Some television shows end well, with a satisfying and thoughtful conclusion worthy of the critical acclaim and rabid fans it has kept to the end.
And then there are all the others.
“Boardwalk Empire” offered a “pitch-perfect” series finale on Sunday, joining the ranks of other acclaimed shows that managed not to wear out their welcome (“Breaking Bad,” “The Wire,” “30 Rock,” etc.). But they are among the rarities.
Forgive us, oh TV gods, as we list some of the shows that went on too long – and a few that still need to be put out of their misery. (Spoilers abound.)
“The Office” (2005-2013)
A great workplace comedy for many years, “The Office” was also one of the first “mockumentaries” that really took off on network TV. After a middling first season, the cast caught a groove and went on to perfect the art of the awkward laugh. Viewers cringed and guffawed in equal measure. But right around the end of Season 7, the wheels came a little loose.
When you replace a lead actor on any show, it’s a distinct gamble. But when you replace Steve Carell, the heart and well-intentioned soul of the whole thing? You’re betting the house.
There were a few great episodes and arcs in the last two seasons – some serious rifts between Jim and Pam, the big reveal of the folks behind the camera – but it all felt a little too late, especially amid the confusing mass of office newbies. (Remember Clark? Exactly.)
When it should have ended: After Michael’s sad farewell. Wrap up a few loose ends and boom, roasted.
“How I Met Your Mother” (2005-2014)
With any incestuous friend group, you run the risk of wearing out relationships – and plot devices – rather quickly. As the show progressed, main character Ted (the “I” of the title) became less of a hopeless romantic and more of a lovelorn snob. The relationships became more exhausting than exciting. Ted and Robin at first? Yay! Barney and Robin at first? Yay? Barney and Robin again? OK ... Ted and Robin again? It seemed liked the writers stopped trying to create new situations and just played a game of Sitcom Musical Chairs – while, in fine CBS style, the network indulged them too long because the ratings were too good.
When it should have ended: Any time before Season 9. We can count the number of people who were satisfied with the conclusion on one hand. With no fingers.
This hospital sitcom survived not only a brisk rotation through new time slots but a shift over to an entirely new network. The seamless melding of J.D.’s daydreams with his actual work life gave the show a sense of magical realism that was unique among prime-time series. But these fantastical elements soon became more crutch than flourish. (Who cares about emotions? Let’s do an episode entirely in a fairy tale world!) However, the move from NBC to ABC for Season 8 seemed a rare chance to give the show the heartfelt finale it deserved, in a season with more character focus. But ABC couldn’t leave well enough alone, and Season 9 happened – but it was really “Season 9,” a sorta-kinda-spinoff-but-technically-the-same-show that should have never existed. Even creator Bill Lawrence didn’t like it.
When it should have ended: With the finale of Season 8. While some may argue Seasons 6 and 7 were rough (J.D. managing to impregnate Kim without having sex; way too many dream sequences), J.D.’s final walk through the hospital is a perfect ending.
Don’t get us wrong, “Lost” was great. One of the best. But a show that centered around characters in a plane crash peppered with mythology slowly became a show about mythology peppered with character development. On low points in its roller coaster ride, more questions were raised than answered, providing a frustrating (if intermittently enthralling) experience for the viewer. When producers announced during the third season that they already knew when they wanted the series to end, they appeared to acknowledge the bumpiness of the show’s ride. A scheduled finale “gives everyone a feeling of certainty that the story is driving to a conclusion. It’s time for us now to find an end point for the show,” executive producer Carlton Cuse said. Whether coincidentally or not, the following Season 4 was quite strong, but not necessarily long-lasting.
When it should have ended: For “Lost,” it’s less when it should have ended, but how. Yes, just come out and say it: They were all in purgatory. The end.
A giant hit in its day, it’s become part of our cultural DNA in syndication, the characters remaining archetypes for our time (“He’s a controlling nebbish: Such a Ross”). But it got mired in melodramatic relationships and simplistic solutions. In the fifth year of the show alone, after Ross mistakenly says Rachel’s name at the altar, his new wife Emily gives him an ultimatum, Phoebe gives birth to her brother’s triplets, and Ross and Rachel get drunkenly married, beating a newly coupled Chandler and Monica to the punch.
While the show was still well-written enough to have memorable jokes and iconic characters throughout its 10 seasons, it floundered for played-out plots in the second half of its run.
When it should have ended: Before they ever tested the whole Joey-Rachel thing in Season 8. It put Ross in a weird place, strained the dynamics of the group, and seemed to be more of a try-hard ratings ploy than a natural development – especially considering Rachel was pregnant with Ross’ baby at the time. Obviously.