Paul Scheer knows a thing or two about series finales. The comedian, actor, and podcasting superstar has brought the curtain down on several shows over the course of his career, including his breakout MTV series,Human Giant (which he made with Rob Huebel and Aziz Ansari), and his popular Adult Swim spoof, NTSF:SD:SUV. And he’s about to participate in another series finale, when the FXX comedy The League — on which he’s part of an ace ensemble that includes Nick Kroll, Mark Duplass, Katie Aselton, Jon Lajoie, and Steve Rannazzisi — wraps up its seven season run on Dec. 9. These experiences have given Scheer a general philosophy about finales, one he handily summarizes as: “Get out while the getting’s good.”
“I’m always a big believer to end the show before you overstay your welcome,” Scheer tells Yahoo TV. “Rob, Aziz, and I did it with Human Giant and I did it with NTSF. With The League, we had the opportunity to do two more seasons, but we all decided to do one more and wrap it up the way we want to wrap it up.”
Speaking with us nearly three weeks after wrapping The League finale, Scheer describes the last day on set as being bittersweet. “I don’t think anyone understands what it’s like to finish a show. It’s been seven years, and we’ve just finished shooting a full season, so no matter what, you’re a little tired of doing it. Then you realize, ‘We’re never coming back!’ It kind of all hit us on the last day; we wanted to be like ‘We’re cool, we don’t care,’ but it really did affect us.” Scheer promises that League fans will feel a similar sense of completion, but with more laughs than tears. “[Creators] Jeff and Jackie Schaffer are so good about hitting jokes and driving towards jokes — you’ll get to see everything you want to see out of the finale.”
Scheer’s finale expertise doesn’t just extend to shows that he’s involved with. At our prompting Scheer shared six of his favorite — and three of his least favorite — final episodes from past TV series. See which ones fell short, and which are in a… well, league of their own. (Warning: Spoilers for shows you may not have gotten around to seeing yet.)
Seinfeld: “The Finale” (May 14, 1998)
Quick Recap: While killing time in a small Massachusetts town, Jerry and his pals wander the streets and witness a robbery, but only offer New York sarcasm instead of New England assistance. They’re promptly jailed for that offense, and a star-studded trial ensues during which almost everyone they’ve wronged over the past nine seasons returns to denounce them in court.
Scheer’s Take: “Most series finales split people down the middle, and I know this one is especially divisive. Sitcoms generally end with, ‘And they lived happily ever after,’ but Seinfeld was always the dark version of sitcoms. The characters represented all the things we wanted to say, but didn’t. So for it to end on a happy note wouldn’t have been true to the show. I love the fact that everyone that they screwed over came back to testify that they were awful people and deserved to go to jail. I don’t think viewers wanted to acknowledge that they were awful people, because we loved them so much. But I stand by that finale as being true to the series and a great way to give the characters their comeuppance. Maybe it would be received better today now that we’re in an age where dark meta-comedy is more popular.”
The Larry Sanders Show: “Flip” (May 31, 1998)
Quick Recap: Bowing to network pressure, Larry Sanders steps down from his late night talk show perch to make room for the new kid on the block: Jon Stewart.
Scheer’s Take: “The Larry Sanders finale is interesting to watch now. Look at David Letterman. Was he forced out at CBS? We’ll never know. I don’t think he wanted to retire — that’s my armchair analysis. But he was like, ‘Here are all these young guys doing shows,’ and there was this energy that he was 15 years ahead of. I think he had to leave not really on his own terms. So seeing Larry Sanders now, it really captures what’s going on [in late night] with the younger and newer edging out the older.”
The Sopranos: “Made in America” (June 10, 2007)
Quick Recap: Phil Leotardo is sacrificed to bring a truce between the Soprano and the Lupertazzi families, allowing Tony to come out of hiding. Meadow gets engaged and A.J. lands a new job. The entire Soprano family meets for dinner at New Jersey’s famed Holsten’s diner, where Tony is either executed… or not.
Scheer’s Take: “The Sopranos finale both engaged and enraged viewers. People were like, ‘What happened? You need to tell me!’ And David Chase just said, ‘No.’ I look at the message of the ending as being, ‘Life goes on.’ Tony might get killed in the diner or he might die of a heart attack later. You can kind of choose your own ending, which is so fulfilling. I prefer a little bit of ambiguity. How lame would it have been for some guy to walk into Holsten’s, shoot Tony, and then credits? People think they want closure in a finale, but you don’t really want closure.”
Lost: “The End” (May 23, 2010)
Quick Recap: Let us explain… no there is too much. Basically, the returned castaways have their final encounter with the mystical island’s Man in Black. Meanwhile, in the “flash sideways” universe all of the characters converge on a church and it becomes clear that they’re inhabiting some kind of afterlife.
Scheer’s Take: “Lost is a finale that I feel strongly about, even though I know people don’t like it. Over the course of the series, the writers set up so many mysteries, I think people were expecting a domino effect in the finale, where there would be answers. But the finale was a thematic ending. I thought it was really beautiful: The idea that all these characters had this experience, and then they got off the island and lived their lives. But this place defined them and before they go into the afterlife, they have to join up. It’s a subtler ending that maybe doesn’t give the audience what it wants, but it gives the creators a sense of completion. To their own deficit, I think, the writers kind of wrote a show that begged for answers, and they also told you ‘There are answers.’ So they walked into that hole in the finale, and as a creator, you kind of have to walkaround that hole. The benefit we have with The League finale is that nobody is expecting answers!”
Breaking Bad: “Felina” (September 29, 2013)
Quick Recap: Leaving behind his New Hampshire hideout, Walter White returns to his old New Mexico stomping grounds to put his affairs in order and dish out some vigilante punishment.
Scheer’s Take: “Breaking Bad always stuck the landing, whether it was a season finale or a character arc. And the series finale was a case of them having their cake and eating it, too. Walter White needs to die, but he gets to go out in the most boss fashion. What’s great about the finale is that you get multiple versions of your preferred ending. You see him alone and miserable in the New Hampshire house, so that’s one itch scratched. Then you get to see him go back and take care of business, which scratches that itch. And then you get the final itch scratched with him dying! And as with all good finales, there’s some debate. There are a lot of people out there who argue that Walter died the minute the car keys fell out of the visor in the opening scene. So that finale has everything: It gave me every ending I wanted to see and a theory that all of it was a dream.”
Parks and Recreation: “One Last Ride” (February 24, 2015)
Quick Recap: Before Pawnee’s Parks crew goes their separate ways, Leslie spearheads one more city improvement project. Flash-forwards reveal what’s in store for her friends and family in the days, months, and decades ahead, including, perhaps, an oval-shaped office for Leslie.
Scheer’s Take: “It’s generally easier to stick the landing in a drama than in a comedy. In recent memory, the best comedy series finale is Parks and Rec. The final season is superb from start to finish, and then that finale just encapsulates everything that was so great about the show throughout its run. The core of it was that you loved these characters, so to see them in the future was great. Plus, it was still really funny. And just like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, there’s a little bit of ambiguity. You’re left going, ‘Wait… is Leslie the President?’ That was so awesome and it wrapped up the season and the series in such a beautiful way.”
The X-Files: “The Truth” (May 19, 2002)
Quick Recap: Fox Mulder makes his belated return, and he and Scully get new intel about the impending colonization of Earth by extraterrestrials.
Scheer’s Take: “I’m a huge X-Files fan, but that’s a show that tapered off during its run. After David Duchovny left, it started to fall part and then they were like, ‘We’re going to bring him back for the finale!’ And fans thought, ‘Great! What answers are we going to get?’ And then nothing! We got nothing! That was one of those finales where you felt betrayed.The X-Files exemplifies why you should get out before the show goes past its moment. Because it was firing on all cylinders, and then it got diluted. I just remember being so bummed after that episode.”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Chosen” (May 20, 2003)
Quick Recap: The Scooby Gang rides off for one last pitched fight against the First Evil, with Sunnydale High serving as the battleground.
Scheer’s Take: “Buffy was disappointing throughout its whole final season; bringing in that army of Slayers lost me, and I was never a huge Dawn fan. I think they Brady Bunch-ed it — they introduced a whole bunch of new characters, changed a lot of relationships, and then you’re left with a finale that’s kind of like, ‘Who cares?’ When you have a show that’s dying creatively, and then you put a finale on the end of it, the infection of the dying season fills your ending. There are some cool moments in Chosen, like the final fight being at the school where it all began and Xander with an eyepatch, but the season didn’t build to any of that [effectively]. I just don’t think that final season or that final episode were as good as the show was [at its best].”
Alias: “All the Time in the World” (May 22, 2006)
Quick Recap: Super spies Sydney, Vaughn, Sark, Sloane, and Spy Daddy aka Jack converge on the tomb of Renaissance-era mystic, Milo Rambaldi, in pursuit of an artifact that grants immortality, while Spy Mommy aka Irina is preps nuclear missiles for a global attack.
Scheer’s Take: “People describe The Sopranos, Seinfeld, and Lost as being bad finales, but I disagree. Because if you can remember the finale, then it wasn’t bad. I think a bad finale is one that you don’tremember. With Alias, I’m like, ‘How did it end?’ And I was a big Aliasfan! That was another show where they had so many mysteries, and then crammed too much information into the final episode. I’d rather take a big swing and be perceived as a big miss rather than just kind of walk out the door, leaving people saying, ‘Did that person just leave the party?’”