The Sopranos’ Finale Set The Standard for the Potential Power of a Peak TV Finale

12 Jun

Ten years ago, The Sopranos set the standard for what it means to be a Peak TV series finale. I don’t say gold standard; although I somewhat liked it overall, The Sopranos’ finale “Made in America” was famously polarizing and certainly never reached the universal acclaim of the finales of Six Feet Under and The Shield, often considered (and with good reason) to be two of the best, if not simply the two best of all-time. But regardless of merely a silly thing like quality itself, The Sopranos set expectations for what a Peak TV finale was. The hype was unparalleled at the time. Sure, Friends and Seinfeld (the only finale I can ever remember being as talked about as The Sopranos) had much-hyped finales in the relatively recent past, but as network comedies the requirements were somewhat different.  The Sopranos was a show on HBO, a premium network, that could never have the audience figures of Seinfeld or Friends and yet it felt like everyone in the country was watching when the finale rolled around. The Sopranos didn’t have the pressure of a question-and-answer show like Lost, but there were still season and series long plots to be touched upon, as well as the need to reach some sort of closure with the main cast, and particularly, with of one of the legendary characters in TV history, Tony Soprano.

I was returning from out of the country the morning after the finale and I had to be on total media lockdown to guarantee I wouldn’t hear any spoilers, as if I had just missed the Super Bowl. Media outlets entirely unrelated to television or entertainment brought it up, it was THE topic that otherwise sleepy spring morning. Even people who didn’t want, felt the need to know, to simply be in on the national conversation (again, like the Super Bowl). What happened mattered, and people cared virulently. To some it was a brilliant ending, to others a cheap cop out and ploy. But there was no question people talked about it, and even more so because of its bold unorthodox ending. The family in the diner. The black screen with nothing definitive (though David Chase would disagree about that). Don’t Stop Believing playing in the background.  This on top of , of course, some more traditional finale ingredients. Meadow engaged, AJ attempting to join the army, a last major character death as Tony’s associates finally finish off Phil Leotardo.

In the decade since, even with the rise of Peak TV and the many many wonderful and popular TV shows, there haven’t been many finales that have even come close to generating the amount of buzz and excitement. Mad Men and Breaking Bad have come the closest; both truly being event season finales. Rare is the show able to keep the hype up over several seasons; often in the most initially hyped shows, interest dies down as the years go or the show is unable to sustain that initial interest (shows like Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy (which is still on, somehow), Scandal, Lost). There’s often some rallying back around these shows for their finales, as the last chance to see characters viewers remember caring for years ago, but those finales don’t have the same high expectations. When The Sopranos ended, there were fewer critical juggernauts and especially when The Sopranos started, it stood out in a way that it’s almost impossible to do now where so many more channels and shows.

There are a few upcoming finales that will be the absolute talk of TV and entertainment blogs and outlets, but Game of Thrones is the next best hope for the type of epic finale people will be talking about on mainstream outlets, speculating about for days and weeks beforehand and setting up viewing parties. Perhaps in a year and a half we’ll revisit this discussion and see whether it could come close to reaching the heights of “Made in America.”

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