What Are Your All-Time Favorite Series Finales?

You guys, so many TV shows have ended recently or are about to end soon. This week, it was Justified. Prior to that, Parks and Recreation, Glee, Two and a Half Men, Cougar Town, The Mentalist, and Parenthood—among others—all departed the airwaves. In a few weeks, Mad Men will light its final cigarette. And Nurse Jackie, Falling Skies, The League, and more will all sign off before the year is through.

We tend to ask a lot of series finales. After investing so much time in a show, we hope it will reward our loyalty and ultimately stick the landing. While no two shows or series finales are the same—the collective expectations for something like Two and a Half Men versus something like Lost couldn't have been more different—there's something very special about the ones that find a way to satisfy most of their audience in the end.

So, even though Kaitlin wrote about some of her least-favorite series finales this past summer, after True Blood stumbled away into that dark night, I think it's worth recognizing the shows that have said goodbye in a much more successful fashion. (This is especially true given that so many recent finales have been good-to-great.) As always, these are just some of myfavorites, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing your picks in the comments!

Oh yeah, spoilers. Duh.


Lost, "The End" (2010)

Let's just get this one out of the way. I know a lot of viewers were disappointed, and I understand why; I'm not going to tell folks who were dissatisfied with Lost that they were watching incorrectly, or that it was "all about the characters" or whatever, because you should watch TV however the heck you want. But for me, "The End" was as emotionally satisfying as any finale I've ever seen, though it certainly helped that I didn't really care about answers, or what the flash-sideways world actually meant. Those two-plus hours were so jam-packed with amazing moments—Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and Juliet's (Elizabeth Mitchell) reunion, Kate (Evangeline Lilly) saving Jack (Matthew Fox) from Smokey, Ben's (Michael Emerson) final moments outside the church, and obviously, Vincent—that it's impossible for me to think about it without tearing up. I'm crying right now. Send tissues.


St. Elsewhere, "The Last One" (1988) and Newhart, "The Last Newhart" (1990)

Or as they're also known, the Great Troll Finales. Even if you haven't seen all of St. Elsewhere and Newhart (guilty as charged), you should still check out their final episodes. The former of course concludes with a scene that implies the entire story took place within an autistic boy's mind, complete with a replica of the hospital in a snow globe, while the latter concluded with Bob Newhart's Dick Loudon getting hit in the head by a golf ball, only to awake as Dr. Robert Hartley, the character Newhart played on his previous sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show. Call these episodes terrible, frustrating, or series-ruining if you want, but you can't deny their ambition.


The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1992)

The concept of a series finale is primarily associated with primetime scripted series, but it's worth acknowledging the last broadcast of the most popular show in late-night TV. Johnny Carson's final edition of The Tonight Show was a bit of an anomaly in that it featured no guests, was filmed in front an audience of mostly friends and family, and ended with Carson simply speaking to the viewing public from a stool. Still, more than 50 million people tuned in to bid farewell to one of the most influential figures in American popular culture, which seems insane in 2015.


Cheers, "One for the Road" (1993)

Cheers is one of TV's best-ever sitcoms, and "One for the Road" is one of the medium's best sitcom finales. The episode is a 98-minute love letter to the show's characters, relationships, and titular watering hole, capped off by one last will-they-or-won't-they story between Sam (Ted Danson) and a returning Diane (Shelly Long). It's one of those finales that feels conclusive in some ways but really leaves the audience wishing that they could hang out with the characters until the end of time.


Freaks and Geeks, "Discos and Dragons" (2000) and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, "Born to Run" (2009)

Ah, the series finales that were never meant to be series finales. There are tons of unintentional series finales out there—Angel, Firefly, Deadwood, and Happy Endings also come to mind—but these two are definitely my favorite. Burned off along with two other episodes nearly a year after Freaks and Geeks premiered, "Discos and Dragons" saw creator Paul Feig try to put a button on the goings-on in Chippewa, Michigan. The episode's potential new identities for dysfunctional teens Lindsay (from bookworm to Deadhead), Nick (from wannabe musician to disco dancer), and Daniel (from king of the dirtbags to full-on nerd) marked powerful transitions for characters who were in flux; however, they were satisfying enough on their own to serve as concluding beats as well. It was painful to say goodbye after a single season, but it worked as a snapshot of one school year, you know?

Meanwhile, the sudden end of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles remains one of the most frustrating cancellations in recent memory. "Born to Run" capped off the series' methodical, philosophical, and sometimes frustrating second season with an action-packed bang, punching things up with a fantastic, time-travel-aided cliffhanger. Just imagine what could have been—and how many half-baked film "reboots" we could have avoided.


The O.C., "The End's Not Near, It's Here" (2007)

The O.C. was habitually self-reflexive, regularly commenting on its own style and the tropes embedded within the primetime soap genre, and its series finale was no exception. The jump ahead in time and concluding montage displayed some of the great tales the show would never get to tell because it burned out so quickly, but "The End's Not Near, It's Here" also smartly deployed callbacks to the pilot and how the audience first met Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie). Not all finales are able to pull off the concluding time jump, especially after handling some leftover plot business in the "present," but it was executed masterfully on The O.C. by series creator Josh Schwartz.


Friday Night Lights, "Always" (2011)

Unlike Lost, Friday Night Lights didn't have too many dangling plot threads to tie up or major questions to answer in its final hour, and therefore the episode's focus on the show's beloved characters wasn't much of surprise. It was, however, tremendous. "Always" was a near-perfect send-off to both the world of Dillon, Texas and the Taylor family. It capped off Friday Night Lights' realistic portrayal of marriage (Coach Taylor making the right sacrifice for Tami) and small-town allure (with Riggins sticking around, probably forever), as well as its comically unrealistic portrayal of football (East Dillon winning State on a last-second miracle play).


The Office, "Finale" (2013)

Sometimes, a great finale reminds us of why we loved a show in the first place, and The Office's "Finale" did that for me. While I stuck with the show through the bumpy post-Steve Carell seasons (and let's be honest, the last few Carell years weren't great either), by the time it ended, The Office was no longer an important part of my TV-viewing life. But the final stretch of episodes, and especially the finale, marked a lovely return to form, injecting warmth back into what had become a cynical, frustrating series. Greg Daniels & Co. gave the documentary conceit a real function in those last few hours, allowing the characters—and by proximity, the audience—to reflect on all those days at Dunder Mifflin.


Breaking Bad, "Felina" (2013)

I mean, obviously. Few showrunners know how to promise and then deliver pure satisfaction to their audience like Vince Gilligan. You can poke at Breaking Bad's use of Jesse (Aaron Paul) in its last run of episodes, or wonder a little about how the show ultimately viewed the impact of Walt's (Bryan Cranston) behavior, but "Felina" was as gut-wrenching, intense, and cathartic as Breaking Bad fans could've imagined it would be.


ALSO GREAT: Twin Peaks, "Beyond Life and Death" (1991); Friends, "The Last One" (2004); The Shield, "Family Meeting" (2008); Parks and Recreation, "One Last Ride" (2015); Justified, "The Promise" (2015).


Alright, folks—let's hear YOUR picks for the best series finales of all-time?


Comments (526)
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Apr 29, 2016
glad to see you included Lost. shows that you got both inteligence and integrity. Then again - talking series finales and not mentioning Six Feet Under...? Thats almost like talking classic writers and not mentioning Shakespeare... And excluding The Wire is like forgetting about Cervantes.

Other personal favorites: MASH, Sopranos, Angel, BSG, and, actually, Deadwood. It sure would have been nice to have more seasons, and the series of course deserved a finale ment to be as such. But, to me, the complete and utter despair that ended the final Deadwood episode seems wonderfully fitting.
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Apr 29, 2016
pffft lost was shit and the ending has no place here their are certainly better series finales then this. i don't know what makes you an editor man but you can't seem to work out great tv from bad tv.


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Jun 28, 2015
Not to be a tool but Angel's ending shouldn't be in the category of 'unintentional series finales' The show was cancelled in time for Joss Whedon to make a series finale - and i have faith in what i say here, Joss intended for Angel to end so abruptly because of the message Angel always sent out - no matter what, there will always be something to fight for, it never stops - and that last line from Angel proves that

Terminator got cancelled after the finale was written, and i don't know about freaks and geeks but it was a teen drama so that show could end any way

whereas Joss found out about Angel's cancellation with enough time to write/film the finale in a satisfactory way and it completely worked


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May 28, 2015
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Frasier
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
House, MD
News Radio

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May 27, 2015
Ummm, House MD..
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May 26, 2015
LIFE!! It only lasted 2 years and NBC kept moving it all over its schedule but the series Finale was riveting.
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cvh
May 25, 2015
Buffy. An oldy but a goody.
Scrubs. (The end of season 8. I'm pretending season 9 didn't happen *shudder*)
Also, I actually quite liked the Glee finale. The last few seasons were pretty terrible but the last two episodes were a return to form. It was a nice sendoff
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May 22, 2015
According to these comments, there are 3 types of people in the world:

1. Those that have seen Six Feet Under
2. Those that haven't, and drank the LOST Kool-aid
3. Those that haven't, hated lost, and have some other random opinion about breaking bad.
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May 21, 2015
Six Feet Under ! It had the most satisfying ending to any series I've ever watched.
I also loved the series finales of The Tudors and Rome !
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May 22, 2015
Glad to see Six Feet Under is still getting a mention. It was THE best finale I've ever seen.

The finale of M*A*S*H was a shocker, but that was then, this is now. It probably wouldn't even merit a second glance nowadays.

SFU was the best. No contest.
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May 21, 2015
Fringe...Fringe...Fringe!!!!
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May 19, 2015
HOUSE!!
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May 19, 2015
Stargate SG-1 "Unending"
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May 18, 2015
How can you say Lost it had the worst ending ever i wasted all that time watching a great show for then too stuff it up on the last EP.
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May 16, 2015
Dawson's Creek,

I didn't watch it but it was so great when it was over
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May 15, 2015
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
BREAKING BAD
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May 15, 2015
1. Breaking bad
2. Spartacus - war of the dammed
3. boardwalk empires
4. Battlestar Galactica
5. Star Trek Voyager
6. Rome
7. Fringe
That would be my top 7, I cant in good faith make a top 10, because there are not that many shows with great endings.... yet
i am hopeful about:
Hannibal
Game of thrones
Agents of Shield
The walking dead
when they end... a long time from now
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May 15, 2015
Let's be honest, best series finale of all time was finale of Six Feet Under. And it's not ven listed here, while worst finale of all time (Lost) is.
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Aug 10, 2015
compared to dexter Lost's finale was like heaven
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May 22, 2015
Amazing, isn't it? I'm sure Cory could have done a mea culpa and updated his list.

Oh well, go figure.
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May 21, 2015
Best finale of all times! I watch a lot of series and I haven't seen a better finale yet. Six Feet Under!
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May 16, 2015
So true!
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May 14, 2015
Agree with many of the above, but Lost (and I must say I'm a huge fan) has one of the worst endings a series has ever had the only good part is that it is an ending. Of those I've seen, and I'm talking hundreds of series, I think John Doe takes the price.
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May 18, 2015
True Dat
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May 14, 2015
The Wire
Breaking Bad
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Scrubs (The real intended finale was the perfect ending)
Rome (A great finale after just two amazing seasons)
The Office UK
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May 14, 2015
This list clearly favours emotions over intellect, thus making it unreadable.
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May 14, 2015
Best: The Mentalist
Worst: Veronica Mars
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May 19, 2015
Veronica Mars remains one of my most favorite series...even though there was a (successful) movie made, the final straw for me was the inclusion of that "Bonus Sneak Peek" of the Season 4 that never was; on the DVD extras.

I know it wasn't the direction Rob Thomas wanted to go, but I would've loved to see Veronica as an FBI agent! Those last few minutes of the S4 trailer are pure torture.
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May 13, 2015
breaking bad
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May 13, 2015
THE WIRE!!!!!!!!!
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May 13, 2015
Six Feet Under - the best series finale ever!!
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May 12, 2015
brothers & sisters
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May 11, 2015
1. Six Feet Under
2. Twin Peaks (but maybe it was not finale after all)
3. Roseanne
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May 11, 2015
Scrubs!! The real end where JD leaves the hospital and sees his possible future to the song "book of love". Best end ever!
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May 11, 2015
Spartacus! Loved the show!
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May 11, 2015
Lost? Seriously?
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May 10, 2015
How I Met Your Mother!
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May 20, 2015
I'm sorry, but I personally HATED HIMYM's series finale.
It was a total cop-out!!
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Aug 10, 2015
the alternate ending was good though
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May 09, 2015
The series finale of Frasier makes me cry every time.
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May 22, 2015
Wasn't Frasier on a plane with some woman? Otherwise, I don't remember it at all.
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May 08, 2015
Battlestar Galactica!!!!!!
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May 07, 2015
StarBlazers tops my list, but then I was a little kid at the time, and very sad to see it go.

- "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Just imagine what could have been—and how many half-baked film "reboots" we could have avoided."

You mean like the upcoming one, Cory, where the trailer was obviously made by the CW, because it gives away big spoilers without any shame?
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May 07, 2015
This is the first list where I've seen The Shield is not on the top on such a list. On the other side, glad to see Justified being recognized even if it's far less than it deserves. That show is criminally underrated!
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May 22, 2015
Really? Mackey behind a desk rather than with a bullet in his head was a good ending? Or, were you glad to not see it on this list? I thought the finale stunk.
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May 07, 2015
ER :) and I miss it sooo much !
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May 06, 2015
Mash, Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore, Frasier and "both" Series Finale of Magnum PI
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May 06, 2015
Seinfeld!
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May 05, 2015
Six feet under. No doubt!
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May 04, 2015
M*A*S*H* !!!
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May 03, 2015
Angel had an unexpected series finale!? What???

I would definitely say Six Feet Under. I've never seen a single episode, but I saw the ending montage and it always makes me bawl!
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May 22, 2015
The_Ravn, consider yourself lucky and go watch the entire series. It had its dull episodes, but on the whole was outstanding. And yes, the 6 minute montage was perfection.
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May 03, 2015
CHUCK- I know a lot of people didn't like it but it felt right. There was hope for Chuck.
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May 03, 2015
I can't believe you missed out the SCRUBS finale (with the original cast and not the additional season that was an insult to anybody who watched for 8 years). As for LOST, I think I was in a state of accepting any ending they would have thrown at me!
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May 03, 2015
LOST!!!
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May 02, 2015
Six Feet Under
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May 01, 2015
Parenthood
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May 01, 2015
lol, Lost ending was the most hated episode by the majority of people worldwide. I perosnally don't know a single person irl that liked the end.
Lost ending was the best..... the best way to disappoint so many fans. ;)

My personal favorites ending : Breaking bad, Six Feet Under, Sopranos,Battlestar Galactica.
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May 01, 2015
I don't see Six Feet Under's "Everyone's Waiting" on the list, I'm guessing it's a mistake
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May 11, 2015
yes must be a mistake .. six feet under had the best finale ever..
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May 02, 2015
yes yes and yes. The only show I thought of after reading the subject.
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May 01, 2015
The only people who liked the ending of Lost are people who watched it as a soap opera and only cared about who got together with who. Anybody who watched the show as a sci-fi/fantasy show (which it was by definition - since almost all shows have 'characters') - was deeply and rightfully disappointed since the ending proved conclusively that the show-runners had NO CLUE what was going on, and were simply stringing us along as long as they could with no satisfying conclusions to most of the mysteries. The Numbers? Oh, Jacob 'likes' numbers! Etc. Absolutely pathetic ending. ANY of the many fan scenarios posted online would've been more satisfying, and I personally would've preferred for the show to end with the big nuke explosion at the end of season 5. Better an open end, that a pathetic one. As it stands, the ending was so bad that it completely spoiled the show for me, and I can never re-watch it without feeling like a complete sucker. The notion that it was all about the characters is the most dim-witted excuse I've ever seen writers make. Absolutely idiotic.
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May 20, 2015
I'm a huge sci-fi nut who even did the ARGs and liked the ending fine. Clearly the writers trusted the sophistication of the viewers a little too much.
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Jun 28, 2015
Hilarious. Yes, "Jacob likes numbers!" is clearly aimed at a sophisticated audience. Thanks for at least squeezing a laugh out of that ridiculous ending. If you actually had a snowball's chance in hell of addressing any of my points perhaps you would've rather than attempt a lame ad-hominem attack.
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May 06, 2015
I wish I could give this post a thousand thumbs up, well said!
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Apr 30, 2015
Lost - By far the best . it will be Cherished for years to come.
Battlestar Galactica was up there too
I also still remember the Seinfeld finale ( i guess we all have seen it a couple dozen time through reruns )
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Apr 30, 2015
Six Feet Under - how could it not get on the list, lol.

Also Dawson's Creek, How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Saved By The Bell, Full House and The Nanny.

The ending of Will and Grace was horrible. Also didn't care for Sex and the City (nor the 2nd movie that followed).
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