The Top 15 Greatest Series Finales of All Time.
When it comes to ending a series 9\10 even some of television’s greatest and most revered shows will go off with a whimper not a bang.
Such popular and beloved shows series enders left the fans infuriated such as How I Met Your Mother, St. Elsewhere, Jane The Virgin, Moesha, Dexter, Empire, Game of Thrones, Roseanne and Lost have been derided by fans and critics, hurting their shows’ legacies. Other huge finales like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Quantum Leap, Dinosaurs and even Seinfeld had reactions as divisive and polarizing as they come. So this top twenty list is easier than most of these types of lists because from where I stand, there haven’t been too many super satisfying series finales that left most if not all fans happy or have the critics raving and making television history. Though that can’t be entirely blamed on the writers and producers of a show. The pressure it takes to wrap up a successful television series that must give satisfying closure and making the fans, the actors, the network and themselves happy is a Herculean task few men or women can accomplish. A lot of tv shows don’t even get to wrap the show up at all, usually due to premature cancellation leaving millions of fans and the casts and crews terribly disappointed and feeling cheated, even iconic long running shows like Married with Children, The Jeffersons, All in The Family, Sanford and Son, The Rockford Files etc. It is why it’s doubly impressive when a series hits the nail on the head and ends their show hitting all the marks to a great series finale.
15. The Steve Harvey Show: “California, or Bust Up.”
We all know that while plenty of shows featuring white or other race casts are cancelled without notice, the type of shows that seem to go off the radar in a second are black shows, but the occasional black led tv series does get a happy ending for fans and people involved on the show alike and The Steve Harvey Show’s series wrap up is one of them. The final episode saw a new phase for all our characters: Cedric and Lovita win the lottery and Lovita goes into labor with their first child, Romeo, Bullethead and Lydia have graduated and Regina has been offered a Superintendent job in California. This causes a bit of conflict for Steve and Regina’s relationship but in the end Steve makes the ultimate decision and surprises Regina in California. This was a wonderful moment that culminated the entire Steve\Regina relationship over six seasons. Steve and Regina as well as the other members of the gang got their happy endings.
14. Home Improvement: “The Long and Winding Road part 3”.
The Tool man hung up his tool belt after 8 wonderfully funny seasons. The three part finale was essentially about the Taylors preparing to move to Bloomington Indiana for a new job opportunity for Jill and Tool Time coming to an end. The three part story feels like one big final chapter of the Taylors’ story and all three say goodbye in distinctive ways but the third and final part has the very best scenes of all with the iconic last taping of Tool Time being the biggest break out:
13. Malcolm In The Middle: “Graduation”.
Malcolm In The Middle is one of the world’s most overlooked as well as best sitcoms, but it’s series finale was one of the greatest because just like every other episode of this show, it was all about this crazy, lovably dysfunctional family and how each character was starting a new chapter of their lives. Malcolm, the put upon boy genius discovered his parents’ master plan all along as future President of the united states who has suffered enough to become the greatest president there ever was. Finally Malcolm’s miserable life makes sense! The ending montage is one of my favorite final scenes of a show of all time:
12. Burn Notice: “Reckoning”.
Burn Notice was still one of the USA Network’s greatest hits when it signed off in 2013. It all came down to two choices for Michael: His friends, family and honor to his country or working with someone who may be a very dark man but has a cause that Michael might be able to work with. It all leads to a truly epic, intense and thrilling series ender where it may have mostly been dark, especially when Michael’s mother Madeline sacrifices herself to save him and the others, but it all ends in a peaceful and satisfying way leaving our characters to pleasant new paths.
11. Frasier: “Goodnight, Seattle.”
11 years, Dr. Frasier Crane had been listening to the woes and worries of the citizens of Seattle but on May 13th 2004, the good doctor officially signed off leaving us all with some serious Frasier withdrawl. The two part grand finale centered on Frasier’s quest for the next chapter of his life as those around him grow and change like Martin getting remarried to his new love Ronnie, Niles and Daphne having their baby, (named David after co creator\producer David Angell who along with his wife was killed in 9\11) and Roz becoming the new station manager of KACL. It wouldn’t be Frasier without misunderstandings, grandiose plans turned on its head and the Cranes humiliating themselves and for the very last time it was all so perfectly Frasier. The finale gave us one of the most touching and heart tugging goodbye scenes of all time:
10. Psych: “The Break Up”.
I remember where I was when Psych gave its final bow and I was psyched (pun intended) to see how the Psych crew were gonna pull it all off and I was not disappointed! In this series wrap up Shawn decides to move to San Francisco where lady love Juliet is now head detective so that he can finally propose marriage to her leaving Shawn with the brutal task of figuring out the perfect way to say goodbye to best friend and partner Burton “Gus” Guster. In the Psych finale we get two elements that made Psych so classic. Hilarious and quirky scenes like this:
and then it grabs your heart and stomps on it like this:
9. Barney Miller: “Landmark parts 1, 2 and 3”.
Most series finales are all about what happens to the characters but Barney Miller’s series finale is about what happens to the setting. Barney Miller’s three parter is all about how the 12th precinct is declared a landmark after it’s discovered that the building is where Theodore Roosevelt was once served as commissioner. The guys are being forced to transfer to other precincts and spend the three episodes packing up to move away from the dump they called home for 8 seasons. This is a particularly hard one for me because as I watched the show and fell in love with the characters and their relationships with each other it hurt me as much as it hurt them to be split up. The final goodbye scene was done in perfect Barney Miller style with dry humor, heart and subtle emotion yet I found myself getting a little choked up the whole time, especially in the final moments as Barney looks around the empty squad room one last time having memories of the characters that had left the series. He then puts on his jacket, picks up his box, hits the lights and shuts the door behind him. The blessing is as Hal Linden said in many interviews the show was never cancelled, it went off because creator Danny Arnold couldn’t find a way to keep it strong and did not want the show to ever jump the shark which thankfully it never did.
8. The Fugitive: “The Judgment.”
The Fugitive not only has the honor of being at one time for a whole decade the most watched episode in television history, it also created the whole concept of huge eventizing of series finales that attempted to give closure as well as get everyone in America to tune in and say goodbye. Before The Fugitive most televisions just ended, and they didn’t even have to be cancelled, it was just common practice to just go off with no fuss, no buzz, just leave. The Fugitive changed all that by giving America closure on what happens to Dr. Richard Kimble who was falsely accused of murdering his wife who was actually killed by The One Armed Man. For those who never seen the series here’s the basic breakdown of this whole series:
In The Judgment, Richard Kimble finally finds the one armed man and with the unlikely help of the cop that chased him for four years, Lt. Philip Gerard and after four long years gets the confession he needed to clear his name and get justice for Mrs. Kimble as well:
Here’s the story of how this iconic finale came to be by Vanity Fair in 2017:
How The Fugitive's Heart-Pumping Finale Changed TV Forever
"I'm sorry," Gerard told him. "You just ran out of time." After a prolific career that has spanned some 60 years, Diane…
7. Cheers: “One for the Road parts 1, 2 and 3.”
When Cheers signed off it wasn’t a typical send off for a hit series, it was a explosive event! With various specials and appearances on big talk shows, the last episode of Cheers had a lot of pressure to be worth the hoopla and it certainly was in my book:
The finale saw the return of Diane Chambers after six years and she and Sam after the typical game playing the two often did with each other, decide to pick up where they left off with Sam agreeing to leave the bar and go back with Diane to California. This causes a stir with Sam’s friends who know that Sam is making a huge mistake. After Sam and Diane realize that they could never make it they call things off pleasantly and go their separate ways, bringing Sam back to the bar and pondering the meaning of life with his chums while smoking cigars:
The three parter also has several great hilarious moments like the forever neurotic Rebecca eloping with her current boyfriend Don played by Tom Berenger whose a plumber and her constantly going back and forth whether she made a mistake or not and Frasier trying to help Woody with his City Councilman speech. The series ended on a much somber note, however with Sam alone in his bar, his one true love:
6. Leverage: “The Long Goodbye Job”.
It was Mission: Impossible meets The A Team meets The Equalizer in the modern tech era. Leverage was and still is a television gem that entertained us all for 5 years on TNT. In this series finale the Nate Ford and his crew pull off one last big job resulting in the team moving on with their lives:
It also ends with a perfect callback to the pilot with Parker becoming the new Mastermind of the outfit:
5. Star Trek The Next Generation: “All Good Things…”
The epic two part finale was so strong and so well received most fans believe this would’ve actually been the perfect first feature film for Next Gen and it’s hard to disagree with them. This epic finale sees Captain Jean Luc Picard travelling back and forth between the past(the pilot episode) the present and the future and this is all being done by the mischievous but somewhat well meaning Q who is trying to help Picard save the fate of humanity:
Q’s lesson is learnt by Picard who eventually saves the day in all three timelines with the help of his devoted crew in all three timelines. This finale did a wonderful job giving us such powerful illustration of the characters growth over the past 7 seasons through each timeline as well as how they’ve all grown as a family who had learned to implicitly trust each other in order to get out of such dire situations. It all ends with the perfectly farewell scene where after 7 seasons Captain Picard finally joins the gang in their weekly card game. As Captain Picard put it so eloquently: “The sky’s the limit”.
4. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air: “I Done parts 1 and 2.”
I was an end of an era when The Fresh Prince went off the air on May 20th 1996. The classic 90’s sitcom bowed out still on top but star Will Smith was ready to move on even though no one else was. The series finale was all about change as The Banks family were all growing and changing except for Will who was still living in the pool house and had no immediate plans for a big change. The finale sees Will attempting to move out on his own with no help from anybody, but plans don’t pan out and things get even worse for Will when Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv have put the house up for sale to move to New York with Ashley, Carlton and Hillary. Fresh Prince is one of those all time sitcom classics so how fitting that in this final episode we get cameos from two other all time sitcom classics like Different Strokes and The Jeffersons:
What a perfect way to go out by honoring television history with two classic shows, and even more so two prominent shows that featured African American casts that paved the way for The Fresh Prince to even be there. The finale also gave us such wonderful goodbye scenes that touched our hearts because we just knew their pain was real. The cast was a family on and offscreen and seeing a family break apart always brings out the tears.
3. Magnum, PI: “Resolutions parts 1 and 2.”
Magnum, PI has the honor of being the 5th most watched television event in television history, then and still now. Everyone wanted to be there to say aloha to Magnum, Higgins, TC and Rick and oh, what a grand way that they said goodbye. The two part finale saw Thomas Sullivan Magnum the III make some big decisions regarding the rest of his life. Feeling like it’s time to retire his Private Investigator’s license, meeting his long lost fraternal grandfather and discovering that his thought to be deceased daughter is alive and taking full custody of her, Magnum makes a huge decision that no one would ever expect. Higgins reveals that he is in fact Robin Masters(then takes it back) TC reconciles with his ex wife and Rick is getting married. We’ve been through a lot with these four characters and watching their bond evolve over eight years has been a pure pleasure for me as well as I’m sure all the fans who grew up watching it and new ones as well. Magnum was a series that had depth, heart, mystery, humor, drama, action and the occasional romance and all these elements are weaved perfectly into this two hour send off. Most of the time I hate when a series finale has to be dragged out into a bloated hour or two hour finale because it overall hurts the quality of the entire story but for this series finale it absolutely needed to be two hours and it was worth the extra length for certain. The absolute epitome of the finale for me was the epic bar brawl at Rick’s bachelor party with Thomas, TC, Rick and Higgins getting into it with some big oafs who start trouble, afterwards when they’re all beat up and walking to the car you see eight years worth of friendship and camraderie for the very last time as this serves as the foursome’s last big adventure.
The final montage displaying clips of all the greatest moments of the series was a real highlight of the whole thing and I can’t think of a more appropriate goodbye to faithful fans than the montage and the very last fourth wall break at the very end:
That “Goodnight’ by Tom Selleck was the perfect thank you to the audience and it has not been topped since.
2. Everybody Loves Raymond: “Finale”.
I remember the night that Everybody Loves Raymond ended. I was 11 at the time and I remember distinctively that while the finale was airing on CBS, Tv Land literally shut down all their other programming and just had multiple men stand with big white boards with every episode title of all 210 Everybody Loves Raymond episodes. It was quite unusual but now I get how special that meant this seemingly simple sitcom really was. Everybody Loves Raymond was never the type of flashy, hip, attention grabbing show that Friends, Sex and The City etc. shows were. It was a simple story about a wacky, delightfully semi dysfunctional family that we can all relate to no matter what age, race, creed, religion etc. The series finale simply titled “Finale” was the perfect representation of that. Creator Phil Rosenthal explains it better than I ever could:
In this finale, Ray goes into a simple surgery to get his adenoids removed and because he’s such a neurotic baby he has all the adult members there waiting just in case something happens. They’re all making jokes at his expense when suddenly ish gets real and a nurse comes out to tell them that they’re having trouble waking Ray up from the anestheia:
The series is brought to a close at breakfast time when everyone intrudes on Ray, Debra and the kids and the family argues, laughs and eats as the camera slowly backs off and we’re the ones leaving them. One of the most poignant yet non schmaltzy endings of a tv show ever and it was the exact right call from all involved. Everybody Loves Raymond got a lot of praise for how unique and well done its series ender was and it was well deserved because from 1996–2005 Everybody Loves Raymond wasn’t concerned with topical issues or getting attention or being the coolest show on the air. Its one and only job was to make us laugh with and at the Barone family because we recognized them in our own families and we still do.
- Newhart: “The Last Newhart.”
If you’ve never seen this series finale or the entire series, it’s ok because you still know the effect of the very last episode of Newhart which saw Innkeeper Dick Louden get hit by a golf ball and wake up as Dr. Bob Hartley from The Bob Newhart Show next to original wife Emily played by Suzzane Pleshette:
This event was unheard of before and got such a huge reaction that many shows have parodied or imitated it since:
the 30th anniversary of the epic finale celebrated it with a special article by VCR explaining how the last episode of Newhart made television history:
30 Years Ago: 'Newhart' Last Episode Makes TV History
On May 21, 1990, Bob Newhart's second sitcom, Newhart, featured one of the most memorable final episodes in television…
Of course this is all my opinion but I like to think most if not all my choices are on yours. ’Til next time, folks!