Like many (all?) college students, I avoid my responsibilities by binge-watching television shows. Recently, I’ve noticed a pattern in many of these shows. The pilot is often so-so, but then it picks up within the first couple episodes (otherwise, I just don’t watch that show). But as we get closer to the end, so many shows just get worse. Maybe they go from great to so-so, or great to bad, or great to a disastrous finale. But it’s a rare gem when a show stays great all the way to the end.
Warning: I’ll be talking about the series finales, so there are inevitably going to be some spoilers. I’ll do my best to keep them fairly minor.
Time for some examples!
The Office is a glorious show. There are more one-liners and memorable jokes in a single episode than most shows can hope for in an entire season. The characters are crazy and ridiculous, but also super relatable (I am exactly like Pam, in case you were wondering). But then Steve Carrell left. We lost Michael Scott, the glue that held the show together. They try to replace him with a string of new characters, played by stars such as James Spader and Will Ferrell. They just can’t measure up, though. The show is still funny, it’s still good. But it’s just missing something. It’s missing Michael.
How I Met Your Mother
How I Met Your Mother falls flat in a very different kind of way. It’s still riding high 206 episodes in. I would even make the argument that the last season is the best, taking place over the course of a single night. It stretches time and presents the characters and stories in wonderful, nuanced detail. But then we get to the last two episodes of the show. Then the writers panic, because they’re not done yet and they have ideas for two more full seasons. And then they write what is arguably the worst finale ever made—30 years of drama, love, life, and new developments squished and summarized into less than an hour. In every writing class ever, students are told to show, not tell. How I Met Your Mother ends with a painful amount of telling, made even worse when compared to the elegant showing of the rest of that final season.
This last one is a bit more disputed. I thought The Newsroom went downhill with every season. The first season was absolutely incredible. I was in awe at every episode—the nuanced characters, the dramatic but believable twists, the attention to detail when basing plotlines around real-life news stories. It was quite possibly a perfect show, and I don’t say that lightly. The second season is still great, but not quite as perfect. More focus is paid to one overarching storyline than treating each episode with the care it deserves. And then we get to the third (and final) season. The season some people say is their favorite, but I think just missed the mark. Individual, contained episodes are completely abandoned in favor of one big grand plot. New, farcical characters are added and old standbys are jammed into storylines that don’t quite fit. It is blatantly moralizing and just trying to make its point. And also it kills off a character just so there can be touching funeral scenes, not because it made any sense for that character to die. The greatness of the first season was how true it felt, how you could completely believe that this was the making of your nightly news. Season three loses that. It tries to make a point and forgets to tell a good story.
I’m going to end with an example of a show that managed not to do this. Friends. Everybody loves Friends. 236 episodes about six people living in New York City. It’s funny, and true, and knows how to pick just the right moments to make you cry. It holds up. From the first scene with Rachel in her wedding dress to the last shot of that empty apartment, it holds up.
Why can’t every show be like Friends? Why can’t they stay true to their characters and their stories? Why, to make a reference to a show I’ve never seen, can’t come up with new and interesting plots without going crazy and jumping the shark? Why can’t they end a show when it needs to end, rather than sucking out a few more bad episodes in the name of profits?
That’s my list of the worst series endings—some of them are pretty terrible. At the end, I think we’re all thinking the same thing: Why can’t every show be like Friends?