Saying Goodbye: The Good and the Bad of TV Finales

The fall TV season may just be beginning, but fans have been saying goodbye to some of their very favorite shows.  After years of intense drama, the shows Dexter and Breaking Bad have finally come to an end.  I’m not going to spoil the details of either finale, but let’s just say that fan reaction has been a study in contrast: Opinions of the Dexter finale have ranged from disgust to a simple “good riddance,” thanks more to the last few seasons than just one episode.  On the other hand, most people seemed to enjoy the finale of Breaking Bad.  Sure, they might have wanted the show to go on forever, but they mostly agree it was time to say goodbye – and the farewell was bittersweet and fitting of the show.

It got me thinking about finales in general, and how they manage to color the opinion of a show as a whole.  Even if a show has been on for several years, the reaction to the finale – or lack thereof – can affect the tone in which people talk about it for years.  In “the old days” before most shows were either syndicated or widely available for home viewing, the finale had even more of an effect; it was literally the last thing viewers would see and the freshest memory they’d have.  And even now, if a finale puts you off too much, you’re going to be less inclined to start re-watching a show from the beginning to remember why you loved it in the first place.

The reactions to show finales fall roughly into four categories.  Here they are, along with a few geek favorites:

The Slow Fade

Dexter definitely falls into this category.  Fans all have their own opinion about when this show started to head south (most agree it happened at some point after the fourth season, though).  A much-beloved, must-watch show becomes must-watch-because-I’ve-invested-this-much-time TV.  You start reading more snark than praise.  The finale doesn’t fix anything; it’s just another example of what the show became.

Heroes was another prime example of a slow fade.  It opened to much hype, but almost as much acclaim; it familiarized us with the faces of mostly-unknowns like Hayden Panettiere and Zach Quinto.  After the first season, though, it fell flat.  Most nowadays will point to the writers’ strike of 2007 as the reason (and more than one show stumbled that year, to be sure).  Whatever the cause, it never really recovered from its fumble, and most hardly noticed when it was canceled.

The “What Did I Just Watch?!”

You’ve been watching a show for years, and you were happy with it.  Then a series finale comes that is so out of nowhere that fans are instantly split, and some are so taken aback that the entire show is tainted.  For many, that show would be LOST.  It was a case in which our imaginations proved to be more tantalizing than what the writers envisioned.  While some might argue that it was a bit of a slow fade, for others the finale came completely out of left field.   The good news: when a show pulls this, you can watch it from the beginning, forget the finale and still have a good show.

Another show that did this was the rebooted Battlestar: Galactica.  To be fair, that show had many “WTF?!” moments throughout its run; the finale was simply an even bigger one.  What’s more notable is that despite the increasingly creative writing, the show managed to hold on to its fanbase and still shock everyone with the finale.   Even more shocking: it’s pretty split in fan reaction – though most will agree, it left them reeling, for good or bad.

The Fond Farewell

It’s a rare show that manages to keep viewers watching ’til the end, and then deliver with a finale that doesn’t devolve into back-patting.  Breaking Bad certainly seems to have hit that sweet spot, though it’s still a little early to analyze the long-running impact.  They also achieved something even more difficult: a finale that managed to be satisfying for viewers and stay true to the show, despite being a show that is inherently the opposite of warm fuzzies.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was a beloved show, and its finale didn’t disappoint either: a great mix of sci-fi concepts like time travel and the possibilities of humanity combined with the other elements that made it great: the “family” of characters.  And while it was definitely a finale, it left viewers with the sense that the adventures would continue – which is essentially the essence of Star Trek as a whole.

The Sudden Stop

Alas, not every show is afforded the luxury of a finale.  Many shows are canceled without much warning, and zero planning on the part of the writers.  Some of these shows are one-season fluff that’s rarely thought of again, but other shows are memorable despite their short lifespans and leave us wondering what might have been.

Firefly is probably the most famous of these types of shows; the show was a victim of poor support from a network that didn’t really value it from the very beginning.  Though hardly anyone actually saw the show when it was on the air, it gained tremendous popularity through DVD sales and, more importantly, an incredibly dedicated fanbase.  While fans were rewarded eventually with a movie, it was somewhat removed from the “magic” of the TV show and most fans still long for another season.

Futurama is another series that has been subject to the whims of the Powers That Be, despite having an enthusiastic fanbase.  At first, the show fell into syndication without having had an official finale; then its future was up in the air for several years.  But a perk of an animated series is that it is not as chained to the passing of time as live-action shows, so eventually new episodes were created.  Now it’s looking like a “real” finale will air about a decade after the show first fell out of production.  However, due to the stops and starts over the years, there have been four designated finales thus far; who’s to say this latest one will truly take?

All things considered, we seem to remember finales more frequently in a negative light than a positive one; maybe it’s the pressure of summing up years of a TV show in one episode.  Just the same, we seem to crave big finales, perhaps because we like closure.  So let’s hear from you: what are some of the finales that have been most memorable?  Do you find your reaction tends to fall into one of the four major categories?  Share your thoughts below!

 

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