10 Finales That Dropped the Ball – Joker Op-Ed

Sometimes a show just can’t keep the quality up to the end. A lot of the times shows go downhill for a while after they start running low on ideas, and sometimes they just won’t give up and die with dignity. However, even if the writing is on the wall and you’re given a year to plan to go out, you can still screw it all up with a bad ending. 

For this entry, I am going to make two caveats:

  1. The episode has to be intended as a finale. That means either it’s clear the production team knew the show was over, or didn’t have reason to believe it was going to keep going. So cliffhangers don’t count unless they were made AFTER the show was cancelled. Additionally, if an episode was meant to be the finale, but the network aired it out of order, only the intended finale counts. 
  2. If the show was rebooted later, the original finale still counts. 

Also, The Sopranos is not going to be on here, because I have a long-running theory that makes me like that finale, and I refuse to debate it right now. If I’m wrong, then… well, it sucks. 

But I’m not wrong and the ending is fine.

RUNNER UP: Of Course He’s Dead (Two and a Half Men) 

The Show: Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) is a jingle writer who lives a hedonistic lifestyle. His brother, Alan (Jon Cryer), and nephew Jake (Angus T. Jones) move in after Alan’s wife leaves him. Eventually, after Charlie dies, his house is bought by billionaire Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher), who lets Alan and Jake stay. Eventually Jake leaves and Charlie’s unknown biological daughter Jenny (Amber Tamblyn) moves in. 

I don’t want to assemble cast photos, so I’m just using this one.

The Finale: Alan receives a letter from a lawyer saying that Charlie has millions in unclaimed royalties, but can’t find Charlie’s death certificate. It turns out that Charlie is actually alive, having been kept prisoner by his crazy stalker Rose (Melanie Lynskey), after she caught him in bed with a goat. Alan, Jake, and Walden start to receive threats and the police tell them that they caught Charlie, but it’s actually Christian Slater. Charlie approaches the house, but a piano he ordered crushes him. The camera then shows creator Chuck Lorre, who says “winning!” then is crushed by a second piano.

It’s Meta, but not in a good way.

This doesn’t make the list because this show had pretty much lost all of its quality when Charlie Sheen left. The writers never figured out what to do with Walden or Jenny, constantly shifting their characters, and it just kind of limped on for four years. Ensemble casts exist on relationships and when you can’t keep characters consistent, then the relationships can’t be consistent. However, dedicating your finale to throwing a tantrum at Charlie Sheen over him being a d*ck doesn’t really age well, particularly since it’s been revealed that Sheen’s behavior was related to him being diagnosed HIV positive. While the viewers would have understood what was happening at the time, I think anyone that watches this in a decade (if anyone does) probably won’t get what the hell happened and it’ll just seem like a waste of time.

10) These are the Voyages… (Star Trek: Enterprise)

The Show: This show takes place before any previous Star Trek series, in the 22nd century, aboard the spaceship Enterprise, the first vessel capable of real, effective interstellar exploration by humanity. The crew includes Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), Science Officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), Chief Engineer Trip Tucker (Connor Trinneer), Tactical Officer Reed (Dominic Keating), Communications Officer Sato (Linda Park), Helmsman Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), and Medical Officer Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley). 

The uniforms somehow are better and worse than other shows.

The Finale: Taking place in the 24th Century, Star Trek: The Next Generation characters William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) are looking for guidance on an issue (the TNG Episode “The Pegasus”) and decide to review the decommissioning of the first Enterprise. They interact at points with the Enterprise crew, who are holograms here. Captain Archer is set to give a speech, but gets sidetracked trying to rescue the kidnapped daughter of an ambassador.  The kidnappers board the ship and Trip Tucker dies saving Captain Archer. Archer makes his speech and Riker figures out what he’s going to do. The last shot is a montage of Star Trek footage and Captains Kirk, Picard, and Archer giving the “where no man has gone before” speech.

Congrats to Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis for making the best and worst lists.

This would probably be higher up if I had ever really liked Enterprise, but it remains the worst Star Trek series in my opinion. The only episodes I really liked were the ones set in the Mirror Universe where humans were the bad guys, because those seemed original and compelling, but most of the series just felt like recycled old ideas with skimpier outfits. What a waste of a Bakula. However, this has to go down as one of the worst finales because it’s a finale that doesn’t even really feature the characters of the show. Instead, the episode takes place during a different series and everyone from Enterprise appears only by hologram. Moreover, the events in the hologram take place six years after the rest of the series without a compelling reason for doing so and one of the main characters is killed as an afterthought. This episode was so bad that I don’t think I’ve seen a list of the worst Star Trek properties that didn’t include it, often at number one. It was so bad that it ended 18 consecutive years of Star Trek being on the air. When you can tank an entire franchise for a while, you earn this spot.

9) Remember the Monsters? (Dexter)

The Show: Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a serial killer who targets other serial killers. He uses skills taught to him by his adopted father (James Remar) to avoid detection and eliminate the monsters who evade the law. He spends most of the series hiding it from his sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), only for her to find out what he does in season 7. Also, she’s in love with him despite them being raised as siblings, so… that’s a thing. Look, there’s a reason I tell people to stop watching after season 5. 

And that reason is not just the marketing.

The Finale: Dexter is planning on fleeing the country. Debra gets shot by serial killer Oliver Saxon (Darri Ingolfsson) while a hurricane prevents Dexter’s flight. Dexter leaves his son Harrison with his girlfriend Hannah and heads to the hospital where he is told Debra will recover. Saxon is captured and Debra tells Dexter to live a happy life, but then suffers a clot and goes into a coma. Dexter then kills Saxon in police custody and pulls Debra off life support. He takes her body and drops it into the ocean as he drives into the hurricane. Later, he’s seen working as a lumberjack in Oregon.

Yes, the famously unrecognizable “serial killer with a beard.”

I have to admit I’ve softened towards this over the years, because for a long time I considered it the worst finale ever. It’s dropped down the list for two reasons: 1) Jennifer Carpenter’s performance as Debra is actually so good it almost single-handedly makes this episode okay. 2) Other shows since (mostly Breaking Bad) have convinced me that giving a bad person a happy ending isn’t inherently bad. However, I still think it’s a terrible ending to this show. A big part of why is that it missed the tone of the rest of the series, having a somber and sincere quality that the rest of the show never had. That might have worked for a finale, except that all of the sincerity felt crammed in and manufactured, rather than developing naturally. The characters are told that Debra is going to be okay, but their last conversation is still them saying goodbye in a last-rites kind of way. Then she dies anyway, making the previous recovery nothing but a device to keep the audience off-guard, particularly since the clot happens off-screen apropos of nothing. Oh, and as she’s dying, she tells him she loves him, which means… she might have been okay if he had left her on the machines? So, Dexter killed her, but it’s not really given as much weight as it should. Oh, and then the ending is that he’s abandoned his son and girlfriend (who he could find and join) to go be a lumberjack and somehow survived a hurricane, which was just such a cop-out. Also, can someone from Miami Metro get fired for being just the worst investigators on Earth? For what was briefly one of my favorite shows, the mighty fell hard.

8) Into That Good Night (Roseanne)

The Show: Roseanne (the show) focused on the lives of the Conner family: Roseanne (Roseanne Barr), her husband Dan (John Goodman), Roseanne’s sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), and Dan and Roseanne’s kids Becky (Lecy Goranson/Sarah Chalke), Darlene (Sara Gilbert), D.J. (Michael Fishman), and Baby Jerry (Cole and Morgan Roberts). They’re a working-class family in the 80s and 90s living in Illinois, and possibly one of the most realistic ones ever put on television.

Still more attractive than the average person, but not as much as most shows.

The Finale: In the 9th season of the show, the Conners win the lottery, suddenly becoming very wealthy, but Dan and Roseanne’s marriage has been on the rocks throughout the whole season, culminating in a revelation that he cheated on her. During the finale, after the family welcomes a new grandson from Darlene’s marriage, everyone is set to move on with their lives. Then, in the last 10 minutes of the show, Roseanne reveals to the audience that the entire show had just been a book she was writing. Dan was dead from a heart attack, Jackie was gay, and Darlene and Becky were, in fact, married to each-other’s husbands. No explanation is given for any of this except that Roseanne thought it was more interesting this way.

I’m not spending money to screenshot the last episode in good quality.

Roseanne had taken a massive dive in the last season due to destroying the thing that most people liked about the show, it’s blue-collar realism. The Conners were constantly screwed by normal problems that most sitcoms would just gloss over, like a malfunctioning fridge they can’t afford to replace or a light bill late fee that builds up. They lived the way that a lot of America lived. Once they were rich, that stuff all fell away and they stopped being relatable. That was bad enough, but to literally spend the last 10 minutes of the show revealing that everything in the show was fake, even within the reality of the show, was just icing on the crapcake. Roseanne is revealed to be a writer, a profession that stood completely against her character’s usual employment in various menial jobs. Dan’s dead, meaning that any of their drama in the last season was just Roseanne taking shots at her deceased husband. None of the relationships were real. What’s most astonishing is that all of this was just completely unnecessary. When they rebooted the show, they made the decision to just ignore all of this, which was smarter than anything in the finale.

7) Daybreak (Battlestar Galactica – 2004)

The Show: Humans lived on a set of planets known as the Twelve Colonies. The humans created the Cylons, a race of robots, that then rebelled. There was a peace accord, until the Cylons surprise attack and destroy most of humanity and the planets they populated. Only one military ship survives, the Battlestar Galactica, which sets off with the other ships to head to the thirteenth colony, Earth, while being pursued by Cylons. The survivors include Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos), President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), pilot “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), pilot “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Barber), and scientist Gaius Baltar (James Callis). There are also Cylon infiltrators known as numbers 6 and 8 (Tricia Helfer and Grace Park) 

Symbolism was a thing.

The Finale: Turns out the Cylons got to Earth first, but blew it up. As the group tries to figure out what to do now, the Cylons capture Hera, a human-Cylon hybrid, and are studying how they can reproduce. Admiral Adama orders a rescue. Gaius and Six join the mission, and it’s revealed that the two can see each other’s “inner visions.” It’s complicated to explain, but each one has a hallucination of the other that they talk to, and here it’s revealed that those are not just hallucinations. The rescue ends with an all-out battle that is ended by Gaius promising to give the Cylons back their lost resurrection ability in order to buy peace. He’s told that he sees Angels telling him that both sides are governed by God. However, this ends up failing. The fighting resumes and damage forces Adama to order the ship to jump to anywhere it can. Starbuck uses “All Along the Watchtower” to arrive at our Earth in the distant past. The survivors, and the surviving Cylons, spread out and interbreed with the hominids that populate the planet. Starbuck turns out to be an Angel and disappears. Bob Dylan is implied to be God.

Yes, because interbreeding is just that easy.

Okay, did you read the last four sentences of that summary? Yeah, that’s why this whole thing fell apart. The show, which had been a cold and depressing character study and a cautionary tale against the advances of human technology, ends on a happy note because of a literal deus ex machina. To be clear, this show was almost entirely sci-fi for most of its run, and the concept of having everything in the series designed as part of the ineffable plan by God seems to have been pulled out of nowhere. I once lauded the show Quantum Leap for dealing with cancellation by having an ending that said “God did it,” but that’s because that show’s continuity and logic had never made sense. This show had never even approached that level of metaphysics until the last four episodes hinted at it loosely. A lot of people liked the happy ending, but I will stare into the face of Bob Dylan and walk backwards into Hell proclaiming this to be a complete failure of screenwriting.

6) Project: ALF (ALF)

The Show: Gordon Shumway (Paul Fusco) is an Alien Life Form (ALF) from the destroyed planet Melmac. He follows a radio signal to the home of the Tanners: Willie (Max Wright), Kate (Anne Schedeen), Lynn (Andrea Elson), and Brian (Benji Gregory). The Tanners hide ALF from the Alien Task Force that seeks to hunt him down. 

How did this show work?

The Finale: In the last episode of the original show’s run, ALF is captured by the Alien Task Force. This picks up with ALF in custody under Colonel Milfoil (Martin Sheen) who is going to kill ALF. Two scientists help him escape, but after they are chased by Milfoil, they end up deciding to reveal ALF’s existence to the world. This ends up failing, but Milfoil is fired and ALF is declared an ambassador to Earth. 

They could afford Martin Sheen, but not a better poster.

The original finale of ALF can’t be on here because the show was cancelled unexpectedly and thus ended on a cliffhanger. That’s not the fault of any of the writers, particularly since the show was still in the top 40 at the time and had just had a spin-off last two seasons. Even the network later apologized to the crew, saying that they’d screwed up by cancelling it too early. However, since they were given over a year to come up with a way to end the series with this three-part episode (or TV movie), and had 5 years to think about it before that, this was truly disappointing. Except for ALF, none of the Tanners were present in this, and all we hear is that they went to Iceland. As such, a ton of plotlines, including the cliffhanger about ALF leaving the Tanners, were left unresolved. Moreover, this episode made it clear exactly how much of an a**hole ALF actually was, retroactively making the show less cute. It’s like if you ended the Muppet Show by having Kermit be revealed as a Soviet Spy. Honestly, the cliffhanger would have been a more dignified way to go out.

5) Chapter 73 (House of Cards)

The Show: Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is a politician who constantly lies, cheats, steals and murders his way to becoming the President and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), becomes Vice President. He’s assisted by Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), his Chief of Staff who routinely does Frank’s dirty work. Frank typically narrates to the audience his true, cruel thoughts. 

Behind every man, there’s a woman who would do it better.

The Finale: In Season 6, Claire becomes President following Frank’s impeachment and subsequent getting killed off for being a rapist. Claire also takes over Frank’s role as narrator. Doug, who stood by Frank loyally, has now flipped to testify to all of Claire’s bad acts, but Claire pardons him to gain his silence. In the finale, Claire promises a new level of honesty to America, then creates a new fictional threat so that she can keep her position. Doug is sent in to kill her by some of her rivals, but after he admits he killed Frank, she ends up stabbing him to death and then suffocating him. She turns to the audience and says “No More Pain,” mirroring Frank killing a dog in the pilot. 

Yes, this seems like a thing the President could do and get away with.

This is mostly on here for how completely unnecessary this finale was. After Kevin Spacey was removed from the show for being a rapist, the show was completely justified in writing him out. Despite that, his character still basically dictated everything over the last season. Claire was constantly saying how she denounced his legacy, but she always kept it alive rather than tossing it to the ashcan of history where it belonged. This finale made it much, much worse, focusing on Frank’s last will, which cut Claire out, then revealing Doug to have killed Frank because Frank was hurting his own legacy, then having Claire stab Doug to death in the Oval Office and use one of Frank’s own lines, cementing her as now being essentially just Frank all over again. It essentially made Claire a secondary character in a season where she was supposed to be the lead. If you’re going to write a character out, write them out, don’t let their ghost loom over the entire series. 

4) The End (LOST)

The Show: A bunch of people survive a plane crash and end on an island. The island turned out to be filled with mysteries, ranging from a smoke monster that turns out to be the embodiment of evil, to a hatch that requires a code to keep being entered into it, to some polar bears. The show had too many cast members to really list here, with 14 star roles in the first season alone, but among the key ones in this episode are: Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Hurley (Jorge Garcia), Sawyer (Josh Holloway), and Locke/The Man In Black (Terry O’Quinn). It frequently has flashbacks, flashforwards, and flash-sideways. The last season has two parallel timelines, including a new one in which the crash never happened. 

So. Many. People.

The Finale: Some of the survivors head to the heart of the island, including Jack who has taken on the role of protector of the island. The Man in Black, who is trying to destroy the island, manages to unstop the source of the island’s power, but is killed by Kate. Jack then dies replacing the island’s light. In the alternate timeline, everyone suddenly remembers the island, meet up in a church, and then they are revealed to be dead. 

And the church is super Unitarian, just to hedge bets.

So, from the beginning of the show, a huge number of fans (myself included) were worried that the series would end with the revelation that everyone was actually dead all along. The creators and the writers all strongly denied that it was anything like that. Instead, it’s revealed that, in fact, the events of the island were real, but that the parallel timeline was actually a form of afterlife which is powered by the island, so… I felt like this was cheating. A ton of people were confused by it, a ton more were angered, and I don’t think anyone ever thought it was a perfect way to wrap up the series. The island is revealed to be the source of the light that exists inside of every living thing, but also what grants those things a second chance, represented here as an alternate world where everyone is a little bit closer to what they wanted to be. It’s not a paradise, it’s a purgatory, and then at the end apparently everyone moves on towards the actual afterlife, maybe. If that explanation sounds kind of boring or weird or confusing, then you know why this made this list. 

3) Last Forever (How I Met Your Mother)

The Show: In 2030, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor/Bob Saget) is narrating to his kids the story of how he met their mother (Cristin Milioti). It turns out to be a story involving Ted’s best friends from his 20s and 30s: Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel) and his wife Lily (Alyson Hannigan), Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), and Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris). 

These people are all in great shape despite living at a bar.

The Finale: After spending a season at the weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding, we find out that Ted’s wife is the bass player in their wedding band. While she has met everyone from the group, she has not yet met Ted, until they share an umbrella that they both previously owned. It’s then revealed that the mother, Tracy McConnell, passed away in 2024. The kids reveal that the story was clearly about how Ted is still in love with Robin, and encourage him to get back together with her. The show ends with Ted and Robin smiling at each other.

This would have been an amazing last shot.

This one is really a tragedy on two different levels. The show had always prided itself on the fact that they had already filmed the ending when they started the second season, because that meant that the kids, who had since stopped being kids, would still be in the finale at the same age. Unfortunately, they were so dedicated to this that they stuck to it even after their own writing and character development had rendered it a bad idea. Ted and Robin ending up together was a really good idea for a long time, until we spent two seasons building up Barney’s and Robin’s relationship and then an entire season on their wedding itself, only to have the finale tell us they broke up like 15 minutes later for vague reasons. It also doesn’t help that Cristin Milioti was so much more amazing than expected, particularly in the episode dedicated to her history. Everything about her was so perfect for Ted that you wanted to see them happy together. This meant that when the writers stuck with the original ending, it broke up two relationships we were invested in. At the same time, they undid all of Barney’s character growth and instead ended with him learning to love by being a father. To Neil Patrick Harris’s credit, his performance was so good I almost bought it, but it’s still bad writing. The reason why this is so high is because multiple people apparently brought up that this was a bad idea and that they should ditch the original ending, but the show wanted its gimmick more than a solid conclusion. 

2) The Finale (Seinfeld)

The Show: It’s a show about nothing starring four friends: Jerry Seinfeld (himself), George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards). In general, the series is just about the kind of weird things that happen to the four of them and consists of them talking about it. All four are generally crappy people, but make up for it by being funny. It was created by Larry David and Seinfeld.

Later, everyone would deny hugging Michael Richards.

The Finale: Jerry and George have pitched a series to NBC that resembles Seinfeld called Jerry. The four decide to go to Paris to celebrate before moving to California to work on the show, but a problem on the flight forces them to land in Massachusetts. While they wait for the plane to be fixed, they see a man get carjacked and record it while mocking him. They’re then arrested by the police for violating the Good Samaritan statute by not helping. The four are then put on trial and a number of witnesses from throughout the series testify to their bad character. They are ultimately convicted and put in jail. 

Because Massachusetts doesn’t have bail, apparently.

This one is so high up because Seinfeld was one of the best shows on television and I remember being absolutely pissed off watching the finale. The build-up had been huge. Other shows, including Dharma and Greg, literally had episodes that were based on the assumption that this finale would be amazing. However, I think it completely failed. First off, the set-up was ridiculous. Having the characters get arrested due to an insane law and go to trial immediately was a weird decision. That’s not how laws, courts, or even civil rights work. The fact that the prosecutors are then allowed to parade a list of people as bad character witnesses is even weirder, because, again, not how that works. Also, if they had a duty to provide aid to the victim (they didn’t), they actually did, because they recorded the face of the carjacker on film. That’s more helpful than trying to fight him. Everything about this framing device was stupid. Second, they really just used it to do a glorified clip-show as the finale. That’s one of the weakest ways to handle any episode of television, typically reserved for when shows run out of money for an episode, as opposed to the finale of a top-rated show. Third, finally calling out how bad the characters were in such a stupid fashion basically mocked the audience for liking them. If you’re flipping the bird on the way out, you’ve messed up. While Larry David has defended it, Jerry Seinfeld has pretty much stated that they dropped the ball on this one. I concur.

1) The Iron Throne (Game of Thrones)

The Show: I cannot really summarize this. The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros are thrown into a massive war after the death of the king Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). This ends up massively affecting the Stark family, including Sansa (Sophie Turner), Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), and Arya (Maisie Williams). At the same time, an army of zombie warriors start to descend from the North to destroy the world. Also, the daughter of the previous king, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), hatched three dragons and uses them plus two separate armies to try to come back and retake the throne. Her nephew and lover is Jon Snow (Kit Harington), who is also the adopted brother of the Starks. A lot of people die and there’s a lot of nudity. Also, there’s Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who is amazing, and Cersei and Jaime Lannister (Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who suck.

There’s only one dragon left at this point, sadly.

The Finale: Daenerys has taken over King’s Landing and claimed the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. Unfortunately, even after the people surrendered, Daenerys kept attacking, destroying a ton of the property and killing hundreds or thousands of people for no reason. When confronted, she insists that she has “liberated” the town and that she now plans to “liberate” the rest of the world. After finally realizing that Daenerys will never stop until she has conquered the world in the name of forcing her version of utopia, and will kill anyone that doesn’t submit immediately. Jon kills her and is imprisoned by her troops. Ultimately, he is banished and Bran becomes king. 

“I wanted you to penetrate me, but not with a knife.”

I realize that this probably will not seem as bad years down the line and that the freshness of the wound is why this feels like the worst finale, but I will say that following: It’s impressive to get every character to the end of their arc and still feel terrible. Seriously, every character finishes in the position that they clearly were always going to have, ranging from Bran being the king to Daenerys being dead to Jon being banished, but at the end all of the ways they get there appear to be completely contrived or insane. Rather than having Daenerys’s madness be a result of her destiny as a Targaryen and a breaker of chains, it came off as being because Jon didn’t want to sleep with her after finding out they’re related. Rather than Bran being made king because of his abilities, he’s instead made king because “he has the best story,” despite Jon literally having resurrected from the dead and Arya having slain an undead king. Everyone gets to close their story in the right place, but it feels so forced that it undermines the rest of the series and its great plotting and character progression. Mostly, though, this whole thing felt completely unnecessary. HBO had the hottest show on the planet and had already stated they would basically give the showrunners carte blanche if they needed more episodes to come to a satisfying conclusion. Instead, the show rushed from the death of the Night King to the finale in only 3 episodes. This isn’t just dropping the ball, this is firing the ball straight down out of a cannon so hard that it currently resides in the molten core of the planet. 

If you disagree with any of these, let me know. If you have other episodes you think should have made it, put them in the comments or on my Facebook or Twitter. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Halloween-Leftover Review: You Might Be The Killer – Good Twist on Old Tropes (Spoiler-Free… ish?)

A young man and his horror-genre savvy friend try to figure out what’s happening at a summer camp stalked by a masked murderer. 

SUMMARY

The movie starts in Medias Res with Sam Wescott (Fran Kranz) escaping from what he believes is a real life horror movie slasher. He calls his friend Charlotte AKA “Chuck” (Alyson Hannigan) and asks her for help. She asks for information and Sam starts to recount the events he remembers from the last few days. Sam owns the Camp Clear Vista summer camp and has just brought in a group of his fellow counselors. It turns out that a number of them have been killed by a man in a wooden mask over the last few days as Sam has been helpless to stop them. Sam tries to figure out who the killer is with Chuck’s help, only for Chuck to come up with a horrifying theory: The Killer might be Sam.

YouMightBeTheKiller - 1Sam
Fun fact: Counselors are really, really easy to kill.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, I say “Spoiler-Free… ish” because the title of the movie is You Might Be The Killer. With a name like that, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that part of the movie involves Chuck trying to convince Sam that he might, in fact, be the killer. Chuck proposes, despite the fact that this takes place in a world very similar to ours, that Sam might be the victim of an ancient magical curse that compels him to take on the role of a scary movie slasher. It doesn’t help that Sam had just relayed a story of such a slasher to the group at the beginning of the Summer, nor that Sam has been suffering some stress-induced blackouts when the killer is nearby. 

YouMightBeTheKiller - 2Mask
Granted, I might black out if I was next to this.

The story is not conveyed chronologically, which helps with some of the suspense. The fact that Sam is not only an unreliable narrator due to his blackouts, but also due to potentially deliberately ignoring events, puts us in the same position as Chuck. If you’re a horror movie aficionado, you’ll enjoy having her run down lists of tropes as she tries to figure out what exactly is happening, and they’ll likely be the same tropes that you would be running through. The key to this movie is that the people behind it very clearly love horror films and it shows. While the movie Scream was based around deconstructing most of the tropes from 70s and 80s horror by having characters who were aware of horror tropes, here we have a character who is aware that their self-awareness of the trope is now itself a trope. It’s basically the meta-evolution of the genre.

YouMightBeTheKiller - 3Possession.png
Mind blowing, I know.

The strongest feature in the movie is the interplay between Sam and Chuck. Despite the fact that they never have a scene together in the movie, they have such a natural chemistry and such a steady back-and-forth that you feel like they’re really part of the same events. The supporting characters are mostly stereotypes from horror films, but they’re done so earnestly and over-the-top that you really enjoy being reminded of the films that inspired the characters. The killer is very derivative of old-school slashers, but it’s supposed to be, and the design is pretty neat. The kills are also a nice balance of classically gory and creatively shot.

YouMightBeTheKiller - 4Chuck
I assume all her scenes were filmed in one day, as they’re all… this.

The biggest downside to the film is that, because it’s a horror movie dedicated to tropes, it’s still beholden to them. Because of that, it always feels like it is somewhat constrained by the premise and doesn’t go far enough in the commentary or the fun. Some of the humor is also going to be too niche for a lot of viewers, but will make some horror lovers feel like they’re hearing someone lecture them. Also, it’s not on the same level of clever dissection of the genre as Cabin in the Woods, which means that it doesn’t quite feel as distinct as it could. It sometimes feels like they’re trying to say “hey, we’re awesome for doing this super meta film,” without realizing that other meta films have been done and, frankly, better.  

Still, if you’re a fan of horror, you probably need to give this one a shot. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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13) The Body (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

buffyadam.jpg
And whatever Adam was.

There are terrible things in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and they can make you tear your eyes out. Cry, scream, beg, they’re coming for you. Demons, dark gods, mummies, werewolves, the Gentlemen, and, of course, vampires. Running background gags and cold opens both involve random massacres. The world that it takes place in is a nightmare, to the extent that a sequence during Buffy’s senior prom has her receiving the “class protector award,” because they had the lowest mortality rate of any high school class in Sunnydale history. That’s perhaps why this episode is so impacting and so horrifying: Because it has basically none of that.

Quick Recap: Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a teenager/twenty-something who has been tasked by fate as “The Slayer.” It gives her some superpowers, but it also makes most of her life revolve around demons, vampires, and worse. She knows the plural of apocalypse, because she’s had to deal with enough. With her as the “Scooby Gang” are: BuffyCastGiles (Anthony Stewart Head), her watcher and mentor; Willow (Alyson Hannigan), her witch best friend; Xander (Nicholas Brendon), who is the normal guy; Tara (Amber Benson), a witch and Willow’s girlfriend; Anya (Emma Caulfield), a former demon-turned-human who has difficulty coping with humanity; and Spike (James Marsters), a vampire and Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Episode. Buffy lives with her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) and her younger sister, and mystical creation, Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg).

SUMMARY

This episode starts exactly where the last episode ended. Buffy arrives home, sees flowers from the guy dating her mom, and calls out asking if Dawn needs to be picked up. All routine. Then, she sees her mother on the couch, eyes wide, not breathing.

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No one deserves to find this.

The next 10 minutes are difficult to describe. They’re intercut with flashbacks, fantasy sequences of potential happy miracles, odd exaggerations of distance and size, and they’re all intentionally jumbled with reality.

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SMG was perfect in this episode

 When a tragedy strikes suddenly, the mind can be overwhelmed, and few episodes of television have ever played it as straightforwardly as this episode. This is a character who has punched world-eaters in the face, struck dumb at the thought that she’s lost her mom to a stroke. When the EMTs arrive, and determine that Joyce is dead, they do so with professional detachment, while Buffy is left in the corner to struggle to grasp reality. They leave, telling Buffy not to move her mother before someone collects her. When Giles arrives, Buffy herself calls her mother “the body,” which causes her to break down again at the realization that the thing in her house is no longer her mother.

At Dawn’s school, she’s pulled out of class to be told by Buffy. We don’t hear the conversation, only the reaction as she breaks down. We are shown Willow panicking over trying to find the right outfit for seeing Buffy and Dawn, before pointing out that she can’t stop thinking about clothing and how that’s stupid and childish, before she starts crying and is comforted by Tara.

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First onscreen kiss

Xander just keeps finding things to be angry at, from the doctors, to the walls, to the Dark God they’re supposed to be fighting this season. Giles mourns privately. Anya, meanwhile, is scared because she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do. Demons don’t really care when other demons die, and she was previously immortal.

At the hospital, the Doctor tells Buffy that Joyce died painlessly. Tara then tells Buffy of losing her own mother, but it isn’t of great comfort. Dawn then visits the morgue, and is attacked by a vampire. Buffy arrives and quickly and unceremoniously kills the vampire, but in the process, the sheet falls off Joyce’s face. Dawn can only cry and touch her mother’s face, asking where she went as the episode ends.BuffyFreezer

END SUMMARY

Okay, the summary isn’t going to do much for why this episode is amazing, because it’s mostly the audio-visuals and the acting. Everything in the episode is disorienting. Sounds are exaggerated, camera angles are abnormal, silences are more pronounced, and there is absolutely no music within the episode. Perhaps most disorienting is that many parts of the episode just drift away from the main characters and feature normal sounds and activities. Children are heard playing outside as Buffy vomits when they take the body.

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One of the most brilliant shots in TV

Wind chimes are gently ringing as the paramedics come. Xander is shown getting a parking ticket through the window. Life goes on, despite everything that is happening at that moment. When the doctor tells Buffy that her mother died painlessly, the line “I have to lie to you to make you feel better” is spoken at the same time. The camera was often hand-held during the episode to encourage the drifting feeling around the characters.

The characters, too, are shown at their most out-of-character. Buffy, who is typically the hero, repeatedly appears to be constructing her own narrative that this is all her own fault for not being there when it happened. Every time someone appears to say that there was nothing she could have done, she clearly doubts it. Again, she’s a superhero. She isn’t used to a problem she can’t out-punch. At points during the episode, she even starts to imagine alternate realities where this isn’t happening, but they are all destroyed by reality. It’s also noticeable that, contrary to how TV usually is forced to work, Buffy isn’t wearing her usual make-up and hair during the episode. She looks weary, tired, and like she’s been crying.

As for the other characters, they all have different reactions. Willow, who is literally capable of moving large vehicles with her mind, feels so powerless that she’s stuck trying to focus on the one thing that she can control at that moment: Her clothing. Xander wants to hurt everything and everyone, even punching a wall, which, contrary to most tv shows, both hurts him a lot, but also makes him feel better. It let him hurt something, BuffyXandereven if it’s him. Anya, despite being the oldest character, responds much the way that a child does. She doesn’t really get “natural death.” Demons don’t have to deal with that. Children don’t have to deal with that (please, just let me have this one. I know it’s a lie, but I hate how much I’ve seen the truth). It’s so hard to explain to people why such a thing even happens, because it doesn’t have a real “reason” for something so devastating. Dawn just wants her mother back. It’s important to note that Joyce had been a parental figure not just for Buffy and Dawn, but also for Xander, whose homelife was shown to be alcoholic and abusive, Willow, whose parents are strict but often absent, and Anya, who hadn’t really had a mother figure before. To Giles, who is shown reacting more reasonably and calmly throughout the episode, but still shown to be deeply saddened by her passing, Joyce was a close friend and someone he’d once had sex with on the hood of a police car. Twice. Tara, however, is the outsider, as she didn’t really know Joyce. She just knows that she was very important to her friends and the woman she loves, and she tries to help however she can. Having all of these different levels of grief shown throughout the episode allows the audience to see all of the emotions, direct and indirect, that can come from dealing with the void.

Life is loss. You can’t have one without the other. But, no one deals with loss in the same way. This episode covers a huge range of those responses and, by filming it in an uncomfortable manner, makes sure the audience is as vulnerable to them as possible. Ultimately, this is less a viewing, and more an experience. Joss Whedon noted that a number of people wrote in telling him that this episode helped them cope with losing someone, and I fully believe this episode might help the grieving. It requires almost no knowledge of the show, so, even if you aren’t familiar with it, you should check it out.

PREVIOUS – 14: Breaking Bad

NEXT – 12: Seinfeld

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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23) Right Place, Right Time (How I Met Your Mother)

When I was compiling this list, most of the entries were on some other lists of top episodes, which is how I narrowed down the candidates from “everything on television ever” to “stuff I can reasonably watch within 4 months of hospitalization.” Gonna be honest, I still overshot and ended up with a ludicrous amount of TV to watch. But, this episode probably is the least critically acclaimed on the list. Not only is this not usually a highly rated show, this episode isn’t even particularly high within rankings of How I Met Your Mother episodes. The critical reviews of this episode average about a B+. Why then do I think this episode is worthy of this spot on the list? Because it’s telling us something that everyone desperately needs to hear.

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No, not the Bro Code

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Pictured: So. Much. Talent.

How I Met Your Mother had some weaknesses as a show, and it definitely dragged at a few points. If the cast hadn’t been amazing, it probably would have died earlier. However, because of the premise of the show, that it’s a dad telling his children a story, they were also able to experiment sometimes with narrative structure in interesting ways. Sometimes they worked. Sometimes they didn’t. This one did, but I honestly don’t know if the show even knew how much it did when they made it.

The overarching theme of the show of How I Met Your Mother is usually secondary to the humor, but it’s still there: You cannot control most of what happens to you in your life, even your own choices, but you can control who you are when things happen to you. And nowhere in the show is this more brilliantly shown than in this episode.

SUMMARY

Right_place_right_timeThe episode starts by showing the main character, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor, future voice Bob Saget), leaving his apartment with a yellow umbrella (which the audience knows is a big part of the story of him meeting his wife), stopping at a newsstand, giving cash to a homeless man, and then stopping to wait at a crosswalk before an unseen person touches him on the shoulder. At this point, the narrator, future Ted, takes us back to explain why exactly he did everything the way he did on that walk.

First, he explains that he left the apartment because his roommate and on-again-off-again romantic interest Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) tells him that he needs to HowIMetYourMotherPukeclear his head after having difficulties with his solo architect work. He decides to get a bagel. She also tells him to take an umbrella.

Once Ted goes outside, he turns right for a moment, then instead goes left. This is explained as being because his favorite bagel place had given Robin food poisoning, so he goes left to his second-favorite bagel place.

Next, Ted stops at a newsstand to look at a magazine. This magazine is revealed to be a copy of “Muscle Sexxy” which he feels compelled to read because his friend Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) slept with the cover girl due to a misunderstanding. The audience sees that this delays Ted for a minute.

HowIMetYourMotherChart
This still makes me laugh, though.

Next, he crosses the street to give money to a homeless person. This is revealed to be because, a few weeks prior, his friend Marshall (Jason Segel) had become addicted to making graphs at his new job, to the point that his wife Lilly (Alyson Hannigan) asked the gang to hold an intervention. After Marshall proved hesitant to change, Ted threw all of Marshall’s graphs out, including the ones he needed for a huge presentation. Ultimately, Ted had to offer to pay a homeless person who had taken the graphs $1 million at a rate of $1 per day.

And that’s what brings Ted to that particular street corner at that exact time. Future Ted then tells his kids that if he hadn’t been there at that time, then they wouldn’t have been born. He says that, if he had known then what all of those circumstances would have led HowIMetYourMotherStella2to, there’s something he would have done differently.

The show then breaks into a montage of Ted hugging every person involved in his life, from the homeless man, to his friends, to the bagel place that poisoned his friend, all set perfectly to the song “Glad Girls” by Guided by Voices. It’s then revealed that the hand touching him belongs to the woman who just left him at the altar 4 months prior, Stella (Sarah Chalke).

END SUMMARY

howimetyourmotherquote.jpgPart of the human experience is understanding that control is, for the most part, an illusion (this is not to be confused with the Ellen Langer “Illusion of Control“). People will say that choice is an illusion (mostly the Matrix), but that’s never going to be my take on it. You have choice, but you only have choice within a larger series of events that are dependent not only upon random chance, but also upon the choices of others. Sure, you can say “I’m choosing to order pizza,” or “I’m choosing to watch Netflix,” but you had almost nothing to do with those options even being available to you. You’re just pretending that the small control you get over some things compensates for the fact that the majority of the universe will just move indifferent to you. That can be scary sometimes. But, it can be freeing, too.

You only get one life, as far as you know. You may believe there’s more, but you can only be certain of this one. And anything you get out of it, good or bad, contributes to the unique experience of living. When you manage to get something good, take a second to realize that even the bad things in your life contributed to you being in the place to get something good now. They may have hurt, they may have even crippled you in ways that keep you from ever being the person you once were, but they haven’t kept you from ever feeling good again. I’m not saying go hug the homeless guy who mugged you, I’m saying that maybe you can let go of all of those bad things. They can’t be changed, they can’t be undone, but they can be learned from and appreciated as part of existence, for your own sake. It doesn’t change that bad things happened, but you don’t have to let them change you for the worse. And, hopefully, you can learn this lesson in montage form.

PREVIOUS – 24: House

NEXT – 22: Breaking Bad

Here’s the Montage:

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Here’s the Episode:

52) Once More, with Feeling/ Hush (Buffy, The Vampire Slayer)

This is the latter of the two combined episodes. The truth is, these two episodes each deserve to be on this list, and very well could have been, but I consider them to be two halves of the same coin. They’re both episodes about honesty and communication, and they both have devastating results on the characters in the series.

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And how could you devastate such a beautiful crowd? You monsters.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer  worked because it presented everyday problems, but represented them with supernatural villains and demons. This created a show where everyone could simultaneously relate to the cast, while being entertained by the alien natures of their problems.

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Though, sometimes it missed the mark. “Beer Bad” ironically requires a lot of alcohol to watch.

SUMMARY

“Hush” was the result of writer and creator Joss Whedon hearing that the key to the success of Buffy was its dialogue. In response, he wrote the story of a group of demons, called “The Gentlemen,” who steal the voices of the townspeople in order to carve the hearts out of their victims without anyone hearing them.

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Usually this is metaphorical. Oh, wait…

The Gentlemen are among the creepiest things ever allowed on television. I recommend finding a picture of them if you haven’t seen them, because the fact that they are perfectly silent and elegantly dressed only makes them that much more unnerving. Also, they surgically remove your heart while you’re alive, which probably is the most horrifying way to die that an episode could directly imply, if not outright depict. They seem to be a metaphor for Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) own hesitance to engage in physical intimacy with her new paramour Reilly, after her last two encounters resulted in A) her boyfriend losing his soul (literally) and B) a boy using her as a conquest. They’re male figures who carve out hearts and are only shown to be killed by a woman’s scream. Nobody said the analogy was subtle.

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Congratulations, you’re going to die enlightened.

The entire episode has only 17 minutes of dialogue, and it features the cast communicating solely through their actions, which, surprisingly both to the characters and the audience, is much more effective than their attempts to talk to one another. Three different couples finally connect because they stop talking their way into bad places and instead act on their hearts. In this episode, honesty brings people together.

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See? They found out they share hobbies.

“Once More, with Feeling,” on the other hand, is all about honesty driving people apart. Best of all, it’s about honesty driving people apart in song. Yes, “Once More, with Feeling” was one of the first musical episodes by a non-musical show, and it is still the best, in my opinion (though, following the original writing of this, the episode “Duet” of the Flash is damned good, including a song sung by Jesse L. Martin, Victor Garber, and John “I’m so amazing” Barrowman, and if it weren’t for all the great original songs in this episode, that one would be better).

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Best thing on UPN.

The plot is that there is a demon named Sweet (Hinton Battle), who, when summoned, makes people sing and dance until they combust, and then leaves with a bride. In the meantime, all of the songs people sing will expose their innermost secrets, often to the very people from whom they’re hiding them. It’s because of this modus operandi, that Sweet is the only villain who ever really beats the Slayer and the Scooby Gang (her friends), even though he chooses to waive the bridal clause of his summoning (upon finding out that it would be a guy). He ruins their relationships, then leaves, having killed at least 3 people in the process. Nothing happens to him at all, except for the loss of his dancing minions.

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Literally ends with a chorus line asking “where do we go from here?”

“Once More, with Feeling” and “Hush” tell the story that honesty can be a force for great good or for great evil, it just depends on how it is conveyed.

PREVIOUS – 53: The Honeymooners

NEXT – 51: Mystery Science Theater 3000

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Here’s my favorite part of Once More With Feeling:

And here’s an incipient nightmare: