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The 10 Most Shocking Cliffhangers in TV History

Find out what happens to Todd on the Todd Margaret season three premiere tonight at 10P on IFC.

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When fans heard that Todd Margaret was coming back to IFC for a third season, they were more than a little bit surprised. Not because the David Cross-led series isn’t great, which it is, but because of the surprising cliffhanger that ended the show’s second season. Todd seemingly caused a nuclear holocaust, making a third season a tall order. And yet, Cross has found a way to bring the show back for a third season, premiering tonight at 10P on IFC. That explosive ending got us thinking about some of the other great cliffhangers in television history. Whether they’re played for laughs or horror, the cliffhanger is one of the great gifts of episodic television. Here are the best, as we see it, TV cliffhangers. Oh, and obviously SPOILERS AHEAD.


10. Battlestar Galactica, “Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2”

Universal Television

Universal Television

For a show filled with great cliffhangers (The Cylons can take human form! Who did Boomer just shoot?! Starbuck is a Bob Dylan fan?!), the second season finale will surely go down as its best. With the vagabond fleet finally settling on a planet, we jump a year into the future. While sudden time shifts have become a go-to move on television lately, at the time it was a revelation. Having made the leap, we then watched a seemingly happy ending turn into a dystopian nightmare. First, we watch as our favorite characters grow feckless and, in the case of pretty boy Apollo, downright husky. Then Cylons, the robot army our heroes had been furiously fleeing, show up, taking over the planet and the human population that’s trapped on it. This cliffhanger pretty much had it all, and had us yelling “One more episode!” just like Fred and Carrie.


9. Dynasty, “Royal Wedding”

When Dallas shot one of their lead characters, causing a sensation, the writers of Dynasty thought, why not just open fire on everybody? That’s how a wedding between two of the show’s leads, Amanda and Prince Michael of Moldavia, turned into one of the biggest bloodbaths television had seen up to that point. As the show’s fifth season faded to black, the majority of the cast was left littered on the ground, seemingly lifeless. It would take months to realize that only a couple minor characters were killed, but by then everyone was so happy to have their favorites back for another seasons of backstabbing and shoulder padding, that no one really seemed to care.


8. The Walking Dead, “Days Gone Bye”

AMC

AMC

Here’s another show whose cliffhanger game is on point, (we’re still reeling over Glenn’s recent close call) even as far back as the intense pilot episode. Right up to the end of the first episode, we’d followed Rick, a terrified sheriff who awoke from a coma to a world filled with the literal walking dead. As the episode came to a close, he was surrounded by zombies, and out of options. That is until a voice crackled through a radio, showing him that his life may not have been quite as screwed as he thought it was. Never have the words “Hey, you. Dumbass…” been more chilling.


7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Becoming, Part 1”

This episode marked the point that Buffy the Vampire Slayer transformed from a quirky show for teens into one of the greats of its era. Always dripping with metaphor, the show’s second season mined the idea that boyfriends can turn into monsters after you put out. That’s certainly what happened here, with puppy dog vampire Angel going full psycho after finally getting to, uh, “stake” a Slayer. As Season Two came to an close, evil Angelus started really wreaking havoc, torturing and killing those close to Buffy. Kendra, a fellow Slayer whose one weakness was a bad accent coach, was murdered ferociously. The episode comes to a close as Buffy discovers her body at the exact wrong moment, setting up what may be the most heartbreaking finale in the show’s history.


6. Friends, “The One with Ross’s Wedding”

By the time the fourth season of Friends wrapped up, Ross and Rachel seemed destined to forever be “on a break.” That is until this cliffhanger brought America’s favorite sitcom couple back together with a shocking twist. A twist that, reportedly, came from an honest mistake. Actor David Schwimmer, who played dopey Ross on the show, accidentally called his character’s new girlfriend “Rachel” during a take earlier in the season. Show runners David Crane and Marta Kauffman instantly recognized the potential of such a Freudian screwup, and crafted the season finale around it. Seemingly one “I do” away from a lifetime of bliss with English beauty Emily, Ross accidentally calls her his former flame’s name, reigniting Ross and Rachel’s tumultuous love affair one more time. The show went one to squeeze another six seasons out of their “will they or won’t they” romance.


5. Lost, “Pilot”

ABC Studios

ABC Studios

That hatch. The flash-forward. “We have to go back.” Here’s yet another show that took the cliffhanger trope to a new level. But all those twists and turns owe a debt to the brilliant pilot, which instantly hooked us with a question we’d spend years of our lives trying to dissect. “Guys. Where are we?” It turns out no one, including the writers of the show, had any idea, but in that moment, all that mattered was getting some answers.


4. The Simpsons, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

It took six seasons before The Simpsons tried to put their stamp on the cliffhanger, and it’s no shock that the episode, aired during the show’s Golden Age, became an instant classic. Fans were prepared going in, so no one was shocked when Mr. Burns took a bullet, but discovering who fired the gun became a sensation. A 1-800 number (remember those?) was set up over the summer of 1995, where fans of the show could offer their own theories. FOX even aired a special called “Springfield’s Most Wanted” before the show’s seventh season premiere, breaking down all the different theories. In the end, Maggie Simpson was revealed to be the culprit, which just further proves the point that babies are out to get us.


3. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Best Of Both Worlds, Pt. 1”

In its early years, Star Trek: The Next Generation had sputtered out of the gate, trying to live up to its namesake. It took three seasons for the show to really hit its stride. Still, no one could have been prepared for the season three finale, in which Patrick Stewart’s indelible Captain Picard was captured and assimilated by The Enterprise’s most vicious foe, The Borg. With no good options, acting captain Riker ordered his ship to fire on The Borg vessel, and his own captain. Stewart’s contract was actually in negotiations at the time, and no one knew for sure if he would be returning. That confusion led to one of the great cliffhangers of all time, and helped ST:TNG go from good to great.


2. Breaking Bad, “To’hajiilee”

AMC

AMC

In the history of television, has there ever been a show that’s blown our minds more consistently than Breaking Bad? Just when we think we know what’s happening, sh*t really hits the fan. The fact that Breaking Bad was nearing its end when they dropped this classic episode on us just further illustrates how incredible this show was, from start to finish. As “To’hajiilee” comes to a close, it seems that, after years of trying, DEA agent and wacky brother-in-law Hank finally has his man. We’re left to wonder how Walter is going to get out of this scrape, as he has so many others. And then the cavalry arrives, whether we want them to or not. Made up of pissed off drug dealers, armed to the teeth, they have no intention of letting anyone live. The fact that this episode just stops midstream, leaving us white knuckling our seats, desperate for answers, helped to make this episode a modern classic.


1. Dallas, “A House Divided”

If Kim Kardashian’s butt broke the internet, than this episode of Dallas broke people’s minds. It seems almost quaint now, but in the summer of 1980 all anyone could talk about was who shot J.R. It took eight long months before the show finally revealed who shot the irascible rancher, with 350 million people watching worldwide. While the cliffhanger had been toyed with before, this was a dawn of a new era, and what many consider to be the beginning of serialized storytelling in primetime. When you’re talking the best cliffhangers of all time, there can be only one.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.