Will ‘Breaking Bad’ Join TV’s Best Finales of All-Time?

A lot has changed since 'MASH' flew into the sunset, but certain rules still apply

The drumbeat regarding the “Breaking Bad” finale has led to the inevitable speculation on whether the final chapter in this serialized gem will live up to the hype or disappoint (thank you, “Dexter,” for setting that bar pretty low), with debate, second-guessing and graduate-thesis-length analysis sure to follow.

The Most Memorable TV Series Finales of All-Time

Much has changed since the “MASH” finale 30 years ago – one of the best ever, poetically closing by flipping the image of the arriving helicopter in the credits, flying over the horizon. The event set ratings records, garnering a staggering 77 share of those watching at the time, representing the kind of collective experience that won’t be seen again.

By contrast, while “Lost” broke ground by demanding and receiving the right to chart an exit well in advance — establishing a precedent from which other showrunners have clearly benefited — the program unfortunately wound up with relatively little to say, falling back on what might be the oldest of “Twilight Zone”-style endings.

No ending in recent years has been more divisive than “The Sopranos” – for some, a brilliant flash (literally, in a way) of genius; for others (including yours truly), a too-cute copout, cryptically leaving its characters in perpetual limbo. The precedent to that would be “St. Elsewhere,” which irked many with its provocative, surreal notion that the whole series was, in fact, conjured in the mind of an autistic child.

The same coyness torpedoed the “Seinfeld” finale, which turned out to be considerably less satisfying than a bogus version of the script that circulated online in advance. However self-absorbed Jerry and the gang were, they deserved better.

In general, certain rules broadly apply to series finales, to be broadly filed under the following trio of headings: 1) Taking chances is OK, but don’t get too cute. 2) Stay true to the spirit of the show. 3) While you don’t have to tie up every loose end, at least try to provide some semblance of closure.

Handled wrong, a finale can leave a bad taste in the audience’s mouth, if not usually undermine what preceded it. Done right, a finale can bestow an extra element of immortality. Walter White should be so lucky.

By that measure, what are some of the best – the ones against which “Breaking Bad” will inevitably be judged? Here’s a by-no-means comprehensive list – like anything in these sort of bar-fight posts, with a few key disclaimers: A)  You have to have been a pretty good series in the first place (so no, please don’t ask about “ALF”) to even be considered; and B) Because series have become more complicated and serialized in recent years – and re-watching a bunch of 30-year-old episodes wasn’t practical or possible – the list is tilted toward more recent entries.

The Most Memorable TV Series Finales of All-Time

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  1. Bill B. says:

    Obviously, I meant Newhart. Also thought The Sopranos ending was appropriate and The Mary Tyler Moore Show was funny, sweet and touching. Despite huge ratings, I don’t remember the ending of M.A.S.H. being all that well received at that time.

  2. Bill B. says:

    I never thought any ending would top Six Feet Under, but Breaking Bad has. Utterly brilliant ending to one of the best, if not the best, TV shows ever. Kudos to the ending of The Bob Newhart Show as well.

  3. Bruce says:

    Answer: Yes, yes it does.

  4. Mark Wenrich says:

    BEST SHOW EVER!….GREAT ACTORS AND STORY-LINE!……AMC WILL NEVER BE TOPPED NOW…..YOU HAVE THE BEST SHOW EVER!

  5. Chris Meade says:

    I actually liked The Sopranos ending.

  6. Labonce says:

    The Sopranos finale was not a copout, it’s actually clear what happened to Tony. It just isn’t spoonfed.

  7. It will be the best finale of all time. No question…but still; question everything http://meaningofbreakingbad.blogspot.com/

  8. felix says:

    The ending of Battlestar Galactica has huge issues of consistency, rationality and tone and is as controversial as it gets, not very memorable in itself, and rather representative of the problematic “cute” endings.

  9. pbuandl says:

    There is no question as a 40 year old, that anyone younger than men that hasn’t seen Newhart finale is just too young to understand the best series finale of all time. Picture this, Walt is just about to die and he wakes up in the bed telling his wife he had a horrible dream that he was a meth dealer in New Mexico, he turns over to his wife lying next to him and his wife if Jane Kaczmarek from Malcom in the Middle! Just think how shocking, epic that would be right? People would be pissed, upset, some would laugh…but it happened with the Newhart finale. It was epic! You basically brought two shows (The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart) 10 years apart together, it was incredible.

    No question it is the best series finale of all time.

  10. Cat says:

    Fringe finale anyone??

    Tied up almost all loose ends and stayed true to itself :)

  11. Adrian says:

    Six Feet Under without a doubt.

  12. Kyle hike says:

    Six feet under= best. Series ending ever

  13. House says:

    The finales for House, M.D. and Friends were pretty satisfying.

  14. Jon says:

    Lost had a beautiful and brilliant ending. I will never understand the criticisms that the show ended up being pointless. The ending was incredibly meaningful.

    • Kal says:

      I Think it also depends on who you talk to, I for one thought Lost was terrible, boring and pretty darn predictable. Hey if it ment something to you,congrats on that,I disagree.

  15. Pat says:

    Come on! Damages. It had such beautifully sad and fitting ending to the show.

  16. bcf1206 says:

    Thank you for adding THE SHIELD as one of the best finales. I hope BREAKING BAD does as well. Either way it will be bitter sweet. By the way-With Todds character I think the series could have lasted another two seasons without skipping a beat.

  17. Good article Brian – Sadly most series finale’s are mediocre at best. The Wire did it quite well but wasnt spectacular, to me the gold standard was the Buffy spin-off Angel. The series finale was probably the best episode of the 5 seasons and was both satisfying and emotional. More recently the Spartacus finale disappointed and Dexter was laughable. Battlestar Galactica was one that tried to be way too cute and wasnt true to the spirit of the show.

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