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


(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.


(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.”


(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.


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

The Purge streaming movies TCA Winter 2020 docuseries popular DGA adventure Summer Music kids HBO Max heist movie Grammys VH1 universal monsters marvel comics Legendary TV Land Pet Sematary GIFs History halloween cancelled television south america DC Comics Interview nbcuniversal ITV latino Spike tv talk crossover laika kong dexter 21st Century Fox golden globe awards Shudder jamie lee curtis SundanceTV green book boxoffice Freeform Holiday TV renewals Oscars IFC Films richard e. Grant El Rey police drama a nightmare on elm street First Look films scary movies ID Polls and Games spanish 2021 Universal Pictures MSNBC dragons prank Adult Swim NBA elevated horror Dark Horse Comics BAFTA Ghostbusters Creative Arts Emmys Election canceled 2020 TIFF supernatural Comedy Central black comedy The Witch Video Games diversity adaptation Watching Series Starz Fantasy Alien politics Awards Peacock Television Academy FX on Hulu VOD Infographic quibi cops Film Festival anime Teen GoT period drama know your critic Awards Tour Rom-Com comedies Tumblr golden globes Mystery NBC Logo debate video on demand Funimation trailers Marvel Studios documentaries rom-coms critic resources cats Marvel hispanic ghosts 45 LGBT Comic-Con@Home 2021 space gangster Hallmark Christmas movies Baby Yoda Masterpiece composers fast and furious Food Network travel rt labs critics edition Writers Guild of America Extras children's TV versus WarnerMedia NYCC Apple TV Plus Brie Larson pirates of the caribbean dogs singing competition Christmas HBO Go Sundance TV Heroines video zombies crime drama YouTube Red chucky Horror miniseries Black History Month fresh Star Wars Trivia Martial Arts lord of the rings cancelled worst movies Columbia Pictures indiana jones australia Year in Review ABC Family Song of Ice and Fire animated Action nfl natural history news Pop TLC TV One Universal werewolf docudrama Amazon Prime Video mutant reviews cars theme song kaiju comiccon The Walking Dead football Disney Sci-Fi hidden camera Rock Reality Competition dreamworks GLAAD discovery best razzies Holidays OneApp hollywood biopic PaleyFest cartoon japan suspense vs. stoner 71st Emmy Awards Fox News Musical jurassic park ABC RT21 Western VICE serial killer zero dark thirty Ovation joker cancelled TV series 90s king kong venice Acorn TV die hard TNT french Cannes MTV Spring TV Mary Tyler Moore TruTV Schedule strong female leads Fox Searchlight new zealand APB 20th Century Fox Crackle Amazon italian spider-man criterion cinemax Britbox posters CMT vampires blaxploitation deadpool Epix Nominations The CW YouTube Premium Endgame CNN Disney Channel high school renewed TV shows Marathons Emmys Mindy Kaling adenture comic book movies series Tokyo Olympics aliens justice league 2015 mockumentary facebook science fiction child's play Pop TV DirecTV Bravo Shondaland sag awards X-Men 93rd Oscars Sony Pictures young adult Hallmark sopranos A24 Neflix social media superman Sneak Peek war Apple Comics on TV spider-verse IMDb TV AMC Lucasfilm streaming Trophy Talk toronto slashers rt archives superhero A&E Rocketman Instagram Live worst casting rt labs ViacomCBS transformers disaster spanish language Wes Anderson RT History slasher Countdown black festivals marvel cinematic universe YA CBS All Access twilight PBS Avengers Family Mary Poppins Returns godzilla WGN halloween tv Tubi revenge The Walt Disney Company Travel Channel sitcom TV movies batman legend scary Paramount Network Captain marvel Esquire Cosplay TV Winter TV anthology Valentine's Day Turner Classic Movies witnail parents Toys rotten blockbusters concert art house Photos Elton John PlayStation TCA 2017 wonder woman Turner historical drama biography movies Certified Fresh Kids & Family television TCM BET women olympics 24 frames live action live event Biopics Amazon Prime Vudu BBC One Marvel Television Binge Guide royal family dceu First Reviews genre E! finale CBS The Arrangement cooking harry potter sports 2019 king arthur Broadway hispanic heritage month dark basketball Calendar Netflix crime festival TBS Sundance Now 2018 critics indie Opinion Super Bowl psycho blockbuster unscripted Premiere Dates aapi sequels Exclusive Video Nickelodeon Spectrum Originals award winner true crime BET Awards 2017 USA Network 72 Emmy Awards Mudbound DC Universe Pirates Disney+ Disney Plus mission: impossible japanese See It Skip It 1990s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ESPN Pixar Red Carpet franchise Tomatazos Disney streaming service Quiz Superheroes SDCC spinoff Hulu Women's History Month Hear Us Out new york 99% Nat Geo Stephen King President Image Comics FX Tarantino Box Office AMC Plus New York Comic Con nature American Society of Cinematographers talk show stand-up comedy HBO directors breaking bad international what to watch book book adaptation CW Seed obituary Walt Disney Pictures ABC Signature Disney Plus comic book movie Superheroe Paramount cults remakes medical drama christmas movies Warner Bros. Animation Drama stop motion Lionsgate National Geographic Arrowverse mcc canceled TV shows emmy awards sequel Trailer comic Podcast feel good game show scene in color dc cancelled TV shows Anna Paquin Crunchyroll foreign 4/20 classics comic books scorecard Television Critics Association Winners Showtime Netflix Christmas movies Discovery Channel romance The Academy action-comedy asian-american mob 73rd Emmy Awards 2016 reboot screen actors guild romantic comedy Comic Book IFC Apple TV+ Pride Month E3 YouTube 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards teaser Amazon Studios LGBTQ Lifetime Set visit TCA Awards Pacific Islander FXX telelvision game of thrones name the review free movies Film rotten movies we love political drama all-time thriller target Chernobyl Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt new star wars movies Rocky Character Guide Cartoon Network San Diego Comic-Con james bond technology Reality robots boxing comics Star Trek Musicals Paramount Plus psychological thriller movie FOX BBC archives Thanksgiving independent screenings zombie 007 satire spy thriller Black Mirror Classic Film dramedy Sundance documentary saw monster movies TCA crime thriller MCU Best and Worst spain Comedy Syfy doctor who Ellie Kemper hist USA DC streaming service binge SXSW BBC America Fall TV Lifetime Christmas movies ratings Academy Awards based on movie toy story OWN Emmy Nominations Mary poppins Country