Curveball! The most shocking season finale twists in sitcom history
The laughter, the heartbreak, the important little moments where you can truly relate to your favorite character – your most cherished TV sitcom memories can all seem for nothing if the ending is a dud. A series finale should be the ultimate sendoff – an occasion for spectacle, a chance to give your beloved characters one last chance in the spotlight before ushering them off the stage forever.
In many ways, they’re like breakups. In the years you’ve been with that show, you’ve grown fond of its charms, learned to overlook its flaws, and made excuses for its shortcomings. You’ve looked forward to it each week, even if it’s not the most productive way to spend your time.
The time you’ve spent fiercely debating the validity of onscreen couples may in fact eclipse the amount of work you’ve put into relationships of your own (which doesn’t change the fact that Joey was way better for Rachel than Ross could ever be).
After a couple of challenging years, the hit Fox show New Girl came to an end last year. Its troubles began when writers pushed it into overly ambitious territory and spent way too much time on the overly complicated, will-they-won’t-they romance between Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson), which led to viewers turning away in droves.
But the season seven finale “Engram Pattersky” (congrats to eagle-eyed viewers who spotted the anagram of “My Greatest Prank”) was satisfying and provided much-needed closure by having Jess move out of the loft and tying it into one of the show’s favorite pastimes: pranks.
There was a sense of acceptance in the last moments of New Girl, one that signaled newfound maturity for the characters. With the reveal of the eviction as an elaborate prank laid out by Winston, it became much more than an event forced upon them: a choice to grow up and move on.
With this in mind, we thought we’d reminisce about some of the most memorable goodbyes in sitcom history.
How I Met Your Mother (2009 – 2014) “Last Forever: Parts One and Two”
After eight years of waiting, loyal viewers were treated to an entire season devoted to the wedding of Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) – supposedly the pivotal event that was to finally bring Ted together with “The Mother”.
This was a momentous occasion for fans who had been rooting for Barney and Robin to get together since season one and a chance for us to finally get an answer to the show’s still unanswered question. Then their divorce was dropped in without warning, alluded to in the middle of a casual conversation (“we got divorced”), and fans were understandably heartbroken. But that wasn’t all.
After following the hapless Ted’s romantic pursuits year after year, the “perfect woman” was ultimately killed off in the finale by some undisclosed illness, leading him to run back to Robin – the girlfriend that was so wrong for him in the first place. It was an excessively lazy twist, and one that fans are still reeling from to this day.
Roseanne (1988 – 1997) “Into that Good Night: Part Two”
After spending nine years revelling in the highs and lows of family life in the Conners’ house, many of Roseanne’s fans considered the conclusion a stinging slap in the face. As is turns out, the final season was a work of fiction – a book written by Roseanne herself as a way of coping with her depressing reality.
Dan’s heart attack was fatal after all, and the family never won the lottery. But some things are different for no discernible reason. Jackie is a lesbian and Beverly is now straight; Scott isn’t a lawyer anymore and Leon is a totally different person.
Ultimately, it means that all of the strange, nonsensical choices made during that final season have now been erased. It’s a daring move and one that places the new Roseanne revival in an awkward but ultimately freeing position.
Two and a Half Men (2003 – 2015) “Of Course He’s Dead: Parts One and Two”
Amidst declarations of tiger blood and being a “total freakin’ rockstar from Mars”, Charlie Sheen (Anger Management) had a notorious public feud with Chuck Lorre, the creator of Two and a Half Men. This resulted in Sheen’s dismissal and his character’s brutal murder at the hands of an ex-girlfriend. In the show’s finale, it was revealed that he was actually alive the whole time, imprisoned in Rose’s (Melanie Lynskey) basement.
The strangest part of it all came in the show’s final scene. Charlie (played by a Sheen-lookalike) strolls right up to the front door of his beach home, where a piano suddenly falls on his head like something straight from a Wile E. Coyote gag.
The camera pans over to a grinning Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory), who turns to us and says “winning” – a lame reference to his feud with the actor. It was a cheap shot that seemed to highlight a creator more concerned with his own personal gripes than giving proper closure to his characters or their storylines. Not that anyone cared by this point.
Seinfeld (1989 – 1998) “The Finale”
From writer Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm) – himself no stranger to outrage – comes one of the most controversial sitcom finales in history.
The mega-sized conclusion to this hit show saw Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer put on trial for their callous and self-serving ways, with a host of guest stars from seasons past trotted out as character witnesses against them. It seemed as though David was saying that his legions of viewers were idiots for sympathizing with this group of cynical misfits all along.
The characters showed little remorse for their moral crimes and were sent off to jail, where they began serving their time with the same mindless conversation about shirt buttons that opened the first episode nine years prior. I guess nobody learned a thing. At least we got a few laughs out of it – even if it seemed that by the end they were the only ones in on the joke.
Friends (1994 – 2004) “The Last One: Parts One and Two”
The final moments of Friends may be thoroughly predictable, but they’re no less satisfying for it. While Rachel’s romantic declaration of “I got off the plane” may seem a bit eye-roll inducing now, would any of us really have been happy if she didn’t get back with Ross for good? Okay, don’t answer that.
But how about Phoebe finding happiness with Mike (recurring guest Paul Rudd)? Or Chandler & Monica becoming suburban parents? Or Joey jetting off to Hollywood for the inevitably lacklustre spinoff? After ten years of hanging around in Central Perk, it was endearing to see this group of thirty-somethings finally fly the coop and become responsible adults.
30 Rock (2006 – 2013) “Last Lunch”
The series finale was filled with the usual rapid-fire absurdist jokes that have always characterized Tina Fey’s sitcom – with the sweetest saved for last. The episode culminated in a gag that paid homage to the infamous St. Elsewhere ending while staying true to its strong emotional core.
In a sudden jump to the future, we saw Liz Lemon’s great granddaughter pitching the show we’d been enjoying all along to an NBC exec, based on tales of office misadventures from generations past. What’s more, she was pitching to a seemingly ageless Kenneth, still in charge at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It may have been the most touching and poignant element of the entire last episode.
Newhart (1982 – 1990) “The Last Newhart”
For a fairly typical 80s sitcom – propped up by affable character comedy and the skillful deadpan of Bob Newhart (Horrible Bosses) – this ending was about as unexpected as they come. In the show’s final episode, Newhart’s character (a Vermont innkeeper and travel book author) is knocked out by a golf ball. When he wakes up, he’s in the bedroom of his 70s classic The Bob Newhart Show with his previous TV wife Suzanne Pleshette (The Birds).
It seems that all eight seasons of Newhart were actually a dream happening in Dr. Robert Hartley’s head. Thankfully, audiences responded well to the wacky reveal – it was a clever, ingenious conclusion to a loveable little sitcom.
Community (2009 – 2015) “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television”
One of the great things about Dan Harmon’s Community was the onslaught of pop culture references and uniquely meta in-jokes – something that turned off potential viewers but that fans couldn’t get enough of.
In this way, the season six finale was the most unashamedly Community that Community had ever been. The final episode revolved around the study group at the end of a sixth school year at Greendale College speculating about the possibilities of another season.
There was a welcome guest-starring role from Shirley that pleased a lot of fans, but sadly no trace of previous cast members Donald Glover (Atlanta) & Chevy Chase (Caddyshack). What followed was a sort-of farewell from Annie and Abed (who seemed to speak directly to viewers with a reassuring tone) and a bittersweet goodbye scene between Annie and Jeff in which he admitted that he loves her before they shared a final kiss.