Ending a television show is no easy task for a showrunner or writer -we can see this from the number of shows that people complain about when they finally come to an end.
In many cases people have invested huge numbers of hours into the plot and the characters of a show, and they have very high expectations for how the programme will finally finish. This doesn’t always happen, with notable high-profile examples including Lost and Game of Thrones where audiences have been divided as to whether the end was as good as the journey.
But we’re not here to start the whole Game of Thrones finale debate again (please, please don’t)… no, we want to celebrate some of the best TV endings of all time. Finales that had us jumping for joy, and that we still remember fondly many years after the show has ended. We want endings that have us immediately searching for similar shows to fill the void in our streaming lives.
If you’re a fan of the medium of video, you can watch the list (and explanation as to why each of the shows has been chosen) below. But if you’re more of a reader, then read on to find out about my favourite five TV endings…
You can watch this best list below, and if you like it don’t forget to visit Screen OD on YouTube for more multimedia content…
Is there ever an easy way to end a sitcom, especially one that has run for a decade and in many ways defined a generation of television.
Friends saw our super six go from being young people making their way in the world to becoming proper grown ups – loving and losing along the way. In a decade on screen we fell in love with Joey, Monica, Ross, Phoebe, Chandler and Rachel, and so to say goodbye to them in a way that satisfied an audience would be no mean feat.
However, when the time came, the writers played a blinder – finding just the right mix of comedy and emotion as they brought the Friends together one last time in an empty apartment. They place their keys on the counter and they say their goodbyes. Before for one last time they go to get some coffee, with just time for one last joke from Chandler; “where?”
We’re left with scenes of the empty apartment, but more than that we’re left with Friends who have transformed since we’ve known them. People who have reached another stage in life, and as viewers we can’t help but also reflect on the time that has passed since we first started watching the show.
Breaking Bad is without a doubt one of the most brilliantly crafted, written and produced dramas ever to have been committed to television, and one of the reasons it will remain at the very top of lists of the best shows of all time is because it left everything on the field when it ended.
This was a show about a man who had been on an incredible journey, and we had been on it every step of the way. Walter White had gone from a high school chemistry teacher with a terminal cancer diagnosis and no idea how he could make sure his family were looked after to a small-time criminal, to a drug lord and killer… and it was always difficult to see how things could pan out well for him as the final bleak season turned the screw.
And although lesser shows may have left us with an amicable resolution, seen White show remorse or try to find a way out – Breaking Bad and Walter White face the end head on and allow the character to leave in style. To the haunting beat of Badfinger’s My Baby Blue, we see Walter slip away with a smile on his face in a meth lab as the police run in. He died like he lived, on his own terms.
This is an entry into the list that will have some people extremely pleased and others very angry, but I don’t care what people say, the ending of The Sopranos, just like the entire brilliant groundbreaking series was a masterpiece.
In 2007, it was time to say goodbye to David Chase’s Tony Soprano, the mobster in therapy played by the late great James Gandolfini. But after such a rollercoaster ride with Tony and his family, it was hard to see how this could be done. To put it mildly, endings in TV can be hard, and putting to bed a television show that some regard as the greatest work ever in the medium would be a difficult journey.
And so we were given one of the great ambiguous endings, that still today TV fans debate. As we see three members of The Soprano family come together in a diner with Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ blaring from the stereo, the scene builds and builds and builds. What’s going to happen next? We wait, and we wait. Meadow is late and is parking outside. She’s running for the door. We wait. We hear a ring as the door opens, Tony looks up… we cut to black!
Did Meadow arrive and is everything alright? Was Tony the victim of a mob hit? Is it all just an allegory for Tony’s paranoia? We’ll never know… but that’s why it’s so good.
Don Draper’s journey in Mad Men is one of the most slow burning in the history of television, but makes for one of the most celebrated and atmospheric dramas that there has ever been.
Once the king of Madison Avenue in an age where his brand appears to have no limits, we see Draper (played by the brilliant Jon Hamm) become a shadow of his former self near the end of the series as the world changes around him and he struggles to find who he really is or wants to be.
Enter a beautifully crafted ending that leaves us with questions, but in the right way.
As we see tortured soul Draper on the hilltop with his hippy community in the Californian sun, we cut to one of the most famous commercials ever made, the 1971, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” And what have we witnessed? Is this a final neat tying up of Don’s journey, has he found inner peace and realised there’s more to life? Or has he just managed to turn a beautiful moment into a commercial opportunity – using love and peace as a way of selling fizzy drinks?
The answer is one we’ll never know, but the ending was worth the wait.
Six Feet Under
The don’t do endings like this anymore. Six Feet Under is not only one of the best HBO shows ever made, it is one of the best shows ever made. A groundbreaking piece of television, it required an ending that was up to the job, and they did not let us down.
The dark story of the Fisher family who run a Los Angeles funeral home comes to a conclusion with an epic scene that sees Claire driving away with Sia’s Breathe Me playing in the background.
What happens next is a technique you don’t see used often as we flash forward to the end of the life of each of the main characters. If you are one of those people who is disappointed at ambiguous endings to TV shows, you certainly can’t be with this as we see the death and even the year of every character’s demise, culminating in the end of Claire herself (spoiler alert, she dies in 2085 and lives to 102, good going).
A beautifully staged end and one that will always be remembered as one of the best ends to a TV show. Bravo.