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Fond and frustrating farewells for TV series

A group of travelers is unexpectedly stranded on a tropical island far, far away from the rest of civilization. Year after year they struggle with their own humanity and suffer devastation when attempts to escape their predicament end in crushing failure.

No, not Lost. It's Gilligan's Island. Same basic plot, but sooo much easier to understand, and the only Smoke Monster appearance was when Gilligan accidently set the Professor's coconut telephone on fire.

Sadly, the Lost era comes to a close this Sunday and then millions of couch potatoes will have to find a new obsession to dissect at the watercoolers at work.

So the only question left is: Will the Lost finale be any good? Will it answer all the lingering issues? Or will it just end with a Journey song playing in the background for no reason whatsoever?

Here are some other notable TV shows that had memorable finales — for better or for worse.

1. M*A*S*H (Feb. 28, 1983): This 2½ hour marathon — titled "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" — was once the most watched episode in TV history. Just write off the first 90 minutes, a mish-mash of Capt. Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) and the personal torment that leads him to a stay at a mental hospital. (How cheery. Then again, it was a show about a war.) Just fast-forward to the final half-hour for the teary partings at the 4077th MASH unit and Pierce's memorable departure in a chopper and his BFF's final message spelled out in stones: "GOODBYE."

History's verdict: Unlike war itself, the end justified the means.

2. ST. ELSEWHERE (May 25, 1988): If you never watched the dramedy hospital series, just ask a knowing friend "about the snow globe in St. Elsewhere." Then ear-muff it while your buddy fires off more profanities than the entire cast of Jersey Shore on a Jagermeister bender. Turns out the entire "show" never happened; it just played out in the mind of an autistic child. I think. Frankly, I'm still too mad to watch it again.

History's verdict: It's aggravating enough to make co-star Howie Mandel pull his hair out.

3. NEWHART (May 21, 1990): What kept a TV audience glued to the story of a Vermont innkeeper for eight seasons? It's wasn't the magnetism of Bob Newhart and Mary Frann. Nor the Marx-esque moments of Larry, his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl. It was the faith that a sublime ending was in the works: Newhart waking up with his old TV wife Suzanne Pleshette to tell her about a crazy dream he had.

History's verdict: The finale will always be better remembered than the series itself.

4. SEINFELD (May 14, 1998): An excruciating two-part finale involving every bit character the writers could corral including the fake George Steinbrenner, the low talker and of course, the Soup Nazi. It all culminated with Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer being sentenced to one year in jail for selfishness. The only real victims of any crime were the loyal fans, who just hoped the show would spare a square of humor for the final episode.

History's verdict: Did you really expect "a show about nothing" to have a meaningful ending?

5. SOPRANOS (June 10, 2007): There's no point trying to recap six seasons of whacking, hitting, pinching, ratting and clipping. In fact, we're pretty sure half those words mean roughly the same thing. Here's all you need to know about the finale: Tony, Carmela and A.J. have dinner with Journey's Don't Stop Believin' playing in the background. The whole scene — and series — cuts to black before the song ends. What happens afterward? Not even Steve Perry, Journey's former lead singer who gave permission for the song's use just three days before the show aired, admits to knowing the truth.

History's verdict: Somebody better 'fess up what happens or you'll see Who's Cryin' Now.

5 memorable last lines

Cheers (May 20, 1993): Sam (Ted Danson, left) to one final customer: "Sorry, we're closed."

Star Trek: The Next Generation (May 21, 1994): Capt. Picard to his crew at the poker table: "I should have done this a long time ago … So, five card stud, nothing wild. And the sky's the limit."

E.R. (April 2, 2009): Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) gets the honors: "Dr. Greene … are you coming?"

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (March 19, 1977): The entire cast sings It's a Long Way to Tipperary and leaves the newsroom.

The Fugitive (Aug. 29, 1967): Narrator William Conrad speaks the final words: "Tuesday, August 29: The day the running stopped."

Coming Sunday

Times TV/Media Critic Eric Deggans provides the ultimate guide to the finale for Lost.

In Floridian.

Fond and frustrating farewells for TV series 05/16/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 17, 2010 11:24am]

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