‘Seinfeld’ Finale Still Disappoints 25 Years Later: What Is The Deal?

If you were to look up “disappointment” in a dictionary, you’d find a picture of the Seinfeld series finale next to the definition. The final episode aired 25 years ago May 14, 1998. A reported 76 million houses tuned in and there’s probably more who watched it. There was no DVR. People were at home watching it. Reportedly the ambulance that went to get Frank Sinatra who would later die made the transfer to the hospital in record time because traffic was so light.

But people watched it in Times Square like it was a groundbreaking news story. I’m sure sports bars switch over from whatever came was airing. I was finishing my first year at Georgia Southern University and since we didn’t have cable in our rooms, dozens of people gathered in the commons room of Brannen Hall to watch it. And at the end, many of us were confused. What’s the deal with the finale?

Seinfeld had a rocky start in the 1990s and only gained popularity following the end of The Cosby Show with help from Cheers on NBC’s Thursday night line-up. Seinfeld, like Married…with Children, was a push-back against the 1980s sitcom format which had become stale and boring. Cosby aired its final show the same night the L.A. Riots erupted with protests in other areas following the non-guilty verdits of the LAPD officers in the beating of Rodney King a year earlier. It was apparent how “that sumbitch Reagan” wanted us to view black people was over.

Seinfeld‘s tone, I think, appealled more to Americans who felt that they been cheated or constantly downtrodden while trying to get ahead only to see those around them succeed or get the better things out of life. The characters of Jerry Seinfeld (Seinfeld), George Constanza (Jason Alexander), Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) and Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) maybe didn’t always do the most likeable or honest things, but neither did those around them who often seem to pull ahead.

Even though he was a popular comedian, Jerry’s sitcom pilot had been a failure. And George had to deal with the failure of an adult having to go back to live with his parents, Frank (Jerry Stiller) and Estelle (Estelle Harris), while having others he knew like Lloyd Braun shoved in his face. Elaine, even though the most successful, seemed to struggle in relationships. And Kramer, while always lucky in relationships and business, also dealt with setbacks as his get-rich-quick schemes backfired.

It was like they couldn’t win for losing. And as they saw those around them prosper or even blame them for their failures, they rightfully so became a little bitter, resentful and selfish. In many ways, they were the sides of us we didn’t want to admit we had. Now, in the social media era, more people are boasting of their accomplishments and shoving it in our faces. But yet, part of the joy of the show was seeing them fail while at the same time understanding their pain.

That’s what made the final episode titled “The Finale” such a disappointment. Written by Larry David returning after leaving a few seasons earlier, it had a bitter ugliness to it as if all along Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer had all gotten away with everything and should be punished. That was never really the case with the show. First off, the episode is sloppily written with Jerry finding out that they have been offered a deal to produce the abovementioned pilot Jerry as a series. They are given use of an NBC jet to fly to Paris for one last hurrah and Kramer foolishly stumbles into the cockpit because he’s got water in his ears from the beach.

This is a very dumb plot device and it sounds like something that would have been quickly rejected from a writer’s room. They have to make an emergency landing in the fictional town of Latham, Mass. where they witness an obese man get mugged. Rather than stepping in to help, they comment about him. The man reports them to police because there’s a duty to rescue law that was formed following the death of Princess Diana. Considering that any law enforcement officer in America would probably suggest you not step in with someone is robbing another by force, this is ludicrous and distasteful to Priness Diana. Yes, killing Susan (Heidi Swedberg) by licking toxic glue on stamps may have been dark comedy, but no one really liked her.

Kramer calls Jackie Chiles (Phil Morris) to come defend them but local DA Hoyt (James Rebhorn) decides to call a bunch of character witnesses to recount just how bad the four have been. Considering that Jackie may not be able to practice law in another state but couldn’t represent four people unless they were married, which wasn’t the case. The overall tone of the doesn’t fit the rest of the show’s history. It’s at this point, the show just dissolves into a clip show for the remainder. This might night have seemed as bad if the finale wasn’t preceeded by…(checks notes)…oh, a fucking clip show. It also had Green Day’s “Good Riddance” playing over clips which seemed more of a fitting tribute to the fans.

We see Janes Leeves (The Virgin), Teri Hatcher (“They’re real and they’re fantastic!”) and the Bubble Boy and yadda, yadda, yadda they all get convicted and go to prison for a year. And the final scene is Jerry, George and Kramer in prison uniforms as Jerry performs new material. I remember walking by a USA Today newspaper box where the inside teaser featured a criticism of the show with one and a half stars with the phrase, “What’s the point?”

While most Seinfeld fans probably weren’t expecting one giant hug at the end, the episode functioned more as a middle finger, criticizing us for expecting a happy ending. Seinfeld himself later said bringing back all the characters didn’t make for good comedy. It would be the focus of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode in which David comments it was a good episode. Both Louis-Dreyfus and Seinfeld would appear on The Late Show With David Letterman when he was leaving acknowledging the negative reception to the finale.

At the same time, David had a little seen movie Sour Grapes released a month earlier that had gotten awful reviews. While the episode was written before the movie came out, you get the feeling David was eyeing a film career and half-assed the finale which had helped put him on the map. Regardless, it’s not his best effort.

It’s one of the most disappointing finales even though its viewership is just fourth behind the finales to Cheers, M*A*S*H and The Fugitive. Some speculation has been that NBC had grown worried the lack of quality in the shows of the ninth and final season made brass issue Seinfeld an ultimatum – Make it better or end it. He has denied when asked that NBC was threatening to cancel it. Seinfeld pulled in some big numbers its final season, but its episodes were some of the worst of the series. Rotten Tomatoes has an aggregate of 61 percent, the lowest of all nine seasons, while previous seasons received universal acclaim.

And some of the episodes such as “The Betrayal” which has a gimmick of everything going backwards and “The Puerto Rican Day” aren’t that good on repeat viewing. Even “The Strike” in which Frank celebrates Festivus has Jerry dating a woman who doesn’t look attractive in certain lighting. This along with the previous season where he shaves his chest are poor plotlines that seem to be more relevant to other sitcoms.

For the most part the ninth season just seems off at times. The writing isn’t as fresh and they relied too much on the appearance of minor characters such as Puddy (Patrick Warburton), Mr. Kruger (Daniel von Bargen) and J. Peterman (John O’Hurley) in episodes. It’s almost as if the writers ran out of ideas for Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer to do together or with George’s parents and Newman (Wayne Knight). Whenever a TV show is having to rely a lot on recurring characters, it’s a sign of the show’s demise.

Nothing last forever and nine seasons and 180 episodes isn’t small potatoes. It may just be that the bar had been set so high there’s no way Seinfeld, David and the rest of the cast and crew couldn’t pulled off a fitting end. But at least they could’ve put forth some effort. David didn’t even try with this.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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