Josh’s Least Favorite TV Series Finales!
Last week I waxed poetic about my favorite TV series finales. Today let’s examine the other side of the coin — what I feel are the three WORST series finales that I’ve ever seen!
One quick note, before we begin: St. Elsewhere is renowned for having one of the most ludicrous series finales ever, in which it was revealed that the entire show was just the dream of an autistic child. However, since that wasn’t a show that I ever watched, it’s finale isn’t on my list.
So what is?
The West Wing — “Tomorrow” — I thought the show would be lost after the departure of Aaron Sorkin at the end of season 4, and the limp season 5 didn’t do much to discourage me of that notion. Season 6 started off just as badly, but about halfway through that season the show completely reinvented itself. Suddenly the story focused on the race for the White House, following a variety of characters, new and old, through their involvement in the primaries and, ultimately, in the Presidential election. Not only did this change bring a lot of new energy and intensity to the show, but by moving the show outside the confines of the White House and into new territory, it made it easier for viewers to stop comparing the new episodes to the Sorkin classics. I got really into the show again, and was very excited for the finale to wrap things up in grand style. Sadly, what we got was a tepid, boring hour in which nothing really happened. The much-heralded return of Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) turned out to be barely more than a cameo. Many long-running characters and storylines were ignored entirely (Toby doesn’t appear at all?? No resolution to the long-simmering Charlie-Zoey romance?) or handled in an entirely trivial, superficial manner (Gee, President Bartlett sees Charlie as his son? That was obvious ever since the first season!). Most disappointingly, the first episode of season seven had opened with an intriguing “three years later” flash-forward. It had seemed clear to me that the questions raised in that scene would be addressed in a book-end scene at the end of the finale. And yet, nothing! Why include that scene at all in the season premiere if they weren’t going to go anywhere with it? What a let-down.
The X-Files — “The Truth” — Although the show definitely should have ended after the seventh season, when David Duchovny (who played series lead Fox Mulder) left, I’m not one of those fans who thought the final two seasons to be entirely without merit. There were still a lot of great spooky adventures to be had, and I thought that the two new leads, Agents Doggett (The T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick) and Reyes (Annabeth Gish) were both surprisingly compelling. Like The West Wing, The X-Files was a show that was clearly past its prime in its final couple of seasons, but I still found it solidly enjoyable from week to week. Until the staggeringly boring final episode, that is, in which Mulder returns and is put on trial by the military. The extended trial is a pretty feeble excuse to show a lot of clips from previous episodes of the show. The idea of putting all of the weird and mysterious events that we’ve witnessed into some sort of context is a good one — but unfortunately, by this point the mythology of the show had grown so convoluted that even attentive viewers like myself had grown disinterested in all the talk of alien-human hybrids, abductions, shape-changers, genetically engineered bees, and all of rest of that stuff. Worse still, the trial and its accompanying clips just re-showed us events that we’d already seen, and pieces of the puzzle that we, the viewers, had already put together for ourselves. There was nothing NEW learned — no surprises, no revelations. My attention did perk up, for a brief moment, when series villain the Cigarette Smoking Man re-appeared towards the episode’s end. I had hated the way he had been apparently killed off in an earlier episode, and was thrilled to see that event undone. But, after 5 minutes, they went and killed him off again! What a waste. So sad to see this amazing, ground-breaking show end with such a pathetic whimper.
Seinfeld — “The Finale” — Here’s another example of a show that made the terrible decision to hang the story of its finale around a clip-filled trial. Ugh. There was some fun to be had in the first twenty or so minutes, as some old story-lines were revisited (Jerry’s pilot, the contest, etc.) and they played with the audience’s expectations for a dramatic series finale (There’s ALMOST a plane crash! Elaine ALMOST professes her love for Jerry!). But once the gang found themselves stranded in Massachusetts and get arrested, things came to a screeching halt. The lengthy trial is entirely without humor, and all the clips just serve to remind viewers of how much funnier the show used to be. I love the idea of bringing back a lot of familiar faces from the run of the series, but I found the trial to be a pretty clumsy way to do it. It just got very dull, very quickly, to watch one old character after another walk through the courtroom doors. Furthermore, sending the characters to prison at the end seemed to be quite an outlandish break from the show’s famous “show about nothing” mantra. And frankly, the whole idea of punishing the characters for all of their pettiness seemed like something developed by someone who’d never actually watched the show. Of course I know that the finale was written by Larry David, but had he forgotten that the characters seemed to suffer at the end of every episode for their mis-deeds?? Did George’s schemes not always blow up in his face? Was Jerry not dumped repeatedly by beautiful women like Sidra (“they’re real, and they’re spectacular”) or Mulva? Did Elaine not continually drift from job to job and weird boyfriend to even weirder boyfriend? No additional punishment was necessary! Sending them to prison just seemed ludicrously excessive. But of course I would have forgiven that device had the lengthy finale actually been any funny. Which it was not. What a disappointment. I much preferred the wonderful retrospective “The Chronicle” (filled with wonderful montages of clips as well as out-takes, etc.) that aired right before the finale. Now THAT was a nice send-off to this classic series.
Do people agree? Disagree? What other series-ending clunkers have I neglected to mention? Let me know!