While there are many things in life more frustrating than a mediocre series finale, a bad ending can sour viewers on the entire show. How I Met Your Mother became a cautionary tale in 2014 as the long-running comedy alienated fans with a disappointing “twist” ending that undermined seasons of character growth. Lost stumbled at the finish line. So did Game of Thrones.
But what about shows that stuck the landing? These are some of the best, most satisfying series endings of the last 10 years.
Obviously, there are spoilers coming. Read at your own risk!
Schitt’s Creek (2020)
Schitt’s Creek is the rare show that only got better as it progressed. The final season swept every major comedy award at the Emmys, and for good reason. Every character got the finale they deserved, and we laugh-cried as we saw how much they’d grown over the course of the series. Appropriately called “Happy Ending,” the finale was a pitch-perfect goodbye to the Rose family.
Mad Men (2015)
While I fervently hope that the era of prestige shows about problematic white men will someday come to an end… Mad Men did it really, really well. Don Draper is not a heroic character, and for a moment at the end of the series in “Person to Person,” it seems like the show wants to give him a redemptive ending.
As he sits on a sun-drenched hillside commune, the camera focuses on his smiling face. But he didn’t find inner piece–just the inspiration for one of the most famous commercials of all time. It’s a fitting end to his story, neither wildly optimistic nor hopelessly cynical.
Breaking Bad (2013)
I’m in the minority in not being a huge Breaking Bad fan, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the skillful way Vince Gillian wrapped up his iconic series. Walter White didn’t get redeemed–although he did save Jesse, so points for that.
Breaking Bad was a show that fulfilled its promises and paid its debts by the end of the series, staying true to the narrative arc that began when Walter first started down his dark path.
BoJack Horseman (2020)
One last antihero for the road, huh? Of the “troubled man pain” genre, BoJack Horseman has always been my favorite. Perhaps it’s because he’s not a man but a horse…. The biggest question leading into the finale was whether the self-destructive BoJack could possibly survive it.
And, perhaps, whether he deserved to survive. What Raphael Bob-Waksberg delivered was a commentary on our need for closure, both in Hollywood stories and in life.
Every other major character learns to move on without BoJack, while the horse-man himself finally starts putting in the work of becoming a better person in prison.
The Americans (2018)
Philip and Elizabeth were never going to get a completely happy ending on The Americans. After six seasons of twists and turns and shocking betrayals, the series finale felt almost subdued.
It served the exact right bittersweet note, with the spy couple deciding to stay together–and escape to Russia–but without their children.
The Good Place (2020)
Mike Schur is very, very good at making television. From the beloved Parks & Recreation to Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place, his shows are heartwarming, funny, and almost universally beloved. The Good Place was his most ambitious show, and in many ways the one that struggled the most to find its way to the conclusion.
Although it never again reached the heights of the first season’s big twist, the finale brought the characters home in the most depressing comedy finale ever (Sorry, M*A*S*H).