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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best TV Series Finales

See what show managed to top the last episodes of ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Newhart’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy’

'Six Feet Under' and 'M*A*S*H'

'Six Feet Under' and 'M*A*S*H'

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Great TV shows don't always have great endings. It's been 17 years since Seinfeld signed off and people are still bitching about the finale — and don't even bring up the ending of Lost to the diehard fans of the show. (Poor Damon Lindelof will likely be taking shit for that until the day he dies, and you have to have sympathy for the guy.) Expectations go through the roof when any series concludes, with so many story lines having to be resolved and so many characters needing a proper goodbye. It's damn near impossible to get it just right — the people of Twitter are an unforgiving bunch — and Mad Men's final episode this month is bound to inspire a lot of bitching, moaning, and frame-by-frame analyses of its last seconds. We decided it was a good time to poll our readers and see what shows they felt ended on the best note. Here are the results. 

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ST. ELSEWHERE, Ed Begley Jr, Cindy Pickett, Bruce Greenwood, David Morse, Denzel Washington, 1982-1988

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10

St. Elsewhere, ‘The Last One’ (1988)

File under: Huh? In one of the more bizarre endings to a series (especially such a respected one), this quirky medical drama turned out to be an imaginary tale dreamt up by the autistic son of would-be doctor Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders).  Apparently, the lad had been staring endlessly into a snow globe that housed a miniature version of the hospital and created an elaborate alternate universe for his family. Yup, bet you didn't see that one coming. It was an oddball but original way to end the NBC show, which ran for six critically acclaimed years from 1982-1988.

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ABC

9

Lost, ‘The End’ (2010)

There's polarizing, and then there's Lost. And the ABC show's series finale is no different: You either loved it or loathed it. After starting with an incredible opening act – a plane crash leaves dozens of survivors stranded on a mysterious tropical island filled with polar bears, smoke monsters and a hatch with set of seemingly magical numbers – the sci-fi series, which ran for six seasons from 2004-2010, turned into a muddled mess. Fans huddled around their televisions in hopes of getting answers to the myriad questions the show had racked up over the years. Instead, they were left with one giant head-scratcher to ponder: What the hell happened? Had it all been a moving spiritual allegory or one giant cop out? The debate rages on.

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FX

8

Sons of Anarchy, ‘Papa’s Goods’ (2014)

For seven seasons, this high-octane FX drama, about the tight-knit, outlaw motorcycle gang lead by Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), kept fans' adrenaline pumping with never-ending WTF moments. So it was no surprise that the series, which ran from 2008-2014, went out with a bang (or, in this case, a crash). Leaving a trail of blood in his path, Jax – who had managed to elude death over and over again – made the ultimate sacrifice to save his sons from a life of crime by committing suicide during a cathartic car-chase scene. Arms extended, hair blowing in the wind, while his swan song, "Come Join the Murder" (performed by SOA house band the Forest Rangers), plays as he embraces his fate.

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FX

7

Justified, ‘The Promise’ (2015)

For six seasons, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) served up Old West-style justice in modern-day Kentucky on FX. From 2010 to 2015, Justified racked up quite a body count. But the biggest twist the series finale offered was that the main characters actually made it out alive: Raylan moved to Florida to be with his daughter; Ava (Joelle Carter) and her son fled to California; and likable bad boy Boyd (Walton Goggins) went to prison instead of the grave. Hell, he even got a friendly-ish visit from Raylan in a flash-forward four years later. It was a bittersweet ending to a series that pitted the two men against each other for the entire run of the show (and bucked the Elmore Leonard novella that inspired the series, in which Boyd died). But for fans, it was nice to see their favorites walk off into the sunset.

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THE SHIELD, Michael Chiklis, 'Bitches Brew', (Season 7, episode 7, October 14, 2008), 2002-08. Photo: Prashant Gupta / © Fox / Courtesy: Everett Collection

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6

The Shield, ‘Family Meeting’ (2008)

Ah, corrupt cops. . .always giving us something to talk about. And the series finale of this gritty show, which followed a grossly unethical four-man anti-gang unit of the LAPD and aired on FX from 2002-2008, is no different. After spiraling out of control for seven seasons, their collective malfeasance (murder, extortion, drug trafficking, you name it) finally caught up with them. At the center of it all was Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), who was more than willing to throw his comrades under the bus to gain immunity and keep his job: one commits murder-suicide while another winds up in prison. In the end, Vic winds up all alone when his family is sent into the Witness Protection Program and he's demoted to a desk job, stuck in his own self-created circle of Hell. Or is he? He is still a cop, after all.

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HBO

5

The Sopranos, ‘Made in America’ (2007)

It was the gasp heard 'round the world: Otherwise known as, that moment when millions of TV viewers thought their cable went out during the most crucial scene of the popular HBO show's finale. Following an intense mob war that left most of his cohorts dead, mobster Tony Soprano and his family meet at a diner for dinner. In a drawn-out scene, he surveys the eatery, looking up expectedly (or is it nervously?) each time the front door opens and a sketchy-looking patron enters. One by one, though, his family arrives. First his wife (Edie Falco), then his son (Robert Iler). Then, we watch as his daughter (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) struggles to parallel park outside. Back and forth she goes, unable to make the car fit. Inside, Tony continues to look around. Until finally, the door opens and … the screen goes black. Was it his daughter? Was it a hitman coming to take out Tony? In the words of the rock band Journey: Don't stop believin' … or debating how the show ended.

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CBS

4

Newhart, ‘The Last Newhart’ (1990)

In one of the most surprising endings in television history, Bob Newhart pulled the wool over everyone's eyes when it was revealed that his hit 1980s CBS sitcom, Newhart, was all just a dream. Spanning eight seasons from 1982 to 1990, the show's namesake brought laughs as New York transplant-turned-inn keeper Dick Loudon who, alongside wife Joanna (Mary Frann), juggled a cast of eccentric characters in a quirky Vermont town. (Who could forget the bumbling trio of brothers who always announced their presence with the same introduction, "Hi, I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl. And this is my other brother Darryl"?) But Newhart had the last laugh when the final scene reprised his role as Dr. Bob Hartley from his previous hit sitcom, the 1970s Bob Newhart Show. In bed next to his former leading lady, Suzanne Pleshette, he dropped the (hilarious) bombshell that the last eight years were all just a side effect of eating sushi before going to bed.

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SIX FEET UNDER, Peter Krause, 'Grinding the Corn', (Season 4), 2001-2005, © HBO / Courtesy: Everett Collection

3

Six Feet Under, ‘Everyone’s Waiting’ (2005)

This groundbreaking HBO show, centered around a family-owned funeral home, pulled itself from the brink of disaster after a bumpy couple of seasons, dusted itself off and delivered a powerful final episode when the five-season series ended in 2005. Long before "Chandelier," singer-songwriter Sia made a lasting impression on Fisher family fans with "Breathe Me," which soundtracked the haunting last few minutes of the finale. As youngest sibling Claire (Lauren Ambrose) set off from California to take a job in New York, we saw the characters' lives unfold and learned how (and when) they died, a trademark of the unorthodox dramatic black comedy. It was a poignant, perfect ending to an almost-perfect show.

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MASH (aka M*A*S*H), Mike Farrell, Alan Alda, 1972-83, TM and Copyright (c)20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

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2

M*A*S*H, ‘Goodbye, Farewell and Amen’ (1983)

For a series known for its laughs, M*A*S*H went down in history with a real tear-jerker. More than 30 years after the wildly popular Korean War-based dramedy, which starred Alan Alda and aired on CBS for 11 seasons from 1972-1983, signed off, its series finale still holds the record-breaking title of highest-rated single television broadcast ever. The emotionally charged two-and-a-half-hour episode was watched by a whopping 125 million people – unheard of in this day-and-age – and delved into the fates of the members of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital as they went their separate ways. One of the most memorable moments came when Hawkeye Pierce (Alda), committed in a psych ward, recounts a tale of being on a bus when a woman smothered a squawking chicken so that they could stay hidden from an enemy patrol, only to learn the "chicken" was a crying baby.

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Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) - Breaking Bad _ Season 5B _ Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

AMC

1

Breaking Bad, ‘Felina’ (2013)

Like a racehorse on crystal meth, this hit AMC drama galloped out of the gate in 2008 and never looked back, picking up speed (and accolades) with each passing season. The tale of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a terminally ill high-school chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime, took viewers on a white-knuckle ride of emotions – sometimes funny, sometimes stressful, but always engaging. After five seasons, the series' finale, which aired in September 2013, pulled no punches: Walt outsmarted everyone, killed his enemies, dropped money off to his family and set his captive right-hand man, Jesse (Aaron Paul), free. Our "everyman" drug kingpin did all of this before dying – not from cancer but a gunshot wound – on the floor of his treasured meth lab while Badfinger's "Baby Blue" played. Call it a happy-ish ending for America's favorite antihero.

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