Okay, technically Futurama had, like, 4 or 5 finales. The original (“The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings”) is basically perfect – sweet and nice and funny and a great encapsulation of what the show was during its original run. It implies a lot without having to commit to exploring the Fry/Leela relationship too much, as the show would do in later seasons, to varying degrees of success.
And in the ACTUAL series finale (“Meanwhile”) pulls off what the show could originally only imply, and it does it extremely well. Hell, it almost seems like they saw that first finale as a challenge – instead of just wink that Fry and Leela have a future together, why not dive into it as fully as possible?
Sticking with the show’s tendency to toy around with legitimate sci-fi ideas and tropes, Fry and Leela inadvertently freeze time for the entire world…except themselves. Fry and Leela get married, and lovingly wander the frozen Earth together for decades. And once their journey is at an end, they’re able to reverse the time-stoppage, and plan to start over again together. It’s corny, but sweet as hell, and is a fitting end (that we can all agree works so please stop bringing this show back from the dead every few years, c’mon).
2. The Office
In the year after the departure of Steve Carrell, The Office floundered HARD. Replacing Michael Scott with Andy Bernard was a move that pleased no one, the show creatively went off the rails, and pretty much every character became sort’ve unlikable.
Which makes it all the more miraculous that the show rebounded pretty well in its final season – getting rid of the weird new bosses and focusing back on the characters and what made them compelling (and includes perhaps the best Jim prank the show ever had – Asian Jim). And the show even managed to weave in the perennial complaint (“WHAT DOCUMENTARY CREW WOULD FILM A PAPER SUPPLY SALES OFFICE FOR 9 YEARS?!”) into the season’s overall narrative and heavily into the actual finale.
And that finale ended up being sweet (“Gutenprank!”), funny, and an amazing reminder of why the show got so popular in the first place. It’s so good, that I can even recommend watching the table read of the episode, which is surprisingly emotional and wonderful in its own right:
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy’s last season (assuming you don’t include the comics, which you probably shouldn’t even though they’re pretty fun) was…pretty divisive. From the bizarre nature of the Ubervamps (where initially a single one was an unkillable monster to Buffy being able to take on multiple ones with ease), goofy bits about The First Evil, sidelining of a lot of key characters to make way for new ones, and Willow hookin’ up with a non-Tara character, there was plenty to grumble about. But all was forgiven in the wonderful finale, which was marked by so many highs that its shortcomings could be easily brushed aside – the empowering final sequence where Buffy and Willow activated all potential slayers (including one HELLA impressive baseball player), Giles’ hilarious revelation that there was another Hellmouth in Cleveland, Willow’s turn to the light, and the utter and complete destruction of Sunnyvale made for a solid ending.
Of course, then they spoiled that ending by making some canonical further seasons in comic form, but we can just ignore Buffy and Angel having supersex in the sky, okay?
Hey! Speaking of Angel, that Angel finale, right? The perfect mix of finality, tragedy, and an understanding that the adventures would continue, whether there was a show or not. More than any other finale, it left you wanting more – and that’s the perfect way for any show to go out. (although JESUS CHRIST Joss Whedon, could you have NOT done all that shit to Fred and Wesley?)
5. The Shield
The finale of The Shield is probably the most perfect finale of any show ever – and that’s saying a lot, because I can’t think of another show (outside of maybe Breaking Bad) where the tension was continuously ratcheted up season by season until it hit its absolute breaking point. Vic Mackey had been barely escaping the grip of the law catching onto his crooked cop ways for 7 increasingly-desperate years – and the finale shows Vic finally getting away with everything…but at the cost of everything he holds dear. He’s able to get immunity for himself, but his partner Ronnie is left to suffer the fate that Vic deserved in prison. His family abandons him, he loses the respect of everyone around him, and he’s directly responsible for the tragic murder-suicide of his ex-partner Shane Vendrell and his family. The destruction wrought by Vic Mackey’s selfish pursuits is enormous and horrifying. But Vic, stripped of all of his authority and power, cannot be stopped – he hears a siren in the distance, so he grabs his gun and heads out. We don’t know what happens – but we know what we suspected all along – the only thing that could stop Vic Mackey is death itself.
6. Six Feet Under
If Six Feet Under was anything, it was a show that defied expectations. From the cold openings that never quite went the ways you expected them to, to the main character dying a few episodes before the series finale, to the final montage of death through time, it was a strange (but beautiful) little show.
And really, it’s that last bit that sets the show apart in history – never wavering from its commitment to death, Six Feet Under ends by showing us the futures – and moments of death – for every main character. It’s grim, but also deeply empowering, knowing the ultimate fate of every character we’d followed for 5 years.
7. Breaking Bad
The only show that’s ever been remotely as fast-paced, tense, and incredibly-explosive as Breaking Bad was The Shield – and, sadly, Breaking Bad’s finale cannot hope to match The Shield. Part of that is because Breaking Bad hit it’s peak with Ozymandias, the episode that showed Walter White’s carefully-constructed world finally collapse around him, and the finale (taking place months and months after the fact) loses some tension simply due to how much time has passed. And secondly, the ending gives Walter something of a heroic end – and not one he really deserved, given he destroyed the lives of everyone around him (metaphorically speaking, he was a cancer on the lives of everyone around him).
But that being said – the finale of Breaking Bad is pretty fucking good. Walt’s blackmail threats against his former partner (aided by a laserpointer-wielding Skinny Pete and Beaver), his cathartic admission to Skylar (“It made me feel good.”), and his brutal destruction of the Jesse-kidnappin’ Nazis….hard to imagine many shows could top that.
8. Parks and Recreation
Taking a page from Six Feet Under, Parks and Rec chose to end itself by taking us into the far-off futures of the main characters (and even many side ones!) that we’d come to know and love. Leslie and Ben become the President (it’s not super clear which one is President, so I like to imagine they’re co-Presidents or something), Jerry/Garry/Larry serves as Pawnee’s mayor until he dies at age 100, and…well, basically every character gets a very nice send-off (even side characters like Craig and Jean-Ralphio).
9. Star Trek: The Next Generation
Of course, any discussion of the TNG finale (“All Good Things…”) must come with the caveat that TECHNICALLY this isn’t the final adventures of Picard ‘n crew – after all, they went on to do a number of movies over the course of the following decade, but I will be DAMNED if I admit that Nemesis is the actual endpoint.
Nope, when watching TNG, it’s best to just pretend the movies don’t exist, and that the time with Jean-Luc Picard, Worf, Riker, Data, and all the rest ends with Picard on a time-hopping Q adventure that culminates with the captain finally joining in a game of poker with his crew. It’s not a huge emotional catharsis – just a nice little wink to fans WHO REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO SIT THROUGH A WHOLE MOVIE ABOUT THE GODDAMN REMAN PICARD CLONE.