Really, this is how we’re ending things? A Guide to Series Finales

It’s no surprise that when our beloved TV shows come to an end, we’re left bereft. We’re left standing there, more awkward than a contestant on The Bachelor who didn’t receive a rose, unsure of what happens next and trying not to make a scene. But what’s the best way to end a show? How can you call off the relationship but still stay friends without the stressful will-they-won’t-they of Ross and Rachel?


Some things are constant in our lives. The sun rises each morning as I write up my to-do list for the day. The moon ascents in the sky as I avoid eye contact with my untouched to-do list. And up until recently, every weeknight at 6:30pm, you could bet your bottom dollar my mum would have Neighbours on the telly.

Television has become an intrinsic, intertwining part of our lives. It’s an assuaging ritual that breaks up the daily grind. There’s that peaceful comfort of our favourite theme song playing in the background while we “study”. Or the tranquil “tudum” ricocheting across the room as you sink into the couch after the longest day in history.

So, it’s no surprise that when our beloved TV shows come to an end, we’re left bereft. We’re left standing there, more awkward than a contestant on The Bachelor who didn’t receive a rose, unsure of what happens next and trying not to make a scene.

But what’s the best way to end a show? How can you call off the relationship but still stay friends without the stressful will-they-won’t-they of Ross and Rachel?

Maybe this is your first TV-breakup or maybe you’ve experienced heartbreak before. Either way, as a self-proclaimed TV-binge-watcher and soap opera pundit (with no actual industry accreditation or experience), I’m here to help you. Here are the five steps of how to know you’ve watched a successful series finale.


Step 1: Know When It’s Time

A key step in any grieving process is acceptance.

There’s no point forcing a show to continue when it’s declining in viewership ratings.  Writers should avoid the temptation to replace strong narrative arcs with increasingly chaotic plotlines, or continually farewell key cast members. It doesn’t matter how many Alanis Morrissette songs Glee covers in that last season, sometimes the damn show just needs to end. It’s time.

Of course, for some shows, broadcasting and network politics may mean that the show is forced into a finale, rather than reaching a natural ending. And so, you must resort to searching the depths of Reddit, reading outlandish fan theories on the biggest questions from The OA you’ll never get an answer to.

Whether a show is about a surgical doctor in a fictitious Seattle Grace Hospital or a yellow family of five, networks have the tendency to routinely churn out season after season. So, it’s important you can recognise when it’s time and watch the finale knowing you’re ending on a high.


Step 2: Satisfy The Fans

You hear it every awards season in an oh-so-earnest acceptance speech, but truly, the fans (that’s us!) are the reason we have these shows. Like, if you don’t have manically obsessed viewers, do you even have a show?

The finale, therefore, ought to be an ode to the fans—a final love letter, if you will. To those of us who have been faithfully watching every episode since day one; to those who have re-watch every season with the audio commentary annually; even to those who stumble across the series ten years after the finale premiered (I see and welcome you, recently-emerged The Offices fans).

So maybe the characters go on a final, action-packed heist before they all retire to the quaint countryside. Whatever ever it is, all those loose ends need to be tied up—you shouldn’t be left wondering if she got off the plane. You need a glimpse of the happy ever after you’ve waited ten long seasons for.


Step 3: Nostalgia sells (big time)

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. The best series finales don’t just commemorate the ending, they celebrate the entire show. They reward the hardcore fans who have religiously studied the show. You need the opportunity to frantically point at all the objects from Jess from New Girl’s loft, or manically explain that Penny is wearing the same shirt in the pilot and finale episodes, which obviously represents a full circle moment.

They brought Steve Carell back for one last “That’s what she said” joke. They reunited most of the cast of Lost—old friends coming together again—even though you still don’t understand what happened to the plane after it crashed on that mysterious island. (Though to be fair, did anyone really understand Lost?). I mean call-backs are such a staple in the television industry… I think there are like five different BuzzFeed lists dedicated to this topic.

Of course, maybe the show has reached the problem where too many cast members have gotten a taste for the limelight in Hollywood and think they’re too good for your humble little show. But if Neighbours can bring back Kylie Minogue for two lines, surely there’s hope for us all.

Reflecting on all those fun times from the past gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling and makes saying goodbye just that little bit easier.


Step 4: Life Moves On

Some TV shows can transcend the limits of time and space itself. Even in cartoon land, we can get totally lost and absorbed into an alternative world. But sadly, you can’t escape the fact that there’s always a new (real-world) day waiting.

You can’t be stuck studying at Greendale Community College for the rest of your life. Or working as an uptight psychiatrist at the same radio station in Seattle. As viewers, we must let ourselves and the characters move on. Maybe we even watch them work their way up through the lower levels of Pawnee local government and wave goodbye, knowing that someday they’ll be President of the United States.

While it might be sad to see your favourite characters leave the safety of the comforts of a 20-minute episode, seeing them move through life or in some cases the afterlife with a cheeky flash-forward can be consoling as you navigate a show’s departure from the airwaves


Step 5: Goodbye Doesn’t Mean Forever

But of course, currently with reboots, prequels and spin-offs flying left, right and centre, there’s always the chance your favourite show might have a second coming of sorts. Maybe, it was just a case of right show, wrong time.

Maybe when a show gets cancelled after three seasons, Netflix will create a revival season six years later, cancel that and then decide to revive the series again for a fifth season that everyone agrees kind of sucks, but we’ll watch it because Jason Bateman and Michael Cera are in it.

Perhaps you’re certain there’s absolutely no way your favourite show could possibly be brought back. Maybe they tied up all your loose ends, answered all the unanswered questions. Surely this full house can’t get any fuller. But alas, if there’s money to be made, networks and producers will find a way.

With so much riding on the finale episode—so many expectations, emotions, hopes—series finales can be a tricky world to navigate. How can you possibly put a neat little bow around that relationship?

We spend weeks, months, years watching these shows, investing our time, emotional energy, and financial resources to fund a bazillion different streaming services. We look to our beautiful TVs and declare our deep, all-consuming love for the show… only to then be told by a hot priest that “It’ll pass”.

Damn you for being so right, hot priest.

Soon enough a new show will come along that we’ll become just as (if not more) obsessed with. But just because there are no new episodes, it doesn’t mean that we can’t cherish the time we’ve spent together. We can rewatch our favourite episodes on repeat. Or whisper to our friends “Hey, did you know Margot Robbie actually started out in Neighbours?” when she pops up as Harley Quinn on the big screen.

When all is said and done, we don’t have to mourn the loss. We can look back and think about all we’ve learnt from our favourite show. TV shows teach us of the fragility of life and how important it is to treasure what we have now. Not all TV shows are meant to last, so just enjoy them while you can.

And I guess, that’s how you end a show.

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