Hear Us Out

Hear Us Out: The Seinfeld Series Finale Was Actually Pretty Great

Twenty-two years later, "The Finale" has emerged as a fitting end for the show about nothing that actually had a little something to say after all.

by | May 13, 2020 | Comments

Seinfeld

(Photo by © Columbia TriStar Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.)

It’s been 22 years since the final episode of Seinfeld, aptly titled “The Finale,” first aired on May 14, 1998. It was one of the most highly anticipated hours of television ever broadcast, attracting a record-breaking 76 million viewers. But when all was said and done, the finale drew the ire of fans and critics alike. There was no happy ending here — and television audiences just weren’t having it. 

In the 20-plus years since “The Finale” aired, the sitcom has evolved in complexity and ambition, and the show’s co-creator, Larry David, has pioneered the cringe-comedy genre with Curb Your Enthusiasm. Comedy fans credit Seinfeld as the start of much of that growth – even as they lament the disappointing way the series wrapped up. Now, to celebrate the 22th anniversary of the show’s end, we’re here to say the finale wasn’t all that bad. In fact, hear us out, here: the Seinfeld series finale was actually pretty darn great.

In “The Finale,” Jerry and George (Jason Alexander) receive some fantastic news when their sitcom Jerry — which was shelved five years prior — is given the green light by NBC. To celebrate, the duo, along with Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Kramer (Michael Richards), take the network’s private plane on a trip to Paris; of course, they never make it to France. 

After a Kramer-led mishap, the aircraft is forced to make an emergency landing in the fictional town of Latham, Massachusetts. While waiting for the plane issue to be fixed, the gang goes into town and ends up witnessing a carjacking. Instead of intervening to help the overweight victim (played by late comedian John Pinette), they stand on the sidelines, take a video of the crime on Kramer’s camera, and make fat-shaming jokes about the victim, to boot. Minutes later, the group is hauled away to jail for violating the town’s new “Good Samaritan law,” which basically makes it illegal to do nothing when witnessing a fellow citizen in crisis.


Seinfeld

(Photo by © Columbia TriStar Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.)

What follows is a highly-publicized court case that puts Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer (aka “The New York Four”) on trial for their crime. And to fully drive home how guilty the gang is, the prosecuting attorney brings in a load of cameo witnesses from the show’s nine-season run, among them: the Soup Nazi (Larry Thomas), Leslie “The Low Talker” (Wendel Meldrum), Elaine’s ex David Puddy (Patrick Warburton), Jerry’s ex Sidra Holland (Teri Hatcher), and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner (voiced by Larry David). The cavalcade of witnesses gives audiences one last satisfying plot point in each of these characters’ story arcs, and acts as a hard-to-swallow reminder that the “heroes” they spent the last nine years with were actually anything but. 

After years of self-centered behavior, of not caring at all how their actions impacted any, and every, one they came in contact with — from Jerry assaulting and stealing a loaf of rye bread from an elderly woman named Mabel (Frances Bay) to George’s deflating Trivial Pursuit mishap with the Bubble Boy — the group is found guilty for violating the “Good Samaritan law” and are put in jail for a year’s time. The final moments find them behind bars, without any show of remorse, continuing their signature meaningless banter, as the camera pans away and eventually fades to black.

People were not happy with this choice. Entertainment Weekly called it “off-key and bloated,” USA Today referred to the episode as “dismal,” giving it one-and-a-half stars, and Newsday asserted that “The Finale” was a “major comedic disaster.” The ninth and final season is Seinfeld‘s only Rotten season according to the Tomatometer, and the Critics Consensus – which reflects the sentiments of the critics – speaks to fans’ disappointment in its final flourish: “…the cynical show about nothing goes out defiantly on its own terms – even if means alienating fans who may have wanted things to end differently.”


Seinfeld

(Photo by Joe Del Valle / ©Castle Rock Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Those assessments may have been somewhat correct at the time, but hindsight has proven the episode had way more going for it than Larry David walking away into the sunset with his middle finger held high. And it has a lot to do with going out “defiantly on its own terms.”

“I think the thing about finales is everybody writes their own finale in their head, whereas if they just tune in during the week to a normal show, they’re surprised by what’s going on,” David explained to Grantland about the seemingly-impossible mission of satisfying expectations. “They haven’t written it beforehand, they don’t know what the show is. But for a finale, they go, ‘Oh, well this should happen to George, and Jerry and Elaine should get together,’ and all that. They’ve already written it, and often they’re disappointed, because it’s not what they wrote.”

Seinfeld changed the sitcom game when it arrived on the TV scene. But the program, which was marketed as “the show about nothing,” revealed itself over time as something more. It was a show filled with dark humor and bleak topics immersed in the everyday minutiae of city life; it was a program where a self-centered comedian and his privileged friends were unaffected and unchanged by the world around them. Seinfeld wasn’t a program about nothing; the series explored the lives of a group of borderline nihilist New Yorkers who learned absolutely nothing and never ever changed, as those around them grew.

As part of the plan that Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld put into place, their show, which prompted NBC to build its “Must-See TV lineup,” was never about teaching life lessons or handing out moral epiphanies. There was absolutely no character growth here. This all makes sense when you remember the two important rules the show’s writers had to follow: no hugging and no learning.


Seinfeld

While the central crew may not have evolved into better people throughout the series’ nine-year run, the show taught television viewers that comedy could exist in a multitude of lanes. Sitcoms may still operate on the formula of dishing out morals and supplying growth to their lead characters, but there was something a bit too relatable about the way Seinfeld handled its final bow. We see it in the way “The Finale” depicts the highly-publicized trial as a televised spectacle not that different from the O.J. Simpson court proceedings that kicked off the Court TV trend just five years prior. The inclusion of the Johnnie Cochran–esque lawyer, Jackie Chiles (Phil Morris), and Geraldo Rivera as himself, commentating on the event, really helped bring to life the ridiculousness of the media circus. 

Did Seinfeld stay true to its formula through its nine-season duration? Maybe. When you view the series as the completely character-driven story that it was, then that changes things. Without each and every quirky role introduced on the series — and the endless supply of quotable lines the show birthed into the pop-culture vernacular — Seinfeld wouldn’t have been such a success. And given that this was a show inspired by Jerry Seinfeld’s life as a comedian, where his stand-up routines so famously picked apart the mundane details of everyday life, the lack of interest in digging under the surface and figuring out how any of these people tick makes even more sense. Remember: No hugging and no learning.

According to Grantland, David “was not interested in an emotional ride, and neither was Jerry.” The show maintained protocol from episode one. Yearning for some sort of epiphany that would’ve wrapped things up in a happily-ever-after bow is understandable, but that was never part of the plan. 

Jerry’s postal-worker nemesis and neighbor Newman (Wayne Knight), who gets some oddball justice in the finale after his request to join the gang on their trip to Paris is turned down, ends up foreshadowing the events that transpire. In typical Newman fashion, he passionately delivers a vengeful, Pulp Fiction–style tirade: “Hear me and hear me well. The day will come. Oh yes, mark my words, Seinfeld — your day of reckoning is coming. When an evil wind will blow through your little play world, and wipe that smug smile off your face. And I’ll be there, in all my glory, watching – watching as it all comes crumbling down.” 

Jerry’s smile may not have been ultimately wiped from his face — we see him doing stand-up in prison as the credits roll — but he, along with George, Elaine, and Kramer, do end up actually learning that there’s a limit to bad behavior, even for these four.

And so do we.

As the guilty verdict is read, and the sentence is handed down, Judge Arthur Vandelay (Stanley Anderson) eloquently puts their crimes against humanity into perspective: “Your callous indifference and utter disregard for everything that is good and decent has rocked the very foundations upon which our society is built.” 

In today’s fast-moving disconnected age of social media and fake news, the impact of these words have only grown in relevancy. Who knew at the end of the day, that this show about nothing would actually have something important to say? The writers may have honored the “no hugging” rule, but when all was said and done, there was a bit of a lesson to be had after all. 


The series finale of Seinfeld“The Finale,” first aired on NBC on May 14, 1998. 

Tag Cloud

YouTube Red Warner Bros. LGBTQ WGN nbcuniversal 2020 medical drama based on movie Martial Arts Countdown political drama Infographic Tumblr VH1 transformers Syfy RT History Crackle zero dark thirty Amazon Mary poppins MCU Disney Plus facebook know your critic sitcom San Diego Comic-Con Adult Swim IFC Films Marvel movie movies independent canceled TV shows Cannes zombies The Walt Disney Company Super Bowl deadpool Video Games Pop TV south america Pride Month HBO Go disaster spy thriller Peacock video on demand comiccon Horror Red Carpet psycho nfl Hallmark classics Year in Review binge Animation anthology Holidays stand-up comedy Song of Ice and Fire Endgame New York Comic Con Food Network 2015 police drama natural history Musicals golden globe awards ratings cartoon Ovation jamie lee curtis Chilling Adventures of Sabrina venice Women's History Month Wes Anderson animated Trophy Talk Thanksgiving Paramount Plus 007 FOX Set visit TNT game of thrones Quiz Extras directors Netflix Opinion Disney streaming service DGA period drama Fantasy ID ESPN NBA Hear Us Out BBC One aapi festival adventure Discovery Channel Music Image Comics tv talk blockbuster popular Action National Geographic harry potter social media NYCC APB Comedy Central Mary Poppins Returns Spike what to watch CBS All Access NBC finale SDCC legend Freeform sequel child's play Rocketman Amazon Studios new star wars movies green book theme song Winners Marathons Oscars Pacific Islander universal monsters ViacomCBS witnail superhero scorecard Crunchyroll Television Academy golden globes Hulu spider-man cars Exclusive Video BAFTA ABC indie boxing 2016 The Witch IFC cancelled sequels die hard justice league psychological thriller breaking bad hist Bravo 72 Emmy Awards stoner Tubi PlayStation live action 24 frames suspense superman Masterpiece crossover TCA 2017 elevated horror TBS critics trailers Summer asian-american Pixar ABC Family documentaries sag awards Photos Tokyo Olympics new york Comic-Con@Home 2021 Sneak Peek Emmys Best and Worst Hallmark Christmas movies festivals Lifetime batman Film Festival renewed TV shows Valentine's Day technology TV renewals Superheroes diversity Pet Sematary Writers Guild of America unscripted BET Paramount 2021 obituary SundanceTV reviews Travel Channel 99% Creative Arts Emmys streaming movies mockumentary Sony Pictures A24 comic docuseries Star Trek olympics international biography canceled Awards award winner cooking hidden camera remakes Comedy Shondaland Heroines Logo criterion rotten Interview CMT mutant films Nat Geo Fox News Showtime Starz science fiction series Christmas wonder woman TCA Polls and Games historical drama all-time ABC Signature worst movies politics football Black Mirror cancelled TV series Fox Searchlight Pirates 2019 archives Universal Character Guide Mystery RT21 Biopics screen actors guild Academy Awards The Walking Dead saw Marvel Television rotten movies we love Chernobyl Nickelodeon serial killer 90s American Society of Cinematographers TLC FX on Hulu comic books travel Britbox franchise BBC prank Sci-Fi Acorn TV women Comics on TV The CW Family cops Cosplay slashers hollywood crime thriller DC Comics Awards Tour versus documentary Funimation chucky Pop joker concert boxoffice cults Calendar heist movie kids video CNN GIFs romantic comedy PBS Podcast adaptation supernatural Baby Yoda rom-coms Epix Mudbound TV movies TV One war romance Certified Fresh blockbusters halloween tv sports HBO Max target docudrama new zealand Lifetime Christmas movies The Arrangement Black History Month Rom-Com children's TV casting Arrowverse marvel cinematic universe miniseries crime foreign hispanic Netflix Christmas movies Disney 2017 Shudder MSNBC Comic Book Star Wars Ghostbusters dramedy Amazon Prime Video james bond DC streaming service E! razzies Turner Classic Movies TCA Awards Lionsgate singing competition revenge teaser spain VICE stop motion Reality book Spectrum Originals spanish language Legendary nature emmy awards pirates of the caribbean AMC latino game show Avengers lord of the rings ghosts VOD Rock First Reviews TCM 4/20 WarnerMedia satire OWN Schedule The Purge telelvision Broadway scene in color talk show Vudu Kids & Family First Look Emmy Nominations Grammys Binge Guide Apple TV+ jurassic park Brie Larson Toys 1990s Teen Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt A&E BET Awards 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards El Rey cinemax indiana jones PaleyFest adenture Sundance Now true crime black mission: impossible doctor who toronto quibi DirecTV composers Winter TV Captain marvel Dark Horse Comics YouTube vampires Sundance comedies Lucasfilm spanish GLAAD aliens Box Office Sundance TV italian book adaptation Paramount Network dark dogs Fall TV toy story Musical Reality Competition australia TV Land Superheroe 93rd Oscars laika strong female leads USA Network USA richard e. Grant Columbia Pictures japanese The Academy spinoff Western dc OneApp Anna Paquin CBS king kong godzilla thriller LGBT monster movies GoT Premiere Dates a nightmare on elm street Classic Film cancelled television basketball king arthur Ellie Kemper screenings crime drama kong Spring TV Elton John X-Men discovery MTV 2018 TIFF Amazon Prime christmas movies robots CW Seed Trailer Rocky best french zombie streaming Election FX dceu television 71st Emmy Awards Apple Trivia high school E3 TruTV free movies reboot Mindy Kaling blaxploitation Drama BBC America name the review kaiju Walt Disney Pictures Marvel Studios japan halloween YouTube Premium Alien Disney Channel news Holiday anime Disney+ Disney Plus History dragons Television Critics Association worst SXSW TCA Winter 2020 space Country Cartoon Network DC Universe Tarantino ITV parents cancelled TV shows Tomatazos Watching Series Film YA 21st Century Fox HBO 45 Esquire Stephen King President Apple TV Plus Nominations cats TV rt archives werewolf fast and furious twilight comics scary movies Turner Mary Tyler Moore FXX See It Skip It fresh 20th Century Fox