After nine seasons, How I Met Your Mother came to an end last week. And while the finale delivered on the implicit promise that Ted would, in fact, meet the mother of his future children, it was… not good. Just as an hour of TV it was fairly crummy, but as the resolution of a nearly decade-long run it was flat-out insulting. The fact is, not every show sticks the landing in its final minutes. They can’t all be Breaking Bad or Batman: The Brave and The Bold, or other shows that may or may not have alliterative titles.
And so, we’ve put together a list of our least favorite finales, the ones that left a bad taste in our mouths. For the record, we’re staunch defenders of the final episodes of The Sopranos and LOST, so you’re not going to see those here. But a show for children that kills off its entire cast in the last scene? Oh, yeah. That’s on the list.
How I Met Your Mother–After nine seasons (probably at least four too many), this venerable CBS sitcom ended with an hour long finale that left many viewers enraged. All the way back in the pilot, the story of Ted Mosby began with him meeting and dating Robin Sherbatsky, fledging reporter and dog owner. The pilot ended with Older Ted (inexplicably voiced by Bob Saget) telling his teenage kids that this was how he met…Aunt Robin. Over and over, we were assured this was not the kids’ mother, and she wasn’t. Despite their season two romance, and a series of season four hookups, Robin married Ted’s “bro” Barney Stinson in the penultimate episode after the entire ninth season was devoted to to depicting their wedding weekend, practically in real time. Then, about 10 minutes into the finale, we are informed that Robin and Barney are divorced. Yes, this romance that the show sold viewers as being fate because only Robin could tame playboy Barney (remember that insane proposal?!) was over in just a few years because Robin traveled too much for work and Barney couldn’t deal with it. He reverted to type, which seemed much more pathetic as he entered his 40s. After sleeping with 31 women in 31 days, Barney got the last one pregnant (seriously?!) and ended up with a daughter, Ellie. In about the only truly touching moment of the finale, Barney met his child and declared her his true love. Robin drifted from the group, which made Lily, about to have a third child, angry. Way to support your friend, Lil. But then, a subplot of the whole last season was assassinating Lily’s character and making her a shrill, selfish harpy. Marshall got to become a judge after toiling away at a corporate law job he hated for several years.
Ted, as we already knew before the hour began, met the mother on that Farhampton train platform. Their meet-cute was actually perfect; we’d have been OK if ended there, or close to there. But no; the internet rumor that had been circulating for weeks–that the mother was actually dead–turned out to be true! And after going to all the trouble of taking an entire season to introduce the most likeable character they’d had on their canvas in years, the show killed her off with relatively little fanfare. No one was even seen mourning her death. And Ted was told, apparently six years after she’d passed, to ask out Aunt Robin by his kids, who’d had to endure this man prattle on forever about the exploits of he and his friends. As the kids pointed out, there was precious little mention of their mother in this story, and probably way too much about Aunt Robin. So, Ted went to Robin’s apartment, blue french horn in hand, and stood outside her window making noise, just like in the pilot. Robin also had those blasted dogs again, and all we could wonder is why someone who traveled around the world for work (to the point where it ruined her marriage) would have five dogs. Her severe bob haircut was pretty terrible too. So, to recap, Ted met The Mother (name: Tracy McConnell–get it?) and she bore his children, married him and graciously contracted a terminal illness so Ted could go back to his One True Love, Robin. Are you kidding me??! This ending might have flown had the show ended after season five, but after overstaying its welcome and running on fumes creatively for a long while, this was a total punch in the gut to fans who had endured the entire series, including the many, many episode that confirmed Robin and Ted had nothing in common and simply did not work as a couple. The best part of this was reading the fallout on twitter, a truly millennial element that has added a unique dimension to the pop culture landscape we sometimes wish we could go back and incorporate into other watershed TV finales.
Seinfeld–76 Million viewers tuned in for the May 14, 1998 finale of one of the most beloved sitcoms of our time; one that still performs well in re-runs because so much of its “show about nothing” humor is kind of timeless and it contains too many pop culture touchstones to even get into here. Naturally, expectations were sky high, as it was the number one show on the air at the time as well, considered to be going out on top. In light of that, the resulting 75 minute finale was even more of a debacle. The plot consisted of the gang taking a private jet to Paris for one last hurrah when Jerry and George signed a deal to produce their pilot Jerry for NBC. Things got ridiculous quickly, as Kramer jumping around like a crazy person to get water out of his ears caused him to stumble into the cockpit and force the plane to make an emergency landing in small town Latham, Mass for repairs. Once on the ground, Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer witnessed a heavy set man (John Pinette, who sadly passed away over the weekend) getting carjacked and instead of helping the guy, they opted to make fun of his weight and record the incident on a camcorder before walking away.
The man reports the gang to police for failing to help him in anyway, which was supposedly some new law requiring bystanders to do what they could to help. The prosecutor in town begins to build a case, while Jerry & Co. call in Jackie Chiles for their defense. The ONLY funny part about this finale is that this device allowed a parade of just about every previous guest star that had been wronged to come back and get revenge. The problem, however, which just about totally negated the humor, was that it became abundantly clear that these four people were pretty awful human beings. Suddenly, a sitcom about some harmless New Yorkers making their way through life’s silliest situations became the upsetting story of characters whose lives had been negatively impacted–and in some cases destroyed–by these four sociopaths. Unlike the era of antiheroes that was still to come in the twenty-first century, our guys had been portrayed as likeable and relatable until this finale. Well, except maybe George, who was always kind of a schmuck. And Kramer, who was a complete doofus. But he’d been a loveable doofus! Ultimately, they ended up being sentenced to a year in jail–convicted of doing nothing (the irony!)–clearly feeling no remorse for their actions or really seeming to care how this will impact their lives. The final scene had Jerry doing stand up in prison, with George and Kramer looking on, while Elaine was in a women’s prison. So frustrating and so stupid, yet almost 16 years later, it has not seemed to tarnish the show as a whole. Yet it still aggravates us.
Dexter – It’s a matter of debate as to where this show went wrong, but most agree that the last two or three seasons were just a once-great series limping to a conclusion. The problem, as with a lot of shows with disappointing finales, was that the series just went on too long. Eight years of Dexter almost being exposed as a serial killer is too much. If Dexter had switched up its premise and maybe put the character on the run after season four, it would have made for a much stronger whole.
The finale had Dexter’s adopted sister / sort-of-lover / real-life ex-wife, Deb, suffering a blood clot after emergency surgery from a shooting. It left her brain-dead. With Dexter finally accepting that he can’t be safe in Miami where every third person turns out to be a serial killer and they all seem to be able to track him when the cops can’t, he decides to start a new life. Dexter’s serial killer (see?) girlfriend, Hannah, escapes with Harrison (Dexter’s son from his marriage that ended in murder) to Argentina and waits for Dexter. Meanwhile, he kills Deb’s shooter (another serial killer, played by Thomas Lennon) in his cell, on camera. The cops, many of whom have been suspicious of Dexter for years, are totally cool with that. With a hurricane bearing down, he goes to the hospital, takes Deb off life support and walk out with her body. Because hurricane preparation is like the Purge and everything is legal. Dexter takes her body out on his boat to dump her in the ocean like he did his previous victims. (Thematically, that’s a mess. Does he believe that what he did to Deb was murder? And if so, does he believe the had it coming? If not, then why is he following the same ritual?) But really, he’s driving out into the hurricane.
And as stupid as the rest of the episode was, Dexter dying out on the water where he hid his crimes makes sense. It’s kind of perfect. Later, we see the broken pieces of his boat, and it seems like Dexter’s story ended the only way it could have. Until we cut to a final scene where Dexter is living in a cabin in Oregon. WHAT? Just logistically, how did he not only survive but make it from Miami to Oregon? And what is that supposed to mean? Everybody else suffers and he gets to start over? It was absolutely maddening.
The X-Files – Do you remember back in the days before creators got to end their shows? They just went on and on until the network decided otherwise. The finale of The X-Files after nine seasons might have been the tipping point for that. X-Files is why Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse got to set an end date for LOST midway through the third season. David Duchovny had left the show long before the finale while Gillian Anderson appeared sporadically, and it still seems ridiculous that there are so many episodes without Mulder and Scully. In the seventh season, there was an episode that was literally titled “Closure” that was about resolving the long-running mythology of the series and explaining everything. And then the show went on for another two-and-a-half seasons, necessitating a lot of backtracking and “But here’s a thing that we didn’t tell you when we tied up all the loose ends.” And so, it was a long slog to get to the season finale, where they decided that court scenes were the best way to wrap up a paranormal drama.
When Mulder returns from hiding and kills a federal agent (previously converted to an alien super solider), he’s arrested and put on trial for his crime. Like the Seinfeld finale, there are interminable scenes of faces from his past showing up to testify. You can see why they’d want to crib from such a beloved series finale. After fifteen hours of court scenes crammed into a two-hour episode, Mulder is sentenced to death. He and Scully escape and head for New Mexico where the ghosts of the Lone Gunmen advise him to run away rather than search for the truth. First, yes, that’s the ghosts of the Lone Gunmen. Second, prioritizing one’s life over the truth is the exact opposite of the Gunmen’s entire deal. Then they meet up with the Cigarette Smoking Man, who’s hiding out in preparation of alien colonization on December 22, 2012. Black helicopters blow the place up but Mulder and Scully escape. So it’s established that the human race has ten years to live, but Mulder concludes that maybe he can beat the aliens through the power of prayer. It’s really weird. It’s two hours of characters not acting like themselves and plot points that seem like they were generated by somebody who’d heard about X-Files but never actually seen the show. And not only was it a bad finale, but it was clearly left open-ended to justify a movie wrapping up the colonization. When that movie came, in 2008, it was about Mulder and Scully tracking down organ thieves. And don’t even get us started on that movie. Cripes.
Dinosaurs – In terms of depressing finales, this one is tough to beat. In case you’ve forgotten Dinosaurs, it was a live-action show about, well, dinosaurs. They were giant puppets designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Factory, voiced by famous (and famousish) people. Most notable now are Jessica Walters of Arrested Development and Archer playing her last friendly character as Fran and Elmo originator Kevin Clash as the Baby. Named Baby. Because it was that kind of show, that’s why. It was also the kind of show that thought Sally Struthers as the voice of a teenage girl made complete sense. Really, it was a live-action prehistoric Simpsons aimed at children. The creative team never quite embraced that “for children” idea, though. So you had a show that actually built jokes around characters getting hit with frying pans that also tried to bring in “satire”. Since their idea of clever satire involved a character nicknamed “Sexual” Harris and a discussion as to ‘What “Sexual” Harris Meant’, it’s maybe best to keep that in air quotes. At this point, Dinosaurs’ most significant cultural contribution is a joke in The Simpsons calling it a rip-off.
But that final episode… In “Changing Nature”, the greedy company that employs main character Earl wipes out a species of beetle that keeps the plant life from getting out of control, and all attempts to fix the problem make it worse. Eventually, their actions bring about “global cooling” which is more like a nuclear winter than an ice age. Except it’s also cold, so they sort of lost track of their own analogy. As the snow begins to fall, the dinosaurs die out. The family gathers together in the living room and Earl apologizes for ruining the world. They huddle up and wait to freeze to death. This is a show for kids, and the entire cast dies. And just in case anybody in the audience wasn’t going to need therapy, the last seconds focus on Baby, who’s scared and confused. Kids! Remember when you bought an action figure of the baby dinosaur and how much you liked when he yelled “Not the mama”? Well, pray that he freezes to death quickly and doesn’t slowly starve to death surrounded by the corpses of his family! Anybody can make a bad series finale, but it takes a special kind of talent to make kids watch the entire cast of the show die slowly. How I Met Your Mother fans didn’t know how good they had it – that show ended with only one fatality!
Those are our least favorites. Let us know if you’ve got any finales that still bother you. (Just remember, they were not dead the whole time. Christian Shephard even said so!)