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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THE GROUCH ON THE COUCH PRESENTS: THE MOTHER’S DAY COUCH AWARDS

By: The Grouch on the Couch

It’s tough to make any list about Moms in fiction. No matter who you pick for “Best” or “Worst,” there are still gonna be people whining about the results. So, instead, I’m just gonna make up awards for 10 Fictional Mothers. 7 of these were on the list to begin with, the other 3 were picked at random from a list of around 50 names.

THE “MOM WHOSE GLASS IS HALF-FULL (OR ALWAYS FULL)” AWARD

Linda Belcher (John Roberts on Bob’s Burgers)

MothersDayLinda

Linda doesn’t live the high-life. Her family’s restaurant is generally in the red, her husband is perpetually stressed, and her children consistently make everything worse. Despite that, Linda is almost unfailingly positive, being a source of optimism and cheer for her whole family. Sure, she has a few drinks now and then and then and then and then, but she approaches everything with an enthusiasm that usually is contagious even for her very-resistant family. She’s supportive of her children’s unusual pursuits, and even her sister Gayle’s borderline-insane hobbies. She can be pushed to the limit sometimes, but she always bounces back. Also, she’s a naturally theatrical person, coming up with songs constantly, including the “Thanksgiving Song,” the holiday hit the world really needed.

THE “MOST EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE MOM” AWARD

Jessica Walter as Malory Archer/Lucille Bluth (Archer/Arrested Development)

MothersDayMalloryLucille
The woman can drink.

Jessica Walter is a treasure, but her ability to portray a woman able to absolutely destroy the mental health of her own children is so great that they gave her two different shows to do it in. Lucille Bluth, the matriarch of the Bluth family, not only has raised 4 emotionally crippled children, but she makes sure to manipulate them against each other every chance she can just to maintain her status. The fact that she’s revealed to be the mastermind behind everything in the original run of Arrested Development is one of my favorite comic twists.

Malory Archer, while having only one child (that we know of), managed to raise simultaneously the world’s greatest super-spy and the world’s most incompetent human being. She’s had so many affairs that she legitimately doesn’t seem to know her son’s father, gave birth to him on a bar after assassinating a man, left him for five years, and then spent the rest of his life keeping him underneath her. Also, she killed the Prime Minister of Italy after putting him in a gimp suit, and then called her son to help get rid of the body. No amount of context helps this.

MothersDayPrimeMinister
No. Amount. of context.

THE “MOTHER WHOSE CHILDREN MOST OVERACHIEVE” AWARD

Ramonda (Angela Bassett in Black Panther)

MothersDayRamonda
She rules.

She definitely served her country as a ruler, but you know she wasn’t slacking on her mothering duties. Queen Ramonda of Wakanda has two children. The first is T’Challa, the current king of Wakanda and holder of the title of Black Panther, a superhuman athlete with a mind for both science and battle tactics that is almost unsurpassed in the world, as well as a noble heart. The second is her daughter Shuri, and while T’Challa’s mind is almost unsurpassed, Shuri is actually stated by at least one source to be the single smartest human in the Marvel Universe. And you know the only thing both of them listen to above all else? Their mother. And since it’s Angela Bassett, no one really questions their deference.

MothersDayShuri
Oh, and they’re damned good looking.

THE “NICEST MOTHER YOU SHOULD NEVER CROSS” AWARD

Molly Weasley (Julie Walters in the Harry Potter series)

MothersDayMollyWeasley

Molly Weasley has seven children and is portrayed in the first books of the series as being a wonderful, caring, albeit slightly overbearing, woman who loves all of her children deeply and makes sure that they know it. She also basically adopts Harry, an orphan, into her family and treats him with more affection than he’s ever known. She’s a dear, sweet lady.

NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!

And with one line, Molly Weasley moves from “Sweet Lady” to “Unstoppable Force of Wrath.” When Bellatrix Lestrange, who had previously killed one of Molly’s sons, attacks her only daughter, Molly, despite not being the strongest witch in the world, challenges the single most psychotic (and likely the most powerful) female villain in the books to one-on-one combat. And proceeds to remove her from the face of the Earth. Do. Not. F*ck. With Molly Weasley’s kids.

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THE “BEST MOM YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF” AWARD

Bell-mère (One Piece, episodes 34-36)

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Bell-mère was a female marine who was wounded in a particularly vicious battle and, as she was dying, saw two girls alone in the wreckage of the battlefield. Realizing that if she died, so would the children, she found the strength to move, bandaged herself up, and took the two kids back to her home village. She adopted and raised the two, and, while she wasn’t a perfect mother, she definitely tried her best and loved them both deeply.

Unfortunately, the town was targeted by a group of quite literally inhuman pirates, who decided to take it over as a base of operations. While Bell-mère was able to actually attack and pin the pirate Captain, Arlong, she was quickly overpowered. The pirates put a decree on the town: Everyone had to pay a tax for themselves and their children, but it was being checked by the town birth register. Her daughters, Nami and Nojiko, not having been born there, weren’t on it. Since they couldn’t afford to pay for Bell-mère and her daughters, the town conspired to make it seem like Bell-mère lived alone and smuggle the two out when they could. Unfortunately, this was confounded immediately… by Bell-mère herself, who used the money for her own life to instead pay for the girls. When asked why she would do this, it’s because she would have had to live without them, and, as she tearfully explained to them, she’d rather die than deny having been their mother. Her last words were “I love you” as she was publicly executed.

This was just a short flashback in the series, but it’s still one of the most intense moments in a show that’s now been running for 20 years. It’s a mom dying not just to save her children, but because she couldn’t live if she couldn’t live with them. That’s why I was happy when this was one of the random ones I pulled.

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THE “LONGEST RUNNING MOM” AWARD

Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner on The Simpsons)

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What? It’s true. Marge Simpson has been the mother to three pre-teens for so long that people born during her debut now mostly have children of their own.

Despite being married to a legendarily stupid man and having an oldest son who has slowly gone from “problem child” to “sociopathic monster,” Marge somehow manages to keep her family together and out of jail. She’s usually a housewife, but she’s also been a successful baker, entrepreneur, novelist, real estate agent, and police woman. In fact, several episodes have implied that the only reason why the Simpsons aren’t homeless is because Marge’s little side-gigs are so profitable that she ends up paying off their debts. She’s a talented artist, a sexual dynamo (hey, a mom’s got needs), and has the ability to keep hair standing four-feet tall. And, to be fair, while Bart may be a Hellion, Lisa is a polymath and Maggie is portrayed as unnaturally intelligent (though, she has shot 17 people as a baby). As Meatloaf tells us, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

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THE “MOM WHOSE PAIN YOU MOST RELISH” AWARD

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey on Game of Thrones)

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Cersei Lannister is the worst. Actually, no, she’s not. Cersei Lannister’s eldest son Joffrey Baratheon was the worst. Joffrey was sadistic, malicious, amoral, egotistical… pretty much every bad label you can put on a person, Joffrey earned it, and, above all else, he was completely incompetent. He wasn’t a good fighter, a good leader, a good planner, a good speaker, or even a good son. Despite that, his mother loved him unfailingly, never realizing that she was constantly making him worse by not correcting him. And Cersei herself is so bad that, when Joffrey is finally killed (thank the Seven), it’s almost impossible to feel bad for her, even with Lena Headey’s great performance as a mother losing her beloved son. Same when she loses her daughter, Myrcella, who she basically condemned to death through her own stupidity. But, when Cersei’s bombing of the Great Sept of Baelor leads her last surviving son, Tommen, to kill himself, making her the Queen of the Iron Throne, we’ve truly hit the “Kill her, kill her painfully” point. She’s still alive as of this writing (update: She dead), but if there is any form of justice within Westeros, she will die screaming, alone, and be pulled into the Seven Hells by the spirit of Joffrey, the worst sin she ever committed. Man, that got dark.

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Not. Nearly. Enough.

THE “MOST BAD-ASS MOTHER ON FILM” AWARD (ADOPTED CATEGORY)

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in the Alien series)

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To those of you pointing out that Ellen Ripley actually does have a biological daughter, I’m aware. In fact, it’s sad that the movie Aliens cut out the scene where Ripley is told that her daughter has died while she was lost in space, because it’s a great performance that genuinely makes her actions later in the film much more emotionally compelling and understandable. But, in the category title, I’m referring, of course to her “adopted” daughter, Newt. Ellen finds the only survivor of the Xenomorph attack on LV-426, a young girl much the same age as her daughter would have been had she made it back on time, and a bond is struck quickly.

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After the team she is with is devastated by the aliens, she makes it to safety, but Newt is captured. With no one else left to go back into the nest of the very creatures that just annihilated a crew of Marines armed to the teeth, Ripley instead duck-tapes together a flame thrower and a pulse rifle, goes into a hive of some of the deadliest monsters on film, and brings Newt back, killing dozens of the bastards on the way. And that would be impressive enough, but unfortunately, Newt and Ripley get attacked by the Queen Alien. As Ripley gets away, Newt is cornered by the beast, until Ripley, in what is a strong contender for the single most bad-ass scene in movie history, comes back operating a power loader and calls out a 20-foot tall, super-strong, acid-blooded, nigh-indestructible monster with the line:

GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU BITCH.

The fact that Molly Weasley had to steal her line from this one tells you everything you need to know about exactly how little you ever want to mess with Ellen Ripley.

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THE “MOST BAD-ASS MOTHER ON FILM” AWARD (BIOLOGICAL CATEGORY)

Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

To be clear, I don’t actually think there should be a demarcation between biological and adopted children, I just couldn’t put one of these women on the list without the other and I wanted some flimsy justification.

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Sarah Connor was a normal woman, until a robot in the shape of a giant Austrian bodybuilder decided to show up at the nightclub she was at and try to kill her. She was rescued by a man from the future, who told her that her son would one day save humanity. Sarah managed to destroy the robot and realized that she would have to get ready for a dark future.

When we catch up with her 11 years later (yes, that’s when T2 happens relative to Terminator, check the movies), we find a very, very different Sarah Connor. She spent the entire interval turning herself into a living weapon. She’s in peak physical condition, can make a weapon out of anything, can pick locks, hack ATMs at will, and is both willing and able to wield lethal ordinance. The only thing that really scares her in the movie is the T800, which… well, is completely reasonable. She’s so determined that being stabbed repeatedly doesn’t weaken her resolve. And she did all of this in the name of keeping her son (and the human race) alive.

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THE “BEST FICTIONAL MOM” AWARD

Morticia Addams (Anjelica Huston in The Addams Family films)

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Look into your heart, you know it to be true. Morticia Addams may be weird as all get-out, but she’s the best overall mother on this list. She’s supportive of her children but can also be a disciplinarian when she needs to be. For example, when she sees Wednesday about to attack her brother with a cleaver, Morticia stops her, takes the cleaver, and then gives her a scythe, which is going to be much more appropriate for the environment that he’s located in. She’s going to want the reach, after all. Morticia puts family first, and always wants harmony among them, but unlike most families, hers actually is pretty much perfectly harmonious. She keeps a lavish garden, including a one-of-a-kind African Creeper named Cleopatra, helps out with school functions and charities, and has a close relationship with both of her children (and later her third). “But she lets her kids attack each other all the time,” I hear you saying, “at one point she even watches her daughter electrocute her son while playing the game ‘Is there a God.” Yeah, she gives her kids their independence, what’s wrong with that? The only reason why this bothers you is because your wimpy kids would die from a large bowl of arsenic or a shotgun to the chest, but she’s clearly a better mother than you. She makes sure her kids are prepared for the real world by ensuring that they’re prepared to deal with hardships like “decapitation.” Plus, she can still instantly arouse her husband with a word in French, even after 3 kids. Can you name another mother that can do all that?

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This article is dedicated to my own mother, who deserves better than she gets, gives more than she needs to, and loves her children and grandchildren more than anyone I know.

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. If you want more from the Grouch on the Couch, wait a week for something… bigger.

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Reader/Author Bonus: Battle of the Bastards (Game of Thrones)

Alright, so, I will freely say that I actually like the episode of Game of Thrones that made the list more than this one. But, I also can’t object to this being on the list. Since several people have asked if this was going on the list, and I was on the fence about just adding it myself, it’s getting an entry.

“Battle of the Bastards” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV. The sheer scale of the episode is almost beyond belief. While it does almost nothing in terms of dialogue or several of the metrics I usually use to weight episodes here, it doesn’t matter, I still have to concede this is one of the greatest episodes of television of all time based almost entirely on its incredible acting, challenging cinematography, and enormous scope.

BACKGROUND (Reduced beyond the point of usefulness)

… It’s Game of Thrones. Do you really expect me to explain 5 huge books and a full season or two of TV just to give you the background for this? Oh, sure. Here you go:

Map
A Place

There’s a place called Westeros. The King gets killed. His wife’s family tries to take over. A bunch of people oppose that. All of them die. Most of the wife’s family dies. The main family, the Starks, all get separated when their home, Winterfell, gets taken over by a later-dickless traitor, then taken over again by a giant festering wankstain named Ramsay “the Bastard of” Bolton (Iwan Rheon). Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), a Stark bastard son, dies, gets brought back to life, goes home to the North with an army to take it back. Jon’s sister Sansa (Sophie Turner) requests the help of some guy named Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) who wants to bang her super badly. In the meantime, some naked chick does stuff with dragons over on another continent and some zombies are walking down from the North Pole, having presumably killed Santa. Also, there’s Peter Dinklage, who is a treasure.

SUMMARY

Okay, so, I’ll separate this into the two locations. Esteros and Westeros. Guess which one is to the East?

So, in Esteros, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter “I’m basically changing Hollywood through sheer force of awesome” Dinklage) are dealing with a large group of slavers that they recently pissed off who have brought a fleet to block her from sailing to Westeros. She brings the heads of the fleet before them, where they tell her what terms they’d accept. She responds by reminding them what happens when you have dragons and nobody else does: Dragon. Beats. Everything. (for another season).

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I WASN’T EVEN SUPPOSED TO BE HERE TODAY!!

It really isn’t even much of a contest. Dragons can breathe fire (which, given the level of heat displayed, should be a blue or just contains a ton of sodium, because it’s clearly above 3000°F) at a greater distance than even much of the ballista available at the science level of Esteros, can fly at speeds that appear to be in excess of 100-200 MPH, are immune to most other kinds of attack, and are capable of lifting weights in the tons. It’s basically a high-speed flying tank with a never-ending flamethrower against people who don’t have guns. She proceeds to burn the entire fleet in a matter of minutes, kills most of the slavers, and pretty much massacres everyone else who has been challenging her by the end of the day. Then, the pair procures another fleet to bring them to Westeros. And, I assume, go to the spa to get matching mani/pedis to relax.

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You know Tyrion likes the pumice stone. Dany’s into hot rocks.

Which brings us to Westeros, where the meat of the episode happens. Not to say that the Dragons Gone Wild scenes weren’t awesome, they absolutely were, but Winterfell is where it’s at. So, the important characters on Jon Snow’s side meet with Ramsay “I made Joffrey look good, and he was basically Hitler’s wet dream” Bolton. Ramsay offers to “pardon” Jon if Jon hands over Sansa Stark (Jon’s not-quite sister). Jon offers to fight one-on-one, Ramsay rebuffs him and says that he has Jon’s youngest not-quite brother, Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson), as a captive. Sansa tell Ramsay, her rapist and ex-husband, that the next day they’ll attack and Ramsay will die. Ramsay says that he’s been starving his hounds in anticipation of feeding Jon to them, because he’s the worst.

GameOfThrones Rickon.gifThe armies meet up the next morning, and Ramsay brings out Rickon. Ramsay tells him to run to Jon and starts to shoot arrows at him. Just before he reaches Jon, Rickon is struck by one of Ramsay’s arrows and dies.  Jon then gets angry at the whole “dead brother in my arms” thing, and starts to charge, and the army follows shortly.

The battle scene that follows is almost incomprehensibly huge. I recommend watching the entire episode to really get the feel of it, but what’s amazing is that it manages to also GameOfThronesJonbe so intense and personal when it focuses on the important characters. The sad realistic elements are also there, such as where there are literal mountains of corpses formed from the fighting. At one point, Jon Snow is almost buried by a poorly-timed movement of his own forces, and the show really manages to convey the suffocation he’s experiencing from nothing more than a giant, writing mass of panicking warriors. You won’t even realize that you stopped breathing until Jon pulls himself out. Finally, as Jon’s forces are surrounded and it appears they’ve lost, Littlefinger arrives bringing the cavalry with him, literally.

Ramsay retreats, and Jon follows into Winterfell, his ancestral home. Ramsay kills off Wun Wun (Ian Whyte), a giant in Jon’s army, and Jon squares off against him. Ramsay attempts to kill Jon with an arrow, but Jon blocks it and proceeds to attempt to beat Ramsay to death, only stopping when he sees Sansa. However, this is quickly revealed to not be any form of mercy, as Sansa meets with Ramsay in his own kennel. Ramsay tells her that his hounds will never harm him, even though he hasn’t fed them in a week, because “they’re loyal beasts.” Sansa reminds him of the truth: “They were. Now they’re starving.” She summons the dogs, who proceed to brutally devour their master face-first. Sansa walks away, smiling.

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It’s the little things in life.

SUMMARY END

GameOfThronesRamsaySo, thematically, this episode is pretty weak, and, honestly, since almost everyone that dies in it is a character that had a tragic flaw which led to it, that makes this more of a traditional tragedy than Game of Thrones usually has. However, I’ll be damned if almost everything in it isn’t fun to watch. Dragons finally truly kicking the amount of ass that the show had promised for 6 seasons, a battle whose scale exceeds almost any movie taking place in the middle ages, intense, personal shots of the chaos of a battlefield, unbelievably powerful moments of the leads, and Sansa Stark, the most shit-upon character in Game of Thrones, finally gets to take brutal vengeance upon the greatest monster the show has ever had (and I’m including the Night King).

It’s not an episode that teaches any real kind of lesson or reveals any deep truths to the viewer, but a lot of episodes on this list don’t do that, even high-ranking ones. Sometimes, television is just about showing you something that you can’t see anywhere else, and this episode is all of that and more.

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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32) The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones)

While I’ve now added episodes from other, more recent shows as alternates, when I originally drafted this, this was the most recent episode on this list. Give me a break on the add-ons, I’m only guessing how well they’ll hold up. Despite the fact that it had just aired, I was confident that it would hold up as not just one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones, but as one of the most memorable moments in television. Looking back on it now, I don’t regret my choice. I think that I have had episodes of the show I have enjoyed more, but I still remember the way everyone talked about this episode the week after it aired. It basically covered the internet for a month. It was big, is what I’m saying. It was the Red Wedding.

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A Nice Show to… Watch Again!!! (I will not apologize for this)

Game of Thrones, and the book series it’s based off of, A Song of Ice and Fire, takes place in a fantasy world that’s unfortunately a little too close to reality. The bad guys win, a lot. The good guys are rarely actually that good. People die all the time, no matter how much the fans loved them. It capped off its first season by killing off one of the most noble characters it had, and for reasons that were completely believable.

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The reason being “played by Sean Bean.”

For those who don’t know, here’s a summary of what happens leading to this episode: It takes place in Westeros, which is basically Britain, but with ice zombies to the North and some dragons on occasion. Okay, so it might just be Britain. The king, Robert (Mark Addy), gets murdered and his best friend, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), finds out and reports that the king’s children are the illegitimate spawn of incest between the queen, Cersei Lannister (Lena “Don’t think about me banging my brother” Heady), and her brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Because of that, the king’s sadistic eldest not-son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Robert’s brothers, Stannis and Renly (Stephen Dillane and Gethin Anthony), Eddard’s eldest son, Robb Stark (Richard Madden), and the leader of the Iron Islands, Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide), all decide to declare themselves king. Hijinks ensue, in the form of a huge bloody war. A lot of people die, a lot of deals are made, allegiances declared, etc. All of this leads up to Robb Stark, as well as his wife and mother, attending a wedding intended to cement an alliance with one of the most strategically important families in Westeros, the Freys.

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It’s complicated.

SUMMARY

Other stuff happens in the episode, and much of it is also really well done, which adds even more credit to the fact that the end is so captivating. This is one of the first scenes in the TV show which, even while it’s similar to the book, manages to be slightly better in many ways because seeing and hearing it makes it so much more real than the descriptions. The wedding goes exactly as expected, right up until the Freys bar the doors and begin playing the title song “the Rains of Castamere.”

The Rains of Castamere is the anthem of the chief villains in the series up to that point, the Lannisters. More than that, it’s a song that was actually written about the person ordering the Red Wedding, Tywin Lannister, and how he previously massacred another family, House Reyne, by drowning all of them within their own castle by flooding it. It’s at the point of recognizing the song, that Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), Robb’s mother realizes that the Boltons, their purported allies, are wearing chainmail, but it’s too late to avoid anything. The Stark forces are slaughtered, helpless, by the combined forces of the other two families.

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Worst.  Wedding. Ever. (Non-Reality TV Category)

“The Lannisters send their regards.” It’s one of those lines that you remember, not because it’s clever or profound, but because it perfectly caps off a massive event. And it’s delivered right after Robb Stark, a character that, to this point, we were supposed to root for, is stabbed in the freaking heart. It confirms who orchestrated the huge betrayal found in this episode, and devastates his mother who can only watch before her throat is cut and she dies falling to the floor with a brutal thud.

END SUMMARY

So, why is this episode so impacting? Because it escalated Game of Thrones’ already growing reputation for averting the typical narrative structure. One of the principle heroic characters dies horribly and almost pointlessly, his wife gets stabbed IN THE BABY, and his mother’s throat is slit. It’s a true massacre, played out the way that it did in the infamous Black Dinner, the historical event that inspired the Red Wedding. The show went ahead and reminded us: Anyone can, and probably will, die, if that’s what would have happened to a real person in this situation.

PREVIOUS – 33: The Bob Newhart Show

NEXT – 31: Doctor Who

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

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

The Episode’s on HBO Go or Amazon, but here’s the song: