Sunday, August 12, 2007

Surprisingly Good Series Finales

The CTS channel (sort of a local cross between Christian broadcasting and an old sitcom rerun channel) ran the series finale of "Happy Days" recently. One thing that always surprised me about that finale is that it was actually pretty good. There was really no reason why a show that more or less sold its soul back in 1976 should have gone out with a good episode, but having Fonzie adopt a son and Joanie marry Charles in Charge was a decent way to end the series.

And Tom Bosley's speech at the very end, despite the treacly music, is kind of sweet and simple; it's about the characters but it's also about the pleasure we get from following the lives of TV characters -- something that becomes explicit when he breaks the fourth wall and thanks us for "being part of our family." It's almost enough to make you forgive them for Pinky Tuscadero, Ted McGinley, Crystal Bernard, Mork, the shark jump and various incarnations of Linda Purl. Not quite enough, but almost.

Also, it's only after watching this scene for a second time that you start to ask an important question about the speech: "Two children?" "Both of our children?" What happened to Chuck? Well, Tom Bosley asked the same question in a famous outtake from this scene, where he says "Chuck? Where's Chuck?"

Any other shows you can think of that had better series finales than you might have expected?


Tom said...

Minor and petty: It always bothered me that Tom Bosley wore modern specs (circa-early eighties) during the later years of the show. I don't know why it bothered me so much (God knows you don't watch Happy Days for historical accuracy!), but it just feels sloppy and a sign nobody really
gives a damn.

John said...

Having the original cast return helped boost the finale for "Happy Days", since it allowed you to focus on characters you actually cared about, instead of the replacement supporting cast of the final years that was both forgettable and saddled with just going-though-the-motions scripts.

(And it really is hard to think of another show that dropped a long way in its final years and then managed to pull off a decent finale, since usually shows that plunge are either canceled or maintain the same cast, and have nothing all that special to offer for the last episode.)

Griff said...

This will date me a little. "O.K. Crackerby" was a short-lived sitcom on ABC in the 1965-66 season. Created by Cleveland Amory (which makes me wonder in retrospect who on the TV Guide staff wound up reviewing the show), the program starred Burl Ives as a rough-hewn, cantankerous multi-billionaire; much of the show's narrative focused on Ives' stormy relations with the Ivy League graduate (Hal Buckley) he hires to tutor his children.

It was mildly cute, and Ives seemed to enjoy himself in the role... but the reason I mention this program is that it was the first scripted show that I recall that actually acknowledged that it was ending; it resolved its key plotlines in its finale. [Ives' character, who had constantly meddled in the Buckley character's life, finally reforms and it's clear at the end that Buckley will finally marry his long-suffering sweetheart (Laraine Stevens).] Later in the '65-66 season, NBC's Dick Kallman sitcom "Hank" also ended its single season run by resolving its narrative threads in its final episode.

These still stick in my mind after forty years. All series are eventually cancelled, but even today, few television programs actually "come to an end" in the way these two did. It is usually asserted that while the concluding episodes of "The Fugitive" in 1967 drew record ratings, the series subsequently fizzled in syndication; it was said that after having seen Richard Kimble so completely vindicated, audiences were less interested in reliving his days on the run. This assumption has likely discouraged such ultimate resolution in many cases (though it certainly didn't stop, say, the producers of "The Odd Couple" from bringing that show to a conclusion). Can you recall other instances of older shows that, well, actually came to a conclusion in their final episodes?

Callaghan said...

But the real question here is: Is that Mrs. Chote in the background, the woman that Jerry stole the marble rye from on Seinfeld?

Was she ever young?

Guffin GacGuffin said...

The final season of Veronica Mars, especially the last few episodes with nothing to do with an overall mystery, were really a disappointment. The series finale, though, felt like a great episode in the show's prime (arguably season two, but season one's a safer direction) and really made sure we all missed it/hated the CW forever.

Sarah said...

The final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer reminded me why I had once loved the show.