So let’s talk about series finales of sitcoms. In the old days, the final episodes of series were nothing to remarkable. That started to change in the 70’s as shows began using the final episode of series as an opportunity to thank the fans for watching the show all the years it was on. By the 90’s, these episodes became events which included two hours episodes usually starting with a clip show, and tons of media hype. The bigger the show, the more the hype. Over the years some sitcoms have done this well, and others not so much. Today I thought I would look at some of the more famous series finale’s and discuss why there were so good, others not as good, or in some cases the one’s which are just a flat out disappointment.


Series finales do have to follow a few rules. One, something needs to happen in the episode which significantly alters some aspect of the show as a sign that the show as we know it is over. That is harder to do for family shows which are why a lot have the family selling the house or something. Two, there needs to be a surprise. Something unexpected has to happen. Three, there has to be a tearful goodbye among the cast which includes a laugh somewhere along the way. Finally, the final scene has to show the main member of the cast looking wistfully at the setting of the show before the credits role. Now of course these rules are not set in stone and a series may do some but not all. The perfect example of these rules has to be Mary Tyler Moore. This show may have been the first to popularize the idea of a series final episode actually being a series finale. In the episode, the entire cast is fired (there’s your change), except Ted (there’s your surprise). The final scene is the cast huddled in a big hug saying goodbye (tear moment), they realize they need tissues and go get some never losing the huddle (laugh). The final moment is Mary taking one last look at the newsroom before turning and leaving, happy to have had the experience of working there at all, and the camera fades on the empty set. The best part, the episode wasn’t a bloated overhyped affair it was just a half hour like any other. Quite simply, a perfect final episode and a gold standard for others to follow.


Let’s talk about some others. I have already talked about many of these, so rather than bore you with plot synopses I will just give you my feelings about them. As always, this is just opinion.
The Good. These shows did it right, and set a standard that many have tried to follow.


MASH-I decided to start with this one simply because this is the prime example. This 2 1/2 hour movie set ratings records that stood for thirty years, and some may argue still stand. I think I was the only one in the world who didn’t watch this episode. I had never actually watched MASH but the hype so was so tremendous even I was excited about the episode when it finally came on. Then my father made us go to bed. I still remember the next day in school as the rest of the class talked about the episode I missed! Anyway, while the show is a little drawn out, if you can watch the last 20 minutes without a tear in your eye then you are a better person than me.


Friends-I really liked their final episode. It was just the right send off, as we see the friends moving on with their lives. The best moment, of course, were Ross and Rachel finally getting together. I said before this was the one TV romance I was into, and this episode did not disappoint. Yes it was hyped a bit too much, but at least this one delivered.


Newhart-This may be the most infamous series finale ever. Everyone knows how it went, at the end of the episode the inn has become a golf course. Dick is suddenly hit with a golf ball, and what happens next is TV history. He wakes up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette and the whole Newhart series was a dream Bob Harley from The Bob Newhart Show dreamed up. Brilliant.
The Cosby Show-What a bittersweet way to end a series. The pilot episode was all about Theo struggling in high school, so what better way to end the series but bring it full circle and show Theo graduating from college. This was a very nice show, simple and not overstated. There wasn’t much of a cast goodbye, but the final moment was great. Cliff insists he’s fixed the doorbell, and when Claire tries it a jazz tune plays. Cliff and Claire proceed to dance, right off the stage and into history.


Cheers-Think MASH was overhyped? I live in Boston, and believe me when I say that this episode was all the local TV station would talk about. Was the episode good? Yes as a matter of a fact. Bringing Diane Chambers back was a great way to bookend the series, and the cast just sitting and talking at the end was a nice touch. The final moment was Sam saying “we’re closed”, before walking down a dark hallway….the same hallway we saw him walking out of in the first moment of the pilot. And did you catch the nod to Nicholas Colasanto? Just gold.


Family Ties-I know this episode was a little sappy and emotional. But the series was sappy and emotional. This is the same series that had every episode end with a heart to heart talk between two cast members? I thought this episode was a fine way to end the series, as Alex finally gets his dream job in New York and the family is no longer going to be all together.


Who’s The Boss?-This episode wasn’t that good, in fact the entire last season wasn’t that good, but I loved the final scene. It was reminiscent of the first scene of the pilot, as we see Angela answer the door in a bathrobe to find Tony there. Ok, the series didn’t end with a wedding but in a strange way that was appropriate. Nice show, and satisfying end.


Mad About You-I have talked before about the horrible last year on this show, it was just embarrassing. The exception was the series finale. It was a really nice job. Done as a mock documentary, the show flashes forward (rather than looking back) and we see what happens to the characters over the future beyond the final episode. It was a nice show, and while having Paul and Jamie break up was lame, given the crap this series spewed that last year I was happy enough with this one.


Frasier-This was a really good episode, even if it didn’t left things open more than closed. The show basically had Frasier take a job to San Francisco, but in the last scene we see he is in Chicago probably to chase the girl of his dreams. Nice episode but why end on a cliffhanger which will never get resolved?


Saved By The Bell-This episode hit every mark just right, even for a show as silly as this was. It was about the gang graduating, and was silly and emotional at the same time. No complaints her. But I do have some complaints about Saved By The Bell:The New Class.


Fresh Prince of Bel Air-This was a great final episode, as the family sells the house and move to New York. Well, except Will anyway. You got the distinct feeling the show ended prematurely because Will Smith wanted to be a movie star (wonder how that worked out) but they still delivered a very solid final episode which even included one last “Carlton dance”.


The Bad. These shows were not horrible, but somehow they missed the mark and were not as good as they could have been.


Night Court-You’re going to hear me say this a lot, but this show was horrible by that last year. So much that it even affected the final episode. I do give the episode points for effort, it hit most of the rules I listed above. Truth is there was really no way this was going to be a satisfying conclusion, the show didn’t even feel the same at this point. But that last scene of Bull being beamed away to Jupiter? WTF???


Home Improvement-Amazing how a show can try so hard and then ultimately fail. This was a three part series finale, the first part was just a clip show. That was pretty dull. Then the whole “will they move or won’t they” story was boring. What really kills this episode for me was the final scene, which just didn’t satisfy me at all. Not the worst, but not the best.


Golden Girls-This episode feels more like Bea Arthur’s final show more than it does a series finale. There is a simple reason for that, that’s what It was. The intention was to keep the show going with “The Golden Palace”, as a result the only real character wrap up we get is Dorothy. The idea of her getting married was clever since was the one who never had a social life. And while the final scene is emotional, it doesn’t offer the closure you would expect from a final episode. And if you don’t know, yes they made Golden Palace and it was awful.


Full House-Rumor has it that when the series final episode was filmed they didn’t know it was the series final episode. It’s not a terrible episode, there are lots of callbacks which thankfully didn’t include clips and the story was moving (corny, but this is Full House). I really liked the episode the year before about them almost selling the house, that felt like more of a series ender. The story about Michelle havinh amnesia wasn’t bad, it was kind of nice to see the show from another point of view as we get jokes about all the hugging the cast did. Even the show knew how corny and silly it was!


Happy Days-In my father’s day article I talked about how the final scene of the episode had Howard giving a very nice toast, which was a really great, send off to the series. Why is this not on my best list? Because the majority of the episode is not that good. The whole story of Fonzie adopting a child was only ok, and the wedding of Joanie and Chachi was straight fan service. Ron Howard only has a cameo and there is no sign of Potsie or Ralph. The episode that aired a few episodes earlier which had Richie saying goodbye was almost a more fitting finale.


Everybody Loves Raymond-This show decided not to do an overblown show, and did a regular episode. It was a good episode, involving a health scare for Ray, but as a series finale? This is the one show that violates one of my rules, the one about having a change or a surprise. Even Cosby Show had Denise calling in to say she was pregnant. This was just a regular episode, and while it was a strong episode it was not a strong series finale. (and before someone asks, yes Full House also had a surprise, as Steve returned to take DJ to the prom which was a kind of sweet moment).


Growing Pains-Clip show anyone? This episode hit all the rules I outlined above, but the fact that it was mostly a clip show sucks. It did have a sweet ending which mercifully did not include Leonardo DiCaprio, so I will let it go.


Scrubs-The last episode of the 8th season was the series finale in my opinion. I don’t count that awful Scrubs:The New Class crap in the next year. That being said, that episode about J.D. leaving was just a fantastic episode. I had kind of stopped watching the show by then, and turned it and was very impressed. We get recurring characters, a montage of the future, and the reveal that Dr.Cox respects J.D and always has. The topper was learning the janitor’s name, or did we? Great, great episode.



The Ugly. These shows just got it wrong, and these final episodes are remembered for the wrong reason.


Facts of Life-Nothing like spending your final episode setting up a spin-off series which will never get produced. What a wasted opportunity.


Seinfeld-Not going to say much about this because we’ll get to this one in my episode guide, I promise. Suffice to say, this was a disappointment of epic proportions. It was a given that this show would violate every rule I outlined above, but what they gave us was just inexcusable. More on this in a couple months.


Roseanne-Do I really need to go over this one again? There were a couple problems here. First, the last season sucked. I mean, really sucked. Second, the whole series was a story Roseanne wrote? I just wasn’t thrilled with that. Why was the whole last season about the family being happy, only to have the show go back to depressing in the last five minutes? Just a mess, was it me or was this show stupid every time Roseanne had control of the scripts?


Murphy Brown-Yaawwwnnn!! Like Roseanne, the last season of this show was just painful. The arc of Murphy having breast cancer was forced and lame and it seemed as though Candace Bergen forgot how to play the character, at all. The problem wasn’t so much the episode as the fact the show was almost unrecognizable that last year. What a shame, it was a great show in its day and deserved better. Ok, the final scene referencing the pilot and bringing Eldin back wasn’t bad.


King of Queens-Same story, the last season was so bad that there was no way the final episode was going to be very good. And it wasn’t. There was this convoluted story about Doug and Carrie almost getting divorced and the flying to China to adopt a baby (yes, really) while Arthur got married to Spence’s mom. Final scene we see Doug and Carrie have an adopted child and a natural one, nice but since the show was about them not having kids we don’t care.


Will & Grace-Painful. Stupid. Boring, Dumb. I am trying to find a way to express my feelings about this one, and nothing works. This episode was so bad! Well, first of all the last season was pretty bad. This show got real horrible those last couple of years. This episode, like Mad About You, projected into the future as we see what becomes of our cast. It was just so boring, as we see Will & Grace stop being friends until their children meet in college. Then they are inseparable again. We get Karen and Jack singing “Unforgettable” to each other and a lame attempt to duplicate the pilot. Awful.


Alf-Yeah, this show was a horrible disappointment to the fans. Thank goodness I wasn’t one by then. Alf misses his ride home, and the alien task force finally closes in on him. What happened next? The credits! What a terrible ending.


If something isn’t listed its probably because I never saw it (All in the Family) or saw it but didn’t think it was worth mentioning (Empty Nest). The most infuriating final episode for me was Benson, which ended with Benson and the Governor waiting to hear the election results. Who won? We never found out!!! Grrr, damn you cliffhangers!


Even though this list was long, I still feel like I missed a lot of them. If I did please feel free to let me know.

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