“The Americans” ended in May with an incredible finale that was the perfect end to one of the best TV series of all time. But not every series finale is as brilliant.
A few of the best shows in TV history ended terribly, including “Seinfeld” and “Girls.” The worst series finales ignore the show’s themes, or abandon some of its main characters to tell a detached story.
It’s a daunting task to wrap up a series in just one episode, comedy or drama. It takes an overwhelming amount of thought and planning since it requires wrapping up both the show and the season. Series finales also require closure for characters, but not so much that there’s nothing left to think about after it airs.
Here, we collected some of the best and worst series finales that left us either fully satisfied or screaming at the TV.
Here are 29 of the best and worst series finales of all time, from “The Americans” to “Gossip Girl”:
“M*A*S*H*” — season 11 episode 16, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen”
When it aired: February 28, 1983
After 11 years on the air, “M*A*S*H” lived up to expectations in its series finale. And it is still the most-watched TV series finale of all time. In the end, the characters finally get to go home, but that also means they won’t be together anymore. It’s a bittersweet ending that forever changed what a series finale for a TV show can be, because it doesn’t always have to be the happiest ending possible.
“Cheers” — season 11 episode 26-28, “One for the Road”
When it aired: May 20, 1993
Besides the return of Diane, the series finale of “Cheers” is still so great because it isn’t much different than a typical episode. All of the characters have similar problems: Jack and Diane get back together but then they break up (they were the original Ross and Rachel), and Cliff is annoying, as always. The series ends as most episodes of the show do: with the Cheers gang contemplating life at the bar.
“Six Feet Under” — season 5 episode 12, “Everyone’s Waiting”
When it aired: August 21, 2005
It’s easy for a montage from the early aughts set to a indie song to age poorly, or just remind you of “Grey’s Anatomy.” But the “Six Feet Under” finale doesn’t, after almost 13 years. It hammers in the theme of the show – death – but never feels ham-fisted. It shows the deaths of all the major characters on the show, but is somehow more sweet than sad.
“The Sopranos” — season 6 episode 21, “Made in America”
When it aired: June 10, 2007
A lot of people think “The Sopranos” finale is the worst. But the fade to black, Meadow parallel parking, and the man in the Members Only jacket ingrained themselves into pop culture. What happened after the screen went black is still a debate people have today, and for that it deserves a spot. The episode, even if you don’t like the finale scene, wrapped up enough storylines after its devastating penultimate episode and focused on what this show was always about: Tony’s family (both nuclear and mob).
“The Wire” — season 5 episode 10, “- 30 -“
When it aired: March 9, 2008
Season five of “The Wire” is a bit messy. While the show is still great, it took some leaps in its overall plot that included some questionable, unearned choices from its main characters (McNulty fakes a serial killer). This contrast was stark compared to previous seasons, which people loved for their realistic, documentary feel.
“The Shield” — season 7 episodes 13-14, “Family Meeting”
When it aired: November 25, 2008
“The Shield” – the most overlooked TV drama from television’s Golden Age – paved the way for Walter White’s fate in its series finale. Among one of the first critically acclaimed TV dramas featuring an anti-hero, the finale ends with somewhat of a punishment for Vic. He doesn’t die like Walt, and doesn’t reach enlightenment after mediating one time like Don Draper. Instead, he gets stuck with a boring office job.
“Battlestar Galactica” — season 4 episodes 20-21, “Daybreak”
When it aired: March 20, 2009
There are some major deaths in this series finale, but not all hope is lost. After years of searching for it, the Cylons finally find a safe place to call their home. The finale captures what made this a great sci-fi series. It’s intelligent, thought-provoking, and human.
“Friday Night Lights” — season 5 episode 13, “Always”
When it aired: February 9, 2011
The series finale of “Friday Night Lights” touched on all the details that made so many people fall in love with this show. It focuses on the Taylor marriage, with an emphasis on Tammy’s career goals. One of the most memorable scenes from the finale (and the series) shows Tyra Collette and Tim Riggins discussing their past and their futures. The episode doesn’t show any of these characters too far into the future, it shows just enough.
“Chuck” — season 5 episode 13, “Chuck Versus the Goodbye”
When it aired: January 27, 2012
The “Chuck” series finale ends nearly right where it started, but reverses the roles. It ends with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski of “The Handmaid’s Tale”) losing her memories, including her relationship with Chuck – at this point in the series, they’re married. So they have to start all over from scratch, with Chuck knowing everything, and Sarah nothing. While it’s sad, it is a bit hopeful, because it implies that Sarah will fall in love with him all over again, but it won’t be as tumultuous as the last time that happened.
“30 Rock” — season 7 episode 13, “Last Lunch”
When it aired: January 31, 2013
Ironically, one of the most memorable lines in “Last Lunch” is, “Don’t you want to know how Mad Men ends?!” Liz shouts this at Jack when he’s about to leave to pursue a life at sea (he gives up immediately). This series finale has everything that everyone loved about the show: Liz and Jack’s friendship, Lutz being the worst, and Jenna singing an awful but catchy song. And it wraps it all up by confirming the best running joke on the show: Kenneth is, indeed, immortal.
“Breaking Bad” — season 5 episode 16, “Felina”
When it aired: September 29, 2013
The finale sequence of “Breaking Bad” is a bit on the nose, but the series was into that kind of thing. Walter White, who has lost everything from his family to his partner Jesse but doesn’t seem to care that much, admires a meth lab as Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” plays (White’s meth was blue). “Guess I got what I deserved, kept you waiting there too long, my love.” Walt dies on the floor of the lab. In contrast, Jesse is free. He’s no longer a prisoner, and he’s also free of Walt.
“Mad Men” — season 7 episode 14, “Person to Person”
When it aired: May 17, 2015
The final scene of “Mad Men” doesn’t even feature any of the characters. Instead, it ends with the iconic “I Want to Buy the World a Coke” commercial, leaving Don Draper’s fate up in the air. What makes it so great was what led to this moment, seeing all of the characters we saw grow over a decade truly become themselves after all this time, and all this drama.
“Review” — season 3 episode 3, “Cryogenics; Lightning; Last Review”
When it aired: March 30, 2017
The series finale of this comedy is meta and meaningful. The show’s protagonist, Forrest MacNeil, finds out that his show within the show is canceled. Throughout the episode, he wonders what his life is outside of the show, and who he is without it. For a show with so much irreverent comedy which included deaths, a prison sentence, and too many pancakes, it really cut deep emotionally.
“The Leftovers” — season 3 episode 8, “The Book of Nora”
When it aired: June 4, 2017
Emotional and uplifting, the series finale of “The Leftovers” was a satisfying ending for an experimental show that vastly improved with every season. Creator and showrunner Damon Lindelof was criticised for the disappointing “Lost” finale, and he clearly made it a goal to do the opposite with this ending. It doesn’t answer any questions directly, leaving room for speculation, and just enough closure.
“Halt and Catch Fire” — season 4 episode 10, “Ten of Swords”
When it aired: October 14, 2017
This exquisite show dramatized the computer boom in the 1980s and in its final season explored the early days of the internet. But the premise didn’t make this show great. Its layered, truly human characters did. Its finale emphasises their humanity in moments that reflect the show’s first two seasons, when the characters were fighting to be the first and the best in the tech world without losing themselves.
“The Middle” — season 9 episodes 23-24, “A Heck of a Ride”
When it aired: May 22, 2018
“The Middle” never got enough credit, likely because it premiered the same year as “Modern Family” and always lived in its shadow. A great sitcom finale is quite rare, and this is the first truly great one in a while. Some of the best side characters throughout the series make appearances without any desperate tie-ins, and every member of the Heck family gets a better, well-deserved future that might make you sob.
“The Americans” — season 6 episode 10, “START”
When it aired: May 30, 2018
“The Americans” finale represents what this show was always about: family. And it also hammered in who its characters are. No fans could have predicted the ending, but as it played out it felt like the only possible one. Plus, it used U2’s “With or Without You” in a way that will be a bit emotionally triggering for fans from now until the end of time.
“Gossip Girl” — season 6 episode 11, “New York, I Love You XOXO”
When it aired: December 17, 2012
Bart Bass, who is the Loki of the “Gossip Girl” universe considering how many times he dies, is truly dead at the beginning of this episode. Chuck Bass (Bart’s son) and Blair Waldorf spend the majority of this final episode on the run from the law for pushing him off of a building. The big, stupid, desperate reveal that Dan is Gossip Girl leaves more plot holes than it closes, and the series ends with unbelievable endings for these awful characters. For example, the finale implies that Nate Archibald will become the mayor of New York City, but he has never taken the subway.
“Roseanne” — season 9 episodes 23-24, “Into that Good Night”
When it aired: May 20, 1997
The ninth season of “Roseanne” was such a mess that everything that happened in it got completely ignored for its brief tenth season and revival in March. In season nine, the Conners win the lottery, which completely changed the tone of a show that was praised for its depiction of blue collar Americans. The awful final episode reveals that Roseanne’s husband, Dan, is dead, and that the majority of the events in the season were made up for Roseanne’s memoir. It was a finale that focused more on wrapping up a bad season, rather than the show itself.
“How I Met Your Mother” — season 9 episodes 23-24, “Last Forever”
When it aired: May 31, 2014
Unfortunately, “How I Met Your Mother” ended the show in a way everyone knew was coming, but convinced themselves wouldn’t happen because it was so obvious: Ted and Robin end up together because the titular “Mother” dies of cancer. To make it even worse, Ted’s kids are the ones who suggest that Ted hooks up with Robin, who they refer to as “aunt.” The series finale caps a nearly decade-long tease that is a major deception to this show’s characters. It instantly made the show difficult for many fans to revisit or recommend to friends.
“Dexter” — season 8 episode 12, “Remember the Monsters?”
When it aired: September 22, 2013
Dexter ends with serial killer Dexter living his life under a new identity: he’s a lumberjack in Oregon. A more satisfying ending would have been his arrest or his death. In comparison to those alternatives, this finale felt like it was avoiding the harder, but better ending it could’ve had.
“Girls” — season 6 episode 10, “Latching”
When it aired: April 16, 2017
The final episode of “Girls,” which touches on an issue for many women (difficulty breastfeeding and being a new mum) would have worked more if it had been placed somewhere else in the season. Only two of the show’s major characters are even in it, and while Hannah and Marnie’s relationship was really important to the show, this didn’t feel like the right way to end it. Essentially the problem here was sloppy writing to get the show’s characters to unearned places, which is one of the main issues with the show’s final seasons.
“Friends” — season 10 episodes 17-18, “The Last One”
When it aired: May 6, 2004
Ross and Rachel’s rocky, will-they-won’t-they relationship was the center of “Friends” and its finale (and many episodes that came before it). Unfortunately, the finale’s focus on whether or not they end up together was a bit annoying considering it was obvious that they would from the start of the show. Their story in the finale meant mediocre subplots for all the other characters.
“Seinfeld” — season 9 episodes 23-24, “The Finale”
The “Seinfeld” finale, which ends with Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer in jail doesn’t quite ruin the show, but many fans pretend it never happened. The episode desperately weaves in as many characters as possible, and none of it works. The worst part is that this episode apologizes for its characters, and literally judges them. That’s a terrible thing to do on any show, especially one that defined itself by characters who learn nothing.
“The X-Files” — season 9 episodes 19-20, “The Truth”
When it aired: May 19, 2002
Most of the episodes from the “X-Files” reboot seasons saved it from its forgettable finale in 2002, which didn’t have anything to do with what the show had become. By that time, David Duchovny had left, but the series finale brings him back to wrap things up. But instead of capturing the spirit of the show, it’s a huge step back instead of a leap forward.
“St. Elsewhere” — season 6 episode 22, “The Last One”
When it aired: May 25, 1988
“St. Elsewhere” was one of the first truly ground-breaking dramas that experimented with the episodic format, and wasn’t afraid to take narrative risks. But it tried way too hard to outdo its incredible self in its finale by revealing the entire story existed in a snow globe. No thanks.
“Two and a Half Men” — season 12 episodes 15-16, “Of Course He’s Dead”
When it aired: February 19, 2015
In this absolute disgrace, Charlie (portrayed by someone who is not the show’s former star Charlie Sheen), dies because a piano drops on top of him. The camera pans to show series creator Chuck Lorre, who says “winning,” the catch phrase made popular by Sheen. Then, a piano drops on top of Lorre. And then the camera pulls back to show the set of the show, and then it ends. Fortunately, the show was never good in the first place.
“Futurama” — season 7 episode 26, “Meanwhile”
When it aired: September 4, 2013
The “Futurama” finale, unlike most episodes on this list, is actually a decent episode of its series. But that’s its glaring flaw: It feels too much like an average episode. A more action-packed ending, focusing less on the romance between Lana and Fry, and more on the group dynamic that made fans fall in love with it in the first place, would have been more satisfying.
“True Blood” — season 7 episode 10, “Thank You”
When it aired: August 24, 2014
In its first three seasons, “True Blood” was wild and fun and made a strong stance on the treatment of marginalized people. It was never great show, but it was exciting to watch because it embraced the campiness of the whole vampire thing. But just like its final seasons, the “True Blood” finale was bland and tried too hard to outdo itself, especially when Sookie kills Bill after he begs her to.
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