We’re all suckers for some good ol’ escapism (
especially now). These days, the granddaddy of all distractions is the television show. Traditionally, lifelong watchers have always had a show or shows they tune in for every week, waiting for that special time when a new episode airs. Television shows have become a cornerstone of our lives (for better or worse). There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of watching that favorite show or the sadness of seeing an era end. Streaming introduced binge-watching and amped all of this up to 11. Now, we can binge an entire season of a Netflix show and walk away feeling empty inside a single day.
Whether it be over days, weeks, months, or years, there are plenty of
TV shows that would’ve been perfect to have never finished. This has nothing to do with characters, story arcs, or quality, simply a desire to live inside them forever without knowing the ending. Lots of people watch TV this way, so shows never have to end in their minds, a lack of finality that negates all emptiness. Here are 13 TV shows that seemed ripe and ready for an endless binge…and then ended.
Cover Photo: HBO
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The Endless Binge
For most fans (new and old), Friends is timeless, never failing to make audiences laugh. It set the sitcom trend of illogically luxurious NYC apartments and groups of misfits. That said, it defined relationship norms for an entire generation. Seeing the characters put their keys on the counter of the apartment in the finale marked the end of young adulthood for those characters, the actors, and their fans. The much-hyped reunion will never encapsulate or cater to how most people just want to continue growing with Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, and Chandler until the wheels fall off.
Yes, Walter White’s cooking meth to provide for his family once he’s gone, but is all the violence and ego-tripping justified? Breaking Bad isn’t just a great character study, but a brilliantly-crafted drama that artfully juxtaposed the nature of right and wrong that had audiences on the edge of their seats more and more every week. Before it ended, you weren’t sure if you liked Walter or not, and, as fans continue to re-watch the show, that feeling will live on in perpetuity. The finale served up a large helping of redemption for the character, giving him everything he set out to acquire in the first place. That said, one can’t help but feel like watching WW live out his days in New Hampshire (or just continue to “break bad" forever) would’ve tickled our fancy.
Bad news: serial killers will probably always exist. People are crazy. That’s why Dexter Morgan, the blood splatter expert who not only solved murders, but committed them (only killing guilty people, though), was so compelling. Like Walter White, we didn’t necessarily want to like what he was doing, but some of these people kind of deserved it. On top of his demented vigilante-esque antics, his relationships were, again, demented to behold: entertainment galore. The kind of catharsis that Dexter delivers is something we could use it our life right now; not to mention the fact that the finale, where Dexter goes and becomes a lumberjack after faking his death didn’t deliver any sort of closure anyway.
'Parks and Recreation'
The Parks and Recreation finale featured a plethora of time jumps, showing fans what would become of their favorite characters. In this way, Parks and Rec never ended. Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson are still overcoming their political differences daily and are the best of friends. The show’s virtual reunion (picking up during COVID-19), is a perfect example of how Parks and Rec ’s unique brand of satire (masquerading as simple comedy) addresses important issues in a way that we’re always going to need.
The careers of monster-hunting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester have been television for 15 years. A show that started as a relatively standard monster-of-the-week serial morphed into a biblical odyssey of epic proportions...sort of. There’s no denying the fact that the show’s quality has suffered since the end of its initial planned five-year arc; the show has presented countless apocalyptic scenarios since—it always feels like the end. However, the show’s ratings haven’t buckled under this dissonance in the slightest. The fans do not care. The Supernatural community has become a real thing; members of the cast and crew connect with fans and promote charitable causes. Supernatural is ending this year. Finally. For those who grew up with the show, literally thinking Sam and Dean would be saving people and hunting things well into their twilight years, it won’t feel like the end.
'How I Met Your Mother'
2005 was a different time. From the jump, How I Met Your Mother tells the audience its endgame: Ted meets the mother of his children; old Ted (Bob Saget) spends nine seasons telling his kids how he met their mother. Over those nine seasons, we see Ted, Robin, Barney, Lily, and Marshall live what are arguably the best years of their life in, around, and above a bar. Like real life, early on, instead of parents, you’re just a young adult playing the field and figuring things out. Sometimes the show made it feel like the story of how Ted met their mother would last forever, like some sort of perpetual innocence and youth (that’d be nice). Then Ted meets the mom, she dies, and he ends up with Robin. Not only do a lot of fans wish they’ve could’ve spent more time with Cristin Milioti’s character (aka the mother), but they pretty much hated the finale. In the same way that Friends marks a period in the lives of audiences (that we didn’t want to end), so does How I Met Your Mother .
'Friday Night Lights'
Like the pastime it is built around, Friday Night Lights gave audiences what was essentially an inspiring match-up every week. The football games were cinematic and emotional due to our investment in the characters; especially Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his wife (Connie Britton). At the end of the series, the Taylors moved away from Texas (and from football). That said, in an alternate reality, Taylor could’ve gone on to coach for the rest of his (and our) lives, giving us a thrilling and resonant football season every year, with new players and characters.
Cheers is about the daily shenanigans that take place in the bar where everybody knows your name. It should go without saying that visiting Cheers (or our own corner bar) on a regular basis is something most of us do (one way or another). The Cheers finale saw Sam acknowledge his bar as his one true love, the best thing in his life before saying, “Sorry, we’re closed.” Most bars open back up.
First off, New Girl deserves more recognition. As a modern sitcom, it took everything revolutionized by comedies like Friends and implemented new-era sensibilities. For the same reasons you don’t want any generational sitcom to end, we wish we could watch Nick, Jess, Winston, and Schmidt (also Coach?) play True American forever.
'Game of Thrones'
Largely because of how it changed genre television, Game of Thrones exists in the binge-watch hall of fame: adult fantasy made more accessible than ever before. That said, the later seasons (especially season eight) were a huge disappointment, failing to satisfying plot lines or do its yet-to-be-completed source material justice (presumably). David Benioff and Dan Weiss were unequipped to give Game of Thrones (let alone A Song of Ice and Fire ) a proper ending. It was rushed. George R.R. Martin, they are not. There was (and is) enough lore and mythology to have kept the show going virtually forever. The fans would’ve loved it. HBO would’ve loved it. The network is already working on spin-off shows. Luckily, we’ll probably be able to live in Westeros forever. The world is simply too bankable to abandon.
There’s no denying the fact that The Sopranos paved the way for contemporary television. Running from 1999-2007, The Sopranos is still considered to be one of (if not the) greatest shows of all time. Led by James Gandolfini’s inimitable performance of therapy-going mob boss Tony Soprano, the show capitalized on the ever-lasting appeal of mafia drama by focusing on detailed characters, comedy, and surrealism. Those who aren’t re-watching it are now discovering it for the first time. For a multitude of reasons, The Sopranos isn’t as much a tale with a beginning, middle, and end than it is a realistic look at the complexities of human life and gluttony and an inability to change. The much-debated ending which sees Tony put in a position to either live the rest of his life paranoid or not at all, is a testament to how we could just watch him sitting in Dr. Melfi’s office, talking about ducks, forever.
Counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer saved the world day after day, under different circumstances, and with different-ish stakes in play for eight seasons on Fox’s 24 . If spinoffs like 24: Live Another Day have proven anything, it’s that 24 could probably go on forever—there will always be more days. However, 24: Legacy proved that it doesn’t really work without Kiefer Sutherland or, perhaps the real-time format doesn’t work quite as well on contemporary television. Imagine a revival where Bauer has a week, month, or year to travel the world and do some real Jack Ryan -esque shit. 24 never really finished; Bauer was just seen being taken prisoner (once again), his future unknown. The writers have intentionally left the series open-ended because 24 will never be completely finished—there’s always tomorrow.
'The West Wing'
The West Wing is perhaps the definitive work of the wordsmith, Aaron Sorkin. Every week viewers would tune in to watch fictional Democratic President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet and his staffers as they worked through two terms in Washington, D.C. Sorkin’s witty dialogue and signature visuals on The West Wing was like watching an America that, well, made sense. Imagine working or voting for a politician where you’re confident in their righteousness and uplifting monologues all day. The West Wing is the kind of show we need to stick around to remind us of how leaders are supposed to act. Even if it's a dramatization, it gives us something to strive towards. In a world where television has turned cynical, The West Wing is sorely missed.