10 Most Disappointing Finales In Television History
The worst TV finales include The Sopranos, Dexter, and Seinfeld.
Competitors have said that the hardest thing to do in Olympic-level gymnastics is to “stick the landing.” No matter how beautiful the routine has been, without landing properly, everything that came before it doesn’t matter. The same holds true for a TV finale as a bad one can destroy everything that the cast and crew spent years building, but a good one, such as for Cheers, can launch a spin-off while others, for example, Freaks and Geeks, cap a short but delightful series with the hint of more adventures.
The 10 TV finales on this list didn’t stick the landing, and in most cases, were so bad that they caused previous robust fanbases to fade away slowly. No one wants a finale to make the show feel like it was a waste of time, yet most of these earned that dubious distinction.
10. Battlestar Galactica (2009)
When it premiered in the mid-aughts, Battlestar Galactica was a breath of fresh air, providing a template for future series revivals in how to take an old concept and update it for modern audiences. World-weary, stoic, and nihilistic, the show had humanity on the brink of extinction thanks to the renegade Cylons, that is, until the very end, when the show tossed out all the lessons and development of the past seasons for one of the worst endings of all time. Instead of resolving most of the plot threads, the writers opted for a simple solution: God did it.
Critics at the time hated this choice, while most of the audience was confused over what had just happened; from Starbuck’s sudden reappearance to Baltar’s visions, it was all God. What irked fans the most with the TV finale was why an advanced civilization would discard every piece of technology when they decided to colonize Earth? The seemingly rash decision and a literal Deus Ex Machina robbed the series of the incredible tension it had been building for years, overshadowing the well-earned character moments within the finale.
9. Roseanne (1997)
The first on this list of a series finale that was undone by a later revival show, Roseanne Season 9 was always considered to be strange compared to the rest of the blue-collar comedy’s earlier seasons since it had the Conners win the lottery. After a season that was so off-putting, it tanked the show’s once chart-topping ratings when Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) pulled a fast one in the finale, revealing it never actually happened and was just fiction she was writing in her new career. Sadly, the finale confirmed that Dan (John Goodman) had died of his heart attack, a controversial choice undone 20 years later with the revivial series, The Conners.
8. The X-Files (2002 and 2018)
The X-Files is one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time, yet it managed to air disappointing TV finales twice, once in 2002 and again in 2018 at the end of the revival series. Both times, the conspiracy about alien involvement on Earth, was brushed aside to focus on Mulder’s (David Duchovny) and Scully’s (Gillian Anderson) more personal issues, from a military trial (2002) to locating their son (2018). Both times, the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is actively involved; still, there’s a complete lack of aliens and no closing resolution, as the story is left open for more adventures each time.
There’s still a large fan base for the groundbreaking series, but following the disappointing and nonsensical 2018 TV finale, desire for another season is notably muted.
7. True Blood (2014)
The campy and bloody vampire series True Blood was once one of the biggest shows on TV, and yet, the finale, which saw most of the cast happily paired off, was considered to be oddly hollow and not up to the wild standards of the formerly sexy series. Bill (Stephen Moyer) asks Sookie (Anna Paquin) to kill him, which she does, with a stake inside of a coffin, as he doesn’t want to receive the cure for the Hep-V disease that’s slowly killing him. A series of flash-forwards, going three years into the future, show where the characters end up, with future Sookie pregnant from a husband that’s never shown or mentioned.
To say that was unsatisfying to fans would be an understatement, and that’s only one couple out of the ensemble cast, with Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Hoyt (Jim Parrack) deciding to get married, even if she’s an immortal vampire, despite the fact the pair had broken up previously and Hoyt had moved on away from Bon Temps. In the same vein, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) randomly ends up marrying Hoyt’s human ex-girlfriend, someone he had just met a few scenes earlier. The rapid resolutions, and the focus on everyone settling down to be happy together, ran contrary to everything the fan base expected and loved out of the show, leaving them with a very unsatisfying TV finale.
6. The Sopranos – 2007
One of the most famous TV finales in history, 16 years and a prequel movie later, the last scene of The Sopranos still sends waves of anger through fans. Series creator David Chase admitted in an interview The Hollywood Reporter in 2021 that Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) was always meant to die, though it wasn’t planned for the diner. The final scene, with Tony sitting with his family, while waiting for Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) to finish the worst parking job in history, abruptly cuts to black with no resolution.
It was so sudden cable companies were inundated with phone calls from irate viewers thinking that the cable cut out at the last possible moment. Considered to be either an unsatisfying TV finale, a glorious end to a horrible man, or an example of strong writing by David Chase (since we’re still talking about it today and not, say, the Friends finale), few episodes of television are as divisive as “Made in America.” Given that The Sopranos followed very bad men in New Jersey’s mafia for sevens seasons, it’s not a surprise that at the very end, frontier justice would be served to balance out the karmic scales in the end.
But then again, viewers never saw the body….so maybe….
5. Seinfeld – 1998
Seinfeld is the third most-watched TV finale in history, with 76 million fans tuning in; it’s only behind Cheers at 80 million and M.A.S.H. with 105 million. Yet fans were incredibly upset with the ending of the “show about nothing,” when it ended up being about nothing. Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) and his friends wind up in a small Massachusetts town and laugh at a man being carjacked, which lands them on trial for violating Good Samaritan laws. The result is every guest and recurring character from the previous seasons showing up as character witnesses to explain that, yes, all four of them are horrible people and, frankly, jerks that someone could have purchased from the jerk store.
Seeing all of the guest stars, including the Soup Nazi, Jackie Chiles, Keith Hernandez, Joe Bookman the Library Detective, and Puddy (Patrick Warburton), among dozens of others, was a thrill, but despite the constant callbacks, the ending still disappointed everyone, including Jerry Seinfeld.
4. Dexter (2013)
Dexter had a TV finale so bad that the star, Michael C. Hall, pushed for a revival series to get a “do-over” on closing out the story of the serial killer with a code of honor. During the finale, his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) is shot, prompting Dexter to unplug her from life support, take her out into the ocean, and dump her body while faking his death in a storm. The final scene, which was allegedly an addition based on studio notes as Showtime didn’t want to kill the character, saw Dexter as a lumberjack in Oregon.
Similar to The Sopranos finale, there was some uproar over Dexter getting away with all of his murders, never mind the dozens of other crimes he committed throughout the series. It seemed like the whole show was building to the moment that he received justice for the lives he took, but it never came, for a few years anyways. Dexter: The New Blood reversed course and provided a fitting TV finale, but it was still a pale echo of the missed opportunity a decade earlier.
3. How I Met Your Mother (2014)
What should have been the easiest conclusion to a series in history somehow resulted in a TV finale so bad most fans refuse to watch How I Met Your Mother ever again. Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) spent the entire show telling his children how he met Tracy McConnell (Cristin Milloti), the titular Mother, and then in the worst bait and switch in history, which makes Roseanne and Dallas look tame in comparison, the show killed her off. Instead, after spending literally entire seasons writing off the Ted and Robin (Cobie Smulders) relationship, it turns out the end of the show was always meant to be the two getting back together.
How I Met Your Mother had amazing character growth, fantastic callbacks, and some of the weirdest episode structures in history, but the horrible TV finale wiped all of that away. Hilary Duff’s spin-off/sequel series, How I Met Your Father, had better not make the same mistake.
2. Lost (2010)
Lost was a phenomenon when it launched, setting off a wave of other sci-fi shows with over-arching mysteries, and while none of its imitators lasted for six seasons, all of them failed to provide satisfying endings. “The End” had the same problem, explaining that the island was purgatory created for the plane survivors, all of whom were now in a non-denominational version of the after-life in what critics and fans called a horrible ending. This TV finale was so bad that, as with the others in the top three, it retroactively made fans hate the series and swear off any re-watches.
The biggest issue with the TV finale wasn’t the hokey answer that the island was purgatory, something people guessed back when the pilot aired, but that the finale didn’t answer many of the show’s questions, such as why Walt was important, the numbers, the mysticism behind the light, who built the temple, and the list goes on and on.
1. Game of Thrones (2019)
Game of Thrones was the biggest show in history, and one of the most popular fantasy properties of all time, until the final season started to air, and all the goodwill was lost. The TV finale was almost an afterthought following the rushed final season, which killed off characters in unsatisfying ways, had the most nonsensical heel turn since Rikishi did it for The Rock, and the fates of the surviving characters were wrapped up, tossing aside years of character growth.
Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Sophie Turner, and Peter Dinklage did their best to carry the material for the condensed season, but the TV finale was, to most fans, not worth the journey to get there. Years of fan theories, including the infamous “R+L=J,” ended up meaning nothing in the end, disappointing millions of people.