Which Current Television Series have the Most Riding on Their Finales?
In the blissful ignorance of the pre-“Felina” world we once lived in, a series finale was typically met with managed expectations. Consider this: when Seinfeld aired its series finale in 1998, besides the unfavorable reviews there was minimal documented social outrage. Not because everyone loved it, but due to lack of social documentation.
We know now that not everyone liked it, but at the time most Seinfeld fans only discussed the show’s finale with the people they discussed anything with on a daily basis: family, coworkers, close friends, fellow partygoers, you get the point. Today, you can broadcast your opinion to your entire social network, your entire social network’s social network, and again — you get the point. Thousands of articles, blog posts, status updates and tweets are written everyday about television shows. When a series finale approaches, the current generation of consumers greets it with much higher expectations than those of the past, and they’re gonna talk about it.
Pile on top of that the fact that Breaking Bad just set the bar for finales higher than it’s ever been. The finale of another drama with a large base of loyal viewers and engaged social media users, Dexter, didn’t fare quite as well. Dexter’s finale has an average rating of 5.4 out of 10 on IMDB, while the series as a whole sports a 9 out of 10. Even though Dexter’s final episode only represents 1/96th of the show’s body of work, that one episode has tarnished the luster of the entire series in many fans’ eyes. I asked a friend recently who was a huge Dexter fan if I should check out the show on Netflix, and based on the disappointing finale, their advice: don’t bother. The payoff isn’t there.
Once a finale has aired, a series can be judged as a whole, and fans quickly determine (and talk about) whether it was all worthwhile. Another example: despite how much enjoyment and anticipation Lost provided fans with week-to-week for 6 seasons, rarely will those same fans recommend the show to someone who has never seen it. The Lost finale aired over three years ago, and Damon Lindelof was still getting so much heat for it that he (understandably) packed up shop and left the great hate hatchery that is Twitter. Three years. Let it go, folks. Manage your expectations.
That said, more than ever before, a show’s finale speaks on behalf of (and much louder than) its entire catalog of previous episodes combined. I submit these 3 for your discussion, and each bear pressure for different reasons. What other shows have their legacies riding on their finales?
How I Met Your Mother
Those who feel that HIMYM has outstayed its welcome clearly don’t watch the show. The writers have never let the series get stale, and it continues to be funny and engaging week to week. I admire the writers’ ability to adapt to the ever-changing length of the series- imagine how difficult it would be to maintain an endgame when you have no idea when the game will end. I’m confident the show’s finale will not disappoint, as the creative team has never given us reason to doubt them.
Also comforting: supposedly Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie (the now-grown ups who play Saget-Ted’s kids) filmed all of their scenes (even for the series finale) early on during the second season, meaning the writers had an ending planned from the start and aren’t making it up as they go.
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead had huge shoes to fill when it returned recently, occupying the very time slot AMC-mate Breaking Bad left. Many unfairly expect The Walking Dead to completely fill that void, a Herculean feat that no show could pull off. When The Walking Dead’s ending draws near it will be held not only to the high standard the 100+ issue comic series it’s based on has set, but also against Breaking Bad, one of the best television series of all time. Can the ending be as perfect for Rick Grimes as it was for Walter White? No pressure.
The Walking Dead also faces some of the same challenges Lost faced, in that a large portion of its fan base wants answers to questions regarding the world the show is based in. What caused the outbreak? Is there a cure? What does the rest of the world look like? The show has never been about those questions, but unmanaged expectations could lead to a disappointing ending for those who are more interested in the fate of the post-apocalyptic world than they are in the fate of Rick’s group.
Eastbound & Down
There will be pressure on HBO’s Eastbound & Down to have a satisfying finale, mainly because the show already had its finale. No one in the world expected Kenny Powers to come back from the dead (literally and figuratively) after the events of the season 3 finale. It was a fitting end for our anti-hero, as much of a sunset as we’d ever pictured Kenny riding off into. If the show ultimately crosses the finish line on fumes, it would tarnish the series’ legacy as a whole. However, this doesn’t seem like it will be an issue- through 4 episodes, season 4 has provided some of the best moments since the series began.