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Monday, March 6, 2006

The Best (and Worst) Sitcom Finales

I once heard reruns called “comfort food,” which I thought was the best description I ever heard of those repeated episodes of shows we still love. (Since I have ripped him in the past, I’ll give 610 WIP’s Anthony Gargano credit for the comment.) Besides being the equivalent of late night cheezos, reruns are also a great way to catch up on how that show you liked but eventually lost track of ended.

This weekend I saw the last episode of Roseanne, a show I’d watched for years in prime time but drifted away from before its final seasons. My gut instinct after seeing the finale was that it was kind of a cop out — Roseanne had written a book imagining everything about the Connor family hitting the lottery, and Dan’s heart attack had killed him. But, besides the writer in me liking most stories involving anyone pouring his or her soul into pages of text, in retrospect it wasn’t a bad ending at all. It brought the show back to its roots — a poor family struggling through life — and erases the mistake of letting Dan have an affair.

In honor of last night’s Oscars, I decided to hand out awards to the best and worst, and a few other types, of sitcom show endings.

The Worst: The whole last season of Laverne & Shirley leads to this ridiculous ending. First of all, Shirley leaves the show in like the second episode that year. (For my money, Cindy Williams was the cute one, and her departure took away plenty of incentive to watch the show.) So, after weak attempt after weak attempt to make a show around Laverne (Penny Marshall) alone, the show offers up a finale that is an obvious effort to give Carmine (Eddie Mekka) a spin-off. It ends with him moving to New York, finding a roommate, and dancing (literally) in their apartment with the cast of the play they are in.

Most Misguided: While MASH did serious better than any other sitcom, it was first and foremost funny as hell. Yet, the finale found Hawkeye (Alan Alda) in a mental hospital, saw B.J. (Mike Farrell) leave in a rush only to return, and had Klinger (Jamie Farr) end up staying in Korea in a grasp for irony. I don’t remember a single belly laugh from the finale of a show that offered plenty throughout its run. The finale just missed.

Weakest Attempt to be Clever: Newhart was a quirky show, but it certainly deserved a better send-off than it got. In the finale, Bob wakes up with the wife from his previous series, and tells her about this crazy dream he had — the entire Newhart show. I’m guessing that half of the audience missed the joke.

Most Disappointing: Cheers probably never had a chance to live up to expectations for it’s finale. The show was that good. I liked that it stayed the course with comedy, and avoided any fabricated “ending.” Yet, no ending wasn’t quite the way to go. Besides, keeping everything ”as is” was supposed to leave the door open for Cheers specials, and, except for a lackluster reunion on Frasier, viewers never got that.

The Best: It was actually harder than I thought it would be to come up with this one. The difficulty sadly stemmed from the lack of good finales, as opposed to a lot of them. But I have to give the nod to Friends. The finale stayed with what made it so good over the years — it was funny. They wrapped up a few loose ends, but they didn’t make any attempt at some convoluted story line.

Of course, I’m always interested in reader opinions. My scope is a bit youthful, I admit — essentially going back to the early ‘80s — so my wiser readers are especially encouraged to chime in.

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