Channel Guide: What Makes A Good Series Finale?

Editor’s Note: After more than a year, Merrill Barr will be leaving the Reject Family and moving on to bigger and better things. We wish him all the best.

And now the series finale of Channel Guide…

Finale. A dangerous word in the world of television. Dangerous because it comes with a hefty amount of baggage for those working on a show that ‘s coming to an end. Everything a series has been working towards, whether serialized or episodic, has to be fulfilled in the finale. And somehow, the writers have the terrible job of making everyone feel like the journey was worth it.

When broken down, there’s really only two things necessary in order to deliver on a good series finale, stability and closure.

Stability refers to where the characters end up. Whether its happily ever after, in the grave, in the after life or on the run, the audience needs to know that however we leave the characters is how they will remain for the remainder of their fictional days. This isn’t to say that the audience needs to know every single detail, but a general idea needs to be available (or at least the tools necessary to draw a conclusion).

For example, the series finale of 24 sees Jack go back on the run, and unless that film ever gets off the ground, we’re safe to assume that he’ll remain on the run for the rest of his life. Where he’ll go, and how long he’ll be there is something for the viewer to figure out, but we know he’s never going home.

Or how about the series finale of Rescue Me? The ending reveals rather brilliantly that the boys of 62 Truck will always and forever be at 62 Truck. The adventures they’ll under take is once again up the viewer, but we know where they’ll be if we were to ever pop out heads into their world again.

And that sense of stability is what leads into the more important and absolutely necessary element of closure.

Every series, even the episodic ones, have questions that are never answered until the very end. And the bad ones are those that forget those questions exist or choose to ignore them. What’s the deal with the Smoking Man? Can Jack ever be happy? Will the detectives of the NYPD ever be able to live a normal life? What is the island? These are a fraction of a fraction of the types of questions that have plagued the television viewers landscape since the medium was first launched in 1928.

It would be to easy to point to a finale like LOST as an example of how not to do it, but it’s also not as much fun. Especially when there are some absolutely brilliant finales throughout the ages that deserve their do.

Ones like the final episode of Six Feet Under. A series in which death was far from a subtle theme, gave the audience the ultimate sense of closure by revealing the death of every one of its characters. Or how about the the finales (when there was one) of any of the Star Trek series? A personal favorite is the one for Voyager. Through some wack-a-do time travel, the Voyager crew makes it home from the delta quadrant safe and sound, with their futures no longer written but sure to take place with their loved ones.

Even more that demand praise:

  • M*A*S*H
  • The X-Files
  • Everybody Loves Raymond
  • The Shield
  • Seinfeld
  • Newhart (which belongs on this list for having giant balls)

These are just some of the amazing series finales and an even smaller fraction of the ones that will be coming down the line. We can only imagine what the likes of Breaking Bad, The Simpsons and South Park will have in store when their final bell rings.

The best series finales aren’t the ones that just end the story. The best are the ones that make the viewer feel something. And the ones that make the viewer look back and know that the ride was worth taking.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a lady named DVR.


Want to read all the past Channel Guides? Of course you do.

And you can always listen to the latest episode of Merrill’s TV Podcast, The Idiot Boxers with Kevin Carr, on The Fat Guys Network.

From a young age, TV guru Merrill Barr has been obsessed with the small screen. And one day he decided to put that obsession to good use.

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