It seems like there’s a new reboot announced every week, from Prison Break: Sequel to the upcoming continuation of Twin Peaks, and we posit that a great many of these reboots happen because the original series ended too abruptly, or in ways that left the audience feeling unsatisfied. A good, well-executed cliffhanger mid-series is one thing, but when a TV show ends and leaves huge plot threads that dangle like piñatas the audience kinda wants to smash, it can be frustrating. Even little questions can sometimes nag viewers years later.
Don’t get us wrong, when a TV show concludes, not all questions have to be answered — sometimes, ambiguity leads to more engaged audience debate, or makes for a more intriguing (non)resolution. But there are also times where characters, say, up and disappear for no reason, leaving the audience mouth agape and baffled. Shows should really endeavor to explain when things like that happen, but a surprisingly large number of much-loved programs just … don’t.
An abundance of great TV shows also make a point to raise huge, specific questions, only to leave the answers floating around somewhere in the ether. This list is for those shows, as well as the series that were canceled before they could explain themselves. Here are 15 Classic TV Shows That Left Questions Unanswered:
15. Twin Peaks
Showtime is about to reboot this cult classic on May 21, and (fingers crossed) with Kyle MachLachlan slated to return as Agent Dale Cooper, we should finally get some answers to at least a few of our burning questions, like: the good version of Agent Cooper is still trapped somewhere in the Black Lodge … right? And aside from the obvious good vs. evil metaphorical implications, what are the Black Lodge and White Lodge really?
Also: is Cooper still possessed by BOB, and did he kill Harry S. Truman? Michael Ontkean’s fan favorite small town sheriff isn’t slated to be in the reboot, but his presumed brother Franklin (Robert Forster) is, which raises an entirely new question for fans. This will likely be cleared up right away, but we’re mostly hoping that the huge nagging questions that have been left unanswered for well over two decades get cleared up too. Please.
14. Parks and Recreation
She was like what would happen if the girl next door was a complete do-gooder who was also just a wee bit obsessed with politics. Her spirit and enthusiasm were infectious, and over seven seasons, audiences couldn’t help but fall hard for Amy Poehler’s over-achieving deputy director of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department, Leslie Knope. So, when the Parks and Rec finale featured a well-done flash forward, and it was implied that Leslie’s lifelong dream of becoming President had come true, we were thrilled.
But her presidency was only implied, so Parks and Rec fans are only pretty sure Leslie Knope became the President. This uncertainty isn’t angering — it just might have been a tad more rewarding to hear one of the series’ quirky and beloved characters introduce her as “President Leslie Knope,” that’s all. Plus, check out her letter to America after our most recent election!
13. Family Matters
One of ABC’s landmark TGIF sitcoms, the titular family, the Winslows, originally consisted of dad Carl, mom Harriette, big brother Eddie, middle sis Laura, the quintessential grandma, and the middle-school aged baby, Judy. Yeah, about Judy: she walked up the family staircase at the end of the series’ fourth season and never came back down. Huh. Ominous. So where in the world did Judy Winslow go?
It wasn’t like she was a huge part of the show — Jaleel White’s Steve Urkel was obviously the breakout star — but her character was in the first four seasons (95 episodes total) and she was a part of the show’s central family, so to have her just disappear with zero explanation was way cavalier. She couldn’t have gone off to school in Europe or something?
12. Mork and Mindy
The TV show that made Robin Williams a household name ended in a way that left its audience wondering what exactly happened to the couple they had spent four years rooting for. When the show ended its run, Williams’ hilarious and lovable alien Mork from planet Ork and his wife, Pam Dawber’s Earthling Mindy, are stuck wandering/falling through time after their home on Earth was destroyed.
The show originally intended for this plot line to be a cliffhanger leading into an additional season, but it was cancelled before any resolution could happen. The producers/network then aired another episode that was filmed prior to the finale in a feeble attempt at clarity, in which Mork and Mindy’s home was restored, but there were still plenty of dots in need of connection, like: how did they get unstuck from that time vortex thing? Weren’t they just seen as images on some prehistoric cave drawing? And what was the deal with that whole cave drawing thing, anyway?
So, who was Shepherd Book, really? Every member of the Serenity‘s ragtag crew had secrets, but the enigmatic preacher with dead aim and a bizarre sense for what Captain Mal’s enemy, The Alliance, would do next may have been the show’s most mysterious character. In the series’ seventh episode, “Safe,” when he was injured and in need of medical attention, Mal was refused aid by the Alliance until they saw Book’s ID — after which they rushed him in for immediate medical care. Wait, what?
Later, in the final episode of the series, when super stealth bounty hunter Early knocks the Shepherd out and gets derided for it, he says: “That ain’t a Shepherd,” heightening our interest in Book’s past even more. Series creator Joss Whedon sensed his fans’ need for answers regarding Book, and he co-wrote the 2010 graphic novel Serenity: A Shepherd’s Tale, which explores the past of Firefly‘s most mysterious man in ways the show or movie did not.
10. Boy Meets World
Paging Mr. Turner! In another Case of the Disappearing Characters, Anthony Tyler Quinn’s awesome and gnarly teacher got injured in a motorcycle accident, and the last time we saw him, he was gravely hurt and lying in a hospital bed. And then we never saw him again, and the audience never learned what happened to him after the (Near fatal? Fatal? Who knows?) crash.
It can certainly be argued that Mr. Turner was a much more integral part of Boy Meets World than Judy Winslow was to Family Matters. Shawn lived with him for a time, and he was a major influence on the kids of the series. We finally got some answers in Girl Meets World, however (he married the nurse who cared for him after his accident, and he’s now the superintendent of the New York Board of Education). Not too shabby for a dude who used to rock a mini-mullet.
9. My So-Called Life
Fans of this mid-90s one season wonder are still agonizing over two huge questions the show left unanswered: did Angela ever tell Jordan Catalano she knew Brian Krakow wrote the love letters? And will she and Rayanne ever reconcile and be BFFs again? These are serious questions to fans of this much loved drama, and they remain unanswered due to the show’s devastatingly premature cancellation.
MSCL was cancelled because of low ratings (it aired opposite über stiff competition like Mad About You and a little sitcom called Friends), but it attained cult status via subsequent re-airings on MTV and its availability on streaming services. The show’s characters were lived in and relatable, and fans were totally caught up in all the angsty drama surrounding Angela and her quest to win over brooding hunk Jordan — only to learn that her sweet and sensitive next door neighbor Brian carried an Alaska-sized torch for her. To top it off, her once solid friendship with wild child Rayanne was also left up in the air, and, we gotta ask: is Tino even real?
One of the most beloved shows to come out of the ‘80s or ‘90s, Roseanne is also notorious for having one of the wonkiest, most nonsensical finales in television history. The last five minutes of the series literally negated everything the show had been for nine seasons prior, and came off like the worst of gimmicks. In the series’ final moments, Roseanne reveals she has made everything about the characters we know and love up while writing a work of fiction. Oh, and Dan is dead, so in order to deal with that loss, she became a writer and created these fictions to help herself deal with it. Yeah, Okay, but could you explain that a little more?
Blue-collar comedy has never been better, but now that there is a revival in the works, what does that bizarre, series-changing finale even mean? If every character we loved on the show was actually a totally different person, the series raised a lot more questions than it originally intended.
7. Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under ended in a way that had fans and critics alike calling it one of the all-time great finales, and it was a finale that pretty much answered every question we had about the fates of our favorite characters. The show did leave one pretty huge question unanswered, however: what exactly happened to Nate’s ex Lisa? We’re eventually told that she died, but…how?
She disappeared one day while on a brief road trip, and for several episodes, Nate freaked out in various ways until he finally learned that her remains had washed up on a shore close to where she was last seen. How she ended up drowning remained a mystery. Lisa clearly had emotional and psychological issues, so the question of whether or not she’d take her own life was raised, and audiences (or Nate or their daughter Maya) will never know if her death was accidental, a murder, or by her own hand.
This may be one of the most scary-dark sitcom finales ever. Like, firing squad dark. Starring Billy Crystal, this late ‘70s-early ‘80s comedy made fun of popular soap operas of the time, but it ended on multiple notes that weren’t so funny. The show was always quite dark, (murder was a part of multiple seasons), but when the show was canceled before fans could learn the fates of their favorite characters, this darkness came to the forefront.
In what ended up being the series’ final episode (it was an unexpected cancellation; the final episode was intended to be a season ender, not a series ender) the family matriarch Jessica (Katherine Helmond) ended up in front of a firing squad, and shots rang out just as the scene ended. Another major character (Burt) was also ambushed, and his fate remained unknown as well. Soap spawned a spin-off, Benson, and Jessica’s fate was made clear then (she survived, but was left in a coma in South America), but fans still remained in the dark for a few years prior.
When Sitcoms Get Very Dark, Volume II. Alf, a tiny, furry alien from Melmac, was equal parts harmless and hilarious (his heart was located in his ear, he loved pizza, and he made eating cats funny). So when his spacecraft crashed into the Tanners’ garage, they couldn’t help but want to help shelter him from the Alien Task Force who sought to do him harm via experimentation and dissection.
But when the final episode of the show ended with Alf getting captured by this same task force, viewers were left asking: could Alf ever escape? Does this mean he gets horribly tortured and then dies in the end, y’know, for science? It was a bleak, bizarre ending to one of the decade’s most beloved family comedies. At least ET got to go home.
Believe it or not, Dallas is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential primetime dramas in TV history. The show lasted a ridiculous 14 seasons, which largely focused on Larry Hagman’s delicious villain, oil tycoon J.R. Ewing, and the myriad unfortunate souls he tormented while running the family company, Ewing Oil.
When the show finally ended its run with a two-hour episode that featured J.R. revisiting his past with a literal version of the devil (played by Joel Grey), before locking himself in his room with a loaded gun, fans were miffed. They became furious when the camera cut away from J.R. just before a gunshot was heard. The camera then landed on his brother Bobby, who, upon entering J.R.’s room after hearing the shot, looked aghast at what he saw. And that was that. We know J.R. survived, because he was in the 2012 reboot, but after 14 years, hardcore fans deserved a better finale with a more clear resolution than that.
3. The Sopranos
Ah, the divisive series finale. Arguably one of the more controversial final episodes in recent years, The Sopranos’ ending left many viewers wondering what they had just seen. The final scene was set in a diner, with Tony waiting for his family to arrive. Tension rises with every character introduction — we see patrons enter, and others dining in booths, and we start to wonder: is someone in this diner finally gonna whack Tony Soprano? Is it the guy who just went into the men’s room?
Carmella enters through the door just as “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey begins to play, Anthony soon follows, and we wonder if someone close to Tony will be killed instead. Meadow, who must be the worst parallel parker to ever get behind the wheel, finally arrives and rushes towards the diner, Tony looks up, and the series ends before Steve Perry has finished belting out the lyrics. That’s it. So, was someone there to take out Tony? We still don’t know for sure (but yeah, probably).
2. Saved by the Bell
Remember that season of Saved By the Bell where Kelly and Jessie disappeared and this motorcycle loving teenaged girl named Tori Scott randomly showed up and started dating Zack? Where the heck did Tori come from, and where did she, Kelly, and Jessie go?
And while we’re in the questioning mood, whatever happened to Screech’s soulmate, the blonde, pig-tailed Violet Bickerstaff (played by a pre-Beverly Hills 90210 Tori Spelling)? She dated Screech, threw the ultimate house party, and then … we’re still trying to figure out where she went. It seems as though this Saturday morning classic was the master when it came to writing characters off the show with zero explanation. At least when Zack and company went to work at the Carosi’s beach club, we got to say goodbye to Stacey (Leah Remini) before summer’s end.
Series finales can permanently divide fan bases, and more often than not, controversial finales like LOST‘s tend to do just that. While half of us loved it, half of us loathed it; there was simply no middle ground. One legitimate qualm fans in the latter camp had were the vast number of seemingly important questions the show deliberately raised — only to leave unanswered.
For example: why did murderer Ben Linus (aka Captain Poison Gas) deserve to leave the island, yet relative good guy Michael didn’t? Why wasn’t Mr. Eko in the church? What was the white light Christian Shepherd literally walked into? What was the whole plotline with Walt getting kidnapped and being special about? What did the numbers mean, and what was up with pregnant women dying? Sure, some questions can be left unanswered, but if a great many fans are totally confused about certain aspects, doesn’t that speak to the clarity of the storytelling? We loved LOST, but it certainly didn’t sate our appetite for answers.
Which classic TV shows that left major questions unanswered did we leave out? Tell us in the comments!