2014, or The Year of the Series Finale

I’m just going to come right out and say it: 2014 was one cruel mistress from a television standpoint as show after show found itself signing off permanently, either at its own artistic behest or at the mercy of a studio mandate.  Maybe the number of series finales I encountered this year was not disproportionately larger than any other, but it sure felt like it.  Then again, maybe I still haven’t recovered from losing Breaking Bad in 2013 because the wound is still totally fresh, man.

Below is a list of finales I watched this year that I have neither ranked nor arranged in any particular order.  Some series hit the mark and ended on a high note, while others threatened to besmirch (#bringingitback) all that came before it.

One last thing: as of this writing, I still have not watched the final season of Boardwalk Empire, so its omission from this list is not an oversight but a reflection of my overcrowded viewing schedule. Oh, and spoilers below because duh.


How I Met Your Mother

This episode is contentious as all get-out, and if you were amongst those overwhelmed with such rage that you briefly flirted with the fantasy of cramming that blue French horn up Ted Mosby’s pooper, then nothing I’ll write here will dissuade you.  Still, hear me out.

how i met

I, for one, had no real issue with Ted and Robin ending up together.  There, I said it, and you know what?  It feels good to unburden myself.  Those who decried this (admit it) inevitable coupling as evidence that Ted never loved the Mother is complete malarky (#bringingitback).  I mean, isn’t it possible to love more than one person over the course of your lifetime?  I also didn’t mind–aside from the criminal shortchanging of Cristin Milioti–that the Mother died.  At least it gave the overall story, as implausible as it became, some context.

Having said all that, I did take issue with how we arrived at those places.  If Barney and Robin were doomed from the start, as we all assumed they would be, then why on earth torment us by staging the entire final season around this event?  It felt like a waste of time for the characters but, more important, for us.  What bugs me about this kind of recursive storytelling is that How I Met You Mother so desperately wanted Ted and Robin to end up together that they manipulated their story to arrive there, rather than letting the story dictate the ending.

We felt cheated, we felt manipulated, we felt betrayed, but that has less to do with Ted and Robin and more with how they got together; actually, I have a sneaking suspicion that a more nuanced touch would have made this whole thing a helluva lot easier to swallow.

Grade: C  


True Blood

So, wait.  Sookie euthanizes Bill before the Hep V can claim him, and then winds up with some unknown dude that isn’t Alcide, Eric, or Sam?  Setting aside the finale’s conflicted–not to mention irresponsible–handling of Bill’s suicidal ideations in its closing hour, I can’t think of an ender that left me more unsatisfied this year.


From the unrelenting insistence that Hoyt and Jessica were destined to be together to Lafayette’s wordless cameo-sized appearance, everything in this last episode seemed to distill showrunner Brian Buckner’s complete failure to understand these characters.

For a show about banging and blood-sucking, the grim tone of the final hour did little to energize the proceedings, and then the saccharine-sweet coda on Sookie’s front lawn felt like an injection of insulin to the eyeballs, and not in a good way.  Really, this odd juxtaposition just proved that Buckner’s vision had no focus and, worse, no real purpose.  Irredeemable tripe.

Grade: F


Hello, Ladies

In opting to focus on Stuart’s acceptance of his feelings for Jessica, this feature-length finale wisely recognized that the most satisfying conclusions prioritize emotional payoff over plotting, and we received that in abundance here.

Stuart abandons his aspirations of living a playboy lifestyle when he realizes it’s time to grow up; Wade has a romantic future with a great new lady; Jessica questions the reality of her dreams.  All of this worked so well as the episode capitalized on the expanded running time to explore the inner lives of these characters.  In doing this, the comedy popped brilliantly, from Stuart’s awkward meet-and-greet with Nicole Kidman to his first time sleeping with Jessica.


I laughed; I cringed; I beamed; I even clapped when the credits rolled.  This is Hello, Ladies after all, and Stephen Merchant wisely understood that, for all his pomposity and arrogance, Stuart is a character we rooted for.  And, in giving our protagonist the ending he–and we–needed, Merchant validated and rewarded our emotional investment.

Hyperbole warning: my favorite series finale of the year.

Grade: A


Sons of Anarchy

Kurt Sutter gave us the only ending that would have made any sense in Jax’s death.  But, dammit, did this thing have to feel all so…silly?  As if the swooping crows (GET IT?) weren’t obvious enough, Jax actually let go of his motorcycle and spread his arms as if to hug the oncoming tractor trailer–driven, of course, by the same trucker Gemma (#vicmackeytruck) befriended earlier because it’s ALL CONNECTED, MAN!  And then, to top it off, the shot of the wine-soaked bread lying on the ground as it sops up Jax’s pooling blood actually made me chuckle aloud.


Because here’s the problem: Jax’s decision to kill himself is in no way a heroic act, but the episode went out of its way to suggest just that. No, Jax is a coward, not a martyr.  And it is because Sutter was hell-bent on leaving us with an image of heroism for a character that didn’t deserve it that this came off as bloated and silly.  So, right destination but the wrong route to get there.

Hey, at least Nero made it out alive.

Grade: B-



You and I both know that Californication ran its course two or three seasons ago, so I find it somewhat miraculous that I walked away from this finale moderately pleased.

The last episode couldn’t evade the central will-they-won’t-they tension between Hank and Karen, even if the fact that they would end up together–again–at least in a temporary sense felt like a foregone conclusion.  I mean, sure, the final scene of Hank reading the letter to Karen on the plane essentially functions as a retread of the season one finale, except this time they’re flying off into the sunset instead of driving, but Duchovny, as always, played the scene so perfectly, we can almost forgive the rehash.


Other stuff happened throughout the episode, but who cares, really?  This was Hank’s show, and Hank’s audience was and always will be Karen.  In the end, the episode didn’t botch the landing, but it didn’t wow me either, so I’d classify this is staunchly average, which given the show’s steady decline in quality over the past several years, is far more than I expected.

Grade: C+



After four seasons of psychologically warped comedy, Wilfred answered the only question that mattered: What is Wilfred?  Sure, we all pretty much expected him to be a product of Ryan’s imagination at this point, but somehow that didn’t lessen the satisfaction felt upon discovering  that was the case.  Although this show thrived in the bizarre, it never really begged for a twist ending, so in the end, Wilfred‘s central friendship between man and imaginary dog evolved into a sort of brilliant character study and exploration of Ryan’s psyche.


This show never stood a chance with attracting a wide audience, but for those of us smitten by the strange tale, we found ourselves more than rewarded by its conclusion.  We have hope for Ryan and, by extension, hope that we can one day grow into ourselves as comfortably and unapologetically as he has by the time the credits roll.  Who could’ve possibly expected that from a show about a guy in a dog costume that humps a giant stuffed bear?  Not me, that’s for sure, but I sure am glad I was along for the ride. #innuendo

Grade: A-


Raising Hope

Not much to say here, except that, always a sucker for this show, I found myself delighted by the finale’s closing image of the Chance family gathered around the kitchen table as hilariously dysfunctional as ever.  Fortunately for us, the episode–which the showrunners thankfully shot as an expected series finale given the ratings decline and FOX’s episode burn-off–left nothing of note dangling.  And yes, I imagine Burt bursting out laughing at that last sentence.


The Chances are going to be all right, and, for this huge fan at least, that’s enough.

Grade: B+



After a brilliant pilot, Newsroom‘s wildly inconsistent run ranged from entertaining at best to damn near unwatchable at worst.  Needless to say, I entered into this truncated final season with more than just a dollop of trepidation for what Sorkin had in store for us.  Color me surprised to discover a reinvigorated show that pulsated with urgent narrative life.  Sure, it wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but things seemed headed in the right direction, so that when Charlie died in the penultimate episode, that impacted me more than I expected. I was pleased that Newsroom opted to slow the tempo in its final introspective hour as it revealed Charlie as the grand puppeteer behind News Night.


Lambast Sorkin for his paper-thin characterizations all you want, but Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, and Sam Waterston almost made Sorkin’s didactic speechifying work over the years based on the sheer relentlessness of their performances, and Sorkin wisely put these three front and center.  I suppose detailing Charlie’s plan to get the gang together seemed like a fitting enough send off, though I took exception to the inadvertent side effect of this story: Charlie Skinner comes across less like a journalistic visionary and more like a rapscallion of a matchmaker.  This kind of reductive characterization just isn’t fair.  Your bad, Sorkin!

Still, Will’s going to be a papa, Mac’s going to be the new Charlie after Leona works a PR angle with the douchy new CEO, and Neil’s going to get the website back on track now that he’s returned from his sabbatical/evasion of federal authorities.  On the relationship side of things, Jim and Maggie are going to give long distance a try, and Sloane reveals she has had feeling for Don all along, so theirs is a destiny writ in the stars or some such.  Aww.  #toocute

In the end, this finale worked better than it had any right to.  But the episode’s centerpiece scene, Will jamming out with Charlie’s grandsons and Jim to “That’s How I Got to Memphis,” encapsulated the experience of watching Newsroom for me: cool as it could be, it was never the unequivocal triumph that Sorkin so desperately tried to convince us it was.

Grade: B


The Bridge

The time between seasons served FX’s The Bridge quite well.  After a freshman year of weirdness for weirdness’s sake and a serial killer plot that devolved into eye-rolling cliche, it finally delivered on its narrative promise as introduced in the pilot when, in season two, American-Mexican relations–and the ramifications of maintaining them–took center stage.  Unfortunately, despite the uptick in quality, the viewership hit an all-time nadir, and FX had no choice but to take the plunge and cancel it. #punintended


Still, Marco Ruiz held onto his morality when he opted to turn his childhood friend/cartel leader Fausto into the authorities rather than killing him, so this provided enough closure for me.  Sure, this ending felt more like the conclusion to one chapter in a much larger saga that The Bridge might have one day hoped to tell, but I’ll take what I can get.

And hey, at least Annabeth Gish’s Charlotte didn’t make it out alive.  Seriously, she was #theworst.

Grade: B



Well, that’s it, folks.  Everything comes to an end, even obligatory television lists, so enjoy ’em while you got ’em.  #thefactsoflife  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an entire season of Boardwalk Empire to marathon…

Life Lessons We Learned From The Golden Globes Nominations

Was it just me or did you also hear the sound of a distant blood-curdling scream this morning at about 8:30?  Because if you did, don’t be alarmed; it was just the collective howl of snubbed actors and actresses not hearing their names called during the announcement of the 2015 Golden Globes nominations.  As we know all too well, it wouldn’t be an awards show without our requisite griping about snubs–and there’s plenty to bemoan–but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had a few tricks up its sleeves this year, particularly on the television side of things*.  Big shows found themselves shut out entirely, while a crop of newbies snuck their way into Hollywood’s drunkest awards night!  Good for you newbies!

*Full disclosure: currently, I’m woefully behind on the film nominees, so I’m not going to speak to those at this time, save for this little truth bomb: the overall slighting of Whiplash (save for JK Simmons’s Best Supporting Actor nod) is absurd.

Life lessons can come from the darnedest places, and wouldn’t you know that I found five of them just perusing through the nominees?  Well, enough of this prefatory nonsense!  Let’s get to the good stuff.


Life Lesson #1: You Will Be Punished For Success

Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  Andy Samberg.  Amy Poehler.  These three defending Golden Globes champs didn’t even earn a token nomination this year, and Amy Poehler is co-hosting this damn event.  Fear not, though! Jon Voight–whose skin-crawling performance in Ray Donovan already deprived Josh Charles of his deserved trophy for his turn in The Good Wife last year–heard his name called again this time around because, basically, life is meaningless and empty.  #putitonachristmascard


Still, the HFPA didn’t hold back here and, in direct opposition with the spirit of the season, instead wants to tell us that, sure, being good might tickle Santa’s Christmas pickle, but pride also cometh before the fall.  Once you’ve reached the top, there’s only one place to go, so  instead, let’s strive for mediocrity.  Hey, it’s been working out swell for House of Cards so far!  Insert Miles Teller Whiplash** style rimshot here.

**No, I most certainly will not let it go.  I’m sorry I’m not sorry.


Life Lesson #2: Your Friends Will Turn On You Viciously and All At Once When You Least Expect It

Look, I’ve come down with a chronic case of Modern Family fatigue just like the rest of you.  I still love the show, but does it need the ubiquitous–not to mention uninterrupted–onslaught of trophies it’s been raking in for five years?  Definitely not, but damn this thing escalated quickly!  After a plethora of SAG nods yesterday, the HFPA straight up bulldozed Modern Family and shut the show out entirely like a bully locking some dweeb in the janitor’s closet.    That’ll give Manny something to think about on his evening constitutional, that’s for sure.


The same shutout happened to The Big Bang Theory, for what it’s worth, but if the critical love for that lowest-common-denominator show has reached its expiration date, then I won’t complain.

Either way, the message is clear, ladies and gentlemen: don’t have any confidence in those who claim to support you as your friends because, sooner rather than later, they will drop you like sack of sprouted potatoes and run to the newest, hottest thing around.  Friendship is dead.  Thanks, Golden Globes!


Life Lesson #3: The Squeaky Wheel Gets Sh*t Done

Girls has never capitalized on its promise since its successful inaugural season.  Sure, the third made a significant improvement over the virtually-unwatchable second, but that doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near the quality of fellow nominees Orange Is the New BlackSilicon Valley, or Transparent.  Hell, from what I’m reading about newcomer Jane the Virgin*** it can’t hold a candle to that show, either, though I’ve never seen it.  That’s to say nothing of the fact that it is touted as superior in quality to Louie, Veep, Parks and Rec, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which of course it isn’t.


***See what I did there? #innuendo

But then in nominating the series and Lena Dunham (but not the show’s biggest talent, Adam Driver), it’s clear that Dunham’s polarizing presence, and not the show itself, snagged the nods.  She’s everywhere, she’s controversial, and everyone knows her name.  Neither Dunham nor the show are remotely deserving, but the HFPA has taught us something important: recognition evades the timid.  Be loud and be proud; even if you’re not deserving of accolades, they will shower you just because everyone in the room can hear you.


Life Lesson #4: Don’t Try To Be Someone You’re Not

We know it and the HFPA knows it: if the Oscars are your stuffy, pretentious uncle, then the Globes translate to your wild, hard-partying cousin.  In fact, the one reason I enjoy the Globes so much is because of its comparative looseness: it nominates the newbies, it celebrates the less conventional, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

But then it goes and nominates undeserving shows like Downton‘s lackluster fourth season or House of Cards‘s deadeningly repetitive second because they seem like more “prestigious” fare?  Puh-lease.  House of Cards isn’t even one of Netflix’s five best shows, let alone in the upper echelon of all of TV.  If you’re going to celebrate a major drama, how about The Americans?  Hello?  Anybody?  Where’d you guys go?


Stick with your guns, Globes, and honor shows like the surprisingly excellent The Affair!  Is it one of the best shows on television?  No, but who cares?  That’s what you do!  You do weird stuff because you want to flout convention!  That’s why we love you.  Don’t turn this into the Emmys.  DON’T. YOU. DARE. #emptythreat #notanemptythreat

We roll our eyes at the inclusion of these nominees because it’s so out of character for our drunken cousin to rely on business as usual; the Globes are here to shake things up, so learn from the mistake: don’t try to be someone you’re not.  If you’re a Golden Globe, then don’t try to convince anyone you’re an Emmy, and vice versa.  It’s just sad.


Life Lesson #5: Don’t Be Afraid To Tell It Like It Is

“No, you sit down and hesh up, True Detective!”  the HFPA shouted over the din.  “You are a mini-series, and that’s that!  Yeah, deal with it!  What was that, McConaughey?  I’ll tell you where to stick that flat circle!”  This is how I’d like to imagine this is all went down as the Globes set people straight following the bizarre Emmy nominee assignations earlier this year.  Now, if only they could do something about those catch-all Supporting Actor/Actress in a Series, Mini-Series, TV Movie, Home Video, Vine Compilation categories.


Don’t let the bullies of the world knock you around is the lesson here!    When you’re right, speak your mind!  Fight the power!


Well, that’s what I learned.  Did I miss any crucial life lessons?  Let me know, and remember to tune in to the Golden Globes on Sunday, January 11th at 8pm on NBC!

My 5 Favorite Offbeat Christmas Episodes

Ho, ho, ho!  After a two-month long hibernation, I am here to bestow upon you an early Christmas present.  I don’t want to make a big deal out of my glorious return or anything, but I’m pretty much the television blogger’s Santa Claus, except I won’t break into your house in the dead of night to reward you with presents for being good all year…Wait a minute, you guys, is Santa Claus a sociopath?

Either way, ’tis the season, ladies and gentlemen, and you know what that means: walking past Salvation Army Santas while you pretend to take a call on your cell phone.  But you know what else it means? Christmas themed episodes!  As our favorite shows sign off temporarily for a several week winter hiatus, they like to leave behind a little something to keep us warm and cozy all through the night.  I’ve listed five of my all-time favorite Christmas-themed episodes in alphabetical order below, installments that never cease to get me in the spirit.  Very few–if any–of these would end up other critics’ similarly compiled lists, but for those of us looking for a less conventional yuletide diversion, look no further.


Arrested Development, “Afternoon Delight”

Yes, the episode’s title is a direct reference to the Starland song, and yes, Michael Bluth and Maeby sing it during an office Christmas party karaoke session.   But uncle and niece accidentally crooning the classic sex ballad to one another is just the tip of the festive iceberg.


Because, after all, what’s better than one Christmas party?  Two Christmas parties, duh.  And that one’s a doozy: Lucille–having accidentally imbibed Oscar’s “Afternoon Deelite”–mows down her son-in-law Tobias (who earlier “blue” himself in the hopes of getting a call from the Blue Man Group) and Buster drops a banana-suit wearing G.O.B. from a crane.  I love how this episode uses the Christmas holiday to reveal the not-so-wholesome side to the Bluth clan, resulting in a hilarious twenty-three minutes.


Homicide: Life on the Street, “All Through the House”

In typical Homicide fashion, this third season episode manages to walk a tonal tightrope: this time, one that is equal parts melancholy and hope as the detectives find themselves on night duty on Christmas Eve.  Munch and Bolander investigate the murder of a man in a Santa suit, leading Munch to spend the evening with the little boy they presume is the victim’s son.  Felton buys his children Christmas presents despite not knowing where his ex-wife has absconded to with them, and Bayliss, ever the romantic, wanders through the squad room looking for someone to play hearts with him. #metaphor


But it’s the episode’s insistence on humor and pathos in the face of such grimness that makes this such a great installment.  The detectives take turns criticizing the decoration of the tree in the precinct before launching into an impromptu snowball fight as Christmas day breaks across Baltimore, and Pembleton manages to summarize the meaning of the holiday in his typically curmudgeonly style, none too happy to be on duty: “I miss my wife.  I miss my fireplace.  I miss Nat King Cole.”  It’s brilliant; it’s sad; it’s funny; it’s Homicide refusing to cave to conventions while still remaining true to the spirit of the season.


It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “A Very Sunny Christmas”

Mac and Charlie delve into the origins of their holiday traditions to discover that most of them are entrenched in illegal and/or duplicitous activity.  Don’t let the chipper time of year fool you; this episode is still Sunny at its misanthropic best as the gang tries to dole out heaping spoonfuls of Christmas cheer as only they can, including but not limited to drunken caroling and chucking rocks at passing trains.


Oh, and you’ll see one of the funniest sight gags the show’s ever done as Frank’s humiliation reaches new lows:  in a room full of people celebrating the holiday, he crawls naked from the couch he’s been hiding in to eavesdrop.  This might make me the worst person ever, but this Sunny is a must-watch staple to warm me every December.


The League of Gentlemen, “Christmas Special”

League of Gentlemen certainly qualifies as the most esoteric show on this list, so unless you’ve seen the show and are familiar with its zany characters, it will mean very little to you if I were to expound on how the League uses the expanded running time to delve more deeply into fan favorite characters like the world’s most unfortunate vet Dr. Chinnery, the alcohol-swilling Reverend Bernice, and the awkward innuendo machine that is Herr Lipp.  Still, you can appreciate how the show’s portmanteau approach feels like the most warped riff on a Dickensian Christmas story that you’ll ever see, hear, or readfrom the detail-rich sets to the smallest prop.


As with all work from the League (which includes Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss himself), the mix of comedy and horror may not be for all tastes, but if you’re up for a bizarre breed of British humor with a generous sprinkle of Dickens thrown in, check it out.  Also featuring the most hilariously terrifying vision of a hooded figure streaking across the sky shouting, “Merry Christmas.”  And to all a goodnight!


The Office (UK), “Christmas Special”

Of all the episodes on this list, this one will leave you with the warm-and-fuzzies like no other.  Also serving as the finale of this brilliant series from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, this episode touches us so deeply because of the emotional payoff that results.  We’ve been following cringeworthy David Brent for two series’ worth of awkward moments, so he–and the audience–has earned the right to redeem himself after the documentary has made him out to seem like a real jerk.  Gervais slays it in his performance, and we’re rooting for Brent even as we’re snickering at him for producing that music video of his Simply Red cover, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”  One word: doves.


But the sweetest and best–not to mention most inevitable–result goes down like a comforting mug of cocoa. Tim’s gift of an art set to Dawn, fresh off her boyfriend crushing her dreams of illustrating, provides the perfect Christmas message: never give up.  The result of this realization is one of the iconic moments of modern television and will leave you smiling from ear to ear and your heart swelling with joy.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go re-watch this episode for the dozenth time.


Did any of your favorites not end up on my nice list?  Sound off in the comments!