It’s hard to say goodbye, especially when you’re saying goodbye to a television show.
Hey, we’re being serious. TV is an important part of our lives, and given that we’re living in the Golden Age of Television, we’re not ashamed of the hundreds of hours we spend on the couch. We love a great story, and we’re certainly not alone in that regard; the average American household watches nearly eight hours of TV per day.
Given that we’re investing a huge percentage of our lives, we expect a great story. Nothing’s worse than an unsatisfying series finale—and nothing’s more fun than complaining about the mistakes that showrunners make when they don’t quite stick the landing.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the worst finales of all time (and consider whether or not they really ruined the show).
Spoiler warning: We’re going to be discussing the ending of each of these shows, so if you haven’t watched them yet and you intend to…well, look, you know what a spoiler warning means.
How it ended: Expectations were high for Seinfeld’s last season, and for the most part, the show came through. The last episode, however, failed to live up to expectations.
In the series finale, Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George end up on trial for failing to help a man who was being mugged. Many of the show’s secondary characters take the stand to criticize the main cast, and the episode ends with our heroes wearing orange jumpsuits in a New York correctional facility.
In one of the last scenes, George and Jerry share the same conversation they’d had in the pilot episode. The studio audience falls silent. It’s all pretty depressing.
Why it sucked: Seinfeld’s writers famously adhered to a “no hugging, no learning” policy, and while other ‘90s sitcoms had occasional overly sentimental episodes, Seinfeld’s characters were gleefully selfish.
However, they weren’t unsympathetic characters, and that’s an important difference. Fans felt like the last episode was a slap in the face—sure, we’d been rooting for these awful humans for the last decade or so, but they weren’t really that terrible, were they?
More importantly, the finale didn’t have a lot of great jokes. For a show that always prized comedy over character development, that was pretty unforgivable.
Was it really that bad? Despite the controversial premise, the Seinfeld finale had some high points. For months leading up to the finale, fans speculated about what would happen; maybe the characters would die, or Jerry and Elaine would start a relationship, or Jerry would announce that it was all a ruse and the show would return next season.
The finale slyly refers to many of those predictions. In one scene, the gang’s plane almost crashes, and Elaine starts to confess something to Jerry before nonchalantly dropping it. In the last scene, Jerry says, “So, just a year, and we’ll be back,” which might have been added to the script to mess with fans. That sort of meta-humor was one of Seinfeld’s best qualities.
Still, most viewers didn’t like the poor pacing and weird plot. As far as bad finales go, this isn’t the worst, since it didn’t retroactively ruin the show—but it as a definite low point for one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. Don’t take our word for it: Ask Jerry Seinfeld.
“There was a lot of pressure on us at that time to do one big last show, but big is always bad in comedy,” he said of the finale in 2017. He clearly learned his lesson, as his next major project, Bee Movie, is considered one of the greatest films of all time (by us).
2. How I Met Your Mother
How it ended: The plot of How I Met Your Mother revolves around…wait for it…how Ted met his wife. Future Ted is telling the entire story to his kids, and he’s quite the storyteller, given that he takes years to get to the point.
Of course, that’s part of the fun; the sitcom features plenty of twists and turns that lead you to think you know who Ted will marry, but there’s enough ambiguity to keep fans guessing. In the early seasons, the most obvious mother would have been Robin, Ted’s on-again, off-again love interest.
By the time we get to the finale, however, we know it’s not her. They’re clearly not meant for each other, and besides, Robin married Barney. She’s helped him become a better person, and they seem perfectly happy together.
Before the finale, the show introduced the identity of the mother (played by Cristin Milioti). The question was how they’d get together, and the last episode didn’t disappoint in that regard: Ted and the nameless mother do get married, after several detours that threaten their budding relationship.
The wedding itself is quite the romantic moment—until the narrator explains that the mother died several years later. Also, Robin and Barney divorced, because, well, the writers of the show needed that to happen to enact their final twist.
Urged on by his kids, Ted heads to Robin’s apartment, and it’s implied that they live happily ever after. It was all very dumb.
Why it sucked: To be fair, the show’s writers were kind of hamstrung since they’d filmed the kids’ scenes back in 2006 (the finale aired in 2014). They couldn’t simply refilm the scenes without explaining why Ted’s children were now significantly older. They had to either drop the footage entirely or rewrite the ending they’d prepared in the show’s second season.
But How I Met Your Mother had changed significantly since those early years, and by the ninth season, Ted and Robin made no sense as a couple. Also, fans had grown attached to Robin and Barney, so to have them suddenly divorce was jarring—and it was even more jarring to hear about how the mother had died offscreen.
Was it really that bad? Yes. The two-part finale, “Last Forever,” was almost universally panned by critics and fans.
To their credit, the showrunners seemed to have recognized their mistake; they released an alternate ending on the show’s DVD, which has many of the same plot points, but without the death of the Mother. There’s also a voiceover that hints at a romantic future for Barney and Robin.
That sort of reinforces our point: When your finale’s so bad that the fans make you do it over again, it’s definitely one of the worst endings of all time.
3. Game of Thrones
How it ended: We couldn’t really write this list without addressing the elephant (er, dragon) in the room. Critics are divided over Game of Thrones’ finale, but at the very least, the show’s final season is a massive disappointment to many fans.
In the penultimate episode, Daenerys Targaryen suddenly turns ruthless, burning down the city of King’s Landing. Jon Snow (who’s also a Targaryen) ends her reign with a knife while mumbling, “Yuh will ahlways beh mah kween.”
The other characters meet to choose the next king of Westeros, and Bran Stark—who’s been a weird, quiet mystic for the last few seasons—accepts the crown. The North secedes from Westeros, and Jon Snow is banished to the Wall for committing treason.
In one of the last scenes, Tyrion assumes his new role as the Hand of the King, and reviews a history of the entire war called A Song of Ice and Fire. This will be the only time that any fan of the long-running franchise sees an actual completed copy of that book (sorry, George R.R. Martin).
Tyrion is shocked to learn that he’s not in the book. It’s intended as a joke, but it’s a bad one: Tyrion is integral to nearly every major plot point in the War of the Five Kings. It’s a minor detail, but it shows how little the showrunners cared about attention to detail by this point.
Why it sucked: No epic story could tie up all of its loose ends, but Game of Thrones made some ridiculous leaps that ignored some of its best moments.
The biggest surprise of the last few seasons was the reveal that Jon Snow was the true king by blood, but that…didn’t matter. Jaime Lannister gradually worked his way from under his sister’s thumb to become a hero, then…went right back to his sister. Bran became king because he…had a great story? What?
Was it really that bad? The last few seasons of Game of Thrones didn’t deliver the thrills or political intrigue of the early seasons. The finale doesn’t ruin the show, but it will leave fans wondering forever: Would this have been better if George R.R. Martin actually finished the books before the show started filming?
(And if you’re looking for alternate endings, by the way, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what happened when we asked a computer to automatically generate Game of Thrones stories.)
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Bran as “Bran Snow.” We fixed the error—he’s now Bran Stark.
How it ended: Showtime’s Dexter was a great anti-hero story, and over the years, viewers grew to love serial killer Dexter Morgan. Some were hoping for a happy ending—they just didn’t want to see him ride off into the sunset as a lumberjack.
That’s exactly what happened. Dexter’s finale, “Remember the Monsters,” was the culmination of a terrible season of television, and it was incredibly sloppy; the titular character commits crimes in full view of security cameras, but he doesn’t get caught. His sister dies, but by this point, we’re given the impression that Dexter doesn’t really care all that much. Then, he does care, but he shows it by faking his own death, leaving his child fatherless.
Then, the final scene reveals that Dexter is actually alive, and he’s a lumberjack now. Nothing makes sense, and everything is terrible.
Why it sucked: The last season of Dexter totally demolished the character, and according to some fans and critics, it ruined the entire show.
“It’s a feat for a finale to make you regret having watched a single moment of the series,” wrote Joshua Alston of The AV Club, “but ‘Remember The Monsters’ made it look easy.”
Was it really that bad? Yes. We’d go so far as to say that most people don’t know much about Dexter, except that it starred that guy from Six Feet Under and it had a terrible ending.
Fans of the show pretend that the last season never happened, and when the finale aired, the Dexter subreddit fan community held discussions about Breaking Bad instead. You can’t fall much lower than that, unless you’re, say, ALF.
How it ended: Look, we realize that you haven’t thought about ALF in years (if you’ve ever thought about ALF at all). Most of the shows on this list are fairly well known; ALF is just a weird cultural artifact from the 1980s.
The show deserves this spot on this list for the utterly gruesome way it ended. Just to be safe: Major spoilers warning for anyone watching through every episode of ALF for the first time in 2019. We know there are millions of you out there.
For the uninitiated, ALF is the story of the Tanner family, who find themselves housing a wisecracking extraterrestrial puppet that eats cats (it was a weird running joke—blame the ‘80s). He avoids detection by donning goofy costumes and staying mostly out of sight, but after four seasons, it was pretty inevitable that the government would eventually find him and end his life.
That’s the exact plot of “Consider Me Gone,” the final episode of ALF’s final season. ALF makes plans to have his people pick him up, but before they can make it, the insidious Alien Task Force captures him. They plan to perform tests on ALF and eventually euthanize him.
The Tanner family tries to help their friend, but the Alien Task Force prevails. As they take ALF away, the show ends. Seriously.
Why it sucked: Look, we’re not big ALF fans, but a family-friendly show probably shouldn’t conclude with the literal torture of its muppet-like main character. In the creators’ defense, they thought their show would be greenlit for a fifth season, so they had no idea they were writing such a dark last episode.
They did try to properly conclude the story six years later with the made-for-TV movie Project ALF, but serious fans of the original series hated it, as it didn’t include the Tanner family. If you only watched the ALF TV show, it officially ended with the titular alien despondently accepting a cruel, inescapable fate.
Was it really that bad? That really depends on how you feel about ALF. We actually think more shows should end with the government euthanizing puppets, but we’re somewhat sadistic in that regard.
If you’re a normal human being, then yes, the ALF ending is horrifying. RIP, ALF, btw.
How it ended: For a time, Lost was a national phenomenon. The sci-fi series follows the survivors of a plane crash as they try to escape a magical island. Each episode reveals more secrets about the characters…and given that the show had 121 episodes, that meant a lot of shocking reveals.
Throughout the last season, the show also used a “flash-sideways” gimmick to rewrite its characters’ histories. Sawyer, the bad-boy conman, is now a police officer. Benjamin Linus, the mysterious leader of the island, is a history teacher. Oh, and while all that’s happening, a mysterious Man in Black is trying to destroy the island. For many viewers, the show was difficult to follow.
The finale followed suit, with mixed results. There are far too many plot points to get into here if you haven’t actually seen Lost, but essentially, the episode revealed that all of the “survivors” had died, and that they’d created the island as a sort of purgatory. That explained why they’d had so many strange connections with each other—they needed their community and the island itself in order to atone for their mistakes.
Why it sucked: Sound confusing? It was, and the episode has gradually become one of the most controversial finales of all time. In a 2014 E! online poll, 46 percent of fans said they “loved it,” while 54 percent said they “loathed it.”
To some fans, it simply felt like a cop-out. Lost kept viewers coming back by promising answers to the island’s mysteries, and the finale left dozens of loose ends and plot holes in its wake. As a result, the episode is regularly ranked as one of the most disappointing finales in history (oh, hey, that’s the article we’re writing).
Was it really that bad? No, not really. Lost had a lot of problems; the show loved asking questions, but hated answering them, and it ran for way, way too long to tie up all of its various loose ends effectively. We still don’t totally understand the four-toed statue.
If the show had ended in its fourth season with a similar finale, we’d probably hail it as a great piece of television. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened, but the spiritual elements of the last few seasons were still a strong point, not a weakness. The series finale received mostly positive reviews from critics, with some hailing it as “a masterpiece.”
The critics were right. Lost suffered by focusing too much on its convoluted plot, but its characters were always strong. The finale tried to reverse that trend, but it was simply too little, too late.
How it ended: No, we’re not talking about the revival series. We all know how that ended, and we’re not going to get into it here.
We’re talking about the original Roseanne run. From 1988 to 1997, the show blazed a trail for dysfunctional family sitcoms. Stars Roseanne Barr (who played Roseanne Conner) and John Goodman (Dan Conner) were blue-collar folk that argued with their children, worried about their bills, and lamented the difficulties of living in a lower-middle-class suburb of Chicago. The appeal of the show was that it seemed grounded in reality.
That changed dramatically in the final season. The Connor family wins the lottery, Dan cheats on Roseanne, and at one point, Roseanne fights off terrorist hijackers on a train. Things got weird.
In the final moments of the final episode, Roseanne reveals via voiceover that Dan actually died early in the season, and she invented all of the weird plot twists to cope with his death. The entire show has been Roseanne Conner’s attempt to write a memoir.
Here’s part of the incredibly long voiceover that Roseanne reads:
“My writing’s really what got me through the last year after Dan died. I mean, at first, I felt so betrayed as if he had left me for another woman. When you’re a blue-collar woman and your husband dies, it takes away your whole sense of security.”
“So I began writing about having all the money in the world, and I imagined myself going to spas and swanky New York parties just like the people on TV, where nobody has any real problems and everything’s solved within 30 minutes. I tried to imagine myself as Mary Richards, Jeannie, That Girl. But I was so angry I was more like a female Steven Segal wanting to fight the whole world.”
Why it sucked: The last season of Roseanne was awful, as it neglected everything that made the show great. The attempt to retroactively fix the bad writing was sloppy, and the revelation of Dan’s death was incredibly depressing.
Funny shows can have sad moments, of course, but Roseanne didn’t do enough to earn the sudden tonal shift.
Was it really that bad? Yep. It was so bad that when Roseanne came back to ABC in 2018, the writers simply acted as though the ninth season never happened.
They did make a passing reference to the train wreck, though. In one episode, Dan wakes up wearing an oxygen mask.
“I thought you were dead,” Roseanne says.
“Why does everyone always think I’m dead?” Dan asks, as the studio audience laughs at the inside joke.
It was a nice way to nod to the past while firmly establishing that the new show wouldn’t have any train hijackers. Roseanne’s revival went on for many wonderful years, and nothing controversial ever happened again. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.
8. Two and a Half Men
How it ended: To tell this story, we need to take you back to the innocent days of the early 2010s, when internet memes were just block letters on pictures of cats and iPhones were ridiculously expensive (okay, some things haven’t changed over the last decade).
Two and a Half Men was a ratings behemoth, but the production suffered behind the scenes due to disagreements between showrunner Chuck Lorre and star Charlie Sheen. In 2011, Sheen gave a series of unhinged interviews bragging about “winning” and claiming that he was powered by “tiger’s blood.” In some of them, he harshly criticized his own show, referring to the sitcom as a “pukefest that everybody worships.”
Sheen’s contract was terminated. In the ninth season, Lorre rebooted the plot, killing off Sheen’s character and bringing in Ashton Kutcher as billionaire Walden Schmidt. Two and a Half Men continued, but in the 10th season, Angus T. Jones (who played Jake Harper, the half-man from the sitcom’s title) expressed his discomfort with his role, calling the sitcom “filth.” He wasn’t in seasons 11 and 12, and to fill that hole, Amber Tamblyn joined the cast, playing Sheen’s illegitimate daughter.
Needless to say, by the time the finale rolled around, Two and a Half Men was nearly unrecognizable to long-time fans. Some hoped that Sheen and Jones would return for the finale. Hey, might as well end a legendary comedy on a positive note, right?
Nope. The plot of the finale centers around the question of whether or not Sheen’s character is actually dead. He’s ultimately revealed to be alive—but filmed from the back, as Sheen did not return. Jones makes a brief appearance.
At the end of the episode, Charlie (the character) approaches the house where the two-and-a-half men did all of their two-and-a-half men-ing. Right before he reunites with his friends, a piano falls on him. The camera pulls back to the set, where Lorre says “winning” before a second piano falls on him.
Why it sucked: To put it plainly, the ending was completely bananas. It seemed like something that Sheen would write, as it mocked everything that fans cared about.
Lorre showed how little he cared about his creation by literally crushing it (and himself), creating a sort of meta-commentary about the media controversy that plagued the series for its last several seasons.
Was it really that bad? Again, the answer depends on whether or not you care about the show. If you had no attachment whatsoever to any of the characters, the ending was kind of hilarious.
Of course, we can’t really tell you what point Lorre was trying to make, and longtime fans of the show hated that they got no real closure. Two and a Half Men wasn’t perfect, but in its prime, it was a comfortably familiar sitcom that people truly enjoyed. Many of them felt cheated, and we can’t blame them; ending the finale with a bang (cue the piano noises) was pretty tasteless.
9. Quantum Leap
How it ended: Quantum Leap was a landmark science-fiction series, but its perpetually low ratings constantly threatened its existence. It was canceled after five seasons, which led to an extremely unsatisfying ending.
If you missed it, here’s a quick synopsis: Dr. Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula) travels through space and time, temporarily possessing the bodies of various people to fix mistakes that could affect history. He’s assisted by a hologram of his friend Al Calavicci, who seems to have more information about his travels. After he fixes a mistake, he leaps through time again, hoping to eventually make his way back to his own life.
The premise allowed the show to tackle dozens of interesting topics, but it also presented some questions: Why was Beckett forced to travel through time? Who invented the machine that was causing his leaps? Would he ever make his way back?
The final episode addressed those questions in the worst possible way. Beckett finally makes his way into his own body, but he’s given a choice: Keep leaping, or return home. He decides to keep leaping, since he wants to correct one final mistake on Al’s behalf.
That’s when the show awkwardly cuts to a series of title cards that wrap up the story, including this one:
“Dr. Sam Becket never returned home.”
Yes, that card misspelled Dr. Sam Beckett’s name.
Why it sucked: It was painfully rushed, as evidenced by the misspelling of the main character’s name. Fans weren’t satisfied—the entire show was about Beckett making his way home, and apparently, that never happened.
In fairness to Quantum Leap’s creators, the show’s cancellation certainly contributed to the strange finale. The episode was written as a possible cliffhanger, as Quantum Leap might have been renewed for a sixth season, but the title cards were added when that clearly wasn’t happening.
“They didn’t know if they were going to be canceled or they were going to keep going, so they had to come up with an ending that was both a conclusion and not,” Quantum Leap superfan Allison Pregler said in a video about the finale.
Why are we quoting a random YouTube fan? Stay with us for a second.
Was it really that bad? Yes, but that’s beside the point, because that wasn’t the real ending of Quantum Leap. Keep staying with us.
In 2018, Pregler somehow purchased never-before-published screenshots purportedly taken during the show’s final season. They showed Al with his first wife, Beth—and that didn’t happen in the official version of Quantum Leap.
The revelations didn’t stop there. In early 2019, an anonymous Reddit user somehow found footage that showed an alternate ending. In it, Al and Beth get together, and Al tells his wife that he’s going to start leaping to find Beckett. The clip is below, but we’ll warn you that the audio is awful.
That would have set up a sixth season of Quantum Leap in which Al and Sam would leap together into the future. There would probably be aliens. Maybe zombies. Maybe zombie aliens. That never happened, of course, and if you don’t care about Quantum Leap, you’re probably wondering why it’s so special. Here’s the thing: That cliffhanger ending was much better than what made it to the air.
Fans of the show love it—and that shows us something important about series finales. They don’t need to wrap up every loose end or answer every question; as long as they’re creative and true to the characters, they can be satisfying.