End game: top TV show finales...
As 'Mad Men' bows out, we take a look at the TV endings that also managed to pull off a dignified farewell
Published 22/05/2015 | 02:30
It's a melancholy moment for fans of lunchtime cocktails, polyester suits and casual workplace sexism. The final episode of Mad Men airs tonight on Irish TV - after which Don Draper will live on only in our memories and in the purgatory of box sets and Tuesday night repeats on RTÉ2.
But can series creator Matthew Weiner 'stick the landing', as they say in TV land? With the farewell dispatch of Mad Men season seven already broadcast in the US, the consensus is that the mournful ad-land drama indeed swaggers into the sunset with dignity intact and perhaps even enhanced (this is a spoiler-free article but we can confirm the finale is a great deal more nuanced and moving than Mad Men's recent, bloodless run of episodes).
That Mad Men has pulled off a decent final bow is no mean achievement. The catalogue of beloved shows that blemished their legacy with an awful sign-off is long and undignified - including, in no particular order, Friends, Cheers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost. However, we are here to celebrate Mad Men, not mourn its demise and, in that spirit, there follows our countdown of the best TV finales ever.
Yes, we're going there. It remains unclear whether Stuart Carolan's West Dublin cops 'n' skangers romp is to have another series. With nothing confirmed and Carolan apparently ambivalent as to whether he wishes to return to the well, there is every chance Love/Hate has run its course.
Just as well, then, it left us with a sign-off to remember, with the charmingly villainous Nidge gunned down in his driveway. Nidge was an iconic bad-guy but, as he lay bleeding to death, it was hard not to conclude that his sticky ending had been inevitable. Here, surely, was a character who had reaped what he had sown.
2 Breaking Bad
Walter White lies dead in a Christlike pose while Badfinger's depressive anthem 'Baby Blue' plays in the background. It was the perfect exit for Breaking Bad. This study in ethical decay that could have gone out in a blaze of gunfire but instead found a way to give schoolteacher-turned-drug baron Walter White something he had denied so many of his victims - a dignified goodbye.
3 True Detective
Granted, True Detective returns for a second series next month. However, it will be in the form of a completely self-contained new story, completely decoupled from last year's devastating first season.
For that reason, the controversial ending to the opening run of episodes qualifies as a final curtain call. The somewhat sentimental conclusion, in which tortured Rust Cohle finds peace and comes to terms with the death of his daughter, pushes against the oppressive nihilism that had been a signature of True Detective.
Still, the show comes by its upbeat conclusion the hard way and, while many viewers protested at the tonal inconsistencies, who can argue that poor Rust deserves a happy farewell?
4 Battlestar Galactica
The crew of the Galactica reach an unpopulated earth and lay the groundwork for human civilisation. The final scene brings us to modern New York where technology is everywhere, potentially setting us up for a repeat of the man v machine struggle which Galactica spent four seasons working through. It was a chilling flourish - a reminder that, in science fiction and in life, history is destined to repeat.
5 Six Feet Under
This somewhat soap opera-esque drama from HBO redeemed itself at the last with a devastating final sequence in which we flash forward to the death of all the main characters, to the haunting strains of Sia Furler's 'Breathe Me'.
It was a brave and rare example of television confronting the ultimate taboo - the fact that death is chugging down the tracks for all of us.
Six Feet Under managed to find something positive in this - life is happening right now, so let's celebrate while we can.
6 Father Ted
Ted is set to move to Los Angeles and work with the kids in the ghetto. Only he can't bear to leave behind Dougal, Father Jack and Mrs Doyle (and, oh yeah, he doesn't actually want to work in a ghetto after all). For some reason, comedies have a tradition of awkward final episodes (see: Friends, 30 Rock, etc). Ted's long goodbye was, in contrast, both funny and moving - the emotional stakes ratcheted further by the death, shortly after filming, of Dermot Morgan.
You want dark? Then the last curtain bow by Seinfeld will tick all your boxes. In a bleak finale, the four main characters were put on trial for all their awful, narcissistic deeds, with aggrieved parties from previous seasons testifying against them. They are sent to prison by a judge on the grounds that they are too self-involved and cynical to remain at large.
A surreal conclusion to a comedy that had grounded itself in the embarrassments of everyday life.
8 The Larry Sanders Show
This knife-twisting parody of American talk shows saved the best - and cruellest - for last. The final episode had cameos from Warren Beatty, Sean Penn and Jerry Seinfeld and a green-room bust-up between Tom Petty and actor Greg Kinnear. It was dark and almost perfect.
9 The Sopranos
Almost a decade on, the cut to black ending of the first masterpiece of the new golden age of television remains contentious. Was it a cop out? Or a brave refusal to give audiences the cathartic/pat conclusion they craved. Fans are divided to this day - testament to exactly how powerful the end of The Sopranos was.
Incidentally, the last thing we heard was Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin' on a jukebox - so The Sopranos can also claim credit for the soft-rock revival of the past several years.
10 The Office
After two seasons of trowelled-on cynicism, the Ricky Gervais faux-docudrama reached for a sentimental ending and actually pulled it off, with the Tim-Dawn romance concluding on heart-warming terms and David Brent finding true love to boot.
On paper it ought to have been horribly mawkish - a betrayal of everything the show had stood for. And yet you had grown attached to these dysfunctional every men and women and might have been surprised to find yourself silently cheering them.
That Gervais and co-writer Stephen Merchant were willing to give Brent and co a decent send-off felt brave rather than pandering.
How Not To End A Show
Not every series pulls off an exit as smooth and dignified as Mad Men's. Here are some of the sorriest finales in recent memory. Apologies in advance for the bad memories they may trigger.
It was all a dream - a dream dreamt by dead people waiting in purgatory. After six seasons of world-building and mythology, little wonder devotees of Lost felt betrayed as the show limped towards the horizon.
The friends hook-up, move out and… eh, get on with their lives. Ten years in, it was inevitable that Friends should have lost some of its initial sparkle. Nonetheless, the downbeat sign-off felt lame and throwaway. It was almost as if cast and crew couldn't wait to get on with their lives.
Sex and the City
Carrie lives happily ever after! With Mr Big! Whose name, we learn, is John! So much for chronicling the exploits of fiercely independent career women in the modern world. At the end, Sex and the City's message was thoroughly old-fashioned: all you need is a good man (with a vast bank account).
After a flawless first two seasons, the serial killer dark comedy went quickly downhill. Instructed not to kill off the titular anti-hero, the writers instead asked us to believe he had changed his murderous ways and was living out his days… as a lumberjack.