Monday, January 21, 2013

TV Finale Thoughts Part 1 of 2: Put On A Happy Face

8 months from now, I'll be perched on the edge of my couch, white-knuckling my way through the remaining minutes of the last episode of BREAKING BAD.  It's only the best TV series on today...HOMELAND can suck it, thank you very much.  Of course, based on an almost unparalleled string of excellent episodes season after season, Vince Gilligan and the gang have a HUGE challenge ahead of them, as the audience expectations are as huge as any since either LOST or THE SOPRANOS.

Though not an optimist by nature, I'm dead certain that the BREAKING BAD finale will be nothing short of stellar (talk about about mounting expectations).  In fact, I fully believe it will crack my "Best TV Series Finales of All Time" list.

But it dawned on me that despite all the nonsense I've written about TV over the years, I've actually never gotten around to composing any such list.  Well, it's possible I might whipped one up back in the MySpace days, but I don't feel like digging through that horrible pit of rotting pseudonyms and festering band pages to find it.

Now it's confession time: 

Originally, I was set to bang out yet another NOTE on my Facebook account and link it to a "What's your favorite TV finale" type of question asked on an FB Group page, when yet another thought hit me like a bag of wet socks. Maybe, just maybe now's the time to finally try my hand at a blog.  Chances are you've already read my initial effort, but before I go any further, let me give credit where credit is due (or blame, either one works): if not for Carol Landers (on the Jay & Jack Facebook Group page) asking the TV finale question I'm clearly too lazy to look up and get the exact wording for, I never would have ventured in this mysterious bog.  I mean blog.  Or do I?

My plan is to chop the list I've formed in my noggin into two categories: comedy & drama.  And then, just do a Top Three for each.  No need to Super-Size or Tarantino-ize this one bit.  So, without further ado (other than playing Words with Friends or quoting Shakespeare, when else does anyone use "ado")...TODAY's blog will be about remembering laughter. 

Does anybody remember laughter?


Now, when you look over this mini-list, you'll see there are some notable omissions.  With one important exception (coming in at number three), sitcom finales simply don't need to be two to three times as long as a regular episode.  Especially if they're not two to three times better than a regular episode.  Hence, no FRIENDS. Thus, no SEINFELD. CHEERS was considered, but the still- too-damn-long finale didn't leave quite as lasting an imprint on me as say, the episode when Diane leaves ("Have a good life").

#3 M*A*S*H

Yes, it's the series that lasted three times as long as the actual Korean War.  Good Lord, Hawkeye must have been traumatized, just look how much he aged in a few years!  And while the episode may be flawed and last longer than most miniseries, just like Private Ryan, it earned it.  

One of the first "dramedies", M*A*S*H was a series that balanced wisecracks and slapstick with the horrors of war. So here, the length was justified.  I can honestly say I haven't watched it in nearly thirty years, but so much has been seared into my consciousness. I've never forgotten Hawkeye in the loony bin, the tragedy of the woman smothering her crying baby, Winchester and the Chinese musicians...and that final shot of BJ spelling out the word "GOODBYE"


As the ownership of the WJM station changed hands more than once during the show's run, there was nothing implausible about all-new management taking a hard look at the employees as the natural way to cut costs.  The twist was the owners deciding to keep the one incompetent (Ted Baxter) and simply fire everyone else!  

The writers' daring decision works both comedically and as a final commentary on the state of local TV news.  The classic scene of the group hug and that small huddled mass shuffling over to the box of tissues to dry their eyes -- it's one of the most iconic moments you're likely to see on any comedy series.  It really was a long way to Tipperary, and to this day, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW remains the standard bearer and template for all sitcom finales. 


Did anyone ever notice they never named the bizarre little town in Vermont where D-I-Y author/TV host/innkeeper Dick Loudon and his wife Joanna bought the Stratford?  SO there's already a clue that things are a  Toss in a slew of oddballs ranging from an heiress turned maid to three grungy yet polite woodsmen (two of whom were always mute), and the finale plot of a Japanese conglomerate purchasing all the land except the Stratford Inn was par for the course.  Or should I say Golf Course, as that's what the entire town becomes.  Until Dick is hit by a different sort of oddball: a golf ball right off his melon.  Fade to black...

...and he wakes up, switching on a familiar lamp on a recognizable nightstand beside a bed so many viewers had seen dozens of times before.  The studio audience reaction was undoubtedly the loudest EVER, especially as the woman beside him is revealed to be Suzanne Pleshette!  For he's not Dick Loudon, he's Doctor Bob Hartley. It's the one time a show got away with an "it was all a dream" scenario that was met with universal acclaim and approval. Unless MODERN FAMILY turns out to be the dream of Al Bundy, I don't imagine this will ever be topped.

Honorable Mention: 
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, as it lampooned the plight of the Bluths and the fate of the TV series with equal fervor, mirroring the pilot episode tick by blessed tick of every hilarious minute. Although the slated return (14 new episodes on Netflix) might render the finale somewhat moot?

A Couple Great Moments in Sitcom Finale History: 
JD watching his future life flash before himself in the "real" finale for SCRUBS.
David Brent telling Finchey to "fuck off" in the final episode of THE OFFICE (UK).

Dishonorable Mention:  
ROSEANNE, a series that at one time was one of the best -- took a horrible turn and hit the skids in its waning years, culminating in a totally joyless and altogether annoying series finale.

Despite my best intentions, even this brief list has resulted in a rather lengthy blog. However, it's only appropriate that I manufacture a bit of suspense, and wait until tomorrow to post MY TOP THREE DRAMA FINALES OF ALL TIME.

From ado to adieu, that is what I bid to you.


  1. Although I didn't watch it when it originally aired, I completely agree with you on the ending of Roseanne. I recently had a baby and spent many middle of the night hours watching reruns. I was really enjoying it, but when I got to the last season and finale it really took all the wind out of the sails. Also, I stopped watching Scrubs somewhere in the middle, but I keep hearing praise for the finale, so I think it's time to go back and watch.

  2. Yes, how Roseanne could have been as good as it was for so long only to abandon everything in that last season...if the last season had been the first, well, it probably would still have been the last.