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Foyle’s War: Even for the best TV shows, there’s an ideal time to go

January 14th, 2015

So how do you know when your TV series has reached the end of its natural life? In some cases, the answer is obvious. Poirot, for example, was clearly over once it had adapted all the Poirot stories.

Elsewhere, though, the trick, as pulled off by Inspector Morse and now, I’d suggest, Foyle’s War, is surely to finish before – but only just before – the viewers realise that the scripts are starting to repeat themselves. Otherwise, you end up like Old Tricks.

But equally important as when is how. Get the final episode right, as Poirot triumphantly did, and you remind the viewers why they liked your programme so much. Get it wrong, and you could well resurrect all their long-buried reservations about it.

Even Seinfeld, one of the greatest sitcoms of them all, ended with such a stark reminder of the show’s only real flaw – a tendency to be a little too pleased with itself – that you began to wonder if it had really been so great all along. (It had, but you needed to watch several old episodes to prove it.) The conclusion of Miranda, for example, confirmed that the series – however enjoyable early on – had always been in danger of becoming an annoyingly smug celebration of itself.

Friends did exactly what was required, by stretching Ross and Rachel’s will-they-won’t-they? storyline almost to breaking point, but not beyond. Even so, for my money, the show with the best final episode of them all was Cheers. It, too, stretched the will-they-won’t-they? over Sam and Diane almost to breaking point, but not beyond. Instead of their walking off into the sunset, Sam was seen alone, tidying his bar one last time, as a would-be punter appeared at the door. “Sorry,” said Sam, “we’re closed.” Beat that, Mr Horowitz.

World War Two

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