The Best (And Worst) Endings To TV Shows

From The Sopranos to Lost via Friends and Life On Mars, TV show endings go one of two ways. Here's a rundown of who got it right and who cocked it up...
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From The Sopranos to Lost via Friends and Life On Mars, TV show endings go one of two ways. Here's a rundown of who got it right and who cocked it up...


* Spoiler Alert!! – The endings to Lost, The Sopranos, The Office, Life on Mars, Friends are all revealed in this article!! *

In Hollywood, where, for the last century, the Movie has ruled the roost, an old foe is making a play for the keys to the kingdom; after all these years, the humble T.V. show is stepping out of the shadows and now has one hand on the crown.

Over the last ten years or so, thanks to the introduction of Sky+/TiVo, on demand online shows and the rise of the DVD Box set, the way we watch television has been revolutionised, and in turn, completely changed the landscape of the entire entertainment business. People are now looking for better value for their money; many would rather spend £15/£20 on a T.V. box set that may last them weeks or months as oppose a trip to the cinema that may cost the same.

Of course this shifting of power is not going unnoticed, studios are now investing millions into new shows and lining up movie star big guns like Dustin Hoffman, Sean Bean & Steve Buscemi to try entice us in and get us hooked on their latest offering. However, here in lies the problem; as we get fed top new show, after top new show, there is a tsunami of fresh new ideas for shows now hitting our screens; unfortunately the same amount of thought just doesn’t seem to go into how to end them properly. If a show is fortunate enough to be allowed to fully run its course without interference by the studio, it then needs to be brought to a fitting conclusion; some pull it off beautifully, others, sadly do not. Seemingly, it’s a hell of a lot easier to come up with an initial concept for a show than it is to come up with an all-encompassing and satisfying ending that pleases all parties. So who exactly did manage to close things off nicely, and in turn, who fell at the last? Let’s take a look at best, and indeed the worst examples of both.

The Best

The Office

I’ll say this now just to make it perfectly clear from the offset, I love The Office. I love it for many, many reasons; but mostly I love it because it’s just so perfect. So much thought and planning has gone into every little detail of it; every line and its delivery, every facial expression to camera, the actual office itself, and of course, the characters. It’s the quality and depth of each character that sets it apart; everyone knows a Gareth, everyone knows a Finchy, or a Brent, or a Keith or a Tim; Jesus, there have been times in my life where I’ve even felt like Tim. When a programme can hold up a mirror to the world with that much clarity and be that realistic, and at the same time be hilariously funny, you know you have something special. It was however, that realism that was the stick used by some to beat The Office by those who didn’t like its ending; those who felt Gervais & Merchant turned their back on the realistic principles of the show to give us a happy, Hollywood style ending. Who knows, maybe they did, but bloody hell, life’s realistic enough as it is, sometimes you need a bit of escapism and you want to root for the heroes. After getting to know the characters over the two series I cared about Brent and Tim and Dawn, and I wanted the ending we got; it really must have taken the most cold hearted of cynics not to have been moved when in the final scene Brent finally told Finchy to “F**k off” and when Dawn and Tim finally had their moment as Yazoo played on in the background. In a word, perfection.

Life on Mars

Aside from giving us arguably the greatest T.V. show character of all time in Gene Hunt, Life on Mars also gave us a perfect ending. The beauty of the conclusion to Life on Mars is quite straightforward; it didn't try to be too clever. Far too many Time Travel/Sci-Fi shows overdo it, they try to make it more mysterious and complicated than it needs be and at the same time just end up confusing and frustrating the audience. Sam Tyler was hit by a car in the present day and woke up in 1973; was he mad? In a coma? Or somehow gone back in time!? Those were the options presented to us and one of those turned out to be the answer; Sam eventually awoke from his coma back in the present day, only to realise it was the alternate world in 1973 where he really belonged, taking his own life to get back there. Straightforward, yes, but that's not to say there wasn't twists and turns along the way, there were plenty, but the way it was brought to a close worked because it didn't try to be more clever than it needed to be and never over complicate matters. Unlike its successor, Ashes to Ashes, which, whilst still good, tried to take it to the next level and ended up falling short; never really managing to fully answer all of its own questions. If the ending to Life on Mars did leave you underwhelmed and was too 'obvious' for you, then it's worth remembering the mental ending to the US version whereby Sam Tyler turned out to actually be an astronaut, literally on his way to Mars in 2035 and his adventures in the 70's were all in his head!! Sometimes, it’s worth remembering, less is certainly more.

Guess what happened in the last ever episode of Friends? Ross and Rachel finally got back together!! Wow, didn’t see that one coming over the ten years they dragged it out!

The Worst


There was always that nagging fear with Lost that Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were making up as they went along, I always hoped that I was wrong, that there was a plan and that a fitting finale that would be reached; unfortunately , I'm pretty sure that my fear came true. It's so annoying because with Lost I was hooked from episode one; the mysteries of the island, why each character was there, the others, the black smoke, the numbers etc. it was just so intriguing. That however was part of the problem, in their bid to make it more and more engrossing, more and more questions were raised, and then when it was all said and done, half of those questions remained unanswered. Why were the pregnant women dying!? How could Ben summon the Smoke Monster!? How did some heal/live forever!? Where did Jacob's step-mother come from? How did the island move when Ben turned the wheel? The origins of the Statue anyone!? I could literally go on and on with more questions but I'm starting to do my own head in! Personally, and this is just my theory, I think the original plan was for them all to be dead and the island purgatory, but when everyone guessed that halfway through season two, then it was time for a Plan B and thus we ended up with this bizarre, flash-sideways, alternate purgatory double-ending. If we had guessed it, so what!? At least we'd have a satisfying ending!


I’m picking on Friends but I could pick one of many overly successful American T.V. shows in recent times; 24, Nip/Tuck, Smallville to name but a few. Guess what happened in the last ever episode of Friends? Ross and Rachel finally got back together!! Wow, didn’t see that one coming over the ten years they dragged it out! America has this very nasty hobbit when it comes to their successful shows, those that were smash hits the world over, tend to pay a price. Once the powers that be realise they have a hit on their hands and in turn a potential cash cow, series after series gets commissioned; due to their popularity they the get dragged out over a far too longer periods of time, leading to storylines being watered down, quality fading and interest wavering from the viewer before it can reach its eventual conclusion. In the U.K., Fawlty Towers not only gave us classic comedy it also showed us the way in terms quality management; go out on a high, don’t tarnish what you’ve already done and only do more if you feel you can add more to the quality; if not, just let it lie. Simple.

And the one that split us down the middle……….

The Sopranos

I can understand why people didn’t like The Sopranos ending, I really can, but for me personally, I liked it. As far as I’m concerned, and this is just my opinion, given the build-up in that final scene, as well as what happened to other characters in the final episode, Tony was whacked by the dodgy guy who went to the toilet a minute or two before it all went black. Now it might have been an inconclusive ending, I can’t deny that, but I like it because it gives us, the fans, something to talk about and discuss long after the show has gone. In a way, it kind of leaves the ending up to us, if we want to think that Tony has lived on we can, or if like me you believe he was killed, then we can too (for those who are familiar with science, or like me, watch The Big Bang Theory, it’s essentially Schrödinger’s Cat!!). It’s also clever because if the latter theory is correct and he is killed, then who really wants to see the hero of the show have his brains blown out in the last ever scene!? Not me.

Whatever our feelings on the endings of our favourite shows, some we may be happy with, some we may not; I accept that you can’t please all of the people all of the time; but as we stand at the precipice of this new era, where we go from here is anyone's guess. Wherever we do go though, if the past is anything to go on, the shows will get bigger, bolder, brighter and more expensive; let's just hope that when a new idea is launched and everyone is patting each other on back as to how great it is, they give some thought as to how somewhere down the line they draw it to a befitting close. That’s not too much to ask is it!?

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