Dial "S" for Sitcom

4 Great TV Endings (And 3 Really Terrible Ones)

I'm going to cry so hard and not understand why...

I’m going to cry so hard and not understand why…

Tonight, we finally bid adieu to The Office. The 2012-2013 fall/spring TV season really has been kind of a fire sale on long-running TV shows, hasn’t it?

I cry at series finales. I don’t cry at real life, so it’s an unpleasant surprise when it happens. I think it’s because I have an problem with goodbyes, and that’s what TV series finales are all about. The characters on the show that you’ve spent all this time watching are splitting apart, the real life work atmosphere is dissolving. Everything, real or imaginary, is slipping away.  I’m pretty much guaranteed to be an emotional wreck.  The Office has been kicking ass and taking names in its twilight year (I’m a huge proponent of the documentary reveal), and I suspect that tonight’s finale will be one of television’s all time bests. And to honor The Office’s passing, I thought I’d pay tribute to some of the best endings TV shows have had in recent years.


1) Scrubs: I loved Scrubs dearly, but the last 4 seasons were majorly flawed. There was the yanking around of the Elliot and JD dynamic, Turk and Carla’s marital issues, all the damn babies. No offense to babies, but when will people understand that they RUIN TV shows? However, the finale (the real one, not the one for that Scrubs Med School travesty) was such an incredibly touching and genuine send-off to its characters that I was a little offended when months later, it was back on the air. JD- narrator, “sensie”, unhampered dreamer- was leaving Sacred Heart Hospital for a new job closer to his new baby. And all he wants is a heartfelt goodbye from the place where he basically grew up. He was there for 8 years after all, from 25-33 years old.  But of course, a great goodbye is the kind of thing that only happens in TV shows and in reality, you might get a “Farewell!” cake and 3 people missing you after you leave. Scrubs had the talent to juggle both. JD’s real world goodbye may have been anticlimactic (and he had to trick his misanthropic mentor/father figure Dr Cox into admitting he would miss JD), but his imagined one– all the people who had been there through the years, dead, alive, fired, locked up in an insane asylum, showing up to bid him farewell in his final walk out of the hospital– was perfect. And as film projector shows JD’s imagined future on his goodbye banner, he realizes how ready he is for the next step. The show’s creator, Bill Lawrence, makes a cameo as a janitor that rips down the “Goodbye JD” banner and gives JD an offhand, run of the mill “goodnight”, and the show is over, not with a bang but with a whimper. It’s a finale that actually says something about humanity and the nature of change and endings, meta-comments on the whole idea of the “sitcom-finale”, and still manages to be both funny and sad. I bawled like a baby.

Sorry for the bad quality

2) 30 Rock: I was surprised at how distraught I was at the 30 Rock finale. I suspect this was due in large part to its existence as one of the most Meta TV shows out there, because almost everything said seemed to have 2 meanings– one that worked for the characters on the show and one that spoke to the cast in real life. Tina Fey/Liz Lemon’s brutally honest goodbye to Tracy Morgan/Jordan about how he was difficult and soul-crushing to work with, but she loved him anyway and would miss him when they drifted apart was a moment of real, tragic beauty in a show in which I generally have no emotional investment. And as a person who does not enjoy talking about “feelings” at all, I’m using Jack’s “I Love You” from now on:

 I’m going to use this word to describe how I feel about you in the way our Anglo-Saxon forefathers would have used it in reference to, say, a hot bowl of bear meat.

And of course, because this is 30 Rock and they blow through about 150 jokes in 20 minutes, this is immediately followed by Jack’s 90 second Journey to Self-Discovery. And Liz Lemon finally getting what she wanted– children! In the form of mini Tracy and Jenna, yikes. And some Grade-A site gags (NBC’s Grizz and Herz? Who is going to mock the Peacock now, 30 Rock? Why have you left us?) It’s a hilarious and authentically emotive goodbye to one of the best shows TV has ever had.

3) Seinfeld: Well, they can’t all be sentimental. The best thing a Seinfeld finale could have done was be true to the nature of the show, and bring back the absurd characters created over the years. My roommate and I used to have arguments about Seinfeld vs. Friends. She didn’t understand how I could like a show where all the main characters were despicable, and I didn’t understand how she didn’t see that that’s the point. Jerry, Elaine, George, Kramer– they are all awful human beings. But the show recognizes this and, in its finale, celebrates this fact. The core four deserved to be punished, and the best way to do this is to force them together. The trial– the four watched disinterested as a obese man gets mugged in a small town, and then are put on trial for failing to do anything under a “Good Samaritan” law– does have moments of indulgent laziness. It kind of feels like a clip show, which demeans the finale, but it’s still enjoyable to celebrate some of the best of thousands of jokes experienced over the year. And as the four are found guilty and locked up together in the cell, the camera pans away as they go right back to endlessly discussing the mundane, and I thought, how brave of the show to not try to alter them in any way.

4) Gilmore Girls: Not quite a perfect end, as the final season of Gilmore Girls lost a lot of love I had for the show during its run, but I am a sucker for those shows whose end mirror their beginning, and the final shot of Gilmore Girls– Lorelai and Rory eating copious amounts of food at Luke’s, downing coffee, chatting away– is exactly the way the pilot finishes. It’s comforting to know that as characters’ lives change, some things stay the same. Of course, the world is still dying to know (by the world, I mean the 1000 devoted 20something girls who watched this show religiously) what it was that Amy Sherman-Palladino had planned for her Gilmore Girls finale, but in truth, the one we got was mostly satisfying. Luke got Lorelai, which will please those shippers, Rory finally met Christiane Amanpour, to please the wannabe journalists, and Rory got a beautiful send-off from the sweet little town that raised her. Stars Hollow always seemed to be a magical place to be Rory, and a miserable place to be any other teenager stuck in Rory’s shadow, but when Luke rallies the town into gathering to say goodbye to Stars Hollow’s First Daughter, my cynicism and envy faded. I also found it suspect that Lorelai and the Gilmore grandparents would be quite so heartbroken after the departure of their Rory, especially since she’s guaranteed to be back in their lives soon, but the way they show this– Lorelai silently watching her daughter sleeping, Emily’s mixture of pride in her granddaughter and fast moment of sad desertion– was right on target. After all, it is true that you can’t go home again, and Gilmore Girls recognized this with a lovely, delicate touch.

AND NOW– For the GD Awful Ones

1) Gossip Girl: If I had any intelligence at all, I would have stopped watching Gossip Girl at the end of season 2, right when Chuck finally admitted he loved Blair, everyone was aglow with their college/future prospects, and Serena was clearly going to start banging Nate (why did the world deny that those 2 beautiful idiots were meant for each other). But I am a completionist,  God help me but I loved Dan and Blair as a couple, Leighton Meester is a goddess, and I wanted to know who Gossip Girl was. And Then. After  2 (!) Blair pregnancy scares, a Ponzi scheme, con artist relatives, attempted murders, fake deaths, and countless other ridiculous plotlines (Serena van der Woodsen- ACE film PA!) over 6 years, what do I get? Dan Humphrey is Gossip Girl. Which I knew would happen so confidently that I persuaded myself I must be wrong because Dan was too obvious. Dan as GG falls apart when one thinks about: 1) Gossip Girl’s writing tone, 2) Dan’s frequent surprise face about some news that GG has posted when NO ONE ELSE IS AROUND EXCEPT THE CAMERA,  3) the fact that Gossip Girl started in the 9th grade, so Dan was the weirdest and most dedicated 14 year old boy gossip blogger ever. No, this disappointment isn’t enough. Serena VDW then thanks him for documenting every stupid, embarrassing, heartbreaking thing ever to happen to her and her friends because it’s like a love song to her and her world. And 5 years down the road, they get married. AND Rufus Humphrey somehow married Lisa Loeb in this time, and no one explains it. Give me the answer to that at least, GG!

2) Sex and the City: I never loved this show. I have a hard time liking the characters of SATC, but I tuned into the finale, like any respectable teenage girl. Having the main character off on some actor wish-fulfillment trip to Paris with artsy  recently introduced Mikhail Barishnikov is…a bizarre choice. Only featuring about 30 seconds of the 4 stars together in a show allegedly about female friendships in the last 2 minutes of the episode? A bizarre choice.  Having a main female character who is frequently looked upon as a feminist icon saved from her sadness by a rich white man? Also a bizarre choice. Shoehorning some sentiment ripped off from Oscar Wilde about the love affair with yourself simultaneously to the narrator excitedly answering a call from the man she’s been obsessing over for 6 seasons? Embarrassing. Just shows how out of touch the creators were with the authenticity and wry humor that made the show unique in its beginning.

3) Friends: I know, I know. I cried at the light-switching off in their phenomenal apartment too. But the Ross and Rachel plot, which dragged on and on and on, hampered by countless stupidly artificial roadblocks, ruins this for me. You have a kid together. It’s been 10 years of the same crap. Grow up. It’s too late for the run to the airport. You really want me to believe you two are still in love after all this? I already questioned the likelihood of your relationship to begin with, because Rachel is, let’s be real, 10 rungs hotter than Ross. In general, the show suffers from complete creative drain after its admirable long haul– the finale doesn’t manage to be funny or tender. I don’t think these Friends really still care all that much about their goodbye– the only thing that really works in this finale is the actors melting down about their show ending.


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