- Insider rounded up some of the best and worst series finales of all time.
- Some shows, like “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire,” captivated critics until the very end.
- Other series, like “How I Met Your Mother” and “Scrubs,” seemed to drop the ball.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
For every viewer laughing along with the “Parks and Recreation” finale, there’s a “Dexter” fan pulling their hair out as they trudge through the last episode.
Read on for some of the 8 best and 8 worst series finales of all time.
Note: Spoilers for many popular shows ahead.
The finale of “Parks and Recreation” gave glimpses into an optimistic future for its characters.
On the NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation,” deputy park director Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) tries to make her tiny town of Pawnee, Indiana, better every day with the help of her coworkers and friends.
On the show’s finale episode, “One Last Ride,” the plot jumps forward in time to provide glimpses into the characters’ futures beyond the show.
Many critics applauded this as a unique and warm send-off to the cast, who had all become beloved by viewers during the show’s run.
“[Through flash-forwards] we see more than enough to know these people we have gotten to know are going to be fine,” Alasdair Wilkins wrote for the AV Club. “Better than fine. Much, much better.”
The “BoJack Horseman” finale provided a heavy dose of closure.
The Netflix animated series “BoJack Horseman” centres on BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett), a washed-up 1990s sitcom actor who tries to reinvent himself after years of trauma and addiction.
The finale, “Nice While It Lasted,” gives closure to BoJack and his friends as he has vulnerable one-on-one conversations with them about growth and change.
His last encounter ends on a rooftop as he sits next to his old friend Diane (voiced by Alison Brie) and realises how much their friendship has changed over time.
“The people who made ‘BoJack Horseman’ obviously put a lot of inspiration, artistry, and intelligence into this great, great show,” Rolling Stone critic Alan Sepinwall wrote in his finale review. “Now that it’s done, I look forward to taking even more out of it when I get to watch it again.”
The last episode of “The Office” was a return to form for the series.
NBC’s “The Office” centres on a small-scale paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as a documentary crew captures the love, laughs, and minutiae of their daily lives.
Although the later seasons of “The Office” saw a dip in critical acclaim over time, many critics came together to champion the finale episode as a return to form for the comedic series.
The send-off provided the welcome return of Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and saw several loose ends being knotted to a close.
“I laughed during ‘The Office’ finale, I cried during ‘The Office’ finale,” Emily Nussbaum wrote in her review for The New Yorker. “And really, maybe that’s all you want from a finale: closure and emotion.”
“Friday Night Lights” ended on an emotional high note.
The NBC sports drama “Friday Night Lights” follows the highs and lows of a high-school football team in the rural community of Dillon, Texas.
As the finale aired, critics reflected on the drama’s ability to move viewers to tears and laughter.
Filled with an ensemble cast of relatable characters and emotional throughlines, the finale episode, “Always,” proved that football may have been the central core of the show but it was always about the people in the end.
“The community is together. The emotion is palpable. The team is loved,” Andy Greenwald wrote for Vulture. “No matter who comes down with the ball, they have already won. That was the show, right there.”
The finale of “Broad City” served as an ode to female friendship.
Cathartic and chaotic in equal measure, Comedy Central’s “Broad City” follows two best friends – Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) – on their New York City adventures.
The finale finds the two friends being pulled away from each other as Abbi seeks an artist residency in Colorado and Ilana grapples with being left behind.
By granting friendship the same sincerity and spark often reserved for romantic relationships, “Broad City” redefined female friendship in a way few television shows ever dared.
“[Abbi and Ilana’s] relationship translates to something more universal,” Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya wrote in their review for the AV Club. “It’s a bright ending, one that gets to the heart of the show and what it represents.”
“The Wire” stayed true to its beginnings while leaving behind a sliver of hope.
Set in Baltimore, Maryland, HBO’s “The Wire” is a gritty crime drama that depicts the tenuous relationship between civilians and members of law enforcement as various drug-related homicides pop up in the city.
The finale episode, “30,” largely advanced the show’s themes about the harsh realities of systematic racism and political corruption.
As the main characters fall into old habits and cycles start anew, “The Wire” also shows a silver lining of hope when recovering addict Bubbles (Andre Royo) reunites with his estranged family.
“The end of ‘The Wire’ soars … with an episode that places a firm cap on the events of the show, while demonstrating that nothing really ends,” wrote Film School Rejects critic Liz Baessler. ” It’s a winning choice for a finale to make.”
“The Sopranos” finale polarised certain viewers, but it’s also touted as one of the best TV endings ever.
On the tragicomic HBO series “The Sopranos,” New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) balances work and family with the help of his therapist, Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco).
When “The Sopranos” initially aired its finale episode, “Made in America,” the cut to black at the end completely blindsided fans and critics.
The episode ends in the middle of a diner as Tony looks up and sees someone at the door. The show abruptly ends, leaving viewers wondering whether Tony survives. Although the finale left some disappointed, most critics hold the ambiguous ending in high regard.
“Just as ‘The Sopranos’ revolutionised our idea of what a great TV series can be, ‘Made in America’ revolutionised our idea of how a great TV series can end,” Alison Herman wrote in her review for The Ringer.
Viewers had high expectations for “Breaking Bad” and the finale did not disappoint.
On the AMC crime drama “Breaking Bad,” high-school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) enlists the help of former student Jesse (Aaron Paul) as he attempts to break into New Mexico’s drug trade.
Alongside “Dexter” and “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad” is often praised for introducing the modern archetype of the antihero protagonist to the world of television.
Fuelled by an incredible performance from Cranston, Walter White served as both an unforgivable and magnetic protagonist, and it was fitting that the finale, “Felina,” ended with his death.
“If you have to go, go out on top,” Robert Bianco wrote for USA Today. “In a stunning 75-minute extended finale, Vince Gilligan brought ‘Breaking Bad’ to a supremely fitting close. And he did so in a way that confirmed ‘Bad’s’ status as one of TV’s greatest series — and star Bryan Cranston as one of America’s best actors.”
Alternatively, the finale of “How I Met Your Mother” was mostly met with disdain.
On the CBS comedy “How I Met Your Mother,” Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) reflects on his 20s and 30s as he recounts the story of how he met his wife.
The show seemed to take an unpredictable turn in its finale episode, “Last Forever,” when it informed viewers that the long-awaited “Mother” of the series died from an unnamed illness.
As viewer expectations were dashed, the show ended with Ted running to profess his love for Robin (Cobie Smulders) to fit in with the prerecorded segments shot years earlier, even though it didn’t mesh well with character arcs explored throughout the long-running series.
“The finale wasn’t about wrapping up all the loose ends and giving us something satisfying,” Brian Moylan wrote for The Guardian. “It was about getting us to a point – the point where Robin and Ted wind up together – that was determined in the show’s second season when the creators came up with the ending.”
Critics felt like “Girls” overstayed its welcome.
On the HBO series “Girls,” aspiring writer Hannah (Lena Dunham) is stuck in a phase of arrested development as she navigates life in New York with her friends Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke), and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet).
Often known for veering from drama to comedy in a single scene, “Girls” aced the feeling of growing older and growing apart, both of which were prevalent themes in the penultimate episode, “Goodbye Tour.”
However, the series ended an episode later with “Latching,” an offbeat flash-forward that found Hannah raising a baby with Marnie in upstate New York.
“What made ‘Latching’ so unsatisfactory was seeing Hannah reduced to her worst qualities, in a lazily conceived episode that seemed to exist only to echo the show’s consistent two-steps-back-one-step-forward model of maturity,” Sophie Gilbert commented in her review for The Atlantic.
The finale of “Pretty Little Liars” left too many mysteries unsolved.
The mystery drama “Pretty Little Liars” focuses on the lives of high schoolers Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Hanna (Ashley Benson), Aria (Lucy Hale), and Emily (Shay Mitchell) in the wake of their friend’s disappearance.
The finale episode, titled “Til DeAth Do Us PArt,” revealed the identity of the girls’ harasser as Spencer Hastings came face to face with her long-lost twin sister.
From questionable accent choices to last-ditch plotlines, the finale wasn’t received well by most critics, especially because it failed to resolve the show’s many loose ends.
“Some of the biggest gripes seem to revolve around the show’s unanswered questions, with fans airing grievances about mysteries that were never solved or plot holes that seem to remain unfilled,” De Elizabeth summed up in a Teen Vogue article that explored the finale’s backlash.
“Scrubs” awkwardly ended three separate times, and the last finale was the worst-reviewed.
Set at Sacred Heart hospital, the medical comedy-drama “Scrubs” centres on J.D. (Zach Braff) and his friends and coworkers over the course of nine years.
“Scrubs” awkwardly petered out about three finales in the course of its run – first with “My Princess” when the show was originally dropped from NBC in season seven, “My Finale” in season eight, and later “Our Thanks” at the end of season nine.
Most critics and viewers were worn out from finale fatigue by the time the last episode truly aired, and felt nostalgia for earlier episodes.
“It is not the series finale that most people wanted or expected, and it ended ‘Scrubs’ on a disappointingly sour note,” wrote Screen Rant critic Nathan Sharp.
“Two and a Half Men” completely shattered the fourth wall in its finale, to ill effect.
The CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” details the home life of Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen), his brother, Alan (Jon Cryer), and Alan’s young son, Jake (Angus T. Jones).
By the time the finale episode “Of Course He’s Dead” aired, Sheen had long been replaced by Ashton Kutcher through the character Walden Schmidt.
The show’s tumultuous relationship with Sheen is hinted at in an absurdist finale as Sheen’s character returns briefly, only to be killed by a falling piano.
Then it cuts to showrunner Chuck Lorre, who says the catchphrase “winning” before he is also crushed by a falling piano. Critics were baffled by the no-holds-barred ending.
“While the sendoff addressed a certain kind of ‘Winning,’ in the grand pantheon of series finales this wasn’t even close to serving up a winner,” wrote Variety critic Brian Lowry.
“Quantum Leap” has one of the most widely panned finales.
On the NBC science-fiction series “Quantum Leap,” physicist Samuel Beckett (Scott Bakula) uses experimental time travel to “leap” back in time and correct historical mistakes.
Because “Quantum Leap” got cancelled, its final episode, “Mirror Image,” was actually meant to be a season finale – not a series one.
The finale felt rushed and messy, not only implying that Beckett never returns home, but also misspelling the main character’s name in the ending title card.
“‘Quantum Leap’ ruined me, but it also prepared me for a life of television disappointments,” Dustin Rowles wrote for Uproxx.
“Game of Thrones” seemed to fizzle out in its finale.
Based on the best-selling series by George R.R. Martin, the fantastical HBO drama “Game of Thrones” details the politics and trials of warring kingdoms in the fictional land of Westeros.
After years spent fostering the goodwill of its vast fanbase,“Game of Thrones” garnered negative criticism for its final season and finale episode, “The Iron Throne.”
Many critics felt that, after seasons of slow build-up and tension, the finale rushed through the motions toward a dizzying end.
“I’m genuinely happy that there are folks who don’t feel as though the hours and hours they have devoted to this show have been wasted,” wrote Atlantic editor Lenika Cruz. “I know there are many others who wish they could say the same thing.”
Viewers and critics agree that “Dexter” has a notoriously bad finale.
On the crime drama “Dexter,” forensic technician Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) leads a double life as a serial killer who takes down murderers in his spare time.
“Dexter” earned high critical praise in the beginning of its run but started to lose credibility as seasons passed and Dexter attempted to live a semi-normal life.
In the end, after one final and fatal kill, critics and viewers alike felt underwhelmed.
“[The ] series finale – despite its emotional flourishes – merely underscored that this was a series well past its expiration date,” Brian Lowry wrote for The New York Times. “Some of the sloppiness in the finish was perhaps the biggest surprise, given how meticulous its serial-killer leading man usually is.”