Folks, I don't know how they did it but some how the writers of Dexter erased a mediocre (and probably the worst) season of the show with one single scene. If you watch the Showtime thriller, you know the sixth season didn't quite live up to expectations but it nonetheless ended on a bang, and if you watch the show you know exactly what I'm talking about. I don't want to ruin it for people who haven't seen it or are in the process this winter break to catch up but it was fantastic. Not to mention Showtime's new thriller Homeland had a game changer of a season finale with killings and big decisions by major characters. Both finales got me thinking of what makes a good season finale because there have been many poor ones in the past (every season of Glee, most of How I Met Your Mother). I'd say premium television knows how to do it best (Dexter, True Blood, Sopranos - except for the series finale) but there are some network shows that do it right.
If there is one show still on TV that can do a season finale correct, it's Grey's Anatomy. I can tell you the big thing that happened in all Grey's finales (Addison shows up, Denny dies, Christina left at the altar, Meredith in the house of candles, George dies, shooting at the hospital and Meredith screws up her career - that literally took me two seconds). Now I would say all but the last season (the seventh season), there was a crushing ending and a huge game changer in the finale (seven is easily the weakest finale). It is easy to say dramas usually make a bigger bang than sitcoms, especially because they have more time, but Parks and Recreation in its young life has had pretty good ones that people should take note of (Leslie running for office and the Tammy's return is one of the best). The important aspect of a finale is getting your audience to want more and totally setting up things for the next season (Dexter does this all too well, not necessarily ending all story lines in one season).
One show I really remember that was pretty bad at finales was Desperate Housewives, it got too complicated and too unrealistic (probably the reason I stopped watching after the third season). You have to remember to answer some of the audiences questions but you have to open new ones to bring them back. Lost was another master (maybe THE master) of the season finale. It was pretty much a guarantee that any Lost finale would be epic. If you have never seen this show, I don't know what you're doing here, they're all on Netflix and I know you're on break (if you didn't know Lost is my favorite thing that has ever aired on television - well maybe a toss up with Tina). Speaking of Tina, one of the best finales I've seen is 30 Rock's season four finale. Two parters are always a win and that's what 30 Rock did, Grey's had a couple of those as well. It's also a good call and gives you some more time to work with, but of course you have to be a successful show to get one of those.
You have to remember however, that the finale is not extremely important but the return of a show is just as important. If you can't bring back some things from the previous season, audiences get bored. That is what I am probably the most anxious for right now as far as Dexter and Homeland is concerned. When a show has me thinking of all the possibilities a week after it aired, that is a success. When I can't stop thinking about what just happened, that is a success. The things that change shows however, is finales that have watchers jaw drop to the floor (see: Dexter season 4 finale, Grey's season 3 and 6 finale, Lost season 3 finale). That is why a show always needs to know where it is going because it is so, so important to set up for the next season so people are automatically asking questions the moment the credits roll.
With that I give you some side notes.
1. We have about three weeks till 30 Rock returns to television which makes January 12 the best day of 2012 so far. Watch a sneak peek of the episode here and an interview with Tina about the season here.
2. Well, I can't lie. Even though Glee has been pretty disappointing this season, I am pretty darn excited for this Grease episode. I have a feeling it will involve Mercedes and Sam's relationship and so does tvline.com: pictures are getting me even more excited.
3. Even though it's not my Tina play Sarah, I can't deny that Julianne Moore looks pretty darn convincing in the role of Sarah Palin in HBO's original movie. Check out this teaser trailer for the film and from the snippet it sounds Moore has that specific voice nailed down pretty well.