What is a good run for a TV show? Five years? Seven years? Perhaps the better question is should great TV shows quit while they are ahead, ending on a high note rather than dragging on the premise long after its shelf life has expired? Because while many great TV shows have ended too soon thanks to cancellation, sometimes good TV shows just don’t know when to quit.
The worst thing that can happen is watching a great show fade into obscurity, where each new season is a little less special than the last. Having a clearly defined end point that isn’t dictated by a network or channel cancelling can inject new life into a show – think Lost, which upped its game with its fourth and fifth seasons after its three-year end game was announced. Unfortunately for that show, it didn’t quite make it to the finish line in a satisfactory manner.
Sometimes too, there comes a point when, as an audience member, you think the season finale is a good finish point. You might be sad that there is no more time with your favourite characters but, as an ending, you don’t feel like the last few years of watching have been a waste. There are numerous occasions where a season finale has felt like a really strong series finale and here are ten examples of shows that should have quit while they were ahead.
10. Castle – Season Seven Finale: Hollander’s Woods
We’ve all heard the news by now; Castle has been cancelled, but even before that announcement fans knew the show was doomed. ABC kicked Stana Katic off the show in an effort to “cut the budget” for a potential ninth season. Because removing one of the show’s two main leads – particularly when “Casket” is the show’s biggest premise – is a sure-fire way to keep fans watching. But really, the rot had set in before that, with the departure of the show’s creator Andrew W. Marlowe at the end of season seven. There have been a number of questionable decisions in season eight that fans hated – particularly the ludicrous ways the new show runners have kept Castle and Beckett apart.
But there was a chance to end the show on a high and that was with the season seven finale. Just one episode before, Beckett had finally put her mother’s killer behind bars and the finale offered the chance of better things to come for Beckett, while Castle solved a childhood case that set him on the path he was on now. The final scene with every main character around the table at the award’s ceremony, was the perfect, bittersweet ending for the show.
Had Castle ended with season seven, it would have left fans wanting more but still feeling like it had a good run. And, most importantly, it wouldn’t have deviated so far from the show’s formula as season eight had. This was definitely a case of failing to end on a high and dragging out a show to its final whimper…
9. Arrow – Season Three Finale: My Name Is Oliver Queen
Arrow season four has definitely shown signs of improvement, and with spin-off show The Flash doing very well, and a third spin-off Legends Of Tomorrow proving to be a huge amount of fun, there is no denying that The CW‘s DC Superhero franchise is becoming a successful TV franchise. But from a storytelling perspective, season three of Arrow would have actually been a great place to end.
Think about it; Laurel and Thea had risen to become heroes Speedy and Black Canary, providing the protection Starling City needed in the absence of Arrow. And the titular hero had already been discredited and “killed” thanks to Roy taking the hit and leaving the show to protect Oliver. In the flashbacks Oliver was returned to the island Lian Yu, taking him back to where he started in the pilot and most importantly, in the present day, Oliver and Felicity finally became a couple and literally drove off into the sunset to start a new life together. Even the episode title says it all.
For Oliver Queen and Starling (now renamed Star) City, this was a great full circle moment that would have been a bold but satisfying ending to the show as a whole.
8. Frasier – Seven Season Finale: Something Borrowed, Someone Blue: Part 2
For seven seasons there were two main reasons to watch Frasier; the radio show and the unrequited love of Niles for Daphne. And with her wedding to Donny quickly approaching, Frasier’s brother finally bit the bullet and confessed his love. At first it looked as if she would deny it altogether and go through the wedding but in the season seven finale’s closing moments she did the whole runaway bride thing and they rode off together.
Things were never quite the same since. With the increasing focus on Daphne’s family and the unrequited love story over, the show lost some of its magic, only really pulling it out of the bag consistently in its eleventh and final season, complete with the perfect ending. But there was a lot of disappointing episodes to trawl through to get there. While Something Borrowed, Someone Blue: Part 2 wouldn’t have given Frasier Crane the ending he deserved, it would have provided a fun and satisfying ending for Niles and Daphne.
All the big US comedies went through the same period of mundane – Friends and How I Met Your Mother did before delivering strong endings and The Big Bang Theory seems firmly stuck in that rut now. Frasier could have avoided that by ending the show on this hilarious high.
7. Babylon 5 – Season Four Finale: Sleeping In Light
Wait, wasn’t Sleeping In Light the season five finale and series finale you might ask? Well yes it is, though it was actually filmed at the end of season four. With the threat of cancellation, J. Michael Straczynski wrapped up the show’s arc – the Shadow War and revolution against a corrupt Earth Force – by the end of season four, condensing the five year story-arc into four years. And when Babylon 5 was picked up for a fifth season, the finale was pushed back a year and the epilogue fifth year story-line was created.
In its place the season four finale The Deconstruction of Falling Stars was created, which jumped forward into various points in the future. With the loss of Claudia Christian as Commander Ivanova, a new female leading character Tracy Scoggins’ Captain Elizabeth Lochley was brought in and while she proved to be a strong character by the end, fans didn’t warm to her. Furthermore, with the threat of the Shadows and corrupt President Clarke over, there was little or no tension and the teases of the impending Telepath and Drahk War never went anywhere, despite a great final arc for the tragic Londo Mollari. Simply put, it was a 22-episode epilogue to the story Straczynski wanted to tell.
It might have been better to make the decision to end Babylon 5 a year earlier, putting Sleeping In Light in its original place rather than dragging out the story for another year….
6. Community – Season Three Finale: Introduction to Finality
Community‘s second and third seasons are comedy perfection. Evil alternate realities, pillow forts and paintball massacres, there was so much to love about the show. But then it all changed with season four as the show’s creator Dan Harmon left. Gone was the magic of the first few years and, while it wasn’t as terrible as many made out, it wasn’t as side-splitting funny as it had been. Even when Harmon returned, it couldn’t quite hit those original heights despite a few valiant attempts to do so.
First Chevy Chase, then Donald Glover and finally Yvette Nicole Brown, one by one the show’s core original cast drifted away. Season four also had to find attempts to keep the show going after the third season seemingly brought to and end their reasons for being at Greendale Community College. Arguably it would have been better for the show to have gone out on a hilarious high.
There was a finality to the third season finale – both in name and plot – that would have served as an excellent finale and prevented Community from falling into the same trap as all other TV comedies, dragging out long after the comedy magic has started to fade…
5. Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Season Five Finale: The Gift
In another world, a world where Joss Whedon isn’t so cruel, Zoe and Wash had a baby together, Fred and Wesley had a long and loving relationship, Xander married Anya and Willow and Tara lived happily ever after. But that didn’t happen; at least one member of each couple met their maker (both on Angel). But over on Buffy The Vampire Slayer they came close; season five of the show would have been a very bittersweet end but it would have also been a very effective finale.
True, Buffy would have died, but then all slayers were destined to die young. Saving her sister and the world from Glory and the hell dimensions opening on Earth by sacrificing herself would have been a noble end – one fitting of Sarah Michelle Gellar‘s iconic TV heroine. It would have also provided closure to many characters; Willow and Tara would have been reunited while Xander and Anya would have married after his pre-apocalypse proposal. As the 100th episode, it would have been the right time for the show to go out on a high. Even the “previously on Buffy” pre-titles sequence proved to be a great epilogue for what had come before.
Seasons six and seven had brilliant episodes (Once More With Feeling, Conversations With Dead People) and delivered two good seasons of television, but they never hit quite the same notes with the fans as the earlier years. And they struggled to deliver an effective big bad after the Hellgod that was Glory. The season seven finale Chosen did offer the same closure, but The Gift would have been a bolder, more memorable ending for the show.
4. The X Files – Season Seven Finale: Requiem
The recent revival of The X Files proved there were still a lot of fans eager to see more of Mulder and Scully; one of its biggest successes was in the renewed chemistry between the two leads, something that suffered in the seasons eight and nine due to the loss of David Duchovny for numerous episodes. In fact, while there was still lots to enjoy in the last couple of years before its first ending, there was a struggle to come up with new storylines and make Doggett and Reyes as popular as Mulder and Scully had been.
In many ways, season seven should have been the ending. After all the trauma of her abduction, cancer and dying clone daughter Emily, Scully discovered she was pregnant. Mulder however, got perhaps his biggest wish; to make contact with aliens, as he was abducted. Season six had already wrapped up the majority of the show’s mythology and season seven only had one storyline to tie up – Samantha’s fate – which it did (admittedly somewhat unsatisfactorily) in the aptly titled episode Closure. There was nothing big still to tell, which is why season eight had to open up the mythology by introducing the super soldiers.
The season seven finale Requiem offered a great full circle moment as it returned to the characters and setting from the pilot episode and this would have delivered a wonderful swan song moment for the show. It had already lost its magic after the movie but, had it ended here, it would have still ended on a high rather than limping on to its season nine finish line…
3. Supernatural – Season Five Finale: Swan Song
Supernatural creator Eric Kripke always had a five-year game plan for the show and that is what the show delivered, building up towards the apocalypse and Lucifer’s release on Earth which made up the core content of its fifth year. But Supernatural carried on (it’s going to get an unprecedented twelfth season) and while, like many shows on this list, it has delivered some great episodes, there was always a marked contrast after that fifth season, which saw Kripke move on from the show.
Supernatural has suffered since season five because the end game keeps changing. Defeating the oncoming apocalypse was a theme since at least season two, but after that year we had Sam without a soul for half of season six, the Leviathans for season seven, the seals to close Heaven and Hell in eight and nine, the Mark of Cain in season ten and now the Darkness. Some stories have been more successful than others but it smacks of a show being constantly being forced to reinvent itself. If ever a series needed a definitive endgame to work towards, it is Supernatural post-season five.
And while it would have been a bleak ending for Sam (sucked into Hell), it would have also concluded with Lucifer trapped for good and Dean getting his happy ending.
2. Dexter – Season Four Finale: The Getaway
The trouble with a show about a sympathetic serial killer hiding in the midst of the Miami PD is that, after a while, his colleagues look more and more incompetent for not realising who he is. And the fact that Dexter lasted eight seasons dragged the premise to the borderline ridiculous. It was also another show that never got the critical acclaim as its early seasons and Dexter never beat the high of its fourth season featuring John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer.
The fourth season of Dexter was electric. It had stumbled in its third year, but in the fourth we were treated to a killer as fascinating as Dexter Morgan; a mentor, someone Dexter could aspire to, the Trinity Killer became Dexter Morgan’s biggest hero and villain and the series finale was brilliant. Dexter finally defeated him only to return home to find that his wife Rita had become the Trinity Killer’s last victim and his son Harrison sitting in a pool of her blood.
It was a shocking and brutal end that went right back to Dexter’s own childhood, sitting in his own mother’s blood. It was the moment that has made him the monster he was and now the question was whether Harrison would have followed the same fate as his father. What greater moment could Dexter have ended on? Certainly not the reclusive life as a lumberjack we finally got four years later…
1. Scrubs – Season Eight Finale: My Finale Part 2
When your entire cast bar two are moving on, that is generally a good sign you should end the show. And yet Scrubs carried on with its disastrous season nine, that served as a quasi-reboot with all new characters, which never matched the originals, and with Turk and Cox serving as “mentor figures”. One by one, old characters came back in an attempt to re-engage the audience but by then the damage was done and Scrubs died a slow death after just thirteen episodes.
Like the majority of sitcoms, Scrubs didn’t have quite the same magic as its early years by the time season eight rolled on, but it did end in a wonderful, bittersweet manner, as JD prepared to leave Sacred Heart and we got closure on every character. By the time JD walked down the corridor, thinking back to his eight years, you couldn’t help but get a lump in your throat.
As the credits rolled on the very apt My Finale two-parter, the audience had said their goodbyes to these beloved characters. They didn’t need anything more. Sadly we got something that was very unsatisfying and just plain unfunny…