In television, all's bad that ends badly

From The Sopranos to Waking the Dead, the best series consistently fail to finish on a satisfying note, says Ben Walsh

Waking the Dead, the reliably bonkers BBC crime series featuring Trevor Eve's exquisitely hammy Detective Superintendent Peter Boyd, came to an end this month.

And, like so many great TV shows before it, it ended rather tamely. The final two episodes were the usual giddy blend of gore, torture, tension and torment, with Boyd's team investigating the disappearance of 16 homeless boys. But the final scene felt limp and unfulfilling. Boyd, having been turfed out of his Cold Case Unit for his unorthodox methods, had a brief chat with his team underneath Waterloo Bridge, before setting off who knows where... Couldn't we have had more? A bit of resolution? A happy ending?

Most TV shows – American and British – seem to end terribly these days. There are no elegant conclusions, just a feeling of loss and confusion. Compelling series like Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes and Lost finished in a sea of bafflement and quasi-religious piffle... and, by the way, here's a spoiler alert for those still hoping to watch the box sets.

So, Gene Hunt was God? Or a guardian angel? Or some sort of "entertainer" for murdered cops in Purgatory? That meant Hunt was aware of this all along – from the first episode of Life on Mars. Which rather negated a lot of the series, didn't it?

Lost started so well, kicking off with a sensationally visceral plane crash and an atmosphere of genuine creepiness, but ending with the cop out that all the characters were... wait for it... dead. Life on Mars had a similarly explosive start. However, once the writers had patted themselves on the back for their wonderful brainchild and viewers had started relishing Gene Hunt's witticisms, said writers lost track of where they were going. Sci-fi concepts such as these really have to lead somewhere. They are not Holby City or Hollyoaks. "Great idea" television must end satisfactorily. It very rarely does. Also see Heroes.

The epic American drama The Wire came close, hinting at what its large cast of characters would do with their lives, but The Sopranos (the greatest of all US TV series) ended too mystifyingly. Its creator, David Chase, has maintained that all the clues are there in the final sequences and lengthy essays have been written about what actually happens to the Soprano family in that diner. Are they in a witness protection scheme? Is Tony rubbed out at his table? But really, it was an untidy letdown. In the end, you just need to know that Tony Soprano has been bumped off. You need to see it.

Ending a series poorly isn't a new phenomenon. The wonderful sitcom Cheers, which ran for 11 seasons between 1982 and 1993, ended on an unnecessary downer. Instead of allowing Ted Danson's Sam Malone to ride into the sunset with his great love, Diane (Shelley Long), the writers had him choosing to stay in his Boston bar with an unhinged postman, Cliff, and the sozzled accountant Norm. Quantum Leap (1989 -93) also ended glumly, with Scott Bakula's Dr Sam Beckett deciding to be trapped in his time-skipping purgatory for eternity. The list is endless. In the final scene of Angel we see the vampire busters on the verge of death. In Frasier the shrink lands in Chicago, going on to who knows where. In Blake's 7 the crew are wiped out and Avon is executed off screen. In Dallas, JR toys with shooting himself. Of course, some great shows end badly because they are cancelled – Twin Peaks, which ended on an unresolved cliffhanger, and Deadwood are the most dispiriting examples.

One dreads to think what the BBC will do with its long-running guilty pleasure, Spooks – one very much doubts that all will end merrily, Harry Pearce skipping through a Perthshire field with Ruth. My money is on witnessing the agonising, grisly death of Pearce, Ruth or both – just to make the heavy-handed point that working for the intelligence services is a very bleak business indeed. Wouldn't it be kinder to end it like Friends (Rachel and Ross end up together) or the unequivocably lovely Due South, in which the mountie, Benton, his pal Ray and his wolf, Diefenbaker, walk off into the sunset together?

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone