THURSDAY AUGUST 17, 2017
 
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CLIFFHANGER TV FINALES
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One of the greatest dramas in TV history, Breaking Bad, is set to end its five-season run this summer. Its ending is planned and purposeful, leaving the airwaves at the top of the show's critical and ratings success and (presumably) wrapping up plot and character arcs.

Other great modern TV shows weren’t so lucky. These unceremoniously cancelled cult classics (excluding our topper, as you'll see) never broke through to the mainstream, or did so only briefly, leaving their remaining fans to ponder endlessly.

6. Twin Peaks (June 10, 1991)

David Lynch’s short-lived foray into network television lasted only two seasons. Its second remains controversial among fans; the central murder mystery was settled abruptly, leaving a bunch of subplots to dangle in the wind before the show was put out of its misery.

In Twin Peaks’ final episode, FBI Agent Dale Cooper faces off against his mortal enemy, serial killer Windom Earle, who has kidnapped Cooper’s girlfriend Annie and brought her to an inter-dimensional gateway called the “Black Lodge.” Cooper succeeds in freeing Annie but is trapped inside the Black Lodge. In the series’ final scene we watch as Cooper’s evil twin emerges in the real world, smashing his head against a mirror and laughing maniacally.

Cooper’s fate and those of other characters were covered in Lynch’s follow-up movie Fire Walk With Me (1992), but by “covered” we actually mean “made infinitely more confusing.”

5. Freaks and Geeks (July 8, 2000)

Arguably the greatest one-season wonder in TV history, Freaks and Geeks traced the high school trials of its titular cliques, fronted by Lindsay Weir and her brother Sam, respectively.

Its final episode offered more character-based than plot-driven cliffhangers, but was arguably more frustrating as a result. Slacker freak Daniel is forced to spend an afternoon with the geeks, and finds his horizons broadened, rock-loving drummer Nick throws himself into a disco-dance contest and Lindsay brushes off a chance to further her academic career by jumping onto a hippie-driven road trip. Freaks and Geeks' creators have been open about where they intended their characters to go, but alas fans never saw them again.

4. Duckman (September 6, 1997)

The animated cable series Duckman came and went between the rise of The Simpsons and more acclaimed adult cartoons like South Park and Family Guy. It was a gleefully profane show without much sentiment, save for the title character’s status as a widowed father.

In Duckman’s final episode (more accurately, its final 30 seconds) the show’s off-and-on continuity takes a jarring turn. Duckman’s presumed-dead wife shows up right before his remarriage, alive and well, claiming that her absence was a planned fake out assisted by Duckman’s best friend. No further explanation, roll credits. If the cliffhanger season finale was planned by Duckman’s producers to pressure the network into continuing production it failed miserably, leaving the show’s small-but-devoted fanbase scratching their heads.

3. Carnivàle (March 27, 2005)

HBO’s Carnivàle was a Twin Peaks-ish epic of good and evil set during the Great Depression. It was an expensive, complex show with a huge cast of characters, but its main conflict fell between two men possessing supernatural powers; the well-meaning but naive carny Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) and the increasingly malevolent preacher Justin Crowe (Clancy Brown).

In the show’s final episode Ben and Justin meet for what is presumably meant to be the first of many battles. Justin is defeated, but apparently revived. Meanwhile Ben is found unconscious by his friends and placed in the former bed of “Management,” the supernatural head of his traveling carnival. What was explicitly meant to be a five-season (at least) story arc ended after two, offering only dust specks of closure.

2. Joan of Arcadia (April 22, 2005)

While it seemed on the surface like “Touched by an Angel for teens," Joan of Arcadia was a surprisingly rich police procedural / family drama / teen comedy / religious allegory that handled its many moods with ease, and never slipped into sermonizing.

The series’ brief arc follows the title character, a high school student, as she is guided by God through various moral conundrums. Much like Carnivàle it built toward a confrontation that never came to pass; in the series finale God presents Joan with a fellow prophet who plans to use his gift for evil, but in what way, we’ll never know for sure.

1. The Sopranos (June 10, 2007)

How could The Sopranos’ finale not top this list? While unlike the preceding entries the parting moments of HBO’s game-changing series were planned and deliberate, no other has caused such consternation and debate among TV viewers.

Tony sits down to a meal with his family. A man who has been giving him the eye leaves for the washroom. His daughter enters the restaurant, and we cut to black. Who was that guy? Why the sudden cut to silence? With star James Gandolfini’s recent passing The Sopranos end is now tragically, irrevocably sealed.

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