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

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 TV.com writer Stefanie Lee on Twitter: @StefAtTVDotCom

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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.
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I always prefer things to be wrapped up nicely. Better to have the warm and fuzzy feeling than extreme anxiety.
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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.
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I pick cliffhangers. :) Leaves me wanting more! :)
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I really liked the way Community wrapped the season with a cliffhanger. Definitely cliffhangers is the way to go.
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i like a cliffhanger, but i dont like it when shows leaves every storyline as a cliffhanger, you gotta give the viewers something.
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I feel the middle is a very understated show, like a more real malcom in the middle.
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Cliffhangers are excellent if done well but otherwise I like feel-good finales.
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To clarify, they left me smiling, not wondering.
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I like for my sitcom finales to leave me smiling, not wondering. The Middle and Modern Family definitely did that.
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You should watch "The Middle"
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for the most part, cliffhangers seem to rushed. a conflict is revolved but then BAM another one comes out of nowhere. i prefer things to be wrapped up, but with a little bit of a clue as to what might come next season, that way if it's canceled it doesn't make me too mad
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Note to The Office....Community is how you do a season finale. Two words. EP IC!!!
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Cliff hangers can be good but they're far too overdone
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I hate cliffies. I prefer clean cut finishes. If the show is good, I'll be back.

Example: Smallville. We KNOW Clark will make it. Otherwise, there would be no next season. As for Oliver, well, we'll see, but Clark is the main character, so he has to be OK.
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Interesting...
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Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it? Because you'd think as sitcom/comedy fans we'd grow so accustomed to the excitement and anticipation, that we'd become creatures of habit and want (and expect) nothing else. But I felt the same way about Modern Family and Cougar Town's season finales. I thought it felt refreshing to end on that "feel good" note, especially since Cougar Town could have dragged everything out so bad that it would no longer be fun. And you're right that Modern Family actually needed that ending to stay consistent. So I agree - kudos to ABC for going out on a small limb and doing things different. We really will be back to watch them anyway.
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I think they've done "feel good" season finales because they've seen the viewer backlash and internet fan outrage if they leave a show with a "cliff hanger" ending and then over the course of the summer (for whatever reason) don't bring a show back. Plus it basically leaves the plot wide open for the following season, since there aren't loose ends to tie up that might not make sense at all with new writers or new cast additions or whatever. I like it in a comedy, probably not so much in a drama.
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Cliffhangers were done to leave the audience wanting more, and to bring them back for the new season in the fall. I don't need a cliffhanger when it comes to comedies unless the plot line of the show calls for it, and most of the time they don't. Last night's Community left us with a cliffhanger, and although I wasn't surprised by what happened it does leave you wanting to know what will happen next.
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Loved both the cougar town and modern family finales. Every day has its moments of drama and comedy and these shows reflected that well. Don't need artifically structured drama to keep us coming back
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I think all the Wednesday night ABC finales were just great! Who doesn't love a happy ending? Last night's 30 Rock, on NBC, was also terrific, with Matt Damon and Will Forte giving totally stellar performances. It was one of the best episodes of the season.
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As long as its not a feelbad cliffhanger like ALF had - getting caught by the police...
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Modern Family had a great episode, by far the best in my opinion.

Feel-good finales, waiting that long for a cliffhanger kills me
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I think that Cougar Town felt more like a series finale... Everyone frolicked away on the beach all wrapped up in a neat bow. It was too soft for me, I like my season finales to come with a WTF moment.I think Cougar Town has lost it's edgy premise.When the show began it lived up to it's name but now it's like The Cobb Clan or something. Bring back more cougar action if not in the mains maybe more face time with Barb? Just a random ramble.
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Feel-goods are the new cliffhangers which used to be the new feel-goods. Very much enjoyed The Middle and Modern Family ending knowing they'll both be back next season. Won't comment on the other television shows airing Thursday in case I'd be spoiling them.
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Senor Chang was awesome in tonight's Community finale! First the reference to LOST, "I will find a loophole! And when I do I will kill you!" whispered under his breath to John Oliver lol. Also, loved his remarks about Britta's lipstick choices haha! So choice! -are we still saying that? lol
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It depend of the show... I mean, if they have a STRONG story behind all the jokes I say, cliffhanger. If not...a feel good finale.



I love cliffhangers :). But I get dissapointed of the premiere most of the time.
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great question! and i have to say cliffhanger!!!!!!!!!
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I say that with sitcoms a cliffhanger is pointless. I mean it's a situation comedy and most situations are predictable, so just to have people wait a whole summer to say "I told you so" is a waste of a season finale and premiere.
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Spoontown took the word out of my mouth.
Cliffhangers are becoming more and more cliche.
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Depends if it's coming back next season. I like both ways, but I perfer kind of the mixed. You know, when enough is giving to give it a series finale feel and a fitting end if it's cancelled, but something intriguing enough to watch if it comes back. My preference also depends on how the sitcom is. For like How I Met Your Mother, I kind of prefer the cliffhanger, but for Married ... With Children, I'd go with a feel-good finale.
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I have come to hate cliffhangers. Too many favorite shows have been canceled that leave me feeling like I've just read a novel and am missing the last chapter.
Cliffhangers are a gimmick to bring viewers back.
If a show is good then they don't need a cliffhanger...
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The Middle was the ultimate happy ending, everybody won for once and it was a good episode. Maybe it's reached the point where a cliffhanger is such a big cliche that the happy ending is now the surprise!!
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Feel-good finales
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