It’s a simple enough question, what’s the best way to end a TV Show? Now, I primarily watch comedies but I’ve watched my fair share of serious, more gritty shows like Breaking Bad and a bit of Blues Clues at one point, but for this article I’ll be focusing on comedy shows like Peep Show and Futurama. Mainly because these are the only shows I really watch but also because of the variety of endings these shows have. Oh yeah, and watch out for spoilers, because there will be a lot of them.
There’s a lot of ways to end a comedy show and it’s because of how many varieties of comedy there are. Let’s focus on the main types of comedy shows, the ones that feature laugh tracks or are filmed in front of an audience, and those that are not. I’ll quickly give some examples for both of those types of shows, but there’s a lot more depth to these comedy show genres, we’ll get into that later.
Shows filmed in front of a “Live Studio Audience”
How I Met Your Mother
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
That Mitchell and Webb Look
The IT Crowd
Shows that aren’t filmed in front of a “Live Studio Audience”
The Ricky Gervais Show (and the majority of animated shows, e.g. Tom and Jerry)
Gavin and Stacey
So hopefully you’ve heard of at least one of those shows from each of the categories, because now we’re gonna compare the endings of them, so be warned, there’s gonna be some massive spoilers.
Before we start with endings, I wanna use this paragraph to explain which type of comedy I prefer, those with laugh tracks or those without. I prefer it if the show doesn’t have a laugh track, that way, I can form my own opinion on what I do and do not find funny. For example, The Big Bang Theory (a show that should’ve ended four seasons ago) uses the laughing and other emotions of the audience to convey something that’s just happened. For example, when something bad happens to a character (more recently the breakup of Sheldon and Amy) the audience proceeded with a round of “awh’s”, which just took me out of the whole immersion I was trying to care about. The fact that half your audience is stupid enough to need sound effects to tell them what to feel is just abhorrently unjustified and there’s no need for it. Which is why I prefer shows without the live studio audience or that effect, the fact that without a laugh track, I can decide what’s funny and what isn’t when shown it, for example, eating a dead dog after trying to burn it in front of the owners while your mate applies for a job with a two page CV right next to you and you’re all on a boat, that’s funny (Peep Show). Having a general chit-chat of sub par one liners every episode to bridge all the plots together to form a sort of ending, that’s not funny (The Big Bang Theory).
Alright, so what’s the best way to end a comedy? That’s a pretty loaded question so I thought we should have a look at a few endings of a multitude of comedy shows. We’ll start with what right now is my favourite show, Peep Show.
How did Peep Show end? Much in the same way it started, the two main characters, dealing with life poorly, sat on the couch watching Bob Ross paint and their life slowly but surely unravel over the course of 9 Seasons and 54 Episodes. That’s how it started, that’s how it ended. It was a perfect end to the series as a whole and I think the last episode really tied things together quite nicely. What I liked so much about it is that it doesn’t really have an ending that stops the characters where they are. We’ve been immersed in a captivating world created by the two geniuses that are Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain and they’ve kept what I like to call, an “open ending”.
What I mean by an open ending is an ending where we’re left satisfied and the characters we’ve dearly loved (and hated) are actually going to continue with their lives after the show ends. We know Mark and Jez aren’t just going to sit on a couch until further notice (well, I mean, they might as well, they did it for 9 Seasons), we can live with knowing that even without the cameras on them, they’re living their lives. It was the same sort of deal with Black Books and Fawlty Towers, a satisfying, open ending where we can live happily, knowing that both Black Books and Fawlty Towers are still probably open for business in London and Torquay respectively.
Now obviously with the amount of different shows out there there’s a lot of ways to end your show. Unfortunately, most shows go for a soppy ending that leaves the audience in tears, which is fine. The Office did it very well (twice actually, the first time being when Steve Carrell left the show) by bringing the cast back together at Dwight’s wedding, with some familiar faces showing up and some lovely endings to plot points that hadn’t been touched in seasons. Another good example of a sad ending is Scrubs (if we ignore Season 9) wherein J.D. is getting his upsetting goodbye’s from everyone after his decision to leave Sacred Heart. The episode consists of J.D. trying to get Dr. Cox’s approval, and he does. It was a really heart warming moment where we see two characters so dependant on each other finally have a satisfying ending, much like Peep Show.
But what about shows that are filmed in front of a live studio audience? They’re different, aren’t they? Well, I’ve already used two for examples earlier on, those two being Black Books and Fawlty Towers, so it shows that shows filmed in front of an LSA can have a satisfying and genuinely good ending. I’m not saying it’s more difficult to make a good ending in an LSA show, but it’s more difficult to make a good ending. You have to make sure the crowd is responding right to the show the whole time. If we had an episode of The Big Bang Theory without the LSA then you might get one or two chuckles per episode, however the audience laughing their arses off when Sheldon speaks pretty much forces you to understand how and why that’s funny.
That’s why I prefer the shows without laughing noises or things like that, we’re allowed to form our own opinion on whether or not something is funny, sad or infuriatingly boring. Now the majority of British comedies that are filmed in front of an LSA usually have open endings, but what about American ones? I can only assume that How I Met Your Mother ended with the conclusion to Ted’s story, in which we see his two children literally age over how long it took for him to finish the damn thing. I heard the ending was a load of shit and they basically go back to one very particular plot point in which Ted and Robin get back together, Barney divorces Robin for this to happen and the mother you’re thinking of? Yeah, they killed her off. I don’t know why they thought this was a good idea but alright then. I haven’t seen that ending so I don’t know what happens fully but that’s what I’ve heard.
So is there really a comedy show that doesn’t have an open ending? The Ricky Gervais show doesn’t, thank God I remembered that or I’d be ending the article here.
Now, some context. The Ricky Gervais Show is a lot of podcasts Ricky Gervais did with Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington, the podcast is called XFM for those of you wondering. What they did was get the highlights of those shows, condense them into animated form and entitle it “The Ricky Gervais Show”. It’s honestly one of the funniest things I’ve watched in a long time and they somehow gave it a satisfying ending, in which we see the three all sat in a retirement home (in animated form) talking about the “good ol’ days”. I thought that was a great way to end the show. We know what’s happened to the characters but we know nothing more is going to happen as Ricky Gervais pretty much solidifies in the ending monologue, in which he laughs at Karl Pilkington quite a bit. I suppose it’s relatively hard to give this show an ending considering all of it is true, (apart from monkey news, which Gervais described as “a load of bollocks” in the very first episode) by which I mean these events happened to the people talking, so I suppose that makes it a little different.
Apparently it’s very difficult to give an ending that closes up the show and it’s characters forever, I thought it would’ve been a lot easier but apparently not.
I still need to answer that question though, what’s the best way to end a TV Show? I’m going to answer this from the perspective of both me and a general audience. A general audience would want a satisfying ending that leaves them a bit teary in the eye, so Scrubs, The Office and Peep Show technically if you’ve watched all the seasons and then realise the last episode is entitled “Are we going to be alright?”
Personally, I think the best TV Show ending is Futurama. That came out of nowhere didn’t it? I haven’t even spoken about Futurama in the past 1600 words, why bring it up at the very last second? Because it’s the best ending I’ve quite possibly ever seen. Wherein Fry and Leela freeze time and grow old together until the Professor goes forward in time to rescue them and restore the universe as a whole. It’s an utterly beautiful ending and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s both soppy and satisfying, with the final line being “Wanna go round again?” as they step into what appears to be a ride at Seaworld. Apparently the channel that was broadcasting the final episode for the first time put the very first episode on afterwards, which implies that Futurama doesn’t have an ending, it’s just a cycle that’ll continue forever and ever. The show did get cancelled after its 7th season but the ending was so perfect. The fact that they go through the waterfall tunnel or whatever the hell it is and go back to the beginning of time gives off the idea that everything you’ve just watched is going to happen again and again and never stop cycling. That’s why it’s my perfect ending, it doesn’t technically have one.