How to End a Sitcom

Though erm disdains sitcoms and everything they stand for, I, three, love sitcoms. For one thing, they’re familiar – you have the same settings, same characters, and long-term storylines that you feel a connection to. For another thing, you can pick up any episode of a sitcom and watch it at any time, without investing in the whole series. The art of writing a stand-alone episode that fits into a larger puzzle of a season which fits into a mosaic of a series is fascinating to me.

Basically, I watch and rewatch sitcoms because I’m an HSP and I don’t like to be overwhelmed on my downtime.

Having said that, I usually forego the last episodes. Unless I feel like being devastatingly depressed for 3 days.

Though they are emotionally traumatic, series finales tend not to live up to the quality of the rest of the series. They are openly nostalgic about themselves. The writers and cast members have been part of the show for almost a decade, in all four of my examples, and even the best writers don’t seem to be able to write a finale that lives up to a series you might see in another genre. They tie up loose ends because they are too weak not to, and because they know the audience will eat it up anyway.

In this Sitcom Special, I’ll go through the finales of my four favourite sitcoms, for comparison and for fun and also just to annoy my sister.

himym
I have no specific reason for disliking these characters, I just do.

How I Met Your Mother

AKA: The sitcom version of Shrek. It answers to Friends with the same disdain as erm might have, but it ends up just feeling derivative.

Ah, HIMYM, a plague upon our generation. Okay, it’s not that bad. I liked HIMYM for 2 reasons: 1, it’s the same premise as Friends set in the 2000’s. 2, it uses some incredibly creative storytelling methods. You can’t not give the writers credit for coming up with things like Ted’s ex named “Blah Blah” and that whole goat fiasco.

Last Forever: Parts One and Two

The finale of this show was… controversial. I’ll see what I can do with it.

I didn’t like Season 9, at all, but the finale was my favourite episode of that season.

It was infuriating that they kept introducing the Mother to everyone in Season 9. Like, they made us wait this long, and then it’s like they just gave up on their own gimmick and decided that the Mother needed to be needlessly involved with everything. Ugh. In contrast, in the finale, she behaves like a normal character (still flawless, but the entire point of the show is to idealize her, so.) She’s not wedged in there just to give the actress some screen time – she’s seamlessly drawn into the story.

This episode being better than the entire 9th season put together doesn’t just apply to the Mother – it applies to Robin and Barney as well. The writers, probably feeling insecure about their Robin/Barney story arc, spent the entire season trying to convince us that they were a good couple. In the finale, they take an honest look at the pair of them and show us exactly why they were full of it. Their divorce just makes sense.

Lily and Marshall were their usual selves, although the two of them got their happy ending when Lily got to go and take her dream job in Italy (take that, Friends). We also see Marshall get his judgeship, but we already knew he would get that from a past episode.

Then there’s the Barnacle. I liked how they ended his story, with an asterisk. That’s how you do a baby-in-the-last-episode (take that, Friends). Here’s the problem, though – they chose to show his change by having him slut shame 2 young girls. So… no. Sorry HIMYM, that’s not character development.

And finally, Ted. I liked his wedding because it was simple, and so not what he expected for himself. I appreciate what it says about relationships – that the magic moments you dream about aren’t exactly what you expect them to be, but they’re even better because they’re real (Jim and Pam did it better).

The Final Scene

People were obviously not happy about this. They were promised a Happily Ever After for Ted and Tracy, but they ended up with Ted and Robin.

Was this actually bad storytelling? Sitcoms don’t usually take risks, but this was a really cool way for the writers to let their characters lead the story. Because, as Penny points out, Ted was telling the story of himself and Robin the entire time.

Having said that, I do have a couple of concerns with this turn of events. Firstly, killing off Tracy was cheap. I realize that they had to get her out of the way to tell the story they wanted to tell (Ted/Robin), but writing a Perfect Woman, then having her die young, then having Ted wait the appropriate amount of time before having his beautiful reunion with Robin… That’s just a little too convenient. I wish they’d gotten divorced.

Second concern: Robin never wanted to have kids. It was one of the things that kept me watching the show, the fact that they always took her wishes seriously. Even handling her finding out she couldn’t have kids – that was done tastefully, and nobody faulted her for feeling conflicted about it. It was realistic. I related.

So, having her be with Ted, who already HAS kids, is both too convenient and also directly against her wishes, because she’ll now have two step-children. Further, she will also be married to someone who we already know won’t be able to handle her job and lifestyle, which is something she loves. Is Robin giving up on her dreams to get the guy in the end? Way to not stick it to Friends, HIMYM.

Still, I do like this moment with the blue french horn.

 

seinfeld

Seinfeld

AKA: The show about nothing. Self-aware writers being snarky all over the place.

I think Seinfeld has the highest quality writing of these four sitcoms, but it’s not my favourite because it lacks the emotional connection. I realize that was the point. But MY point is that while it’s a great version of what it is, what it is is limited in terms of emotional stakes for the audience. That’s cool, though, because they went for something and they got it.

The Finale

In keeping with the tone of this entire series, the finale doesn’t try to tug at your heartstrings the way the others on this list do. It doesn’t try to give each character a Happily Ever After, or even wrap up their character development (mainly because there is none).

Instead, they basically do an homage to themselves, while simultaneously reframing the entire series to make it apparent that these characters are actually horrible people. In court, the character witnesses paint a lovely tone-friendly picture of what actually just happened over the course of the series, and make the audience realize (if they hadn’t already) that this isn’t your average sitcom, and there’s no touchy feely anything here.

PS – that scene where the plane is going down and Elaine acts like she’s going to tell Jerry she has always loved him – and later says she was going to say “I’ve always loved United Airlines”. It’s not revisited. This ain’t Friends, folks.

I love that they revisit the show’s first joke while sitting in their holding cell.

Final Scene

Here’s how it ends. The tone hasn’t changed. Now, I wouldn’t watch this episode again just for fun – it’s not as good as the rest of the series – but at least you can’t say that they wrote it for the fans. As ever, they were just messing around.

office
How did Ryan end up in this picture, though

The Office

AKA: Too. Real.

The Office kicks ass. It’s diverse. Imagine. Now, our main protagonists are all cis/het white people, but at LEAST we have lovable side characters with fully formed personalities, flaws, goals, and character growth from diverse backgrounds/identities. Thank you, Office writers.

So… why isn’t it my favourite, despite having writing as clever as Seinfeld and emotional stakes close to/ better than HIMYM? I think the problem is that they were SO good that it actually gets really hard to watch sometimes. Jim and Pam’s relationship troubles are too real. Michael Scott is not real at all but he’s hard to watch all the same. Dwight exists.

If the show was only about the Accountants, I might have made it my first choice.

Finale

The Office finale is the best finale, in my opinion. Maybe of any show I’ve ever watched.

It’s easily the most engaging. I wait for all of Jim’s pranks, the old favourite characters being reunited, the reveal of what Dwight does now that he finally has the regional manager job he always wanted. The cast of this show is huge (for a sitcom), and every character gets their moment to talk to the doc crew one last time.

I was expecting more Michael, but they kept his part short and meaningful, like everyone else’s. Jim and Pam got the most screen time, but… they usually do.

So I can’t dissect them all, but basically, Pam lets Jim go off and live his dream (I’m sensing a recurring theme here!), Erin finds her bio parents, Andy gets his dream job at Cornell, Darrell is living the dream in Austin, Stanley lives on the edge of the everglades by himself (I love this ending for one of my favourite characters), Phyllis is feeding her new clumpmate, Creed gets arrested, Dwight and Angela are married, Oscar is running for senator, Kevin owns a successful bar, Nellie gets a baby, Michael finally has a family, Toby gets invited to a party. That was a lot of information to pack into a 50 minute episode, but they did it without it feeling like an info-dump.

The only characters who didn’t get a wonderful send-off were Ryan and Kelly, who remained terrible beyond all reason to the last because they’re great writers.

Final Moment

I can’t actually get this on Youtube. The Office clips are scarce, sadly. But the ending talking head moments, followed by a clip of Michael hanging Pam’s painting of the office, are meaningful in their own right. Not just because your favourite series is ending, but because the dialogue is actually good.

But here’s a great line by Andy Bernard (who became one of my favourites by the end, although he’s no Stanley):

Friends
Um, does this photo setup look familiar to you? Subtle, HIMYM.

Friends

AKA: How to simultaneously hate and love the same 6 people all at the same time.

So no one told you life was gonna be this way (clap clap clap clap).

I ask myself all the time why Friends is my fave. I think the reason is that although its weaknesses are numerous, the show finds a perfect balance – it has emotional stakes, it makes snarky jokes, and when things get too real, they throw in some slapstick to ease the tension. I mean, I HATE slapstick, but I would have taken that over having to sit through Scott’s Tots any day of the week. Sometimes you have to be lighthearted, is my point.

The Last One: Parts 1 and 2

Bless them for making this available on Netflix.

I’ll start here: I don’t like the Friends finale. Aside from the last scene in the apartment, it doesn’t do it for me. I appreciate the fact that, instead of just having a tying-loose-ends party, the show instead has actual plot in the final episode. But the plot is weak, so.

As usual, the action happens 2 people at a time, so that’s how I’ll comment.

Joey and Phoebe: Phoebe and Joey have what I would call the worst story arcs in the show. Probably. They basically walk around getting in the way of everyone else’s plot. Joey sits in paint. Phoebe and Mike casually decide to have a bunch of babies. Joey gives Monica and Chandler a new chick and duck then loses them. Phoebe drives Ross to the wrong airport. Joey and Chandler can’t let go of the foosball table/symbol of their friendship and shared bachelorhoods. Phoebe uses the word “phalange” one last time (to great effect).

Now, Phoebe got the ending I wanted for her by having the show’s most beautiful wedding episode earlier in Season 10. And we all know that Joey lost out on having his character sent off correctly because of that ill-advised spin off. But… I think the writers could have done better by these two.

Monica and Chandler: Monica and Chandler are at the hospital with Erica, who is in labour. The babies are born around 10 minutes into Part 1. I’m no fan of babies and pregnancy stories in general, but Friends has always done these episodes well – Carol and Ben, Phoebe and her triplets, Rachel and Emma. All three episodes were emotionally charged and took the new parents’ stories seriously.

The finale does not take Monica and Chandler’s story seriously, at all. Because they find out they’re having twins after the first one is already  born.

Why? Whose idea was this? Is one baby not a happy enough ending? It was such an absurd turn of events that they could have spent an entire episode dealing with the fallout. Instead, it’s just thrown away, along with the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Because they have more important things to do, like… packing up the apartment and being involved in the Ross and Rachel plot. I mean, this isn’t a family sitcom – we all know that babies born on Friends come into the world and then are casually written out of the story. But this bizarre plot decision was basically thrown out the window because of Rachel leaving for the airport.

Ross and Rachel: They slept together, and now Ross and Rachel are back on the table. So we’re back and forth, will they, won’t they. Is Ross going to tell her he loves her? Is Rachel going to go to Paris?

This is the only plot line the finale takes seriously, but I find it really concerning that this was the way they chose to end Ross and Rachel’s relationship. Their first breakup (the “WE WERE ON A BREAK” fiasco) happened because Rachel valued her career and Ross couldn’t handle it. We were meant to side with Rachel. So why did they choose to end their story with Rachel choosing not to go to Paris for her dream job, to be with Ross?

Ross finding Rachel at the airport, and then Rachel’s “I got off the plane” moment were memorable. “I got off the plane” is almost as quoted as “We were on a break”, or even “Ahhh… Unagi.” Or “PIVOT.” (David Schwimmer, man. I can’t not find him hysterical.) So points for living up to your 10-season-long love story, Friends. But seriously, why the career thing? It’s just icky. Even HIMYM (purposefully) did better than that.

Final Scene

Okay, this makes me tear up. But it’s not because this was particularly well-written, it’s because I know this series frontwards and backwards and I feel an emotional connection to Monica’s apartment. But still, I’m glad they took a beat here. The characters wanted to linger. The actors wanted to linger. The audience wants them to linger. It’s a potent scene.

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One comment

  1. […] Last time I whined about disliking sitcom finales. But you know what? I love bottle episodes. (Even though Abed doesn’t). I love the crisp writing, the fact that they can’t rely on anything but their regular setting/characters/cast, and how those episodes perfectly encapsulate the tone of a series. […]

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