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Power Ranking The 2012 Season Finales

By Joanna Robinson | TV Reviews | June 4, 2012 | Comments ()


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A good season finale is a tricky thing to pull off. Showrunners usually want to save up some pow/wallop for the end of the year, but a show can suffer when too much gets stuffed into one hour. Similarly, when a show's been on a long time, it can fall into a sticky trap of constantly trying to out-do itself. Historically, some of the best and most memorable season finales have ended on a well-executed cliffhanger. Be it personal, emotional drama (will Felicity pick Ben or Noel, you guys?!?!) or life and death action (Vaughn isn't dead, is he!?! Ahhhh!!), those cliffhangers can keep us anxious and riled up all summer. Sometimes, rather than give us a cliffhanger, the show decides to change the rules of the Universe right then and there. That's something "Lost" pulled off over and over again. (Major kudos to J.J. Abrams for having his name attached to the first three season finale examples that popped in my mind.) And then, of course, there are those crushingly disappointing season finales that make you want to throw your shoe, popcorn or smallest, most handy pet at the television. Oh yes, "The Killing," I'm looking at you. Here's a ranking, from worst to first, of the 2012 season finales. There are, obviously, some finale spoilers here. So please proceed with caution.

18. "Glee": They only reason this episode bears mentioning at all is this scene with Mike O'Malley. A funny, lovely and loving tribute to his not-dead gay son, Kurt.
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17. "House": I know "House" has stumbled over the past few seasons, but I almost broke my eyeballs rolling them at the on-the-nose metaphor of "burning down the house." It was nice to see the return of some old favorite characters. (Hi, Amber!) But, in the end, this just felt like a bloated, empty farewell to a once great series.
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16. "Grey's Anatomy": I know you're not watching anymore, but their plane crashed, someone died, and Shonda Rhimes continues to strain our credulity well past the breaking point with all the horrors this group of medical professionals have endured.
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15. "Modern Family": For all its mawkishly sentimental voice-overs and "aw" family bonding moments, this series has ceased to touch or impress me in any way. Ty Burrell is still usually good for a few laughs, but other than that this season, and this uninteresting season, finale left me cold.
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14. "Grimm": Though it has enjoyed a bumpy season, "Grimm" looks to be upping the family drama ante next season with the introduction of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Though the "Mom?" cliffhanger felt a little too "Chuck" and "Alias" derivative for my taste, I'm looking forward to Mastrantonio's presence next year. Perhaps she can join the Madeleine Stowe and Jessica Lange Bitchface Club.
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13. "Once Upon A Time": This show tried very very hard to impress me with a big ol' dragon and life or death stakes. But the dragon SFX (like all the effects on this lavish but cartoonish show this year) looked oddly cheap. And the reintroduction of Belle prompts this question: was Emilie De Ravin this terrible on "Lost"? Dear god, woman, you're playing opposite Robert Carlyle. STEP IT UP. And, speaking of "Lost," the very bold "change the Universe" move was very reminiscent. Magic is back, eh? In the shape of purple smoke? Alright then.
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12. "The Walking Dead": I haven't watched this episode yet, or most of the second season for that matter, but I will take TK's word for it that the finale fixed many of the problems that have been plaguing the show this season. As in, they literally burned down a troublesome plot point. Fantastic. This just shot to the top of my "Summer Watch" list.
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11. "30 Rock": It's been a mixed season for this show as well and all the good James Marsden has brought (and that's a lot of good) has been undone by Kristen Schaal's obnoxious Hazel character. And this...this sh*t right here? I may never be able to unsee it.
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10. "Vampire Diaries": This silly, campy, melodramatic CW show delivered everything you would expect from a non-Whedon teen vampire soap. Action, double crosses, love triangles, etc. I'm not really feeling the final twist and I enjoyed our "normal girl" protagonist to be just that. A "normal girl." (Who, okay, is also a doppleganger with magic tingly blood that can save or damn entire races of supernatural creatures. Tempted to watch yet?) The screen cap below courtesy of the most cleverly inane recap per on the nets, Price Peterson.
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9. "Community": It's tough for creators to film a finale not knowing whether it's the end of a season or a series. Personally, I preferred the penultimate Ocean's 11 spoof episode. It did what "Community" does best. The sentiment and bigger gestures of the finale seemed more Harmon-agenda-driven than anything else. But we'll have to see what next year brings.
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8. "Cougar Town":: The Big Wedding is a classic season finale trope and while we've seen it all before (starring Courtney Cox, in fact), the cul-de-sac crew managed to pull of something charming, sweet and sharply hilarious.
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7. "Happy Endings": Speaking of weddings, this series started with one and each season, so far, has ended with one. The love triangle nonsense aside (please, less Dave/Alex drama, more Mandonna) this was a stellar episode featuring a surprising and fun cameo by Brian Austin Green.
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6. "Awake": If you stopped watching this show somewhere towards the beginning of the season, do yourself a favor and go back and pick it up. The show ended on a high, high note (it won't be renewed next season) with the most emotionally satisfying conclusion in recent memory. Fans of BBC's "Life on Mars" or "Ashes To Ashes" will be delighted with the dreaming mind/buried memory solving of a major crime.
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5. "Revenge": Though I dropped this show in the middle of the year, I picked it back up for the last few episodes and couldn't have been more pleased with the finale. Though Florence Welch's incredible "Seven Devils" did a lot of the heavy lifting, the energetic fight scenes and the plunge into a deeper conspiracy was all very vintage "Alias." And, unlike "Grimm," this felt more like an homage than a rip-off.

4. "New Girl":: How much have I grown to love this group? So much so that the threat to their happy home felt as big to me as any plane crash or house fire. The sweet ending montage of each housemate dancing in his/her room was a perfect reflection of the bubbly joy in my heart. The show has grown so much this season and emerged as a personal favorite.
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3. "Parks and Recreation": Sitcoms don't have to make you cry, but it can be so rewarding when they do. Please, bury Amy Poehler in Emmy gold this year.
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2. "The Good Wife": Though the poignant more CBS-like family drama of this episode was remarkably acted and executed (kudos to both Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth), the heft of this episode belonged to Archie Panjabi. I still don't get why people think this show is just for grandmas. Watch Panjabi take a sledgehammer to a wall and then get back to me. I can't wait for Kalinda's husband to get here next season. What a magnificent and tense season-ender.
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1. "Parenthood": And though this is the third episode on the list to end with a wedding, it leaves all of them in the dust. Thank god for "Parenthood" as has consistently filled the tear-soaked hole "FNL" left in my heart. Each plot line and character was so lovingly and organically presented in this episode and culminated with both a fierce joy and tender ache. The episode is still on my DVR, months later. I may never delete it.
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Joanna Robinson did not include "Game of Thrones" as she would like you to save up all your thoughts and opinions for TK's magnificent recap tomorrow.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • No Game of Thrones? That should be #1... by far. 

  • Connor Smith

    Game of Thrones? Where art thou? 

  • John

    Loved the New Girl, Cougar Town finales so much!! Was less happy with Happy Endings simply because I'm not a fan of any of the Dave/Penny/Alex stuff. Otherwise, love the show.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    The season cliffhanger that drove me crazy was 24, season whatever when that bi-curious chick from The L Word shook the President of Allstate's hand and he collapsed... and they never bothered to follow up on that storyline.

  • dizzylucy

    It wasn't the end that got me with Parks & Rec, but Amy Poehler holding back tears as Leslie finally got to vote for herself.  Perfection.
    I think I might be the only person who liked Hazel on 30 Rock.  Or maybe I'm just afraid she'll abandon me at Sears.
    Parenthood and The Good Wife were great, but if this is not network only...JUSTIFIED!!!!!!

  • While I'm not sure I liked Elena's change at the end of TVD, I'm excited to see where they go with it from here.  I guess in the books it happened a lot faster, but I've heard the series really diverted from the books.  

  • randomhookup

    Heather Morris gifs will be the death of me.

  • Nerfherder333

    I gotta say i dont get how parks and rec can be my favorite comedy on tv right now and the only one that can make me blubber like a 6 year old at the same time

  • Sad

    What a terrible list, if not for it's lack of thought (I haven't seen this show, but aneither writer on this blog told me lol so wtf summer Netfix here we come!!!!!) but also the lack of consistency. Is this a network only list, Or not? I'd so, then maybe get the non-network shows off, or re-do the whole thing to include all of the shows which are objectively better. Maybe throw 'em on your summer watch list lol tee-hee!

  • Austie

    Yay for Parenthood!  This makes me want to watch it now for a good cry.

  • Uriah_Creep

    Speaking of Happy Endings, when they show her off to good advantage, Elisha Cuthbert gives me funny feelings in my pantaloons. I think a breach may be imminent.

  • Justhunky

    House was perfect. Shame on you.
    I loved Modern Family's finale too.
    You didn't even mention Big Bang Theory's finale.
    I know you profess to be too hipper than thou for it, but it was on the nose awesome.
    I do agree with you about The Killing, though.
    My fiancé & I refer to it as The Laming.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I know that was intended as a jab against The Killing,  but in truth you just thoroughly validated and justified my love of it.

  •  if you like Big Bang Theory, you can't be trusted to judge the value of anything.

  • Radu Serbanescu

    Let's wait 2 weeks for The Killing ...

  • DolphinGirl

    Justified was awesome!!!!   Better than 17 on the season finales on your list.

  • geofftherobot

    I propose a law that bans Parenthood from being used on any Pajiba list (The only reason you didn't wait for GoT and Mad Men is so that you can place your beloved Parenthood at no 1)

    Yay or Nay

  • test

  • Mh'swish

    I know all of you are connected and I'm not, so Im sure there's a hidden thread/blog I could have written this on ...(paranoid much?) but where do you say... IVE BEEN REFRESHING ALL DAY FOR THE REVIEW OF LAST NIGHT'S MAD MEN AND ITS NEVER THERE... am I missing it somewhere??? EW, Huff Post, the others just don't give me the closure I need.

  • vic

    As I'm sure you'll see when you access the site in ten hours or so, MM reviews are usually posted on Tuesdays. I know, it's torture for me too. Especially as: last night? WHATTA EPISODE. AMIRITE?

  • POINGjam

    Parenthood lost me this season.  I was into the first two, but the plots have gotten too predictable lately (sell the fucking Luncheonette and start another studio).  Also, Jasmine and Crosby are a lot more fun to watch (and unusual as TV parents) when their relationship is platonic.

    But yeah, Parks & Rec went out with a warm and fuzzy bang.

    Oh and the Game of Thrones finale was lame. Felt like it should have fallen in the middle of a season. It just set up a bunch of new plot threads and didn't resolve much of anything interesting.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I'm only adding this to stir the pot, and stirring the pot is my new favorite thing since Downton Abbey became my new really favorite thing and I heard his Lordship say "don't stir" with waaaaay more class than I'll ever have.

    But yeah, Rosie Larson is going to high-jack this list, or at least her killer will, and it will be MFING GLOOOORIOUS!!!

  • Fredo

    I only came here to see Joanna wield the Banhammer!!

  • JoannaRobinson

    The Banhammer is my [REDACTED].

  • mona_sterling

    Parenthood has my heart, as well.  It took me a while to push past the rat-a-tat/everybody talking over each other line delivery, but once I did, it's so damn good.  They packed all the mushy goodness into the finale in case they weren't renewed, so it felt a little rushed, but who cares.  Yay for season 4. 

  • DolphinGirl

     Written by last year's Emmy writer Jason Katims (for finale of Friday Night Lights).  The man can write!!!

  • Enarra

    Alias: the 3 year jump / mystery scar ... way better than "is Vaughn dead?".

  • QueeferSutherland

    Yeah, I know this is supposed to be network shows but, uh, Walking Dead is not on a network. Also, it sucks.

  • John G.

     I already forgot the Parks&Rec ending.  Why was Amy Poehler crying?

  • jmd

    Game of Thrones! Next week's Mad Men (tho how they will top this week's episode I do not know)!

  • Crankykate

    "Was Emilie De Ravin this terrible on 'Lost'?"

    Yes, she really was, I'm afraid.

  • space oddity

    Absolutely.

    "My baby!" Almost approached "Waaaaaaalt" levels of annoyance.

  • TenaciousJP

    You forgot Dancing with the Stars.

    /*ducks*

  • William

    "Just network shows, guys. No need to get your panties in a twist."

    Then how did the The Walking Dead make it? Splicing that out would help explain the exclusion of Justified.

  • John

    How about no HBO, etc., shows. AMC is still considered cable.

  • JoannaRobinson

    OH. CRAP. 

  • I tried.

  • AcK

    Can't wait a week for Mad Men?

  • the_wakeful

    We have to wait until tomorrow for the GoT recap? What, does TK have too many children or something? GAWD.

  • Just network shows, guys. No need to get your panties in a twist.

    Thanks for ranking Revenge so highly. Yes, that show is *ridiculous*, but it has been consistently fun all season and no one can rock a double popped collar like Nolan.

  • Anna von Beav

    And sometimes triple. 

    SO MANY COLLARS.

  •  The truly shocking part? I don't hate him for them.

  • Anna von Beav

    Not only do I not hate him for it, I think it makes me adore him all the more. *sigh*

  • vic

    Dammit. That was fail. Well, carry on then, J. Ro.

  • Seanx40

    INdeed, GoT was far beyond any of those things. As in screaming at my TV "FUCK! 9 1/2 months til we get more!"

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    I can't believe you left Game of Thrones off the list. FAIL!

  • vic

    Aw, you couldn't wait another week to see how Mad Men ranked?

  • DolphinGirl

    Mad Men's finale was a snooze. They should have ended the season with episode 11 or 12.

  • DarthCorleone

    Game Of Thrones!  Game Of Thrones!

    Oh...sorry.
    I only watch one of these shows.  TV-nerd adolescent me would be very disappointed.

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