2019 is filled with TV heavy-hitters airing their final seasons—Game Of Thrones and Veep ended their lengthy runs earlier this year, while The Good Place and Silicon Valley will start their final swings in the fall. Yesterday, Orange Is The New Black dropped its seventh and final season on Netflix, which begs this week’s question:
What is your favorite final season of a TV show?
While Bryan Fuller might (still!) discount the “final” part of this formulation, no year of TV has ever felt more like a show becoming “itself” for me than Hannibal’s third season. Finally and fully stripped of its network-friendly procedural elements—and no longer in any way interested in hiding the fact that this was, fundamentally, a love story—Hannibal’s last year on the air was simultaneously hypnotic in its pacing and utterly breakneck in its pace, burning through two of Thomas Harris’ source novels while still taking time for some of the most audaciously bizarre visuals ever broadcast on network TV. (Origami heart, anyone?) Full of moments of pitch-perfect fanservice—including one profoundly satisfying ass-kicking, delivered courtesy of Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford to his old pal Dr. Lecter—it all builds to a finale that’s strangely triumphant in its embrace of tragedy, closing on a final image that’s haunting in its determined lack of finality.
Not every show deserves to do the “final season victory lap” thing, but if any series ever earned the right to spend a whole season on happy endings it’s Parks And Recreation. I know the show started as a slightly more bitter satire of how the government works, but after six seasons of these characters growing and learning and realizing how much they care about each other, it’s hard to deny the impulse to do one more season where all of that growing and learning and caring actually builds to something. I really like the finale, which is ridiculously big (in terms of reveals and teases for where these characters’ lives go) while also being a very touching and heartfelt goodbye to the Parks Department. Before that, though, the whole final season is nothing but payoffs to running jokes and tributes to recurring characters. Rather than any kind of twist on the formula or evolution of what the show is about, it’s a big cozy embrace of what Parks And Rec was always about.
It never fails to amaze me how daffily enjoyable I find the fifth and final season of Angel. What began as “the other show, you know, the one that’s not Buffy” was completely reenvisioned for season five, as the vampire with a soul gave up on the private detective business. Instead, the embodiment of modern evil, given form in the law firm Wolfram & Hart, handed over control of its L.A. branch to Angel and his associates, in hopes of corrupting them from within. It was just the creative jolt the show needed after its incredibly dark fourth season, as Angel Investigations’ team suddenly found themselves with almost limitless resources to try and fight the good fight. Better still, L.A. was suddenly bright and shiny again, with lots of color and daytime scenes, thanks to the law firm’s specially treated glass that kept Angel from bursting into flames. In addition to James Marsters’ Spike joining the fray, it gave us one of the all-time funniest episodes (the puppet-centric “Smile Time”) and one of Angel’s most heartrending as well (the death of Fred in “A Hole In The World”). Lastly, that final episode—featuring all of hell erupting on earth and our damaged heroes staring down almost certain death—has one of the best closing scenes (and lines) of any show, ever. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
While I would absolutely love to echo Sam’s choice at length (seriously, the final episode of Parks And Rec was immaculate), my second choice would have to go to The Office, largely for its ability to redeem the series after a tumultuous eighth season. If season eight made a convincing case for ending a show in its prime (looking at you, The Good Place), the followup proved that there is always a way to bounce back. The final 27 episodes took risks, shook up steady relationships (are Jim and Pam really that perfect?), and challenged its own format enough to go out on a fresh(er) note. It also gave us the out-of-office episode “The Farm,” which has to be the only example of a time when I genuinely did not loathe the idea of a post-series spin-off. A show about a mild-mannered paper company could have very easily fizzled out on its own, but the final episode was such a great reminder of The Office’s beating heart, and it was so satisfying to see each character get the happy-ish ending they deserved. By the way, which employee had the best send-off, Creed or Creed?
The attention paid to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt seemed to lessen as its half-seasons wore on (and so did its Emmy nominations), but to my mind, the series never faltered. The 12 episodes of its final season four were split between six in June 2018 and six this past January, and contained the same level of brilliance that the first three seasons did. Especially in one-off themed episodes like the documentary “Party Monster,” which contained a mysterious tie to Kimmy’s arch-nemesis, and “Sliding Van Doors,” a look at what Kimmy’s life would have been like if she’d never been trapped in the bunker. The series’ penultimate episode even offered a now-more-relevant-than-ever send-up of Cats. Meanwhile Kimmy stayed on her path to true closure, finding a way to take her most painful life lessons and use them to help the world. Her sunny ending was a bit far-fetched, but fit right into what Kimmy would have expected all along. And I was just happy that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt stayed at the same hilarious, stellar level for its entire run, up to and including its final moments.