The Struggle Making TV Series Finales

Mo Ryan talking about TV series finales:

Battle stations: I generally liked the “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica” finales. As noted, I didn’t love the “Breaking Bad” finale. But here’s the kicker: I unequivocally love those shows. And a few decades of TV-watching and a decade of watching reactions to high-profile finales at close range has taught me to lower my expectations when it comes to endings. I don’t hope for a home run; I hope for a solid single or a double.

I dove deep on finales last year around the time Breaking Bad ended. I generally agree with Ryan in her theory that finales only need to be OK and not great. Expectations are wildly too high these days, but that applies everywhere, not just to TV. Movies, sports, video games and everything in between is criticized at such a high level since the interweb gives everyone a voice and platform.

Ryan mentions that “finales never rank in the top 10 of a show’s run”, which makes total sense. Most TV finales set out to wrap up a show with as few loose ends as possible. This is incredibly unnatural since life never works out like this. Think about like college graduation, which is probably the closest to “everyone going their separate ways” in a real-life scenario. Everyone doesn’t move all at the same time. Some people don’t move at all. But it definitely doesn’t just all wrap-up cleanly at the same time.

Finding the right balance between satisfying the story and satisfying fans is also very hard. How I Met Your Mother went to great lengths to promote some semblance of continuity from earlier seasons, but it left many fans annoyed as a result. Breaking Bad didn’t come with a dozen twists and turns at the end, and didn’t end with every answer given to every single detail. That bothered some fans, while others were happy to see the main character get an ending, and considered the rest to be just gravy.

It seem like sitcoms mess up more frequently than dramas. Shows like Roseanne and Seinfeld opted for more ludicrous twists and turns and both are memorably horrible endings. But in the grand scheme of things the Seinfeld finale is just one forgettable episode from a show that had dozens of absolute home runs. Which is why Ryan got it right, play it safe and don’t swing for the fences and you will probably do as well as you can. Finales matter in the moment much more that the body of work. Movies are just 90-180 minute long generally, and a disappointing ending can sink that experience. But after years, and dozens of episodes, it’s hard to hold a single episode up against a whole series.