Being a good television show is hard enough. And crafting a satisfying finale is its own art form. But the wind-up before that final pitch is the less-heralded feat: making a final season that takes all those disparate plot threads and character stories and ties it in a bow. As Parks and Recreation begins its last hurrah tonight, we’re looking at some other fantastic farewell seasons.
You knew Vic Mackie (Michael Chiklis) was going to pay for seven seasons’ worth of being a shitty, corrupt, murderous cop and that last stretch of episodes made his fate a thing of delicious agony.
The Larry Sanders Show
All of the insecurities that had plagued Larry Sanders (Garry Shandling) over the course of six seasons came to a head: replacement hosts (Jon Stewart, playing himself), new blood (creative “consultants” who want to “improve” the show), and the perils of ending a show well.
Would Walter White survive? Could a person transform himself into a villain and somehow come through the other side unscathed? That was the tension driving Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece up until the very last moments.
The finale itself remains divisive, but David Chase and company kept the pressure on Tony Soprano until the end. And then made everything seem okay, right up
The sudden cancelation of this vampire-with-a-soul “detective” show was, to paraphrase creator Joss Whedon, like a healthy man dropping dead of a heart attack. And rather than lay down and die, the writing staff brought down the thunder for the last, glorious story arc.
Six Feet Under
For a show about life bursting through the icy veneer of death — it is set in and around the Fisher family’s funeral home — it only made sense for the fifth and final season to feature a foundation-rattling death and end with a new life. And the path through was as wonderfully messy, and heartbreakingly human, as anything that had come before.
The West Wing
After Aaron Sorkin left his show at the end of the fourth season, this White House-set drama — which won about 700 Emmys over the course of its run — took a steep dive in quality. Aimless characters, meandering plotlines…until the final season, when it became about something again: the election of a president to replace Martin Sheen’s Josiah Bartlet.
Sometimes a show just needs to stop dicking around and fulfill its promise. For 10 years, we’d been waiting for Clark Kent to become Superman and the story train got a full head of steam as it careened towards the red-yellow-and-blue finale.
Eastbound & Down
Occasionally, you don’t want to see a character be redeemed. Sometimes, you understand that their life is — twisted and fucked-up though it may be — they way they want it, consciously or subconsciously. So for Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) to finally make something of himself, on his own terms…it’s really a thing to see.
Friday Night Lights
It seems Jason Katims has figured out the secret alchemy of the soul, as all of his TV shows — his Parenthood is wrapping up its final season now, and there’s a run on Kleenex — understand the sweet release of crying your goddamned eyes out.