An ending can either make or break a story, and a tremendous amount of weight is put on the conclusions of television series that have been entertaining audiences for multiple years, or even decades. Cliffhangers can make for invigorating TV when they occur between episodes or as a bridge between seasons.
That being said, there are unfortunate scenarios where not everything goes as planned and a TV series’ unintentional swan song can end on an unresolved note or just leave its audience insulted. Every story deserves closure, but some cliffhangers hit harder than others, some of which have fueled debate within the fandom for decades.
10 The End Of A Fight Highlights That The War Is Just Beginning
Carnivale ran for two seasons on HBO before its cancellation in 2005 due to a high budget and dwindling audience. Carnivale was described as a spiritual successor to Twin Peaks. Sure enough, its two seasons deliver slow, methodical, and surreal storytelling that depicts the ultimate battle between good and evil.
The second season of Carnivale concludes with Brother Justin and Ben Hawkins having their long-awaited showdown, but this clash ends on an ellipsis rather than a period. Sofie emerges as a new sinister prophet and, in many ways, it feels like Carnivale‘s grander story is just getting started.
9 A Cast Of Clone Creations Are Left Encased In Uncertain States
Phil Lord and Chris Miller have become some of the biggest names in modern animation and comedies after cinematic hits like The Lego Movie, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and the 21 Jump Street movies. Clone High is Lord and Miller’s one-season animated TV show that aired on MTV. However, its premise–a high school where teen clones of historical figures matriculate–seemed to offend the network.
Clone High is a brilliant satire of sitcoms and its comedy is just as sharp today. Thankfully, a modern sequel reboot series is set for 2023, but the original Clone High concludes with its cast hopelessly frozen and left in limbo.
8 A Wisecracking Alien’s Likely Fate Is Too Sad
ALF produced more than 100 episodes over the course of four seasons, setting the standard for family sitcoms that inexplicably feature a puppet companion. ALF has more than one animated spin-off and he even hosted The Tonight Show, but none of these supplemental series provide closure for the grim cliffhanger that the original series goes out on.
ALF presumed that it would be back for a season five, which is why it made the bold decision to end with ALF in the care of the government and ready to undergo dissection. ALF‘s cancelation ostensibly means that ALF becomes a science experiment for the government.
7 A Long Lost Love Returns From The Dead, Which Poses Dire Questions
Duckman doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the boundaries it broke as an adult animated series during the 1990s. Duckman ran for four seasons on the USA Network of all places, but it was allowed to play by its own rules and become worthy competition to The Simpsons.
Duckman features brilliant genre-subverting scripts, but Jason Alexander’s irate voice work as the central character is as iconic as Will Arnett’s work as BoJack Horseman. Duckman abruptly ends with his presumed-dead ex-wife interrupting his wedding, which ends the animated comedy on a soap opera-esque cliffhanger.
6 An Epic Western Goes Out With A Whimper Instead Of A Bang
David Milch’s Deadwood is a cutthroat Western mixed with elegant Shakespearean drama as accomplished actors like Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, and Anna Gunn trade lyrical gold. Deadwood was one of HBO’s biggest shows and its unexpected cancelation accounts for season three’s relatively abrupt finish.
Deadwood doesn’t end on an explicit cliffhanger, but the lack of closure does an injustice to this grandiose story. Decades later, David Milch was finally allowed the chance to end Deadwood closer to his own terms. Deadwood: The Movie picks up from these loose ends and allows Milch to give these characters, and their world, a more satisfying finale.
5 Spooky, Spiritual Storytelling Reaches Its Apex Before Its Prematurely Punished
Miracles was an unfortunate cancelation that suffered because of the growing coverage of the in-progress Iraq War. Miracles was only given 13 episodes, several of which didn’t originally air, but it still proved itself as a moody spiritual successor to The X-Files.
Skeet Ulrich stars as an investigator of alleged miracles who ends up on a journey where he begins to believe that he’s been guided by God. Miracles ends on a compelling note that indicates that a rival sect of people are also out there who work in opposition to the heroes. However, the cliffhanger doesn’t explain whether it is actually God who is guiding them.
4 A Hilarious And Heartwarming Supernatural Procedural Builds To Bigger Ideas
Reaper was a charming show that aired on the CW for two seasons long before it became a home for endless superhero series. Reaper leans into the network’s embrace of genre programming and it follows a 21-year-old slacker who learns that his parents sold him to the Devil to do his bidding as his lost soul bounty hunter.
Reaper finds a fun balance between its standalone stories and a deeper lore that becomes quite engaging before its tragic cancelation. Fans are left with the idea that Sam might actually be an Angel, while Andi’s soul is put on the line and character dynamics grow infinitely more complicated.
3 A Sweet Journey Of Comedic Catharsis Is Forced Into Limbo
My Name Is Earl
Greg Garcia fearlessly pushed My Name is Earl down some unexpected directions over the course of its four seasons. Jason Lee’s Earl remains focused on his altruistic list of wrongs to right, but the final seasons take some big swings with their plot and setting.
Garcia never wanted to end My Name is Earl‘s seasons on cliffhangers, just in case it wasn’t renewed, but he was urged to do so and was promised security by NBC. This results in a series finale where Darnell and Dodge’s parentage are forever changed and there are seismic revelations about these characters’ futures before NBC still decided to pull the plug on the sitcom.
2 A Quirky Superhero Series Can’t End Its Legacy With Class
DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow
Legends of Tomorrow was a CW superhero show that prioritized fun. There’s such a playful atmosphere behind its time-hopping stories and eclectic cast of characters. Legends of Tomorrow believed that it would live to see a season eight, so it chose to go out on some rather large cliffhangers, including the Legends’ arrest by Booster Gold’s superiors.
A number of more personal changes also get thrown into the mix, like Sara’s pregnancy and Nate’s loss of his powers. With any luck, an episode from The Flash‘s final season will help give these characters some closure.
1 Chaos Reigns As Numerous Lives Are Put In Danger
David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks is one of television’s greatest accomplishments and it’s even more impressive that it was able to air on ABC during the 1990s. Twin Peaks does resolve its central mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, but the show’s second season goes out on a massive cliffhanger that puts most characters in peril.
Cooper is stuck in the Black Lodge while a doppelgänger runs amok in his image and a bomb in a bank also puts Audrey’s life in danger. Despite the release of Twin Peaks: The Return, which continues the story 25 years later, many of these cliffhangers’ questions don’t directly get answered.
NEXT: 13 TV Shows That Spoiled Their Own Endings Too Soon
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