10. Arrested Development
Arrested Development departed the way it had arrived, with just a small but devoted cult of fans who loved the show's rapid-fire spray of deadpan, absurdist gags, including in-jokes that frequently pushed against the fourth wall like an elbow to the ribs or a wink to the faithful. The finale was in keeping with that spirit, with many of the meta-jokes coming at the expense of Fox, which had the audacity to cancel the series after three low-rated seasons. The last episode settled the legal troubles of George Sr. that had been the plot catalyst for the whole series, but it also left the wacky Bluth family in chaos, with Lindsay about to leave her marriage, GOB stealing his nephew's teenage girlfriend, Lucille selling the family business, and Michael discovering his son's sorta-incestuous relationship with cousin Maeby. The series ends as George Michael tells his father that family is a bond that lasts forever – both a blessing and a curse on this show. Oh, and Maeby pitches Ron Howard (in real life, AD's producer and narrator) on a series about the Bluth family's misadventures. Howard replies that the premise would work better as a movie, a wink to viewers that seemed to promise a big-screen version in the near future. That hasn't come to pass yet, though AD is finally returning as a series, seven years later, on Netflix, with 15 episodes available to stream starting May 26. Which means that the 2006 finale wasn't really the finale after all. That's the kind of head-spinning paradox that fills AD fans with glee.
9. The Cosby Show
After eight years of paternal wisdom, maternal eye-rolls, and kiddie adorableness, Cliff and Clair Huxtable were finally ready to be empty-nesters. Bill Cosby could bask in a job well done: He'd saved the sitcom (and NBC), he'd made prime-time safe for well-to-do African-American characters (and vice versa), and he'd raised a fictional brood of well-adjusted youngsters. Plus, he'd turned his celebrated stand-up routines into eight seasons of solid laughs. He deserved a self-congratulatory moment that acknowledged the show's legacy beyond the Huxtable family's townhouse. And so the show ended with Cliff and Clair (Phylicia Rashad) dancing alone in their house. Then they broke the fourth wall, waltzed off the set, past the audience, out of the studio, and into history.
Cheers was the comedy that invented the soapy sitcom cliffhanger, dragging out the sexual tension between Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Shelley Long) for years, then disrupting their relationship with multiple break-ups and reunions. Yet after 11 years of postponing its characters' evolution, the finale's tying up of loose ends seemed abrupt. And out-of-character, too. Dimwit Woody gets elected to the city council. Norm, usually rooted to his bar stool, gets a job, thanks to Woody. Money-grubbing Rebecca marries a blue-collar guy. And Sam gets back together with Diane and prepared to move to California with her. . . well, almost. Sam regains his senses, dumps Diane, and goes back to his first love, the bar. He alone manages to strike all the right notes, winding down the series by adjusting that picture of Geronimo on the wall (an in-joke homage to an early Cheers mainstay, the late Nicholas "Coach" Colasanto) and telling a late-night customer, "The bar's closed."
The Friends finale was thoroughly predictable but no less satisfying for that. After ten years, would you really have been happy if Ross and Rachel hadn't finally gotten together for good? Or if Chandler and Monica hadn't finally become suburban parents? Even Phoebe found long-term romantic happiness with Mike (recurring guest star Paul Rudd). And Joey got to go to Hollywood to pursue his acting dream. (Alas, in the spinoff Joey, the dream proved more enticing than the reality.) Besides, after a decade of sipping coffee from oversize mugs at Central Perk or lounging in Monica's oversize apartment, it was time for these now-thirtysomethings to leave their cushy nests and grow up.
6. Sex and the City
How satisfying was the Sex and the City finale? So satisfying that the two reunion feature films that followed seemed thoroughly superfluous. After all, the capper to the show's six seasons managed to give all four gals the happy endings fans wanted for them, if a little more tearfully than the characters themselves might have envisioned. Miranda makes peace with living in Brooklyn with her husband, son, and dementia-stricken mother-in-law. Charlotte and Harry are finally going to be parents, albeit of a baby adopted from overseas. Samantha finally feels an emotion akin to love, recognizing after Smith's grand romantic gesture that he really is the most decent and caring guy she's ever dated. But most of the fireworks (and waterworks) are reserved for Carrie and Big – who finally wakes up from a six-year coma of emotional unavailability – to realize that Carrie is The One, forcing him to fly to Paris and rescue her from her tragic mistake of moving in with that self-absorbed Russian artist. Carrie gets her white-knight fantasy, albeit with a few slapstick laughs thrown in. Still, there was one last, major, ultimately anticlimactic reveal: after six years, we finally learned that Big's actual first name was. . . John.
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