Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Ones that Got Away: 90s Shows that Ended with Cliffhangers

Do you ever wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, worrying yourself awake over Angela Chase's eventual choice of high school beau? Do you find your mind racing over the endless possibilities, considering the implications of taking a pro-Jordan or pro-Brian bias? No, no, of course you don't. That's what I'm here for. To carry your unshouldered burden of those unsolved 90s pop culture mysteries.

It's the ultimate case of The One That Got Away. We found a TV series we enjoyed, we became invested in the characters and plot lines, and then suddenly the reality of poor ratings and low ad revenues kicked in and the network would yank it from its lineup. This is disappointing in any case, but it's especially vexing when the writers leave important plot threads dangling. We never saw it coming. At least when a series that plans its own finale, we get that closure we so desperately crave. Everything wraps up neatly and we can all sleep soundly knowing that our characters have found their peace.

Sometimes, though, the writers may not know they're teetering on the brink of imminent cancellation. They write a season finale as a cliffhanger, hoping to keep their loyal viewers in suspense of a surprising twist in the next season's premiere episode. We're all waiting anxiously for our favorite show's return, eager for the answers to our most pressing plot questions when we hear the bad news: the show has been canceled. The canon on its storylines is officially closed, and we're left to speculate forever on the true nature of the show's intentions. I'm still vacillating over the whole Jordan/Brian ordeal, and it's been over ten years.

Home Improvement

Like many young girls of my time, the show started its decline in my mind the minute JTT left. It just wasn't the same without his endearing floppy-haired precociousness. Aside from my own bitterness at his departure, most viewers had a bigger issue with the iffy series finale. After nine years, you would think they would at least have given us a little something to hold onto.

The final episode features a wealth of deliberations for the Taylor family. Tim films his final Tool Time and producers beg him to stay. Jill gets a job offer to be a psychologist in Indiana. It looks like they're going to Indiana, moving their house one piece at a time...or are they? Yup, we potentially got Dallas'ed. Is it a dream? We'll never know.

They did, however, at least have the common courtesy to leave us with a cheesy montage and a final curtain call:

Caroline in the City

This show may not have been quite as culturally persevering as Home Improvement, but it did fare pretty well for awhile in NBC's Thursday night line-up. The writers dish up another heaping serving of What Might Have Been, though they leave us to ponder whether or not it will be. Caroline's all set to marry Richard, he tells her he doesn't really want kids, she freaks out a bit. Fast forward six months, Caroline's about to marry Randy, and wouldn't you know it, there's Richard! Who would've thought? Anyway, the clip isn't available anywhere on the interwebs, so you'll have to settle for this montage of Caroline and Richard and just hope that was the finale's intention.

Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Remember, if you can think back this far, a time before Terri Hatcher was a Desperate Housewife and Dean Cain a desperate Ripley's Believe it or Not host. In the 90s, these two embodied the updated Superman and Lois Lane. The series' last episode is a real puzzler, though. The two find a baby on their doorstep with a note. We don't get much more than that. They thought the show would get picked up for another season, but we were stuck with this ending. If it helps, though, one of the writers later revealed that the baby was a Krypton royal who they needed to shield from deadly assassins. I think I liked it better when I didn't know.


Someone's pregnant! Moesha's brother's been kidnapped! It's all pretty exciting stuff, but unfortunately we don't get to find out what happened. They'd originally intended to resolve the issues on the spin-off The Parkers, but there just wasn't enough time. Besides, at that point, I'd lost interest anyway.

My So-Called Life

Ah, the classic cliffhanger ending. MSCL didn't have spectacular ratings, but it did gather a fiercely loyal fanbase. You can imagine the anger they felt when they found out that the eternal question of Angela's love life would never be resolved. Angela's all about hunky and semi-illiterate Jordan Catalano until she finds out at the end of the episode that his heartfelt love letter was ghostwritten by none other than geeky but kind-hearted Brian Krakow. Like I said earlier, this one still haunts me. I'm sort of a Brian fan, but I had a huge crush on Jared Leto. I don't know what I wanted, I just wanted an ending, dammit.

Models, Inc.

I'm still not totally sure why I loved this show as a kid. It wasn't particularly good, nor was it remotely appropriate for my young age. Regardless, I have a soft spot for this one and I'd really like to know how it all played out. This one was so bold to splash a big To Be Continued.... across the screen, meaning they were pretty cocky about their chances for a second season. There's a wedding, an assassin points a gun at several different characters, camera pans away, we hear a shot. And then...nothing. No answers. Several years down the road, E! aired an alternate ending that gave us some closure. Unfortunately, I never saw it. If any of you did, let me know what happened.

Oh, wait, never mind. Here it is. Thanks, YouTube!


Did Cybill and Maryanne kill the infamous Dr. Dick or not? They thought not, just a simple blow-up-his-boat operation. Next, they're arrested for his murder. The show was canceled so suddenly, we never got a chance to find out what might have been. Either way, I think he deserved it.


I spent many of my high school years pondering the age-old question: was I Brooke or a Sam? I realize now that I'm probably not missing anything by not falling into the categories of bulimic cheerleader or repressed lesbian. I've really got to get some new role models.

Anyway, this show was, as the title implies, pretty popular for awhile. The WB pushed it into the black hole of the Friday night time slot and the ratings plummeted. The cliffhanger was pretty juicy, too--we probably all would've tuned in for a little tying-up of loose ends. Brooke's fellow cheerleader Nicole Julian gets drunk and runs over Brooke with her car. How could you not want to know what happened? My curiosity is pretty persistent.

I couldn't find the ending, so you'll have to settle for the intro. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to iTunes to go download that theme song.

We may never know what happened in most of these scenarios, but perhaps it's better off that way. Leaving the story open-ended lets it lives on and gives it a potential that probably exceeds whatever the writers would have actually come up with. They also taught us the valuable life lesson of learning to live with disappointment. Sure, I was upset when I didn't know how Home Improvement wrapped up, but it did prepare me for the continued grief associated with opening one of my current paychecks.

And for the record, Runner Up: Dallas. It got resolved in a TV movie, anyway. Plus, what kind of a 6-year old watched Dallas? I have no context for it. On the other hand, I watched Cybill, so my tastes may have been a bit more mature than I'd initially thought.


Badass Geek said...

In regards to My So Called Life... The father totally ran off with his business partner, the mother became an alcoholic, the younger sister gets involved with drugs, and yeah... It's a downward spiral from there.

Al said...

I miss step by step. I know its not in this post. i dont know how it ended. but i want more! or at least want it on dvd damn it!

Melanie's Randomness said...

I remember Popular!! I was so sad when it just got cut. I don't remember My-So-Called Life. I might have been to young when it aired. Yeah I'm not a fan of the whole cliff-hanger ending thing. I have to give it to like Dawson's Creek for having a very good definite ending.

ali said...

Wow, I must've had mature taste as a kid... (joking, Full House was totally my favorite show. Okay, it still is.) Of all those shows, I only really watched Caroline in the City and Cybill. I'd forgotten the cliffhanger-ness. I have to say that sometimes I'd prefer a cliffhanger to one of those ridiculously cheesy endings shows have been doing (Seinfeld, anyone?)

Charlotte said...

Oh, man, I ADORED Caroline and Richard together!

Cliffhangers are annoying, but in some ways I think I might prefer that to a finale that establishes things I don't want to happen (character death, non-OTP living happily ever after, etc).

Kristen said...

I didn't really watch any of these shows. The one show of the 90s that about killed me when it ended (after a single season!) was Freaks and Geeks. Thankfully its last episode wasn't really a cliffhanger, but I'm still eagerly waiting for the day when Linda Cardellini (Lindsey) and Jason Segal (Nick) reunite in some Judd Apatow movie. Once that happens, I can finally move on from mourning the demise of F&G.

Ali said...

Lois and Clark was a family favorite. I miss that show!

Meghan said...

Oh my gosh, I LOVED Jordan Catalano. Brian and his bike drove me CRAZY:)

A Nerd and A Free Spirit said...

wow. I LOVED Lois and Clark. And it did go downhill, in my opinion, toward the end. And who didn't love JTT? I still do. (-:


Seattle Kim D said...

I am still waiting for an ending to My So Called Life - can't the cast reuinte as 40-year-olds and do one last episode?!?

oh and I used to love Popular, so good in that stupid HS sort of way. I don't recall the last episode though, wow!

Also, there was a finale to Model's Inc?!? I need to find this somewhere. I too have no idea why I loved it so much...

Alyson said...

Oh man, I recently rewatched Caroline in the City (mostly because Malcolm Gets is so very hot) and got annoyed all over again, even though I knew it was coming. Who ends a show like that??

On the other hand, I was the world's biggest Lois and Clark fan, yet the ending never bothered me. I didn't even consider it a cliffhanger, until all of my friends went nuts over it.

nikki said...

As much as I <3ed Jordan Catalano (those eyes!), I still wanted Angela to choose Brian. Because he was less handsome, but not such a fucking idiot.

LadyJ3000 said...

I loved Models Inc. There was one model that was kidnapped and sold into a prostitution ring by Grayson.

It was never resolved and even the alternate ending forgot about her.

Samantha said...

Ah man. I remember when they finally showed Wilson's whole face at the very end. Little kid me said, "Ew gross he has a big chin." I just thought it was soooo weird to finally see him not hiding behind something.

Anonymous said...


P said...

"popular" was the one out of all of those that I REALLY wanted to know what happened! I LOVED that show!

although i had no idea where "Cybill" progressed to. How did I miss the end of that???

Jen said...

Models Inc, MSCL and Popular!! Ahh, that's like a time line of my teen years

All shows that I would love to learn the ending too.

Lauri said...

I just bought seasons 1 & 2 of Lois & Clark. I'd forgetten how cute Dean Cain could be. YOu forgot Swan's Crossing, where they asked people to write/call, but didn't say where.

Andhari said...

Oh wow I LOVE popular! I only watch a bunch of random eps I always want to know what happen :)

Aiden said...


Since the series left on a cliff-hanger, creator Ryan Murphy said that this is what would have happened, with the 3rd season starting in on the gang's senior year.

Brooke breaks every bone in face after being in the accident. Yet when the bandages are revealed, she's exactly the same--except brunette.

Nicole says she was driven to alcohol (and driving drunk) after Mike McQueen sexually abused her.

Harrison actually chose Brooke, but couldn't reveal his choice to Sam.

Josh's addiction to cockfighting/gambling ruin his relationship with Lily, so he moves in with Harrison.

After dating Brooke and becoming "popular," Harrison starts getting involved with other, eligible ladies.

Mary Cherry is accidentally sent to the pound...and put up for adoption. Where she is claimed just before being put to sleep by Cherry Cherry after her twin B. Ho is gunned down in her 'hood.

Cherry Cherry starts teaching at Kennedy High--a little course called Madonna 101.

Brooke and Nicole become united once again to stop exchange student Unique Jones from ruling the school.

Kennedy High is then sold and converted into a nursing home, forcing the students to leave for college early.

Five years later (aka the end of the 3rd season--flash forward!), Mary Cherry buys "Melrose Place," where the entire gang live, spoofing that series.

Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but really, the whole show kind of was, wasn't it?

Elodie said...

MSCL actually had an ending. Throughout the series, the parents' and kids' storylines mirror each other. Patty had her bad boy phase, then chose "safe" Graham. Angela has had her Jordan phase and will choose Brian.

Anonymous said...

Re: Popular

In interviews, the creator has stated the one thing he had planned for Season 3 before cancellation was that Sam would have come out of the closet. "The series creator, Ryan Murphy, stated that had the third season been filmed, Sam would have struggled with her sexuality and realized she was gay."

Glee was pretty much the guys second chance, because Glee seems to be Popular with a bigger budget and music.

Didn't Alex Mack end in a cliff-hanger as well?

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