These Are The TV Shows That Actually Achieved A Perfect Ending
'Game of Thrones' could take lessons.
Game of Thrones is over, and that ending was certainly… contentious.
I write this bracing for you to yell at me.
As the past week has proved with Game of Thrones, the level of difficulty with delivering a satisfying TV finale is insane. Putting together a list of the shows that wrapped it up perfectly can only result in more yelling.
But this is a good thing because we all have intimate connections to long-running TV series. You yell because you care.
When a TV show becomes part of your routine it’s going to be prone to the same levels of joy and disappointment as your friends, but as writer Matt Zoller Seitz said in his obit of Game of Thrones, “television is not a restaurant where you can send the food back.”
We must accept the terms a show decides to end on, for better or worse, and our experiences are going to differ.
The best TV finales are often ones you can’t stop thinking about. You may find yourself a decade later getting emotional thinking about the empty apartment on Friends, the closing montage on The Wire or Jed Bartlett looking at the framed napkin on The West Wing.
Here’s a list of the show’s with perfect endings that I think about a lot.
Don Draper’s moment of zen could never be pure.
The advertising guru who spent seven seasons trying to feel something — anything — ended his journey at a spiritual retreat where he found peace. Each character gets a fitting send off in a beautiful montage where we get to see their lives after Sterling Cooper & Partners.
But Draper’s newfound harmony ends up being in service of advertising, as the finale closes with the iconic ‘hilltop’ commercial for Coca-Cola.
The closer can be read many ways: Draper pitched the ad to Coke, a reflection of a new age of corporate enlightenment or a commercial distillation of Draper’s mindset. No matter how you interpret the ending, it’s a genius move to end a show about advertising with a commercial.
Freaks And Geeks
For a show that lasted one season, the finale is brilliant because we didn’t know it was the last time we’d see Lindsay, Sam and the class of William McKinley High School.
The series was cancelled mid-season, but the news of TV shows getting the axe didn’t spread rapidly in 1999.
The line between freaks and geeks got blurred in the finale when Daniel (James Franco) bonds with the AV club over Dungeons and Dragons, and drumming tragic Nick (Jason Segel), goes to the dark side: disco.
With everything changing, Lindsey (Linda Cardellini) fakes out her parents by getting on a bus to attend an academic summit and getting off to meet Kim (Busy Philips) to see The Grateful Dead.
The show began with Lindsey’s rebellion, army jacket and all, and ends with her most defiant, independent moment.
The brutal reality of long-term relationships is captured in the series created by and starring, Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan.
The couple go from booty calls in London to family life in the inner city, loving and swearing at each other over four seasons. By the time you get to the end, the grind of these two characters spending their lives together becomes raw in the shadow of grief, parenting, alcoholism and career changes.
We’re told fidelity equals stability, but Catastrophe shows that life is chaotic even if you find your soul mate — relationships are hard work. Sharon and Rob stop at a beach in the final scene to express their dissatisfaction with life and each other. They decide to go from a swim despite signs warning of dangerous conditions ahead.
Sharing a life with someone is all about ignoring those signs.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Yeah, you’re not the one and only chosen anymore, just gotta live like a person, how’s that feel?”
Buffy Summers is no longer the only Slayer in the world and the series ends on her smile.
A ‘normal life’ is what Buffy always craved and it’s finally hers. Sunnydale is a crater and the Hellmouth is closed but the finale is much more than just ending the arc of Buffy and the Scooby gang because they break the chain of isolation associated with the chosen one. The lone responsibility is no longer her burden to carry with an army of Slayers activated, she’s free.
Parks and Recreation
Time jumps can be a risk, they become riskier if you do it in the final season, which is what Mike Schur did with Parks and Rec.
The final season aired in 2015 but it’s set in 2017 and full of jokes about life not so far into the future.
Over the course of the season we find out why each character is leaving Pawnee or moving onto bigger things like Mayor Garry; they’re all heartfelt and completely in tune with each character’s motivations.
In the final episode, the team gather to fix a swing and it’s contrasted wonderfully with Leslie Knope’s speech about how public service is all about “small incremental change everyday” followed up by, “what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love”, a line Knope quotes again when the episode shifts to 2035 and she’s the governor speaking at a university.
But the final kicker comes when it flicks back to 2017, and with the knowledge of what Knope will become, we get one of the most optimistic moments in television history where she looks straight ahead and says: “I’m ready”.
The series about crooked cops always did an amazing job of stacking the odds against its characters, and then it left you gobsmacked when they got away with it.
The dodgy police had so many chances the show bordered on becoming a fantasy, but it all came to a head in the final season as the law caught up with Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and the Strike Team.
There’s tragedy (the family meeting is devastating), heartbreak and an ice-cold betrayal that certifies Mackey as one of the great TV villains. Yet for all the incredible moments in the finale it’s Mackey’s punishment that resonates the most, a desk job in exchange for immunity.
Rather than a prison cell, it’s a cubicle, and for Mackey that’s a fate worse than death.
For two seasons The Kates, McLennan and McCartney, had the funniest show on Australian television.
Get Krack!n focused on the painful desire to be ‘likeable’ through the filter of breakfast television and they satirised the media landscape in the process.
In the series finale, the heavily pregnant Kates went into labour, and they threw over the show to guest hosts Nakkiah Lui and Miranda Tapsell. The finale was ablaze with satirical fire and a sincere call to ignore the hate bait of mainstream breakfast television.
Writer Benjamin Law called it: “The most soaring 30 minutes of Australian TV ever produced.” The episode then ended in a hospital maternity suite with drag queens performing, disco lights and a fully dilated cervix with a baby’s head crowning.
Polarising to the very end, but so damn important.
— ABC TV + iview (@ABCTV) March 27, 2019
Forget Glee — you can never listen to Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ the same way after the finale to the iconic gangster drama.
It was also the finale that caused HBO viewers to think their TV had broken during the last scene, as the Soprano family enjoy a meal together, a bell rings, Tony Soprano looks up and it cuts to black … but it was all part of the plan.
The uncertainty of the ending was totally intentional but the show’s creator, David Chase, never thought it would drive fans crazy.
Since the show ended, people have argued about the true meaning of the show’s final moments and the main theory is Tony got whacked. However you want to interpret the ending, The Sopranos proves that in the minefield fan expectations, ambiguity is legitimate way to end a show because it’s completely open to interpretation.
Everyone is right and everyone is wrong. There’s life and then there’s nothing.
The British version of The Office ran for two seasons and then the creators, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, called it quits.
Cut to Christmas 2003, and a gift arrived in the form of two special episodes that wrapped up the series.
The Christmas specials focus on the ‘documentary crew’ catching up the gang from Wernham Hogg; most are now former employees. A reunion is planned at the company’s Christmas party and it’s the little moments where each character stands up for what they want that makes it an excellent finish: David Brent stands up to Tim Finch, Dawn kisses Tim and Gareth reigns as general manager.
The Office also gets bonus points for quitting while they were ahead.
Since The Leftovers ended I think about it every single day.
The third and final season is set in Australia and all the pressure was on the show’s creator, Damon Lindelof — because the last massively hyped series he oversaw the ending of was Lost.
The finale is centred on a reunion between the main characters Matt (Justin Theroux) and Nora (Carrie Coon).
Despite a tumultuous relationship between the two across the series, they find peace in the way they come to terms with great loss. The title of the episode is ‘The Book of Nora’, which takes its name from the story Nora tells about travelling to another dimension and discovering her family happy without her.
Like everything in the show, the finale is open to interpretation, but you’re left either believing her or not, it works both ways and it’s incredible.
How do you end a show about nothing?
Seinfeld is one of the rare shows that went out while it was the biggest and the best. The finale was broken into two parts, and focused on Elaine, Jerry, George and Kramer going on trial for witnessing a carjacking and failing to intervene.
During the trial, most of the supporting characters from the series return to confirm the worst about the defendants — and it’s a parade of great call-backs.
The judge rules the four need to spend time away from society to think about their actions, and sentences them to a year in jail. The final moment is the group sitting in a jail cell, like they once did in a diner, making small talk about buttons.
Elaine, Jerry, George and Kramer are destined to be stuck together in social purgatory.
There was a lot of scepticism when the ground-breaking series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost returned for a third season after 25 years!
TV revivals were all the rage and it seemed like another excuse to exhume a popular series. Oh how wrong we were.
Twin Peaks: The Return not only picked up where Lynch and Frost left off, but it closed the case for Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in one world while he headed to the next.
Time travel, alternate dimensions and infinite loops of good verses evil came out to play in the finale. Twin Peaks has always been a show where it feels like you need a decoder ring for each scene but that’s what makes it great and the finale was no exception.
The final season was a long goodbye for BFFs, Abbi and Ilana, but they underlined the ‘forever’ part big time.
After years of being indecisive about their lives, the best mates finally went after what they wanted — even if that meant being apart.
The countdown to the goodbye was funny, gross and ultimately bittersweet, but the finale proved the old saying that if you love something you can’t hold it too tightly, you’ve got to let it free.
Abbi leaves for an artist’s residency in Boulder and Ilana stays in New York City to attend college but in the show’s final moments we see them using video chat to stay in touch as if distance is no barrier to their friendship.
As a passing of the torch, the series ends with a montage of different friends walking around New York together. There are thousands of other Abbi and Illanas out there all with different stories to tell.
It truly was a … broad city.
Broad City’s finale was solid. Really loved the final scene of just zooming out and showing all the best friends in New York, really touching and well done. I’ll miss that wacky little show.
— Tired Deer Guy 🦌✨💤 (@Dragoture) March 29, 2019
Yes, I know you are probably tired of seeing this show on every single damn best TV finale list but here’s the thing: it’s true!
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) got into making crystal meth to save his family from financial ruin but discovered he was good at being a criminal. There’s a distinct point where Breaking Bad shifts from a normal guy becoming a drug lord, to the hubris of a man trying to maintain his powerful equilibrium against all competitors.
White has so many chances to quit but the dark side of his ego dominates his actions and the finale is about redemption with no hope of forgiveness.
One of the most stunning moments is when White frees his partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), from any association with their operation, both physically and mentally, and the shot of Pinkman driving to freedom in tears is unforgettable.
Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.