The central plot of Angel was the titular character Angel "helping the helpless" to make up for the evil he had done in the past, after discovering that an ancient prophecy stated that a "vampire with a soul" would become human again by playing a part in one of the upcoming apocalypses. The entire series is Angel earning his happy ending. Ultimately subverted by the end of the series, when he must give up his chance of ever becoming human in order to defeat the Circle of the Black Thorn. The show's central theme near its ending was that a lot of the time there is no happy ending to earn - but that doesn't mean we should stop fighting for it.
Friends: Monica and Chandler. Both had difficult childhoods, Monica was The Unfavourite and Chandler underwent Parental Neglect, leaving them emotionally damaged. Together they overcame their personal insecurities, and despite their early marriage being fraught with unemployment and infertility they continue to support each other and eventually adopt children and get the family they always wanted. They also provide a much needed contrast to the tumultous Ross and Rachel showing a couple who actually work at their relationship and make each other stronger. They end the series blissfully happy, very much in-love and boy have they earned it.
Also Phoebe who grew up on the streets but eventually found the Friends and a normal life.
For Ross, too, who, after three divorces and years spent as the resident Butt Monkey, is finally in a relationship that will last.
One of these divorces was with the woman he ultimately ends up with anyway, though. Still the Butt Monkey.
Happy never comes cheap in Star Trek. Voyager had seven rough years before making it home, the folks of Deep Space Nine went through war and hell before putting down the Dominion once and for all, and both the Enterprise and her captain got beat up pretty good before they defeated the Xindi.
In Voyager, specifically, the end episode begins with a Bittersweet Ending, but then Janeway travels back in time and we get a really happy ending.
There was much tragedy in Downton Abbey, but no one had it rougher than Edith, who endured a childhood of being The Unfavorite, got stood up at the altar, and got pregnant out of wedlock while her boyfriend go missing for a year before being found murdered. However, at the end of the show she was finally married to a wonderful man and even wound up with a title that made her outrank her entire family.
Steven Moffat's episodes of Doctor Who (with the possible exception of "The Girl in the Fireplace") tend to go this way.
Especially true of the two-parter "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances"; after all the loss and suffering he had seen in his life, not to mention the fall of the Time Lords during the Great Time War, for once the Doctor was able to achieve a complete victory against death. "Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, EVERYBODY LIVES!"
Codified in series 5. "The Big Bang" provides the biggest, happiest ending of any DW season ever.
This seems to happen in "The Day of the Doctor". He's managed to Retcon his greatest regret, the destruction of Gallifrey, and now sets out to find it.
The Twelfth Doctor's parting with his beloved companion Clara is just as unusual as the waythey met each other, but ultimately qualifies as a hopeful Bittersweet Ending for both of them. It unfolds over three episodes, starting in "Face the Raven" when Clara dies by accident in a semi-willing heroic sacrifice for her pal Rigsy, leaving the Doctor devastated and in a vengeful mood just as he's being delivered into the hands of enemies. "Heaven Sent" sees the Doctor fighting his way out of a bespoke torture chamber over billions of years. The happy ending is in sight as "Hell Bent" begins! He returns to his homeworld, and manages to have a living copy of her extracted from her timeline just a moment before her death. He defies his people and tries to run away with her, and convince her to erase her memories of him and return to Earth as a theoretically immortal human... BUT Clara's having none of it. She disagrees with cheating her own death and is too fond of her memories to be manipulated — and this whole business might destroy the universe in the bargain. The Doctor relents and his emotional memories of her end up erased instead, so both of them can move on. Clara meets and converses with him later, though he doesn't recognise her by appearance, and she decides to go adventuring in the other stolen TARDIS, keeping in mind the Doctor's best principles and the fact she'll have to revisit her death someday. The Doctor moves on as well, vaguely remembering Clara, but oblivious he now has a TARDIS-flying ally (and apprentice of sorts) out in the universe. So this trope is subverted for the Doctor but not a total downer, and played straight for Clara — who wouldn't have had this ending without the Doctor's actions.
Those who feel that the above ending was a little hard on the Doctor will be happy to know he and River Song play this trope straight in the very next episode, "The Husbands of River Song". After almost 200 years of pining for her sweetie on her part, and everything he's gone through of late with Clara on his, they arrive at what he knows is the place they will spend their last night together. But not only does he make this night as wonderful as possible for her — and prepare the means for his tenth self to save her in the library — it turns out that a night on Darillium lasts twenty-four years. With that, the episode ends on the title card "And they both lived happily ever after".
This is how most of the episodes of House MD turn out, although occasionally, the writers throw in a Downer Ending. Sometimes, they leave it up to the audience to sort out whether it's a case of Downer Ending, Bitter Sweet Ending (when the patient's life has been ruined in the course of saving it, usually as some secret has been exposed) or Earn Your Happy Ending.
Stargate SG-1. Applies to the series as a whole, but most particularly in season nine and ten. World after world bows down to the Ori, SG team members getting killed left and right (even a lot of normal people on earth thanks to the Prior plague), villains constantly getting away scot free and in two years, barely a dent is made in the Ori attack. Then The Ark of Truth kicks down the Downer Ending's door, beats it up with some Moments of Awesome and proceeds to give the team the Happy Ending they deserve.
NYPD Blue: Andy Sipowicz went through one murdered wife, one murdered son, two dead partners (and a third quitting in disgrace), and two cancer scares (His own and his toddler son's), all while trying to clean up his act after spending much of his career being an alcoholic Rabid Cop. He ends the show's run as squad commander, with a beautiful wife and newborn daughter at home.
The Office (UK) may be some of the darkest television ever labeled as a comedy, which is probably the reason why the ending feels so damn good.
The Wire: In a show in which practically all victories are of the Pyrrhic variety, and happy endings few and far between, there was much rejoicing in seeing Bubbles walk up those steps...
Blackadder: Back And Forth was a long awaited Happy Ending for the Blackadder series. After four seasons, over five hundred years of trying to take over England, or at least trying not to die, (a) Blackadder finally controls England, openly, with a hot wife and a puppet Prime Minister, and is universally loved.
Even better, the narration implies that Britain is once again a hyperpower, which means Blackadder controls not just England, not just the United Kingdom, but the entire world. Mwahahahahahaha!
Blackadder III could qualify, if you weren't too attached to Prince George...
On Alias, Sydney leaves the spy world behind and finds peace in Santa Barbara.
Helen Stewart and Nikki Wade on Bad Girls. It takes three years of torment, unrequited love, Paolos, denied appeals, breakups, makeups and tears before those two get their happy ending.
Babylon 5: Five years of war, a change in commanding officers Both who sacrifice themselves, Sinclair becoming Valen, Sheridan getting the 20 year curse and a civil war to give birth to the Interstellar Alliance and end the machinations of the First Ones. And oh yeah, Sheridan and Delenn...happy for 19 years, anyway.
At least, they decide to make the best of it. The ISA, despite its teething troubles, flourishes first under Sheridan, then under Delenn.
Several of the most important characters earn theirs in the end as well. Ivanova goes through hell herself, endures a couple decades ground down as "an old war horse" before the Grand Finale, when Delenn chooses her to lead the Rangers. As post-series canon notes, she devotes the rest of her life to the organization, and it too gains tremendous respect and prestige, and she is honored as highly as Sheridan and Delenn for her contribution to society, an ending she could at least appreciate.
Although Ivanova could be a subversion as well. Despite this prestige and her military success, she still struggles with emotional relationships and is implied never to have recovered from Marcus's (and her other loved ones) deaths.
Garibaldi spends most of the series as a jaded Knight in Sour Armor and recovering alcoholic who believes he'll wind up shot in the back in a dark corner of the station. (He has reason, too—it actually happens to him, but he survives.) He rides the roller-coaster of helping to secure the ISA, falls Off the Wagon a couple of times, but finally reunites with his lost love, marries, and becomes a corporate tycoon, his unusual ways actually giving the company excellent standing. Literary canon reveals he even manages to get some long-sought payback for getting Mind Raped by Bester back in 2261. And unlike his cynical prediction, the last years of his life (according to Word of God) are actually very quiet and uneventful, as if the universe finally decides to give him a break.
G'Kar submitted himself to sadistictorture, extreme humiliation, and the very real threat of death by vivisection, all at the hands of Emperor Cartagia, all as part of a plot by him and Londo to overthrow Cartagia before he gets Centauri Prime destroyed, and for G'Kar's part, a promise to press for the liberation of the Narn homeworld once the grownups are back in charge of the Centauri government—and Londo does keep his word, and as the new Prime Minister persuades the Centauri to leave Narn.
Part of the reason How I Met Your Mother is able to get away with so much misery and misfortune and such serious fights is because it is backstory: Future Ted confirms that everything turns out fine in the end. Ted meets his wife, Lily and Marshall stay married, Robin is very close to Ted's kids, and Barney was finally seen to be alive at least until the year 2021 (The Exploding Meatball Sub). Also, by the way Ted talks about them in 2030, the group is still close enough to be referred to as "aunt" and "uncle" to Ted's kids, and usually referred to in the present tense.
Arguably hurt by the final episode, in which: the mother dies, Barney and Robin break up after the entire final season was about their wedding. It ends with Ted standing outside Robin's window with the Blue French Horn.
To an extent, the ending of Hawking (the 2004 BBC drama with Benedict Cumberbatch). Stephen's had to deal with a serious incurable illness while working very hard, but by the end of the movie he's made a scientific breakthrough, his university's offered him a fellowship, his girlfriend's agreed to marry him, and despite his medical issues, he's still alive and doing science.
Arthur and Guinevere's relationship in Merlin. To start off, it's forbidden, and so Arthur denies his feelings for all of Series 2. In Series 3, he still won't say it, but the feelings are definitely there. They finally go on a date, only for Morgana to lead the king to it. Arthur admits his feelings, and Gwen gets banished. Arthur decides to leave Camelot, and Morgana has Gwen accused of witchcraft and nearly burned at the stake. In Series 4, they can finally be together publicly. Lancelot even sacrifices his life for Arthur's to avert the Love Triangle. Then Morgana raises Lancelot from the dead and enchants Guinevere into regaining her old feelings for him. Arthur witnesses the kissing and tries to Murder the Hypotenuse, leading Gwen to step in and seemingly confirm her feelings. She's banished from Camelot on pain of death. In the finale, he realizes he can't live without her, and marries her. They managed to survive the Arthurian Love Triangle and are Happily Married...but the writers put them through hell to pay for it.
The ending is up to the audience to decide whether it's this or a downer ending, with Camelot likely going to enter a new age of prosperity, a united kingdom and the world generally being better off. Of course, Arthur is dead, Gwen widowed, many fan favourites dead and Merlin seemingly left traipsing the county for over a thousand years.
Regardless of the overall series, it's played straight for the magical people. After spending nearly thirty years living in hiding, Gwen and Merlin break the Cycle of Revenge that kept the two peoples from reconciling.
Parade's End has one hell of a trip until Christopher and Valentine end up together. Christopher's manipulative wife, who only cares about him when she thinks another woman is attracted to him, repeatedly tries to rip them apart. Not to mention that Christopher has to serve in World War I for years while battling his own outdated moral code (which he himself despises). Four episodes go by without a kiss or so much as a declaration of feelings (although Valentine does agree to be his mistress, although the act is initially unconsummated). The Love Triangle finally ends when Christopher resists Sylvia's manipulation after she cuts down the Groby tree and decides to start over with Valentine and the two are finally together.
By the end of Bangkok Hilton, Kat has made a connection with her father, escaped her execution for drug trafficking charges, returned to Australia (where she will be safe from extradition), and successfully apprehended the smuggler who set her up. It does fall into Bittersweet Ending, though, as her friends Mandy and Billy Engels were executed shortly before her trial.
This can happen on game shows: a contestant struggles throughout the main game, but still manages to win anyway and does even better in the Bonus Round. A good example is a 2003 episode of Wheel of Fortune where a rough main game led to first place having only $5,500… but she won $100,000 in the Bonus Round.
Throughout the run of Good Times, the Evanses have seen just about every attempt to make a better life for themselves and get out of the pojects end in utter disapointment. At the end of the series, Keith's leg gets better and he signs a contract with the Chicago Bears, allowing he and Thelma (who's pregnant) to buy an apartment in a swanky building and they invite Florida to live with them. Willona is promoted to head buyer at The Boutique and is also able to buy an apartment in the same building for herself and Penny, making them neighbors. JJ designs a new comic book character and is picked up by a publisher, who gives him an advance large enough for him to move out on his own. With everyone else financially secure, Michael decides to move into a dorm on campus. After five and a half seasons of struggling to make it, the family has definitely lived up to this trope!
Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette on Call the Midwife. Dear God. After months of heartache, a bout of tuberculosis, and the agony of love that couldn't be spoken as Bernadette was torn between her vows to God and the man she loved, all was said and settled in about sixty seconds on the side of a foggy English country road. She said yes before she even knew his first name.
By the end of season four, the sisters have lost one of their own, but in the process defeated the Triad far earlier than they were supposed to. The Angel of Destiny offers them a life without magic as reward, but they refuse. In season eight, Leo was supposed to have been killed, and the grief would spur them to fight much like the loss of Prue did. Piper, however, convinced the Angel of Destiny to only temporarily take away Leo, who was eventually returned to them. This time the Triad, among others, were Killed Off for Real.
Piper and Leo's entire relationship has been filled with so many trials and tribulations of both the romantic and the magical kind, they're the epitome of this trope for Charmed.
Only Fools and Horses: The Trotters started out from day one wishing to become millionares one day. They did - twice.
Happy Ending One was in "Time On Our Hands" (which was originally the series finale). Del and Rodney discover a 18th century watch in the garage and manage to auction it for £6,200,000. They proceeded to start new lifestyles with their friends and family, but ended up losing all the money in a Central American stock market crash.
Happy Ending Two was in "Sleepless in Peckham". The Trotters have had a year to raise £48,754 to pay off the stock market crash. They do so, with £290,000 left over, thanks to Uncle Albert's will, and Rodney finally gets a child with Cassandra after a miscarriage previously.
Kelly in Misfits is noteworthy as the only one of the original five leads to get a proper happy ending. Nathan ends up in jail in Las Vegas after using his powers to beat the house at a casino and getting caught in the act; Simon and Alisha are trapped forever chasing each other through a time loop in which they are forced to endure one another's deaths, over and over again, possibly forever, as the price of being together; and Curtis commits suicide when he realises his power of resurrection will result in a Zombie Apocalypse if it goes unchecked. But for Kelly - though she endures at least as much as the other four during the actual series - there's a happier end note: she and her Love Interest Seth work things out, and she's using her powers to defuse mines and save children in Africa.
In the Flemish TV series Kulderzipken, the eponymous Kulderzipken (a simple farmboy) has to overcome many obstacles, not least of which the disapproval of the King. In the end, though, he and princess Prieel do get married.
In The Twilight Zone (which doesn't tend to have happy endings) episode "A Penny For Your Thoughts", ends with the main character going out with a coworker who was attracted to him, getting his job back after warning the boss about an embezzler with a promotion, getting a vacation for a man he wrongly (though justifiably) accused of plotting to rob the bank, and lost his powers (which was good because he hated them).