02 03 Nerd Lunch: Series Finales 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Series Finales

I've recently had the opportunity to watch two different television series finales. It's always interesting to me to see how a series is concluded. Television shows can be broken down into two major categories: episodic and continuous. One show I concluded recently was Alias which very much carried "mythology" from episode to episode. Missing one or two episodes would seriously hinder your understanding of the plot. The other show I concluded recently was The A-Team which was episodic. Very few storylines carried through from episode to episode and anything that did, was rarely addressed.

I think no matter what kind of show it was, we always want to see our favorite shows wrapped up nice and neat by the final episode. Sometimes the conclusions can be too neat as maybe was the case in Alias. And sometimes, circumstances get in the way of the conclusion being a 90 second add-on at the tail end of an already awful episode, as was the case in A-Team. Either way, we can spend years with these characters, we want to know that even though we may never see them again, they've achieved their purpose or that they'll live happily ever after.

With major spoilers ahead and embedded YouTube videos, the links of which will probably be broken within the week, I present to you a list of what I believe to be the best five series finales ever...

Babylon 5
Successfully completing the five year run, the final episode of Babylon 5 skipped forward almost 20 years after the events of the previous episode. The surviving characters reunite one last time as John Sheridan knows his renewed life energy given to him at Z'ha'dum is fading. Rather than be a conclusion, this is one brief snapshot of where things stand in the lives of these characters 20 years after the show took place. It's a simple, sweet episode that leaves enough room open for further adventures within the universe, but gives a definite endpoint for many of these characters. I do still believe that some dangling plot threads introduced within the show should have been resolved within the show. Unfortunately, some of those answers had to come from the books (considered to be canon by creator J. Michael Straczynski). Still, those unresolved plotlines don't take away from the emotional coda written and directed by the show's creator.

This was lost on me when I first watched it at the age of 13 or 14. But ending the show by making the entire series a dream of Bob Newhart's character on his previous show was brilliant and unexpected. And while I'm sure many of the viewers of "Newhart" watched "The Bob Newhart Show," it was brave to refer to a show that had been off the air for 12 years.

Here's a clip of how the show ended:

I'm still hazy on whether this was intended to be the series finale or not. And it doesn't matter. Angel and his surviving teammates meet up in an alley and an army of monsters are pouring towards them. Angel stakes his claim on the giant dragon and the team rushes into fight. Cut to black. The over-arcing subplot of Angel regaining his humanity is unresolved, but that doesn't even seem to matter. The fact is, Angel and his crew will fight to the end. If this is the end, then it's the kind of "blaze of glory" we want to see our heroes go out in. And if Angel and his crew survive, then it's good to know they're still out there fighting. Either way, that was a great place to stop.

Here's a clip of the final minutes of Angel:

The Office (UK)
The British version ran for 12 half hour episodes and then concluded in a 90 minute special. The show was a mockumentary of sorts and the special picks up a few years after the series had concluded with the documentary team returning to now orchestrate a conclusion for these office workers they followed around for quite some time. The show ends with characters making serious decisions about their lives. We finally see a glimmer of hope that David Brent is maybe redeemable after all. And the love story subplot is brought to its rightful conclusion in just the way that it should be. The documentary-style allows the characters to share with the viewers their internal thoughts in a way that no other show really can. Well-crafted from all standpoints, the creators didn't want to continue and bring the show's quality down. Instead, they went out while they were still great and on their own terms.

Technically speaking, the series finale was not great. The fourth and fifth seasons of Farscape were renewed at the same time, so the writers wrote season four's ending as a cliffhanger. Then, Sci-fi reneged on their deal and canceled the show anyway. However, they did pickup a four hour mini-series entitled Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars. And it was the best four hours of television ever produced. It's only fault was that it was not longer because it was obvious that every 20 minutes we were seeing what would have taken an entire episode or two to cover. So, within four hours, we got to watch an entire season of Farscape that had a bigger budget and raised stakes. Almost too good for television.

Here's the trailer for the mini-series. Be careful, you might feel compelled to watch all four hours right now:

When it comes to finales and how best to approach the idea of ending our look into the lives of these characters, Tim from the British version of The Office summed it up best:

I don't know what a happy ending is. Life isn't about endings is it? It's a series of moments. And, um...it's like, you know, if you turned the camera off, it's not an ending, is it? I'm still here. My life's not over. Come back...come back here in ten years, see how I'm doing then. 'Cuz I could be married with kids. You don't know.

So, those are the best. Next time I post, I'll give a list of the ones I consider the worst series finales. In the meantime, I look forward to your comments specifically about the ones you feel to be the best.

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