Well, it’s that time again, when TV shows begin to wind down for a close before summer. As we say goodbye to shows like Smallville and The Office (hey, I know it’s sticking around for one more season, but let’s be honest—without Michael Scott, the show is essentially over), let’s take a look back at some of the absolute best series finales the boob tube ever had to offer. Today, we’ll make a quick survey of television’s best final moments in comedy; tomorrow, we’ll look at the dark goodbyes of televised drama.
5. Newhart – “The Last Newhart” (1990)
Deciding that if you’ve gotta go, then go out weird, Bob Newhart ended his second television series, Newhart, in true oddball, deadpanned style—the eight-year series was all a dream. And not just any dream, either—as the series’ final moments revealed, the entire TV program was just a dream had by Bob Hartley, Chicago psychiatrist and protagonist of Newhart’s 70’s sitcom, The Bob Newhart show. Brave, strange, and hilarious, “The Last Newhart” went out weird and wild—just try and imagine a long-time network TV show ending just as strangely these days.
4. Freaks and Geeks – “Discos and Dragons” (2000)
Knowing that cancellation was eminent, the creators of Freaks and Geeks managed to close out their lovably awkward one-season high school dramedy in style. In moments tinged with bittersweet humor, poignancy, and truth, the characters find themselves—both literally and figuratively, on a disco dance floor, playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons, and listening alone to the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty. It’s an intentionally pained and strained laugh at the growing pains of high school, as well as something else—pretty much perfect.
3. Cheers – “One For the Road” (1993)
After 11 years of will-they/ won’t-they suspense, Cheers finally answered the question as to whether or not star-crossed lovers Diane and Cheers bar owner Sam Malone would ever finally end up together. The answer? No, they won’t. At the last moment, Sam chooses the bar and his friends over the woman he loves. Or, as Cheers barfly Norm notes, Sam could never be unfaithful to his one true love: Cheers. Sam ponders this as he stands alone in his bar at the end of the night, musing that he must be “the luckiest son of a bitch alive,” before shutting off the lights and saying, “we’re closed.” Fade to black, and perfection.
2. M*A*S*H – “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” (1983)
OK, this was a toughie—is the Korean War TV show M*A*S*H a comedy or drama? Well, as its series finale proved, the show’s locus was always somewhere in between, blurring the line between the two genres. The gut-wrenching series capper—which also happens to be the most watched series finale in history with over one hundred million viewers (translation: 79% of American households tuned in)—finds the Korean War finally coming to a close and the beloved members of the 4077 unit must decide what to do next. Klinger gets hitched and stays behind in Korea, series protagonist Hawkeye briefly stays in a mental hospital due to his inability to cope before leaving, and Hunnicutt, well, he just can’t bring himself to say goodbye. So when Hawkeye’s helicopter finally lifts off over the base, and he sees the message Hunnicutt spelled for him on the ground in stones—“GOODBYE”—M*A*S*H immediately sealed its fate as one of the most wrenchingly funny, or funnily wrenching, television shows of all time.
1. Arrested Development – “Development Arrested” (2006)
Say what you will about the depressing nature of network TV politics, as the consistently low ratings of Fox’s brilliant—simply brilliant—sitcom Arrested Development doomed the hyper intelligent (and hyper-hilarious) program to an early cancellation, but it also made sure that TV’s most perfectly constructed comedy never strayed past its prime. The episode masterfully tied together the series’ endless meta-references and three seasons of labyrinthine plotting , as well as neatly paralleling A.D.’s pilot episode, as it witnessed the final fraying and decay of the criminally dysfunctional Bluthe family: mother Lucille Bluthe sells off the family company before stealing the Queen Mary to evade federal prosecution, Buster Bluthe falls into the Pacific ocean only to confront the seal which bit off his hand a season earlier, Gob discovers that his sister of 40 years was really adopted and immediately tries to have sex with her, and family patriarch George Bluthe, his son Michael, and Michael’s son George Michael escape the feds on Gob’s boat, The C-Word. Oh, and the show relentlessly mocked Fox’s inability to promote the program, as well as its own inability to connect with viewers. Confused? Well, you kinda had to be there—and if you were, you held witness to one of television’s finest–and funniest–moments.