Everyone remembers the saddest television finales — Six Feet Under, Boy Meets World, Cheers — but it's much easier to forget about TV show happy endings that are actually sad. As is often the case in film, series finales are usually presented in a positive light, but turn out to be kind of bleak when you start to think about them.
This insidious phenomenon is especially common in sitcoms, as those worlds tend to have a glossy sheen to them that helps keep the action light and playful. Although this picturesque facade gels smoothly with the majority of comedy series, it's hard to put a positive spin on a conclusive event, and close inspection of some series enders reveals that all that glitters isn't gold.
Of course, the confusion isn't limited to sitcoms. There's really no genre that's safe, and when a later season of a show takes a dip in quality, chances are good that the final episode will be certifiably tone deaf. Even though some TV series with deceptively sad finales wrap up in a satisfying manner, it's always a little jarring when a lighthearted show takes a melancholic left turn.
After nine seasons, the titular mother (Cristin Milioti) of How I Met Your Mother is in the show for like a minute, then she dies. It feels like she only exists so that Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Ted (Josh Radnor) can end up together, even though viewers have seen time and again that Ted and Robin are fundamentally incompatible, and that their relationship is destined to fail. Also, what kind of dad talks to his kids about having sex with random women this much? Ted doesn't seem to have matured much from the series's start, and his kids are inevitably going to have some sexual hangups when they come of age.
Actors: Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan, + more
Premiered: 2005Where to watch
After watching Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Sarah's (Yvonne Strahovski) love slowly develop over the course of five years, the final episode comes as a slap in the face for longtime fans. Just as things are starting to wrap up, Sarah is brainwashed, and forgets all about the couple's intimate history.
The episode ends with them kissing, which implies that Chuck has successfully restored Sarah's memories, but this hope is never explicitly confirmed within the show (the creators even refused to confirm or deny anything after the fact). The reality is, there's a 50/50 chance that her memories are not restored, and that the road ahead of the couple is long and hard.
When the show starts, the pair's love is all an act, as Sarah is tasked with impersonating Chuck's girlfriend so that she can protect the super-computer inside his brain. However, as the series progresses, Chuck's nerdy charm slowly wins over Sarah, and the two actually end up getting married at one point. If one is to believe that the finale ends on a negative note, then the couple has to go through this courting all over again, and lightning may not strike twice.
Even if Sarah does get (some of) her memory back, the mere fact that Chuck has to convince his wife she loves him is heartbreaking, yet the show presents this tragedy in a characteristically lighthearted manner. Sarah has it even worse, as her memory was forcibly removed from her head, meaning that her life was basically stolen.
Actors: Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez, Sarah Lancaster, Adam Baldwin, + more
Premiered: 2007Where to watch
Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) end up together (because of course they do); Monica (Courtney Cox) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) have twin girls and embark on a life outside the city; and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) marries Mike (Paul Rudd), who perfectly counterbalances her zaniness. Happily ever after for the whole gang, right?
Wait, what about Joey (Matt LeBlanc)? By the end of the series, Joey is in his late 30s, and is totally alone, even though he seems focused on finding true love. Viewers get the vibe that Joey's just along for the ride, so his future doesn't really matter, but that's kind of tragic when you think about it. To make things worse, Joey — the two-season spin-off that focuses on the struggling actor — sees him in a one-sided relationship with a woman who doesn't share his desire to get married. Poor guy.
Actors: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow
Premiered: 1994Where to watch
In the final season of Frasier, the titular character (Kelsey Grammer) starts dating a matchmaker named Charlotte (Laura Linney) who he connects deeply with, even though they theoretically shouldn't be a good pair. As the series comes to a close, so too do many of Frasier's dreams. His radio program wraps up, as does his relationship with Charlotte, who moves back to Chicago.
As his romance fizzles and his family moves on — Daphne (Jane Leeves) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) have their first child while Frasier's dad (John Mahoney) gets married — Frasier accepts a job in San Francisco, where he'll have his own TV show. As he's preparing to leave, he says goodbye to his loved ones, and acknowledges how they've moved on with their lives; it's almost as if he recognizes he has no place there anymore. Then the episode ends with the revelation that he's actually going to Chicago to win back Charlotte.
Fans have to wonder why he's passing up such an amazing career opportunity for a woman he's only known a few months. Does he truly want to spend his life with her, or is he simply envious of his family members, who've found fulfillment through love? Plus, whatever happened to the whole Roz (Peri Gilpin) and Frasier thing? There was something there and it feels like a missed opportunity.
Actors: Kelsey Grammer, Jane Leeves, David Hyde Pierce
Premiered: 1993Where to watch