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Which Current Television Series have the Most Riding on Their Finales?

By Howie Decker | Seriously Random Lists | October 25, 2013 | Comments ()


The-kids.jpg

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.




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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Fost

    "...meaning the writers had an ending planned from the start and aren’t making it up as they go."

    Breaking Bad writers made up things all the time as the seasons progressed. Vince Gilligan explained how they had no idea what to make of the flashfowards they introduced in the beginning of season 5.1 as they started writing for 5.2.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    Am I the only one who thinks It's Always Sunny should end with the gang dying? Not necessarily because I dislike them or anything, I just think it would be fitting.

  • PerpetualIntern

    "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 really, truly want to be watching the version of HIMYM that you're watching. It would be so much more enjoyable than the one I'm watching, which is the same damn storylines over and over, with a main character I've grown to loathe.

  • Marc Greene

    I'm interested in how Game of Thrones will wrap up. Of course we know that so much of that depends on GRRM's conclusion of the books, but who is to say that conclusion won't be a let down?

  • Mz Black Widow

    I doubt GRRM will ever write the end of his saga - I think the show's writers will finish the series. They certainly have an excellent grasp of the story/characters so I am confident they will do it proud.

  • Cree83

    I see a lot of complaining about HIMYM, but I'm rewatching the earlier seasons, since since syndicated repeats suddenly seem to be on every channel, and I do think that it managed to avoid a total decline in quality. There were low periods here and there. I didn't like parts of the Ted and Robin relationship in season 2 where the couple got really moony; the middle of season 4 dragged with both actresses being pregnant and out of commission; the beginning of season 5 when they didn't know how to handle Barney and Robin sucked; every Zooey episode... sheesh. But the show pretty easily rebounded from each low. Season 3 was great, probably the best. The episodes dealing with Marshall's dad's death in season 6 were really heartfelt, and were truly helpful to me when I was dealing with my own father's death. Ted's loneliness in season 8, while everyone else moves toward change and happiness, was pretty poignant in my opinion (I know I'm a rare Ted apologist). And I'm enjoying the current season so far. Instead of a downward slope, the quality of the show looks more like a sine graph. I think that's the best I can ask for in a long running television show.

  • apsutter

    I very much agree....it has had several low and high points. I am sick of the Ted/Robin retreads when the writers were treading water last season and had no idea whether the show was doing another season until like a month before the season finale. I am very much enjoying this season so far. I think the end date has put a fire under the writers and given them renewed energy.

  • i still think the show is funny (well, i enjoyed most of season 8 but haven't seen it this year), personally, i just got tired of their farting around for so long with barney & robin. when the show finally concludes its run, i'll more than likely end up watching the entire last season over the course of a couple of weekends.

  • Green_Eggs_and_Hamster

    It is amazing the effect a final can have on me. I quit watching BSG in large part because I had heard so much about the final and how bad it was. I never did get around to watching the last 3/4 of the final season. I had fallen behind, and finally just deleted it from my DVR.
    I never have a problem with spoilers, I don't think you can "Spoil" a good story. So I keep up with the hot properties, even if I am not watching them myself at the moment.
    I never jumped on the Lost bandwagon, and during the final season I started watching it off Netflix. I actually prefer to watch a completed product knowing I will get to the end rather than how we consume most shows waiting each week and year for it to continue. Of course, even though it seemed very interesting, I never got into Lost because I knew (or thought I knew) it was going to get steadily worse based on all the internet comments I read.

  • Lisa

    Don't be that person. "If you don't like it-then you must not be watching". It's obnoxious. People can dislike something you like and it doesn't mean they aren't watching or "watching it wrong" or the "don't get it" For whatever reason I'm still watching HIMYM and I personably think it's getting pretty bad. I can not express how much I hate Barney and Robin and I hope their wedding ends with the bride and groom getting horribly murdered.

  • boy, that is annoying isn't it?

    people like that just let themselves get WAY too bound up in what they watch/read. though i guess the other point one could make is that if they were all blase they wouldn't be able to make a living writing about it. "hey, i love this band/book/movie/tv show but it's totally ok if you don't" is not gonna generate a lot of page hits, y'know?

  • SnowMan

    "The Walking Dead" is going to have big problems coming up with a satisfactory ending for its viewers-- especially since so many of them aren't familiar with zombie movies and the genre outside of that TV show. Because in most cases, the entire concept of a zombie apocalypse precludes not only a happy ending, but any real resolution at all. In general, most zombie movies tend to be sort of "slice of zombie life" films (i.e. "this is what happened to these people during this particular time period during the zombie apocalypse). The "adventures" of the characters in the story ends (usually with 99% of them dead) and then the apocalypse continues on, uncaring.

    Not only that, but Robert Kirkman has stated that he began writing the comic partially as a reaction to the fact that he never liked the endings of zombie movies. In his estimation, most zombie movies ended at the "beginning" of the larger tale of carrying on and rebuilding that people would face. So he purposely went into the comic with the idea that the story would carry on into infinity, the way life really does.
    I don't know if he meant it, but I read a recent interview with him where he said that he hopes to still be writing the comic 30 years from now-- that he has an ending in mind and has it written, but is in no hurry whatsoever to get there... and that since the TV show will certainly end before the comic, he has no intention whatsoever of giving away the comic's ending in the TV show.

  • Marc Greene

    If I had a say, it would end with some level of the characters learning or rediscovering a way to manage the zombies and securing a primo location, then Rick dying, then a flash forward later to show a new society based on the lessons that the events of the series had taught the survivors. Not a beautiful ending, but a somewhat hopeful one.

  • Sean

    Being that the comic might continue for decades to come, does the TV do something different when the time comes to end it? Or could they just kill off characters when the actors ask for large raises, and bring in new ones? Go on for a long time? And I actually sort of wish the comic would end. How many lunatic town leaders does Rick and One-Eyed Carl have to fight? How many romantic interests does Michonne have to have killed in front of her?

  • Naye

    I can't really compare Walking Dead to Lost. They don't allude to any mystery, or any great unknown. There are very few zombie movies where the viewer expects to go through an in depth discovery process of the why, when, how. The zombie genre IMO has only ever truly been about the aftermath (although some do explore the how, but usually not as the big focus) and focused on a small portion of the population, with the exception of WWZ which was awesome in the technical way it approached the global impact. Lost, on the other hand, laid pieces to a mystery, built stories around those mysteries, promised answers to the mysteries. And then it turned out that...what...IDEK!

  • I also agree. We've known for awhile that it's a virus, and everyone already has it, so there's your why. I guess some people might want to know where it came from, but that's not what this show is about, it's about the people, not the situation. I know there is a greater world out there beyond their part of Georgia, but I really don't care about it. We're there to see how the characters deal with things, not to wonder what's going on over in Florida, or in Wisconsin. If people watching the show are wishing for that, then they are watching the wrong show and need to take a step away.

  • Marc Greene

    Completely agree.

  • bcarter3

    The idea that "When a series finale approaches, the current generation of consumers greets it with much higher expectations than those of the past [before social networking], and they’re gonna talk about it" is pretty seriously flawed.

    Remember that 125 million viewers watched the final episode of MASH, and they did it simultaneously. I suspect more than a few of them discussed it both before and after the finale. It was almost certainly more difficult to avoid hearing about the last of MASH than it was to avoid hearing about the last of "Breaking Bad", no matter how rapturously we fans of BB spread the word.

  • MarTeaNi

    HIMYM never got stale? NEVER? I'll agree that the show has never gotten terrible, but never stale? There are entire swaths of recent seasons I could just skip and never miss because while maybe they weren't bad, they weren't great either.

    And given how vague the kids' scenes will be in the finale, I'm willing to bet it wasn't "planned" except in the sense that "he eventually meets the mother."

  • it's remained funny, but they've definitely been spinning their wheels for a few seasons now.

  • Three_nineteen

    The real Dexter finale is the last episode of Season 4. Watch the first four seasons, and forget the rest exists. If necessary, you can even skip Season 3 and probably not miss anything crucial.

  • Guest

    Boardwalk Empire? That show is in it's final season right?

    And oh yeah Mad Men (and it's sh*te split season, thanks Weiner / AMC / Obama).

    *Also Misfits.

  • Nail Polish Color

    Tha Walking Dead is in its final season? The more you know I guess lol

  • Bert_McGurt

    I don't believe it is. I think he's just saying that when it gets there, the finale will have high expectations.

  • You're right- it is nowhere near its final season to my knowledge but there will be unrealistic expectations heaped on it once it does come to an end. Like you said!

  • Guest

    Still it's inclusion is a bit odd since AMC will flog that dead horse until it is an actual zombie and I don't see it going away anytime soon (unless Andrew Lincoln decides he no longer wants a pay check).

  • Bert_McGurt

    I think they have enough story to finish this season and then go two more. If it goes past that we may be in Dexter territory.

  • Mrs. Julien

    At this point, I just want HIMYM to end. I don't care how they do it.

  • Sarah

    Yeah. I've been a huge fan from the beginning, and I do not agree that it's solid week-to-week. 9 seasons is too damn long. The jokes they're recycling now are NOT FUNNY.

    I believe it'll end strong. They'll stick the landing. We saw in isolated episodes last season (The Time Travelers, especially) that they've still got it. The mother stuff is gonna be great, I'm sure. But there's gonna be a hell of a lot of filler taking up the extra space.

  • meadowdancer

    I loathe this damn show now. I want it to be over already.

  • msjennijennjenn

    I agree. I quit watching because they are dragging this whole Barney/Robin wedding thing out too long. Plus, I saw the Mom, so I'm good.

  • yeah, at the end of season 8 i just gave up. if they'd married barney & robin off as the season ender (or even broken them up) i would have stuck around for another year. but stretching the whole thing out for THREE GODDAMNED YEARS was just too much.

  • You forgot the ending for The Sopranos as the next ending milestone after Seinfeld. I'd say that ending had as much to do with the high expectations for endings as any show has had in the last decade -- mainly due to the expectations of Tony either dying or ending up in Witness Protection. That and the uproar over the infamous cut to black end.

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