It’s hard to wrap up a years-long TV series, with all of its mysteries, questions, and unresolved narratives, in a single episode. Fans will need you to help them cope with the separation, and critics will watch your every move, looking to pick out the one loose end you forgot to tie up. But the 10 TV finales we list below transcended the average tear-jerking resolution. Whether deliberately planned endings or simply the unintentional result of sudden cancellations, these last episodes go above and beyond when it comes to leaving us in the dark, crushing our dreams, and preparing America’s children for years of psychiatric therapy. Browse through our list of happily never afters and tell us which cliff-hanging, hope-sucking shows you’d add in the comments.
“And I guess I owe the rest of you an apology too. You know, for bringing on the end of the world and civilization and everything,” says Earl Sinclair, explaining to Baby Sinclair in an eerily BP-meets-Bernie-Madoff apology that because he cared more about building a wax fruit plant than preserving nature, they must now sit around in a bunker and await the imminent extinction of their entire family, species, and every living thing on the planet. Baby Sinclair doesn’t quite get it at first, but Earl tries his hardest to hammer the difficult message — namely, that the whole cast will soon die a slow, cold death — into his child’s innocent head (and the heads of any kids who happen to be watching at home).
In the process, the Dinosaurs finale carries with it a message about the power of apology. But even more persuasively, the show knows how to push an environmentalist envelope, letting us know we have a choice — recycle or die.
Roseanne’s final episode reveals that the Conners’ lives are far depressing than we may have thought. In a crushing surprise, we find out that the show’s nine seasons were just the plot of Roseanne Conner’s novel — a spicier, more uplifting version of her actual family’s story. In the real Conner plot line, Dan dies of the heart attack we thought he survived and the Conners are still cash strapped after not having won the lottery.
It’s questionable whether the creators of Lost ever really knew where they were taking things, but if they did, that didn’t come through in their panicked, sloppy effort to tie up every loose end in and explain all of the red herrings in its much-anticipated series finale. One of television’s biggest — and, somehow, most lauded — copouts, Lost’s finale was the perfect excuse to leave questions unanswered, since we don’t really know all that much about purgatory (or, you know, “not-purgatory”) and what rules apply there. Now that we think about it, unbound by space, time, or logical and narrative coherence, the series does make a lot more sense!
After an entire series whose whole point was that nothing ever happened, Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer are put on trial and go to jail for the ultimate inaction — doing nothing, literally, while they see a man being carjacked at gunpoint. Except, unlike any other normal comedy, in which some super lawyer would come in and save the central characters, Seinfeld makes sure that its protagonists end up in orange jumpsuits. Elaine, as a woman, is even separated from the gang for her entire sentence, and no one — except the laugh track — laughs at Jerry’s jailhouse comedy sets (below).
The World of David the Gnome
The series finale of The World of David the Gnome celebrates David’s 400th birthday! But it’s also his death day. Since gnomes have a mandated lifespan of no more than four centuries, David is turned into a tree by a blue, fluorescent light that overcomes him, while the rest of the cast waves goodbye. Swift the Fox, David’s best friend, sobs and howls out in emotional anguish to the mountains — that is, until about 30 seconds later, when he spots a sprightly lady fox and forgets all about his dead tree friend. Yes, this was a kids’ show.
Speaking of children’s television: In the last Hey Arnold! episode, “The Journal,” Arnold finds his long-lost parents’ journal and, right before the credits roll, a map that may very well lead him to them. This narrative was supposed to be completed by the intended big-screen sequel, The Jungle Movie, but the movie never got a green light, and we never got to find out whether Arnold finds his parents.
The Tanner family doesn’t immediately fall in love with the grumpy, caustic creature who lands in their garage after his previous home — the planet Melmac — is blasted into bits and pieces. But after the military indicates an interest in torturing, testing, and possibly killing him, the Tanners decide to keep the Alien Life Form around, and he soon becomes simply ALF, the sassy, lovable puppet that entertained kids from 1986 to 1990.
But there’s a twist in ALF’s last episode that turns a bittersweet goodbye into a horrifying one; just as ALF is about to hitch a ride off the planet with a couple of fellow stranded Melmacians, the military swoops in, captures him, leaving us to wonder whether we’d soon see a familiar face in an alien autopsy video.
In this series’ final episode, Chuck, having been back from the dead for some time, finally reveals to her mother and aunt that she’s still alive. And… that’s all, folks. Recognizing, however, that the show ended with an unbearable cliffhanger, Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller planned to release a third season of sorts in comic book form (cf. Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The volume was intended for release by DC comics early this year, but since the imprint set to publish it went under, the project remains stalled.
ABC Family’s Kyle XY debuted with a whole lot of questions, answered a few, and then raised even more nagging ones, as the belly button-free enigma ends his three seasons of screen time with a love triangle and the revelation that his arch nemesis is also his half brother. Wham! Canceled.
In Moesha’s eventful final episode, Myles is kidnapped and Hakeem proposes to a probably knocked-up Moesha. Sadly, Myles could show up in a body bag at Moesha’s shotgun wedding for all we know because the series was canceled in 2001 after the comedy-turned-melodrama’s ratings had fallen so far.