Seinfeld to The Sopranos: The 10 Most Controversial Series Finales Ever

It's been 22 years since Seinfeld signed off and left fans enraged. It wasn't the first show to do so, and it certainly wasn't the last.

By Billy Nilles May 14, 2020 7:00 AMTags
Watch: 7 Stars Who Had Breakout Roles on "Seinfeld"

For a show about nothing, reaction to Seinfeld's series finale sure was something.

It's been 22 years since the beloved NBC sitcom signed off on May 14, 1998 with a two-part episode that put a pin in the story of Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer. And in all that time, there's still a vocal contingent of the show's fan base who haven't gotten over the fact that the show, created by star Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, refused to give us anything close to resembling a happy ending. 

Rather, by the time the parade of guest stars had finished testifying against the core four for the various terrible things they'd done over the past TK seasons, the image we were left with was one of just desserts: Seinfeld and his co-stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards stuck behind bars, their iconic characters found guilty of caring about no one but themselves.

30 Fascinating Facts About Seinfeld

Of course, in the two decades since, there have been more than a few shows that have followed in their footsteps, leaving viewers scratching their heads and wondering whether they'd just wasted years of their lives. In honor of Seinfeld's most ignoble anniversary, here are the 10 shows that most infamously failed to stick their landing.

NBC; ABC; Showtime; HBO; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration

The series ended its 11-season run on April 11, 2021. Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) is diagnosed with the coronavirus in a hospital and soon dies while on a ventilator—a most harrowing cautionary scene amid the current pandemic. The character, who rarely wore a mask, was initially hospitalized after displaying more severe symptoms of his alcohol-related dementia and after suffering a suspected suicide attempt by overdose.

As he passes away, he imagines himself rising up above the rooftops while sitting in a chair in his hospital gown as he narrates a letter, filled with words of "advice," that he left for his family. In the post-credits, his body, saturated with ingested alcohol, is cremated, with explosive results.

Despite much hope among fans, Emmy Rossum, who left the show in season nine in 2019, did not return for the finale to reprise her role of Frank's eldest daughter Fiona Gallagher. However, old footage of her was included in short family flashbacks experienced by Frank. 

Aside from his final accession, the finale also left even more up in the air: Lip (Jeremy Allen White) gets an offer to sell the family's home and hopes to start a new life with Tami (Kate Miner), their son Freddie and his brother Liam (Christian Isaiah). Debs (Emma Kenney) plans on moving to Texas with her daughter Franny (Paris Newton) and a new girlfriend. Ian (Cameron Monaghan) and Mickey (Noel Fisher) accept their new yuppie lifestyle. Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) embraces a new position in the police department that will allow him to stay true to himself. Kev (Steve Howey) and V (Shanola Hampton) plan a move to Kentucky.

One thing does conclude nicely: Lip is acknowledged for stepping up and doing what Frank never succeeded in doing for his family.


Fans were stunned when ABC's groundbreaking sitcom signed off after nine seasons with the titular heroine (played by Roseanne Barr) revealing that the entire final season had been a figment of her imagination, with her beloved husband Dan (John Goodman) having not actually survived his heart attack in the season prior. It was a callback to the character's desire in the early seasons to become a writer by having Roseanne sitting at a typewriter, writing a different ending to her story, but it left viewers feeling like their time had been wasted in the worst way. When the show was revived in 2018 after 21 years, it forgot all about its controversial ending. Little did we know, something even more controversial was on the way...


When ABC decided it was time to end this family-friendly sitcom starring puppet dinosaurs after four seasons, the creators decided to do it in the most depressing way possible by having its main character, Sinclair family patriarch Earl, trigger a catastrophic extinction event that would not only kill every main character, but his entire species. Bleak.

The Sopranos

David Chase's game-changing HBO mob drama ushered in modern day's golden age of television. It also delivered one of the most controversial finales ever with a simple smash cut to black just as something—maybe nefarious, maybe not—was about to happen to the show's iconic antihero, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). Did he meet his maker while feasting on a bowl of onion rings with his family? And did Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) ever finish parallel parking? We will never know.

Gossip Girl

Five simple words are all we need to explain why this iconic CW drama's finale missed the mark: Dan Humphrey was Gossip Girl. In what world?!

Game of Thrones

Daenerys (Emilia Clark) suddenly a fascist villain? Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) the king? The Iron Throne melted down?! By the time the iconic HBO series reached its denouement in May 2019, a lot of fans were left wondering how this could've possibly been the best ending after eight epic seasons. And more than a year later, many of them are still asking that very question.


If you hated the way Lena Dunham's HBO comedy ended, with a half-hour that focused merely on Hannah Horvath with a bit of Allison Williams' Marnie thrown in, helping to raise Hannah's baby, may we suggest you think of it as merely an ill-advised epilogue and allow the penultimate episode—which saw Hannah saying goodbye to all of the titular girls in a truly emotionally effective half-hour—to act as the show's true finale. That's what we do, at least. 


Watching Showtime's serial killer thriller, one got the impression that the titular murderer (played by Michael C. Hall) might eventually have to, you know, pay for his many, many sins by the time all was said and done. Instead, his poor sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) met her demise and he escaped Miami to restart as...a lumberjack in Oregon?! Never has a series finale more nakedly telegraphed the idea "We like this character and may want to do more with him some day" before.


When Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse decided to end the mind-bending ABC mystery by getting metaphysical rather than giving some, you know, concrete answers about what had been going on for the last six seasons, not everyone was exactly thrilled. So, the island was purgatory, right? Right?!

How I Met Your Mother

After nine seasons of listening to Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) deliver one of the most long-winded stories in the world on the CBS sitcom, detailing how he met the mother of his children, fans were understandably horrified by the tossed-off way it was revealed that she'd been dead all along and Ted was, in fact, seeking his kid's permission to pursue their aunt Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders). It was, uh, a choice.


When the iconic NBC comedy signed off in 1998 after nine seasons, original co-creator Larry David returned to really drive home how little the show's core four characters had learned—and how kinda awful they'd been all along. A parade of returning guest stars testified about all the horrible things that had befallen them as a result of Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander), and Kramer's (Michael Richards) extreme selfishness and, in the end, a judge threw them in jail for a full year as a result of it. And fans were PISSED.

(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)