downbeat endings to TV shows

Downbeat Endings

-Why the British psyche isn’t our fault-

by Derek Thompson

Before we start, I should warn you, there will be spoilers. If you’re new to The Sweeney, Blake’s 7, The Good Life, or Cold Feet you’d better look away now. And if you are, where have you been for the past 40+ years?

Let’s face it, we Brits are often accused of being cynical, in contrast to our American cousins’ optimism. It’s been blamed on the constraints of the class system, the legacy of rationing, or the state of British dentistry. But I have another theory. I think we’ve dealing with television trauma. Allow me to present some evidence.

While Star Trek [1966–1969] presented viewers with an idealistic vision of galactic exploration and inter-species cooperation (Klingons and Romulans notwithstanding), Blake’s 7 [1978-1981] was a dystopia we Brits could really identify with. A homegrown level alliance, fighting a totalitarian Federation and – gasp! – losing. Over four series we gradually got used to main characters dying (Gan being the first) or disappearing altogether (Blake) but the final showdown was a total heartbreaker. We thought Avon had finally located Blake to lead a new uprising, only to see Avon’s betrayal by Anna, Blake’s execution by Avon and…there’s a lump in my throat as I type this…the remainder of the seven wiped out. (Well, okay, Orac survived.) Even worse, Servalan, Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation, was nowhere to be seen. I have commemorated her name and title by assigning it to various bosses over the years behind their backs.

Blake's 7

It has been suggested – harshly – that Cold Feet was a make-do-and-mend version of Friends. Okay, there were six people of a similar age, and, yes, one character was named Rachel. And yes, alright, the actress playing Rachel actually appeared in Friends for a bit and was misnamed Rachel at her character’s wedding to Ross. But…our Rachel is killed off in the penultimate episode of series five. That’s pushing comedy drama to extremes. Cold feet? More like cold hearted.

Jack Reagan - John Thaw

The Sweeney [1975-1978] gave us fallible, lovable and gritty coppers who enthralled us and inspired a multitude of playground fight reconstructions. John Thaw’s Jack Regan was a good copper in a bad world. In the series four finale, we saw Regan fitted up, thrown to the wolves by his bosses and out on his no-nonsense arse. Once proven innocent he tells them where to stick their job and leaves it all behind him. Oh blimey! I can’t imagine that happening to Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O.

THe Good Life

My final submission for mitigation of our national psyche is the stirring tale of two people who opted out and went so green they were almost arboreal. The Good Life [1975-1977] playfully juxtaposed a middle-class couple turning their suburban semi into a homestead with their best friends and social climbing next-door door neighbours. Tom and Barbara Good’s life had a sweet eco-friendly charm (the pig incident notwithstanding) and was ahead of its time in many ways. Queen Elizabeth even attended the filming of an episode. And how did they end series four? A bumper harvest, perhaps, or the secure alternative future they’ve been striving towards? No, some vandals trash the house, decimate the garden and give the audience an emotional kicking.

When you consider all the above programmes, it’s no surprise that we’re a nation of naysayers. We’re not jaded; we’ve been let down too many times when it really mattered. And don’t even get me started on Robin of Sherwood!

Published on July 31st, 2023. Written by Derek Thompson for Television Heaven.

Read Next...

Ten British Shows - The Best of British

We asked two writers to choose 5 ‘must see’ British television shows - here are the ten that deserve a place in Television Heaven...

Also starring John Thaw

How to Ruin a Show article header

It is surprisingly easy to learn how to write a television show. There are a lot of good courses and books out there on how to do it. The best are often on how not to do it.

Also tagged Comment

Ten Shows That Changed Television

John Winterson Richards chooses his own personal choice of ten classic television shows that had a major influence on our viewing habits and the type of programmes that followed them.

Also tagged Comment

The Sweeney

Cops of Scotland Yard's Flying Squad tackle big crime in the capital city.

Also starring John Thaw

How period dramas fuel our obsession with rural English lifestyle

Also tagged Comment

Top Ten Foreign-Language Series

From Europe to Asia, there’s no shortage of great stories being told today. These series are smart, heartfelt, and brimming with cultural richness

Also tagged Comment