TV Show Finales: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

It’s official. TV mastermind Vince Gilligan stuck the landing, again, via his “Better Call Saul” finale.

The celebrated series wrapped its six-season run this month, delighting critics and fans while avoiding what longtime viewers feared the most.

Ending a beloved show on a sour note.

The “Better Call Saul” cast. (WireImage)

“Saul Gone,” what Gilligan and Co. named our final minutes with Bob Odenkirk’s signature role, may go down as one of the more satisfying resolutions in TV history. Other classics shows weren’t so lucky.

THE GOOD

“Breaking Bad”

Gilligan’s other insta-classic couldn’t end with our anti-heroes riding off into the sunset. The show proved too realistic, and bleak, for that kind of false resolution. Instead, the series gave Walter White one last trick up his meth-dealing sleeve, foiling his enemies with the kind of ingenuity that marked his life of crime.

Sadly, the follow-up feature revising Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman character, “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” proved less satisfying. 

“Newhart”

It might be the most meta finale of all time, and arguably the greatest ending, period. Bob Newhart’s second classic series wrapped by directly tapping his previous ‘70s smash, “The Bob Newhart Show.”

His newer character, author Dick Loudon, wakes up in the show’s final moments, turning to his former TV bride Suzanne Pleshette in bed. He tells her about a wild dream he just had about living in Vermont with some colorful characters.

Newhart credits his wife, Virginia, for coming up with the concept roughly two years before the show’s eighth and final season.

“Cheers”

Everybody knew the characters’ names, from Norm the uber-barfly (George Wendt) to former Beantown baseball star Sam Malone (Ted Danson). The show’s finale episode didn’t dramatically alter the show’s rhythms. It let audiences hear their favorite bar customers wax poetic about life sans filter.

That low-key approach proved a winner, cementing one of the best sitcoms in modern memory.

“M*A*S*H*”

The show’s dark humor demanded an atypical finale, and that’s precisely what Alan Alda and co. delivered.

“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” which attracted more than 100 million viewers, didn’t flinch from the show’s core themes. War is hell no matter how much humor and humility we bring to the war front. 

The two-and-a-half hour episode found Hawkeye torturing himself over a devastating war-time memory. The show’s creators knew audiences craved traditional goodbyes along with the more dramatic revelations.

THE BAD

“The Sopranos”

This critic watched the final episode on delay via TiVo, and when the screen suddenly went black it seemed like the video recording had malfunctioned.

Nope. Show creator David Chase ended the series with a gargantuan question mark. Did the Sopranos get whacked after the fade-to-black moment, or would they continue their criminal ways?

Many deemed the ending a cop out. Others didn’t want the New Jersey clan to pay for their sins, a testament to Chase’s ability to make monsters into flesh and blood characters.

Chase later shared what really happened to the family, betraying his original goal of keeping their fate a mystery.

“Two and a Half Men”

The old-school sitcom jumped the proverbial shark when bad boy Charlie Sheen got the boot and Ashton Kutcher took his place. That made any season finale a letdown on paper, but show runner Chuck Lorre got too cute with the finale’s final moments.

The episode suggests Sheen’s character isn’t really dead, leading to a madcap mystery loaded with old characters and guest appearances from the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Celebrity cameos are rarely a positive sign.

We finally see Sheen’s character, but only from the back, getting crushed by the same piano he once played on the show. Lorre appears on screen, addressing the camera directly and saying, “winning,” channeling Sheen’s public meltdown persona.

“Ray Donovan”

The Showtime series gave Jon Voight one of the best roles of his iconic career. It also showed a monumentally flawed brood that made its own rules for seven glorious seasons. Except Showtime gave Team Donovan the pink slip before the show’s creative team could pen a fitting finale.

A final, two-hour “Ray Donovan” movie became the unofficial final episode, but the show’s cracked sense of justice never fully emerged. That black humor proved hard to spot, and the series wrapped in exactly the way many expected. “Ray Donovan” constantly surprised us, but not this time.

THE UGLY

“Seinfeld”

The show about nothing ended on a sobering note. Our selfish foursome witnesses a carjacking during a layover in Massachusetts. They not only ignore the victim but videotape the crime.

Enter Johnny Law. The quartet goes on trial for violating the local “good Samaritan” laws, giving us the chance to relive classic “Seinfeld” moments. Clever, but hardly in line with the show’s frothy appeal.

The two-part finale, appropriately dubbed “The Finale,” got shredded by fans at the time. The years haven’t changed those sentiments in any sizable way.

More Stories By Christian Toto On OutKick

Written by Christian Toto

Christian Toto is an award-winning film critic, journalist and founder of HollywoodInToto.com, the Right Take on Entertainment. He’s the author of “Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost Its Soul” and a lifelong Yankees fan. Toto lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, two sons and too many chickens.

Follow Christian on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HollywoodInToto

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