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Finales are less relevant than ever before

We talk a lot about finales as separate entities, which is as much a byproduct of living in the overnight-review age as anything else. When it was more common for series, whether or drama or comedy, to rely on episodic structure for the long haul, then viewing the finale as a kind of special closing event made sense because that event could come at any time. Very few shows earn their lengths; many spin on longer than might be creatively healthy simply because everybody wants to keep working and the network wants to keep broadcasting a hit, so finales either feel like consolation prizes tossed to the viewers who’ve remained to stagger over the finish line or sudden walls thrown up to halt the narrative when a show’s canceled. Pretty much every major sitcom of the 1980s and 1990s operated like this, with sentimental event-shows used to end their eras, while dramas have always tended to peter out or leave too soon. Off the top of my head, the final episode of Freaks and Geeks is nicely rounded and was created as a series finale when the creative team knew they were doomed, but it works as an episode in its own right, too.

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