The comments* on my recent post about Moonlighting have made me think that the subject of series finales is something that deserves a little more discussion. Thank you, in particular to OMD and J-Bro for their thoughtful lists.
Here is where we stand. Everyone seems to agree that Six Feet Under wins the prize for the best ending. This is interesting (and I guess that this COULD be a spoiler if you haven't seen the whole series), given the fact that so much of what happened in the final season of the show is actually amazingly irritating. Maybe the writers tried to piss us off so that our expectations were relatively low for the end. I don't know. I'm glad to hear that we are all on the same page about this.
As to the other suggestions:
The Office (UK): I haven't seen the end of the series. But I do wonder about this--I'm not a "fan" of either version of this show, but I've watched a lot of both. Why the weird animosity amongst fans of either show? I mean, they share a general concept, but little else. I think that they both have perfectly enjoyable aspects. I don't see how liking one is mutually exclusive of liking the other. (This said, I would probably HATE it if they tried to make an "American" version of MI-5--although how do you DO that? or of Hustle.) I will finish the series and let you know what I think.
90210: I watched a lot of that g--damn show, but I DIDN'T watch until the end. It just got seriously painful. What even happened in the end? As for SBTB--are you talking about the end of the show proper, J-Bro? Or the end of The College Years? And, seriously, how long is it going to take TV writers to figure out that shows always suck when they follow characters from high school to college?
Buffy/Angel: Not a fan. Although I've seen more total episodes of Angel and I find it, in general, easier to watch.
The West Wing: Again, not a fan. I have a personal bias against this show. I defer to OMD and J-Bro.
Kids in the Hall: Good call, J-Bro, but Roswell? Seriously?
I thought about mentioning the Cheers finale in my original post. But I'm not sure if it was actually good/satisfying. It was the most "important" (whatever that means) finale of our young lives. In my own home, it was likened to the series finale of MASH, which was an almost sacred event. (At least, that is the way that I remember it.)
I thought about The Wonder Years too, but the truth is, I was mightily irritated by the end of that show. Predictably, they tried to wrap things up a little too cleanly. That didn't work for me. Of course, Kevin Arnold (both the kid and the narrative voice) never really worked for me either.
The Arrested Development finale was good, in the sense that it was consistent with the show generally.
Alright. Now, Carnivale. I don't know if I have dealt with my complicated feelings about his show in the blog before. I don't think that I've written about it. And if I did, it was in the old blog. So, here goes: I don't think that it counts in this discussion. In order to be considered as having a "good" series finale (and maybe what we should be talking about here is what criteria for evaluation of the category of "series finale"), I think that the "finale" has to be self-conscious. That is to say, the writers need to know that they are writing the end to a series. My understanding is that this was not the case for Carnivale--that the creators, cast, crew, all thought that they might be making a third season. I believe that I even heard or read somewhere that they knew which character they were going to focus on in the third season. (And I also remember thinking that I surely would have hated the direction in which they meant to take the show.) The open-endedness of the finale, which, OMD, if I am reading you correctly, is part of the reason that you thought it worked, was actually a product of the fact that no one knew that it was the end of the series. Since it was unintentional, I don't think that it can be praised as a satisfying series finale. (This, of course, is sort of a different conversation than whether, given the material conditions under which this series was produced, it "works" as a completed piece of art. It may very well--despite the intentions of its creators/producers.)
By the time Freaks and Geeks ended, did they know they weren't coming back? I liked the end of that show, as well. But I can't remember if it was an intentional finale or not.
One last thought. FSK, I understand your hesitation to get involved with shows, knowing that you may fall in love with them and then be disappointed when they end. But our relationship with TV on DVD isn't that different, at least with regard to this point, as with our relationships writ large in the world. And don't we all (or at least don't you and I?) do too much focusing on the inevitability of the decay of relationships already? Isn't this what keeps us tentative, even self-defeating, about the possibility of meeting new people and incorporating them into our lives? Maybe the lesson here is MORE TV. Maybe the relationship building that happens as we watch, and having to go through the difficult and painful (and lest any of you bitches laugh at me, think back to the end of SFU and tell me that THAT wasn't painful) separation with those shows at the end of the series, and the fact that we then go on to love another show, that all of this actually helps prepare us for real relationships in the world. When the Deadwood film comes out, I may very well avoid seeing it, or reading anything about it, for a long time. But eventually I will see it. And it will not be as painful as I think that it will be. It will not remind me of what I do not have, anymore, but rather of what Deadwood has added to my life.
Book series, by the way, serve this same function. It was very hard to convince myself to read the last Lemony Snicket book, but when I look back, I can't say that I'm not better off for having A Series of Unfortunate Events in my life. Or Gormenghast, TLOTR, Ramona, Kristin Lavransdatter, etcetera.
*With the exclusion of smart ass comments from Qwanty and Marcus about my misspelling of the word "thumb". Thanks, guys.