With most things in life, it isn’t necessarily how you start, but how you finish that really matters. In the world of television, that is especially true when your series finale will be the last tidbit that your fanbase will ever receive.
End on a high and you can leave the millions of people that followed the series from the start incredibly satisfied and make them feel like they didn’t completely waste their time by following the story till the end. End on a bad note and you run the risk of completely ruining the series as a whole, because you’ll never be able to wash the bad taste of an awful series finale out of your mouth.
There are a few different ways that the end of the series can bring on disappointment in the fanbase. One way is making sure that by the time the last episode airs, nobody cares anymore. The history of Hollywood is filled with shows that started off with such promise, but ended up faltering down the finish line.
It’s not like it’s easy to end a series. No matter how you do it, there is no way that you are going to satisfy everyone. You just need to hope that your series finale doesn’t piss off the majority of your fanbase, but unfortunately that's exactly what these shows did.
All of the shows that made the list, made it for their own unique reasoning. Some endings left people feeling confused, others angry. Other shows are a clear example of what can happen when the writing staff goes on strike, or even worse when a show ends before the creators were even aware. There is a great ending to My Name Is Earl (read below to find out), but nobody ever got to see it because the show got pulled too soon.
For all the highs that these shows brought us, it’s unfortunately the awful series finales that stick with most fans. Reader beware, because spoilers are ahead!
I don’t really know what people were expecting from the series finale of Seinfeld. When the show prided itself on being about nothing, it’s not like they were really going to reinvent the formula for the last episode. Some feel that the various cameo appearances that reappear take away time from developing a stronger final plot. If you don’t buy into the irony of them being arrested for the crime of doing nothing, the whole episode may just be a drag for you. Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker described the finale as being “off-key and bloated…Seinfeld and David's kiss-off to their fans was a loud, hearty, 'So long, suckers!'", hardly the impression you want to leave on some fans after 9 years of excellence.
Dexter was incredibly engaging and immediately developed a great audience that helped propel the series to 8 seasons. Unfortunately, they really should have stopped before getting there. The last season is hated by critics and fans, due to poor writing and an awful series finale which was also widely panned. The series ends with Dexter faking his own death, and appearing later in Oregon as a bearded log truck driver which we are to assume is his new job now. Awful, it was described as being "unbelievably unsatisfying end [which] ruins all that came before it" and makes the series incredibly hard to rewatch.
8 The Sopranos
The Sopranos was an outstanding television show that had a great run for 6 seasons. The only problem is that no matter how good the series was, the last shot of the series invoked a lot of confusion with the viewers. It is shown that an assassin is coming up behind Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini) and that he shoots and kills Soprano, or does he? They don’t show the ‘whack’, instead the show just cuts to black when the gun is raised. I totally understand the artistic angle of it, but the decision was criticized by critics and fans who wanted the series to wrap up with less of a cliff-hanger ending. While speculated at the time that this may have been done to lead into a movie, this never amounted to anything substantial.
7 My Name Is Earl
It’s never easy when a show gets cancelled and the writers weren’t exactly expecting it. My Name Is Earl has the fantastic honor of getting to end on a “to be continued.” Talk about an open ending to fans of the show! Though because the internet is wonderful, somebody asked the creator of the show when he did an AMA on Reddit, “did Earl ever finish the list?”
“I had always had an ending to Earl and I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to see it happen. You've got a show about a guy with a list so not seeing him finish it is a bummer. But the truth is, he wasn't ever going to finish the list. The basic idea of the ending was that while he was stuck on a really hard list item he was going to start to get frustrated that he was never going to finish it. Then he runs into someone who had a list of their own and Earl was on it. They needed to make up for something bad they had done to Earl. He asks them where they got the idea of making a list and they tell him that someone came to them with a list and that person got the idea from someone else. Earl eventually realizes that his list started a chain reaction of people with lists and that he's finally put more good into the world than bad. So at that point he was going to tear up his list and go live his life. Walk into the sunset a free man. With good karma.”
I am not one of the people that hate the ending of LOST. In fact, LOST is my favorite television series. However, there are absolutely people that feel that LOST just got awful towards the end as the show as it tried offering twists that didn’t necessarily work. When the show started introducing elements like time travel, many viewers started to mentally check out of the series. The last season ends the series with a really nice closing point if you watched the show to see the evolution of characters, but you may not be satisfied with getting all the answers you wanted. There is still no doubting that the first few seasons of LOST are some of the best television around however.
Heroes was a show that, when it debuted, had so much promise. The world hadn’t quite gotten into superheroes quite yet, but the show was well acted and seemed to have an engaging story. The show was hit hard by the writers strike and the remaining seasons were awful in comparison. The series finale was best described by television critic Steve Heisler who stated, “with an episode so bad, it somehow made me feel retroactively like I wasted more time watching everything that preceded it” and that is hardly the feeling you want to leave with your audiences. The show has attempted reboots, including a 13 episode miniseries entitled Heroes Reborn which aired on NBC this past September. I suppose when the previous series finale leaves such a bad taste in some people’s mouths, it’s only natural to want to try and create something to help them forget.
If you were watching Roseanne, the entire last season might feel like a giant middle finger. The season revolves around the family winning the lottery, and it greatly altered the tone of the series. The last season was also plagued by the removal of John Goodman’s character for most of the season. Roseanne Barr stated that the last season is “not about the [lottery] money. It’s about transformation and redemption.” And that is perhaps best exemplified by the last scene of the series which is described as the following
“Roseanne reveals the entire series itself is actually a story written by Roseanne Conner about her life. To cope, Roseanne twisted major elements of her life for the story, which the audience does not discover until the final moments of the series. In reality, Dan's heart attack near the end of Season 8 was fatal and the Conner family did not win the lottery. Also, Jackie is a lesbian and Beverly is straight. Scott is a probate lawyer that Roseanne befriended, and set up with Leon—who she claims isn't very hip like she wrote him to be. Another difference is that Mark and Darlene were a couple all along, as were David and Becky, rather than the opposite (Becky with Mark and Darlene with David).”
I never got behind the art style of the TV series Dinosaurs but I am sure there was an audience out there for it (after all, it did get made). Personally, they looked creepy and it instantly removed any of the cute factor that the show tried to have going for it. For a show that was geared at kids, the series finale is absolutely appalling, so much so that it has to be on the list.
In the series finale, the family realizes that there are vines growing all over the planet and this is preventing the bunch beetles from coming (who are necessary for the ecosystem). The planet puts Earl (main character) in charge, but unfortunately the poison that Earl uses to kill the vines also kills all the plant life on earth. To try and solve that problem, they try and drop bombs on the planet in the hopes that it would create rain. It doesn't, and instead leads to the start of the ice age and the death of all the dinosaurs. At least Earl apologizes at the end of the series, letting his family know that they should not have taken nature for granted. Call me crazy, but that was not what I would expect from the ending of a kids TV series.
2 That '70s Show
I absolutely hate it when a show starts to lose its primary cast, but they stay on the air anyway and bastardize the whole series. That '70s Show ends up losing Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace for significant periods of the show. Their replacements (namely Randy) were hated by most fans, and it hurt the shows reputation. The ending of pairing Fes with Jackie also seemed weird and didn’t sit right with most fans. The only thing it did right was making the series end on New Year's Eve as the gang is welcoming in 1980, but that hardly makes up for all the mistakes that the show made towards the end.
1 1. How I Met Your Mother
There is no doubt in my mind that out of every show on this list, HIMYM is most deserving of the award for worst ending. It literally threw away the entire relationship with the Mother (as she dies in the series finale), showed all the characters hating each other for most of the finale and then Ted ends up with Robin. Are you kidding me? I waited so long for THAT? Not to mention that all of season 9 is based around Barney and Robin’s wedding, only to have them get divorced in the series finale. The show tried to show where the characters' lives would be years down the line, but it was horribly executed and made many fans really resentful of the series.