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COLUMN: TV series finales almost always must-watch events

Columnist has been getting a real kick out of Ted Lasso, so he hopes the last episode, set to air Tuesday, scores with viewers

If you’re old enough to know who shot J.R., this column may be for you.

Maybe you’re not that old, but you still wonder if Walter White actually did die that day. (Spoiler alert.)

I love a good series, always have. Right now, I am on the emotional roller-coaster that is Ted Lasso.

I went for the soccer, but I stayed for the storytelling.

The final episode of the series is set for Tuesday, May 30, so you don’t have long to binge it before then.

If you’re a soccer fan, you’ll love the Premier League stuff; if you’re not, that's fine, too, because the story is not solely focused on soccer.

The series is only three seasons, but has told some of the deepest, most meaningful and impactful stories I have seen on TV.

Admittedly, I will be a mess on Tuesday. How do television shows evoke such great emotion from us? 

I absolutely love a TV series finale. Even if I don’t watch the show, I like to see the last few scenes. 

For example, I didn’t watch Breaking Bad when it first aired, but heard all the hype. When the final episode aired, I tuned in to the last half-hour not really knowing anything about the show, but wanting to see how it ended.

Then, a couple years later, I began watching the whole series as my wife got into it. I instantly regretted tuning in to that series finale, because I knew exactly how it was going to end. (It didn’t matter, though. It was still a top three best show ever!)

But there is a generation that still talks about the M*A*S*H series finale. Did you know 105 million people watched that episode on Feb. 28, 1983? No social media, no streaming services and many without a VCR or Betamax. (You can search for that on Google.)

Just 105 million people, all tuning in at the same time and not tweeting about it. Just getting lost in that story to say goodbye.

Cheers was another widely popular and hilarious sitcom that went off the air one decade later on May 20, 1993. It had 80.4 million people watching.

How popular was it? On that night, 40,000 people crammed into the SkyDome (now called Rogers Centre) in downtown Toronto to watch it together.

Heck, many people also remember the episode of nighttime soap opera Dallas from Nov. 21, 1980, where the main character, J.R. Ewing, was shot and presumed dead at the end of Season 3.

"Who Shot J.R.?" is still revered as one of the best cliffhangers in TV history, and had an estimated 83 million views. 

For context on how popular that “whodunit” episode was, the actual series finale on May 3, 1991 only drew 33.3 million people — after 14 feud-filled seasons. 

Television is storytelling — it draws us in and makes us want more. Done right, it makes us want to watch it together with “watch parties” and talk about it the next day at work around the water cooler or coffee machine.

Nowadays, what is a question that breaks the ice in any room?

“Hey, what are you watching? Got a show suggestion for me?”

Yes, I do and it's called Ted Lasso.

In just three seasons, it has brought so such emotion for those who watch. It has a fantastic presence on social media and appeals to a wide-ranging group, from the drama, comedy and/or sports crowds. 

It's also going out at the peak of its series, taking its cue from Seinfeld, which bowed out in 1998 after nine seasons and topped the Nielsen Ratings in that last year. Its last episode, which aired on May 14, 1998, attracted 76.3 million viewers. Pretty good for a show about nothing. 

Yes, I know. I can hear “read a book” from some of you. 

Much like The Fugitive, which was beamed into living rooms from 1963 to 1967 and is the third most watched TV series finale in history at 78 million viewers, it was said by the writer of the show to be based on a novel he wrote in 1946. 

So yes, maybe I should read another book, but in the words of Coach Lasso, you should “be curious, not judgmental.”

I’ll read a book another day, but on Tuesday I’ll be tuning in to see if my mighty, mighty AFC Richmond wins the league and, more importantly, if we can keep Lasso as our bench boss.

Either way, I’m not going to be crying, you are.

Shawn Gibson is a staff reporter at BarrieToday.