Series finales are hard to do. A TV series only ever gets to do a big, grand, epic finale at the end of its run when that run has been successful enough for the show to avoid cancellation until the creators were ready to call it a day. And when shows of that level of success do a finale, there’s generally quite a bit of expectation riding on it. It is nearly impossible to completely satisfy the fans and critics of a TV series, across the board, with a series finale. Breaking Bad did it – it brought the series and the character arcs and everyone’s relationships to a satisfying close and left viewers with tears in their eyes. The Wire did it – it brought the overall themes of the series full circle by showing us that cops and criminals will forever be caught in a game of cat and mouse, and vulnerable youths will be getting sucked into the criminal underworld and broken people will be getting spat out of it every single day. But on the whole, it’s really hard to do a series finale that is satisfying. Usually, some people are happy with it, while others hate it. Here are the 10 most controversial series finales in television history. Oh, and by the way, SPOILER ALERT! This article contains the finite plot details of the endings of many famous television series, so be warned!
Futurama was Rick and Morty before there was Rick and Morty. It was the deep, contemplative, philosophical cartoon aimed at adult audiences that dealt with trippy, mind-bending science fiction concepts and almost managed to be hysterically funny at the same time. Sadly, Futurama was never the ratings giant that Rick and Morty is (it should’ve been – it was created by Matt Groening, the mastermind behind The Simpsons), so every episode was made with the fear that it could be the finale – and there were many beautiful, satisfying episodes rammed with closure that could’ve served better than “Meanwhile” as a series finale. For example, “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings,” the season 4 finale, would’ve made a much better series finale. It has laughter, tears, and Fry confessing his love for Leela in the most touching way possible. That episode was actually made as a series finale, because Fox has canned the show, but then Comedy Central picked it up for more seasons. “Meanwhile” is a good episode, but Futurama had slowly petered out ever since moving to Comedy Central. Maybe it should’ve been allowed to die at Fox and we could remember it as a classic of the small screen.
The medical comedy series Scrubs was on the air for nine seasons. Actually, scratch that. Scrubs was on the air for eight seasons. Scrubs: Med School was on the air for one season, and then called itself the ninth season of Scrubs. It started getting all murky and icky with a switch from NBC to ABC and Zach Braff left the show, so you knew it was pretty much doomed from then on. The eighth season ended with an episode called “My Finale,” which acted as a series finale for J.D. as he said his farewells to everyone at Sacred Heart before leaving to move closer to his son. It was an episode filled with touching moments to gave us a satisfying closure to the whole series – as J.D. was saying goodbye to all of his friends, we felt like we were saying goodbye to our own friends. It would’ve been the perfect way to end this brilliant series. But as the title suggests, this was only J.D.’s finale, and since the show was making money, the network wouldn’t let it end and it came back for a ninth season, where it became a weird sort of spinoff of itself called Scrubs: Med School. That whole season and especially its finale, without J.D. and with all the new characters, were astoundingly disappointing.
8. The X Files
The series finale episode of The X Files was called “The Truth.” Well, the only truth here is that this finale sucks. Okay, the show came back in 2016 for a tenth season, and we just had an eleventh season recently, but those are just add-ons. The X Files was a ‘90s show – it’s a huge part of the ‘90s cultural zeitgeist. Frankly, the show was pretty much over when David Duchovny left the show. The whole center of the drama of the show was the relationship between Mulder and Scully, which had sexual tension up the wazoo. That’s why we kept tuning in. But after season 7, when Duchovny left the show, Fox insisted on keeping it around for another two seasons, replacing him with Robert Patrick as the lead male. Now, Robert Patrick is a fine actor, but there’s no replacing Mulder in the central dynamic of The X Files. So, the finale “The Truth” had pretty much been a write-off since the beginning of season 8. Thankfully, Duchovny did make a return for the series finale (kind of like Steve Carell did for The Office), but that wasn’t good enough. By then, the show had seriously declined in quality. The episode is bland, boring, and offers no conclusion whatsoever – instead, it actually asks questions! Come on!
7. Two and a Half Men
As soon as Charlie Sheen was fired, they should’ve just ended Two and a Half Men there and then. It was never that great after Ashton Kutcher took over as the lead, and yet he still managed to last four seasons at the helm. By the time the series finale rolled around in the twelfth season, the writers simply didn’t care. Creator Chuck Lorre seemed to just go, “Screw it!” He knew that a lot of viewers had given up on the show and that the ones who stayed could see it going drastically downhill. So, he dealt those viewers a swift, meta slap in the face through the broken fourth wall. The end of the finale episode is a huge middle finger to both the audience and to Charlie Sheen. It sees Charlie Harper, alive and well, showing up at the beach house and ringing the doorbell, before a piano lands on his head, killing him. It’s just stupid, asinine, unnecessary, and disrespectful to an audience who now feel like they’ve just wasted twelve years of their lives. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the camera then pulls out, off the set, to see Chuck Lorre himself sitting in a chair, watching it happen. He turns to the camera and utters Charlie Sheen’s catchphrase, “Winning!” Suffice to say, Sheen was not a fan – he condemned Lorre for going “that low and be that immature and that completely unevolved and that stupid.”
6. Sons of Anarchy
For some people, the Sons of Anarchy series finale “Papa’s Goods” really hits the spot. It does tie up all the loose ends and sees a watershed moment for the club as they abolish their “unwritten bylaw,” allowing Jax to unleash all the havoc he wants in order to complete all of his dad’s wishes. He burns his father’s manuscript and drives out to the place where his dad crashed all those years ago. For seven years, we’d been watching Jax reckon with his troubled relationship with his dead father and we finally got some closure on that. Plus, he takes a little detour to say goodbye to Opie at his grave. That’s the overall theme of this finale: saying goodbye and letting go. It’s a good theme for a finale to have, because that’s what the show is doing to its audience. The whole episode is great – until the very end. That’s what’s got a lot of viewers divided. Jax is driving down the highway, getting chased by a bunch of police cars and motorcycles as the law has finally caught up with all of his murders, and he sees Milo’s truck driving around the corner. He decides to let go – literally, he lets go of the handlebars – and let fate deal him his hand. He veers out of the lane and smashes into the truck. We see his blood trickle down the road. End of series. Did anyone else find that a little disappointing?
5. The Sopranos
Things really started to heat up in the second half of the sixth and final season of The Sopranos. There was a mob war! There was a price on Tony’s head! But the finale episode “Made in America” is kind of like the Breaking Bad finale. All of the climactic action of the series’ story arc took place a couple of episodes before the last one, and the last one was more of an epilogue. “Made in America” focuses on the aftermath of that mob war. With almost 12 million viewers and a bunch of awards under its belt, for all intents and purposes, the series finale of The Sopranos was pretty successful. And to be fair, the episode as a whole is pretty satisfying – all of the loose ends get tied up and we get a sense that the characters are all organically starting a new chapter in their lives. But it’s that final moment that really ticked everybody off. It’s like the ending of an experimental arthouse film, except it’s not that – it’s the final ever episode of one of the most popular and acclaimed TV series ever made. There was a lot of anticipation among Sopranos fans for the grand finale of their favorite show. Was Tony going to get shot dead? Would he get brought down by the FBI? Would he have to leave his family behind and become a fugitive? Or, none of the above and it could just cut to black right in the middle of a scene! What the hell, David Chase?!
“The End,” the series finale of Lost, is one of the most divisive and controversial series finales ever made, for one simple reason – it didn’t answer any of anybody’s questions! We’d been following this group of characters on this remote island in the middle of nowhere for six years, having our minds blown by the cliffhangers and the mysteries and the twists and the turns. It’s what kept the show so engrossing for all those years. But over those six years, we racked up quite a few questions, and the reason that the mysteries were so engrossing is that we coming back, week after week, seeking answers. But instead, the whole time, all we ever got was more and more questions. So, the expectation with the finale was that it would answer all of those questions – and it didn’t! A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin was seriously irritated by that: “We watched [Lost] every week trying to figure it out, and as it got deeper and deeper, I kept saying, ‘They better have something good in mind for the end. This better pay off here.’ And then I felt so cheated when we got to the conclusion.” Different critics had different reactions – one of them referred to “The End” as “the model for how NOT to finish your show,” while another called it “a beautiful piece of television.” The Lost finale is about as polarizing as Brexit or the Trump election – an ongoing poll for E! states that 53.87% of viewers hated the episode, while the remaining 46.13% loved it.
What were they thinking?! After eight seasons – only the first, fourth, and seventh of which were particularly engrossing or interesting – it was time for Showtime to bring their most beloved drama, the story of a vigilante serial killer who serially kills other serial killers, to an end. They’d already screwed up quite a lot by having Debra uncharacteristically get hooked on drugs and focusing too much on that annoying Joey Quinn character and turning Dexter into a bit of a softie. You wouldn’t have thought it could get much worse. All they had to do with the finale was wrap things up, tie up the loose ends, and lay the series to rest in a relatively satisfying way. They could’ve done that by having a final, sweet moment between Dexter and Debra after Dexter got the private eye off his tail, before having Dexter fly off to a foreign country with Hannah and his son, never to be seen again. That wouldn’t have been a great finale, but it wouldn’t have been a Christ-awful one either. But instead, they gave us that asinine twist where Dexter kills Debra, dumps her body in the ocean, and then takes off to the middle of nowhere to become a lumberjack, leaving his son behind forever in the hands of a notorious serial killer. What?!?
Even with its controversial series finale, Seinfeld is remembered as one of the greatest television series ever made. Mostly written by the electric combo of bubbly Jerry Seinfeld and curmudgeonly Larry David, it was placed at second place on the Writers Guild of America’s list of the Best Written TV Series of All Time. But the two part finale episode divided viewers like no show before it ever had. “The Finale” was one of the most watched television broadcasts in American history, with an audience of over 76 million viewers – but they didn’t all like it. A lot of people love it (including David, who still insists that it’s “a good finale”), but a lot of people really loathe it, too. It sees the four central characters end up in court for laughing at a fat person getting mugged, where everyone from their past shows up to testify against them. It was a good way to bring back everyone from the series’ past and reflect on what a wacky journey we’d been taken on over the previous nine years, but the setup wasn’t very Seinfeldian. Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer weren’t perfect, but they certainly weren’t so callous and mean that they would ignore the plight of a victimized innocent man. Remember when Kramer hijacked a bus just to save somebody’s toe? He wouldn’t just let that mugging happen! And the fact that the characters end up in jail was a dark, surreal turn that no one saw coming. But still, there are a lot of funny moments in the finale, and the trip down memory lane (Steinbrenner, Mr. Pitt, Jackie Chiles, David Puddy, Mickey, Soup Nazi) was a lot of fun, and ending with the same conversation that opened the pilot episode was a nice touch. It’s not perfect, but it’s not awful either.
1. How I Met Your Mother
The main problem with “Last Forever,” the two part series finale of How I Met Your Mother, is that it was written in the early days of the series. The creators dug up a version of the final episode that they wrote in 2006, when the first of nine seasons was still in its original airing. So, everything from Barney and Robin’s divorce in the first two minutes of the episode to the Mother having been dead all along to Ted showing up at Robin’s apartment with the blue French horn was all written during season 1. But the show evolved from then. How I Met Your Mother probably could’ve done with being at least one season shorter for this finale to work better. At the end of season 8, they got the Mother on her way to Barney and Robin’s wedding. The next episode could’ve been the wedding where she meets Ted, and the next episode could’ve been the finale where everything gets wrapped up. That would’ve been nice and neat. Instead, they forced out a whole ninth season revolving around one weekend. There was more padding and dragging out than a season of 24! And plus, with an entire season dedicated to the wedding, it was a huge anti-climax when, two minutes into the finale, Barney and Robin get a divorce! And we spent all of season 9 falling in love with the Mother, but the finale script written in 2006 when the Mother wasn’t developed as a character brushes over her death in a second throwaway line in the voiceover narration. It’s crazy!