Today’s post is a bit different, as it’s not on any of my usual topics. Today I want to talk about TV series finales. But first, a little bit of background: When I got married about four years ago, my husband and I decided not to subscribe to the local satellite TV service, and streaming options like Netflix were not available in South Africa at the time. We had already stopped pirating media by that stage, so our only way of watching new TV shows for the last four years has been to buy them on DVD or Blu-ray. To keep costs down, we usually end up waiting a couple of years to buy our favourite shows on disc. Needless to say, I almost never talk about TV shows to other people, for fear of spoilers (and also to avoid those pointless conversations where people attempt to justify their piracy). Speaking of spoilers, you will not find any in the rambling post that follows.
I just watched the final two seasons of How I Met Your Mother. While the show has had its ups and downs, I really enjoyed the last two seasons. This is unusual for a sitcom; often, the jokes have become stale by the time the show reaches season 3 or 4, and things only go downhill from there. I thought HIMYM really tied things together nicely towards the end, picking up all those threads and hints that had been dropped along the way and bringing them together to how Ted finally met her (yes, we finally get to meet the mom – I was despairing around seasons 5 and 6 that this was never going to happen). Even better, they used the series finale to finish the story off for all the main characters. (There’s an alternate ending on the DVD, but I think I like the original ending better.) It just felt right. I think it’s one of the best series finales I’ve seen, and will leave me with fond memories of the show despite the bumps along the way.
The HIMYM finale got me thinking about other series finales I’ve watched over the years. Another one I watched fairly recently was Chuck, a series that I really loved (what can I say, I identified with the main character). While I absolutely loved the show’s second-to-last season, the final season was horrible, but not as horrible as the last few episodes, and ultimately, the ending. In fact, I’ve recommended to my husband that he not watch the final season at all. I don’t want to spoil it for any who might still want to watch it (seriously, don’t), so I’ll just say it felt like a real kick in the pants for the characters, invalidating a lot of what they worked towards for four-and-a-half seasons. As much as I enjoyed Chuck, that last season really left a bad taste in my mouth. Another series that probably should have quit while it was ahead was Fringe, which had a pretty weird final season (even by Fringe’s standards) and an ending that left me feeling pretty unsatisfied and kinda… neutral.
Comparing the above examples to a series like Xena: Warrior Princess, which was one of the first shows I watched in the nineties that started to get the season story arc thing going. The finale of that show, which I only got to watch many years later when I got the series on DVD, was not amazing, but it was pretty good. It ended the series on a serious note, but one that was true to the characters. (I could probably talk about Xena all day, so I’ll stop here.)
There’s something about TV shows that makes me love them even more than I love films. In movies, you’ve got maybe 2 hours to get to know the characters. Sometimes you have 3 or 5 or 8 2-hour slots in which to get to know and love those characters. A TV series lets you get much more intimately acquainted with the characters, whether it’s over ten years or in a week-long binge. That’s a lot more hours, which for me creates an experience more like a book, where you often end up feeling like a character is a real person who is part of your life. This is even more true now, in 2016, when TV episodes follow on from one another, usually creating a season-long, or even series-long story arc. (If you need a comparison for how this has developed over the last 15 or 20 years, watch a show from the 90s or earlier: the episodes often have nothing to do with each other. Characters who had their first kiss in the one episode will act like nothing happened in the very next episode. Examples that spring to mind include Quantum Leap, Sliders and the original series of Star Trek.)
For me, TV series finales, and often the final season as a whole, are what stick with me when I think back on a show that I’ve finished watching. This is especially true for shows that I haven’t gone back and watched again. For example, I’ve rewatched Xena: Warrior Princess in its entirety many times, so the series ending is just one of many memories that have stuck with me. But with shows like Chuck and How I Met Your Mother, the endings, for better or for worse, will likely be what I think of when I look back on the show and its characters.
How do you feel about TV series finales? Do they set the tone for how you remember a series? Let me know in the comments below.