaga advertised that thing as a valentine to the fans. Guess we know how they really felt. ;)

  5. Ha! My husband used to joke that Sam Beckett leaped into the life of Jonathan Archer. :D

    And as much of a Star Trek fan that I am, I agree with you on VOYAGER. They should have given us at least one 'at home' episode.

    For my choice, I thought the SEINFEILD finale was bad.

  6. I agree completely on 'Endgame' and 'The Truth' for all the reasons you stated, and agree with Monster Zero on 'All The Time in the World' for the reasons he stated.

    I'd like to throw in the recent finale of 24 too. The final season was piss poor for the most part and we got a finale that not only doesn't involve Jack Bauer for most of it, but then actually leaves his story ON A CLIFFHANGER. The same one they actually did better seasons before. Twice.

  7. It's funny that you touch on Quantum Leap all of a sudden because I'm actually writing a spec 30 Rock where Sam Beckett leaps into Jack Donaghy. I figured since they were both NBC shows it wouldn't be COMPLETELY impossible to do, not that they ever make specs anyway.

  8. Monster Zero - I kinda hear you on the Alias thing. If it hadn't been for what they did to Irina I would have enjoyed it a lot more. I know a lot of fans hated Jack's fate, but I too felt it was a fitting end - especially since he took down Sloane in the process. It was also nice to see Sydney FINALLY do what should have been done years ago and shoot Sloane dead.

    I think I read a while back that in an earlier draft there was a lot more done to explain Irina's actions and that some 15 minutes ended up being cut out. (I'm assuming this was at the script stage.) I also heard that Lena Olin's tight schedule meant that they couldn't bring her back for any more than they did in an effort to explain her behavior.

    agfg1 - This'll make a great counterpoint to my ER story yesterday. I got to tour the Enterprise sets just before they started shooting Terra Prime. In the crew quarters set, my head had a close call with a bulkhead and the assistant showing me around said, "We've got a gag like that in the finale that involves a Next Generation character." Being a smartass, I said, "Let me guess? Riker?" I figured Frakes was the only one they'd get to come back. Well, he got real quiet and I spent the next few weeks wondering, "How are they going to intergrate TNG characters in the finale without totally stepping on the regulars, especially if Riker is actually filming scenes on the ship and it's not just some scene in the 24th century reflecting back on the past?"

    As we know all too well... they didn't keep Riker and Troi from stealing the episode.

    Blackster - that's seriously how 24 ended? Were they trying for the ANGEL "cliffhanger but not really a cliffhanger" effect?

  9. The worst series finale of all time was the "Married with Children" final episode.

    After putting Fox on the map, and being one of its flagship shows for ten years, Fox canceled it while the cast was on vacation. The cast found out about the cancellation by being told during a news radio broadcast.

    Even in it's Nadir, MWC was still pulling in nine million viewers every week. Essentially, MWC beat out "24" in ratings for it's final episode, even though it wasn't (originally) supposed to be the finale.

  10. Tankerbell - I'm always of the view that if a show's been a network mainstay for five years, the least the creators deserve is a heads-up before cancelation. I can't imagine how much it would suck to learn about your own unemployment via the news.

    You make a good point about ratings then and now, but it's not quite an apples to apples compairson, as network ratings are down across the board. MWC's ratings might have been enviable by today's standards, but they were probably less impressive against their contemporaries. After all, more people watched the ALF finale than Lost's finale. And ALF's ratings were pretty low for its time. Plus, ALF's finale wasn't a hyped final episode. It was dumped on a Saturday night outside of sweeps without much fanfare.

  11. Didn't ABC ship the series finales of Who's the Boss and Growing Pains to the same Saturday night as a special deal? Maybe even the final MacGyver too?

  12. KryptonSite - It depends on how you view "special." That season both Who's the Boss and Growing Pains had their regular timeslots on Saturday and it was that schedule change that in fact sent ratings plummeting and led to the cancellation in the first place. I can't say for sure if MacGyver shared that fate the entire season, but you're right about all three shows closing out on the same night.

    (Sadly all of that was from memory. I hang my head in shame.)

    Saturday is traditionally the least-watched night of TV. The only time any real success has been noted there was when Golden Girls and its various spin-offs dominated.

  13. "Saturday is traditionally the least-watched night of TV."

    College football or what? I can certainly agree with the assessment, but I'm curious as to the cause. I'm sure partying/dating/social among that coveted 18-49 demographic figures in, but even then, there's usually a TV on wherever they are.

    Memory fails me, but wasn't "Firefly" on Friday nights? Is that the second worst night?

  14. Actually, I didn't mind "Endgame" on ST:V that much. It had some good moments. As of last night (Thursday), my official worst series finale is FlashForward.

  15. "CBS's Saturday night of crapola" as Bart Simpson once put it did well too, if memory serves correctly. Dr. Quinn, Walker Texas Ranger, Touched By An Angel, and Early Edition - all of them did fairly well, didn't they?

    I actually have a videotape somewhere with those final Growing Pains and Who's the Boss episodes on them, from the night of airing. *hangs head in further shame* Though I have no idea where it is now.

    I remember being really annoyed when they did a Growing Pains reunion movie about selling the family house when they moved away from it in the series finale. Then again, said movie also said Chrissy was 17 and Ben 23 when she was born on his 11th birthday. Oops.

    Sorry, my geek is showing. Would love to see your take on best and worst reunion shows, though.

  16. Shoot... totally forgot about "CBS's Saturday night of crapola." You're right. And I had the same issue with the Growing Pains reunion movie. Not only had they sold that house over ten years earlier, but the house they used in the movie looked nothing like the original. Neither movie was all that great, as I recall.

    Yeah, the Chrissy/Ben age discontinuity is kind of unavoidable considering they aged Chrissy by about four or five years when they cast Ashley Johnson late in the series run. Later-period ER has the same problem with the age-accelerated Rachel Greene.

    Best reunion shows? I don't know if I've seen nearly enough to make even a halfway educated call. My personal list would probably put the HOMICIDE TV movie at the top. It's the finale that the series never got.

    Everyone remembers A VERY BRADY CHRISTMAS as a decent Brady Bunch follow-up but there are some truly dreadful Brady-spinoffs, particularly the one that had Marcia as an alcoholic and Bobby paralyzed.

    I remember enjoying the novelty of "The New Leave it to Beaver" as a kid, but I doubt it was quality TV. I know there were a few Gilligan's Island reunions - what else?

  17. I too saw the Homicide movie, and even though I wasn't familiar with the series itself, I loved it. I'm originally from Maryland so the Baltimore locations especially resonated.

    I've probably also seen far too many reunion specials. I remember trying to watch the Patty Duke one where her boyfriend looked 80. The first Dukes of Hazzard reunion movie was fun, but the lack of Boss Hogg and change in Balladeer distracted a bit... it was still great to see the Dukes again, and loads better than the recent movies. The Facts of Life reunion movie was also odd, as it was missing who was arguably the most memorable of the girls (Jo), though they had some great lines, such as mentioning they haven't had a good handyman since George left for Hollywood.

    As a 13 year old I also enjoyed "Knight Rider 2000" a lot, though it hasn't aged all that well, I still like it because of that childhood enjoyment, I'm sure. I remember watching the Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman reunion movies also but don't remember them much. And *ducks and hides* I actually liked the Hulk reunion movie with Daredevil.

    There were also a few Hunter TV-movies that did so well in the ratings that NBC commissioned another "season" of the show, over 10 years after it originally ended. But they banished it to Saturday night and didn't even end up showing all of the episodes that were ordered. Aside from rare revival situations like Get Smart or Burke's Law, I haven't heard of that happening all that often.

    I think the whole "reunion movie" concept might be extinct now, though. The networks seem more involved with wanting to just remake their "classics" instead of continuing the lore from before. So, I guess we won't have a "Fuller House" or "Still Perfect Strangers" movie anytime soon, and maybe that's for the best. I think the closest we might get, if anything, would be sequel series picking up on storylines from originals, such as what has been done with 90210 or Melrose Place.

  18. Another one was the first time they ended La Femme Nikita. She turned out to have been a spy all along and never loved the male lead after all because she was just pretending. It was such a hated ending that fans campaigned and got 8 more episodes so they could end it properly. Of course, they still had to contend with where they left things after the first finale.

    Oh and speaking of finales that weren't finales, what the hell was up with that stupid Scrubs finale where everybody's a fairy tale character?

  19. KryptonSite - That post pretty much demonstrates how few reunion shows I've bothered to watch. I hadn't seen most of those, and I tend to side with those who think they're a bad idea. I get the curiousity to see where everyone's favorite characters are "now" and where they ended up, but most of the time the actors all look different, the characters barely feel the same, and it's hard to recapture the magic.

    The HOMICIDE movie works because it was produced less than a year after the series, it tied up some major loose threads caused by the cancellation, and they were able to bring back EVERYBODY. Nearly 20 regulars returned for this, many who had been long gone from the series. As a longtime fan, I was as tickled to see Munch and Bolander back together again as I was to have Frank and Tim's relationship reach that sad final beat. I highly recommend the series if you ever get a chance to check it out on DVD.

    Emily - The blame for that "stupid" Scrubs finale can totally be laid at NBC's feet. They had 11 episodes in the can before the strike brought a halt to things. That episode was never intended to be the finale, nor was it the last one produced. It was actually written as the ninth episode and the network hated it so much they held back from airing it in its usual spot.

    EP Bill Lawrence wasn't happy about that decision. He also told the network after the strike that he was willing to wrap the show up in three episodes. They said, "We'll give you a one-hour finale if you pay for half of it." Fortunately ABC stepped in and renewed the show for the eighth season - the last one for most of the cast.

  20. You know, I think what sets that HOMICIDE movie apart from say a HEROES wrapup is it really seemed as though the creative people, including the actors, really loved the project and would be willing to return to give it proper closure. For HEROES I don't see that happening, because there are far too many people to rope in who are surely already moving on.

    1. Actually, the HEROES cast & crew loved the show too and likely would have taken part in a wrap-up project too. I thought the end of Season Four set up some interesting possibilities. Whether or not the next season would have followed up on said possibilities is anybody's guess.

  21. Twin Peaks - of course the final episode is hypnotic and kinda wonderful, but fans of good ol' Coop have to weep at what becomes of him in the final moments. Kinda glad they never had the opportunity to flesh out that particular story thread.

  22. This might be a little bit of a stretch, but would "Serenity" (the movie, not the pilot) count? It was very disappointing to see a brilliant show like Firefly squandered in such a manner. The amazing chemistry of the cast and characters, that was somehow built in a mere half-season, was non-existant in the film. Instead, the beloved scenes of sophisticated dialogue were replaced by extended action scenes. I knew a little bit of Hollywood-izing of the show would be needed, but they went way too far. It's too bad Joss Whedon wasn't able to expose us the story of the Reavers' origin over a full season, as originally planned, rather than cramming it into mediocre film.

  23. I have to admit I never watched a single episode, but I hear the Sopranos finale was quite the disappointment.

    And for the cultural phenomenon that Seinfeld was, the end was an epic fail. I remember thinking, this isn't even funny, they're just doing things and forcing it to seem funny.