Once you’ve got your TV series up and running and it’s been a success, you need to know how to end it properly. A good ending will put the seal on your ‘classic’ status, because the last thing people will remember of it will be the awesome way you rounded things off. The problem is, ending it is never very easy. With Lost entering its final season now, the difference between it being dismissed as a load of old nonsense and being cherished as a great TV show will be how the writers manage to explain what the hell has been going on all this time. Whether they’ll do it or not is anyone’s guess.
SPOILER ALERT – How successfully have other shows managed to pull off the grand finale (in no particular order)?
The Sopranos – A divisive one. Personally, I think David Chase‘s decision to have an anti-finale was a masterstroke, shocking everyone with the sudden smash cut to black, just as you were wondering if Tony was going to be clipped. Was he killed, did it just end because Chase wanted to mess with us? He’s not telling and nor should he. It also gave Don’t Stop Believin’ a noble send-off before it sank into the mire of X-Factor and Glee karaoke.
Battlestar Galactica – The exact opposite of The Sopranos in terms of finales. While that one tied up the odd loose end before plunging into darkness, Galactica’s emotional pay-offs seemed to go on forever. I can’t complain about any of the endings that the characters received, they were all well-earned, but it seemed a little self-indulgent and pedantic to take so long to spell it all out. Even then, they weren’t finished, tacking on an inadvisable coda set in the present day. Shows that go on for too long are one thing, endings that go on for too long are just not trying hard enough.
Only Fools And Horses – Here’s a show that had a perfect happy ending. Del Boy and Rodney had hit it rich at last and headed off into the sunset with Uncle Albert, allowing time for a nostalgic last look at their old flat, with the voices of their past reminding them how far they’d come. However, for reasons beyond comprehension, John Sullivan wasn’t done and brought Del and Rodders back without the late Buster Merryfield, without their money and without humour or pathos, for three woeful Christmas specials. He just about managed to salvage something at the very end, but the lesson here was – when you’ve finished something so perfectly, don’t muck it up for a bit more cash.
Blackadder – The TV series itself had an excellent finale, with Goes Forth’s tragic ‘over the top’ ending bringing things to a noble, thoughtful and fitting conclusion. But, as with OFAH, they just couldn’t let it rest, with the reanimated corpse of Blackadder Back And Forth appropriately terrible for a special made for the Millennium Dome. As with OFAH, it’s probably best if we just ignore the resurrections and stick with the endings we liked.
The X-Files – Honestly, it all got so confused and confusing that I can barely remember how this series finished, which isn’t really a good sign.
The West Wing – For much of the last couple of seasons, the West Wing was caught between focusing on a lame duck president on his way out and needing to find a way for the show to continue after Bartlet‘s administration ended. As it happened, it was cancelled with enough time to make the final season come to a satisfying and dignified conclusion that saw Bartlet leaving the inaugration of his successor and reflecting on the loss of his best friend and chief of staff Leo (even more touching given the death of actor John Spencer), while the shaping up of the new administration actually made you wish the show had carried on.
The Wire – How do you end a show like The Wire? With so many plot threads, characters and such high standards of story-telling, it could hardly all get neatly tied up in one go. But it makes a damn good fist at doing so, reflecting all of the themes and belief of the cyclical nature of life, while the musical montage to the original series theme tune is a nice touch.
Homicide: Life On The Street – The series finished with a nice series of flashbacks as Tim Bayliss walked out of the squad room, but the real finale came with The Movie and its melancholy climax, set to the appropriately-named Smashing Pumpkins song Crestfallen. A classy way to sign off.