The Sitcom Series Finale: Leave 'Em Hanging or Keep 'Em Laughing?

By Stefanie Lee

May 21, 2010

After watching the first-season finales of Modern Family and Cougar Town, I came to a weird realization: I felt good. The episodes weren't without their moments of conflict and drama, but they each ended on happy, feel-good notes. The Dunphy-Pritchett bunch on Modern Family smeared each other with mud and ended up taking a touchingly candid family portrait, and the Cobb clan on Cougar Town had a rompin' great time at the beach. My sources tell me that the The Middle concluded its first season on a happy note, too. Weird, right?

I don't know about you, but I've grown accustomed to the sitcom cliffhanger. I expect—nay, I welcome the summer-long anticipation. Sitcoms are humorous at their cores, so a season-ending cliffhanger always seems to make things a little more fun and exciting. NBC Must-See TV perfected it; remember when Kramer (Michael Richards) moved to LA during Seinfeld's Season 3 finale? Or when Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) found out that Ross (David Schwimmer) was in love with her on Friends' Season 1 finale? Or when Jim (John Krasinski) inferred that Pam (Jenna Fischer) was pregnant on The Office's Season 5 finale? Those were epic sitcom moments. And CBS even jumped on the bandwagon, splitting Barney Stinson's (Neil Patrick Harris) legendary catchphrase into two parts between the Season 2 finale and the Season 3 premiere of How I Met Your Mother. It's not hard to prove: Leaving a storyline unresolved will bring viewers back next season for more.

Yet watching the ABC comedies, I didn't feel cheated, even though everything was basically wrapped up into a self-contained package. Cougar Town had a much bigger opportunity to build the relationship drama between Jules (Courteney Cox) and Grayson (Josh Hopkins) or the bromance drama between Grayson and Bobby (Brian Van Holt), but it didn't. So what? And Modern Family... well, ending the show with everyone hating each other would have been completely incongruous. So, major props to ABC for ending each of their new sitcoms on an upswing—we're all coming back to watch next season, anyway.

What did you think of the season finales of The Middle, Modern Family, and Cougar Town? Do you prefer cliffhangers or feel-good finales?

UPDATE: Adding fuel to this fiery debate, 3/4 of the NBC comedies finale'd in fairly standard style; Community left us wondering who exactly Jeff (Joel McHale) was going to choose, Parks and Recreation flashed a shot of Ron (Nick Offerman) kissing Tom's ex-wife, and The Office got our hopes up about Holly (Amy Ryan) returning next season. But 30 Rock kind of tied things up; Liz (Tina Fey) ditched Wesley (Michael Sheen) for Astronaut Pilot Mike Dexter Carol (Matt Damon), and Jack (Alec Baldwin) chose Avery (Elizabeth Banks) over Nancy (Julianne Moore). And you know what? Something about this "resolution" on 30 Rock just didn't sit right with me. I guess I still expect drama from the NBC comedies. What about you?

Follow writer Stefanie Lee on Twitter: @StefAtTVDotCom

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  • sleepydumbdude May 24, 2010

    Depends on the show and how good it is in the ratings. If the show has been on for plenty of season and sure to be back I'm ok with a cliff hanger. If its got crappy ratings or its the shows first season I don't want a huge cliff hanger since there is a chance it won't be back. Also if a series ends on a to be continued like cliff hanger then I won't purchase any of the dvds.

  • sweetsaintz May 24, 2010

    I always prefer things to be wrapped up nicely. Better to have the warm and fuzzy feeling than extreme anxiety.

  • bellin_luvy May 23, 2010

    I think 30 Rock's finale was amazing. The only thing was that it didn't feel like a season finale but a series finale.

  • miss_wierd May 23, 2010

    I pick cliffhangers. :) Leaves me wanting more! :)

  • GoKuVeGeTaGoHaN May 22, 2010

    I really liked the way Community wrapped the season with a cliffhanger. Definitely cliffhangers is the way to go.

  • karlwolfe50 May 22, 2010

    i like a cliffhanger, but i dont like it when shows leaves every storyline as a cliffhanger, you gotta give the viewers something.

  • hockeyrick May 22, 2010

    I feel the middle is a very understated show, like a more real malcom in the middle.

  • Starprincess13 May 22, 2010

    Cliffhangers are excellent if done well but otherwise I like feel-good finales.

  • StlCardinalsFan May 22, 2010

    To clarify, they left me smiling, not wondering.

  • StlCardinalsFan May 21, 2010

    I like for my sitcom finales to leave me smiling, not wondering. The Middle and Modern Family definitely did that.

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