In its time Seinfeld was a pop culture sensation, won numerous awards for its writing and acting, and was even named the #1 show of all time by TV Guide. But through all of its success, the series finale was incredibly divisive and didn’t fare well with fans and critics alike. But was it really that bad?
To clarify my position, I grew up on Seinfeld. Even while all my classmates were watching Home Improvement every Thursday I was tuned in to Must See TV because I couldn’t deny the excellence Seinfeld. Even though none of my friends were watching, and on paper a white midwestern kid raised conservative and protestant shouldn’t relate to show about 4 promiscuous Jews in Manhattan, I continued to tune in because even as a kid I knew something was there. I was too young to appreciate the intricacies of the writing, the subtleties of the acting or just exactly what made it so funny, I just let it take me there. I always watched new episodes as they aired and saw the earlier episodes over and over again in syndication. But even with all that passion and history, I didn’t initially enjoy the finale. So even though I’m coming to defend the episode now, know that I didn’t always hold it in high esteem. And I still don’t. It’s just as time has passed I have come to see what the finale really did for the series.
WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE FINALE
Through 9 seasons we grew accustomed to life with Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer at Jerry’s apartment, Monk’s Diner, their workplaces, and various other NYC locales. So setting the last episode in a courtroom in a fictional small town in Massachusetts is just jarring to the audience. It feels foreign. It just doesn’t have the same feeling as the previous episodes that made us fall in love with the show. Even the scenes from the fictional Seinfeld reunion in Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 7 feel more like they fit with the rest of the series than the finale does.
Throughout the series, Jerry and his friends spend every episode doing selfish, amoral things, hardly ever getting any comeuppance for any of it. In fact, something series co-creator Larry David insisted on for Seinfeld was that there was ‘no hugs, no learning’ in the show, meaning that Seinfeld avoided the tropes that plagued most shows and made them predictable. With most shows, at the end of every episode your main characters would talk, hug, make up, learn their lesson, and everything would go back to normal until the next episode begins. Instead, our favorite characters never changed their deviant behavior or paid any real price for it. So seeing them finally get called to court and thrown in the slammer just makes the finale feel even less like it belongs in the series.
That was another big complaint Seinfeld received for it’s finale; for 9 years we rode along with our protagonists, watching them do all the things we wished we had the cojones to do. Defying social constraints, questioning politeness, and turning the rituals of modern courtship on its head, these were the things we looked to our heroes to do for us. And ridiculing and jailing the gang in the last episode for all the adventures we went on with them understandably left a sour taste in many mouths. What many people spent years enjoying was suddenly presented as dirty, malevolent and overall awful. Another huge tonal shift for the episode.
All in all, that is really all that’s wrong with the finale. Despite all it had going for it, it just doesn’t FEEL like an episode of Seinfeld.
WHY THE FINALE IS STILL GOOD
While I didn’t enjoy the final episode initially due to the aforementioned reasons, I see now why it’s a lot better than it gets credit for. While it feels out of place, the trial was actually very clever piece of writing. The trial brought back a whole slew of classic secondary characters from throughout the series to testify against Jerry & Co. There really was no better way to tie the whole series together. It was also a great way to honor long time fans with callbacks to running jokes from earlier in the series.
Not only did it hearken back to previous quotable classic lines, it had it’s fair share of new idioms like cellphone walk and talk, Crespi crisp, pee party, femininas, you people with the cheese!, mocking mocking mocking!, and more, many of which I still use to this very day, almost weekly. So in that way it does fit right in with the rest of the series.
So while the finale feels very tonally different, it still turned out to be the ultimate celebration of the series, with a parade of classic characters, callbacks to running jokes and story-lines, as well as new memorable moments, and continuing the tradition of great writing, acting, and execution. I honestly can’t think of any other storyline that would have honored the series or tied everything together better and the plot devices that make the episode feel so out of place are necessary to get us to that point. There really was no better, or other, way.
If we were better fans we would have seen the writing on the wall prior to the airing of the finale. We should have known that the finale would not feature a mushy final moment like so many other series finales. We should have known Larry David would pen something that tied storylines from the whole series together, the same way he tied every storyline together at the end of each episode season after season. We should have known that the behavior we celebrated for so many years was considered in poor taste by polite society, but that’s why we liked it! Instead, we let years of repeated viewing and a veil of secrecy condition our minds into expecting something entirely different than what we got, which was something different from most every other episode.
If you still dislike the finale, or at least don’t hold it in as high regard as the rest of the series, I understand. I really do. All I ask is that you try to look at it in a different light, and you just might get a new appreciation for the most notorious finale in the history of television.