In Defense of the Seinfeld Finale
I got so much grief from the Seinfeld finale, which a lot of people intensely disliked…Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld
If you want to start an argument among Seinfeld fans my advice is to ask this simple question: “What did you think of the finale?”
I’ve been talking with Seinfeld fanatics since before Kramer had a first name and I have seen firsthand how volatile conversations about Seinfeld can be. This is perhaps the biggest time bomb.
Let me preface my defense of the finale by saying that it was nowhere near the funniest episode or even as funny as an average episode. Out of 180 total episodes, I doubt it would crack the Top 100 for laugh out loud moments. I can easily support that critique. Similarly, if someone wanted to be introduced to the show there is no way I would want them to see the Finale totally aside from the nature of a finale not being an episode to watch first. It was a different beast from episodes like The Comeback and The Marine Biologist.
But even with all this, I loved the way the show ended. Here are five reasons why:
1. Larry David came back.
I for one do not think the show fell off a cliff the post Larry David seasons since probably half of my favorite moments came in Seasons 7-9. But there is no Seinfeld without Larry David. And to bring him back to recreate the magic of Seinfeld’s origins–everything from Jerry doing stand up to open to the very last conversation bringing the show full circle–made the finale worth remembering. From writing to producing to championing the show with such passion he would argue with NBC executives, Larry David was as important to mainstreaming and popularizing Seinfeld as anyone.
2. They found a creative, clever way to bring back the best one-off characters from the show’s history.
Who didn’t enjoy experiencing the Bubble Boy testify, railing against George about the Moors again? Or watching Babu wag his finger one more time? Or seeing the Soup Nazi refuse to spell his name and demand the next question?
This was what made Larry David so proud of the finale and I have to agree with him. Finales should be a trip down memory lane in some sense and they found a truly unique way to recall inimitable characters and jokes that were defining moments for this award winning series.
3. This scene with Newman:
Newman, the character who appeared the most outside of the main four1 and who Jerry cannot explain his hatred for, had his moments. He even stole some scenes. But they saved the pinnacle Newman meltdown for last. Either this or Frank Costanza interrupting the trial to yell at George Steinbrenner is the biggest laugh of the Finale to me. And this is definitely a “Gowdy stands up to clap” moment.
4. The characters gave us 45 final, glorious minutes of what made them great.
Not to contradict myself above but if someone did want to know what Seinfeld was like and they only had 60 seconds to do so, I absolutely would show them the comments the New York Four made on Kramer’s video while the fat tub was getting robbed. Anyone who didn’t smile and nod when George complained about no catsup–while in jail–probably missed most of the show’s run to that point. Jackie Chiles’ rants; Frank yelling about Hideki Arabu; Puddy’s utter indifference to Elaine going to jail complete with the Puddy stare and the Puddy voice-tone reply of “Alright” to Elaine’s “Don’t wait for me”…the finale unquestionably reminded us of why we became addicted to the show in the first place. Not all of these moments were boisterously laugh funny, but they were all quintessential Seinfeld.
5. The conclusion was absolutely true to the nature of the show.
I wish I had kept better files back in 1998 when this episode aired because I cannot remember who it was or where I read it but someone perfectly captured the ending by pointing out that the characters in the show didn’t care about anyone else and the show’s ending showed they didn’t care about us either. No good vibes. No sappy ending. Just the standard “Everyone loses” Seinfeld climax. There is something so real about that I can’t help but love it.
And the verdict: Four completely self-absorbed narcissists who left countless lives worse than how they found them, going to jail for a year. Poetic Justice in inane form. And the crime could not have been any more fulfilling–breaking a law based on a story from Jesus, a man who was perfectly contrary to them. The moment that “guilty” verdict is read, my goosebumps shatter as though I were watching a walk-off grand slam Cubs win. What an ending! It all, indeed, came crumbling down. And Newman was there. In all his glory.
As Larry David has said, everyone writes their own finale in their head2 and it is impossible for a show as popular as Seinfeld to make everyone happy in an episode like this. But I respect it because they did exactly what they wanted to do the way they wanted to do it. And they did not care about anyone else. The same man who yelled at NBC reps for not liking his Chinese restaurant episode idea, and got his way (and eventual great acclaim for the idea), went out the only way he could. And I cannot dog that. It worked.
I’m but one voice, yet 19 years ago I walked away from the TV longing for more new Seinfeld. Nevertheless, I was still completely satisfied by its ending. Two decades later I feel the same. The greatest show of all time went out on top. No critiques of the finale can change that.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know below!
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14 thoughts on “In Defense of the Seinfeld Finale”
It ended the only way it realistically could have. It comes off as not-as-funny because it is not trying to humor us. It is trying to tie loose ends, and the biggest loose end of all is simply this: how do people who are so self-absorbed end up in life? And the answer is no rib tickler. The mugging video peels back several layers to show us the selfishness lying beneath so much of their humor. It prods me to find and relish the humor of ordinary things (about nothing)…but to make sure I’m working from a different base–love rather than indifference.
We see someone walking towards a banana peel, and we prepare to laugh. God loves sinners. He would love Jerry and company. Yet God laughs at the wicked because he sees what is coming (Psalm 37:13). We are not as fully dimensioned as we need to be, and it is hard for us to reconcile love for the lost with laughing at the wicked, but that is *our* limitation, not God’s, I think.
I don’t have a better idea for a finale but I was always so comfortable in Jerry’s apartment or the diner, I would have liked it to end there. The show did a good job maintaining continuity at other locales, but for some reason the finale felt like it had a new set and maybe even new mics. I could’ve lived with a finale that just looked like another episode. Ending with the conversation about the shirt button is a nod to what I’m talking about. The trial felt like “something” in a show about nothing.
That’s actually a legitimate complaint I think. And far removed form “Oh it was awful!” They got some of Jerry’s apartment and the coffee shop but I can see wanting it to end like that. I wouldn’t argue against that. At the same time I loved them all in jail at the end. They didn’t care about us so I didn’t care about them! Which is so funny because they provided us with a service and we provided them with enough money to live the dream! (Block of cheese the size a car batter optional)
Gowdy, enjoyable article and thought provoking. It makes me go back immediately and watch the finale to see if maybe I was too hard on it. To me that is good writing. By the way, your article on Tom Brady did nothing to convince me that he is over-rated…….
Jon’s thoughts are intriguing as well. Maybe what was wrong with the finale is that it was so unfamiliar. And that it tried to be something. I remember going into the finale thinking that, knowing them, it would be another normal episode. And they could’ve pulled it off.
Thanks for the comment, Len. I don’t know that people were too hard on it; it had insane expectations. And I get the “it tried to be something” – but that something was going to jail and that was hilarious and awesome. And part of it was they wanted to bring back so many people and needed a vehicle for it. I heard Jerry say once that funny is the most important thing. I think the desire to make it funny and memorable beat out the “nothing”. Some may say they swung and missed on being funny but that was the goal.
And it’s OK that I have not convinced you about Tom Brady. No one has convinced me he’s the greatest yet. And I appreciate you bringing that article up over and over and over; in a weird way it makes me feel like i accomplished my goal. 🙂
Here’s my thinking when I keep bringing up that other article: “Hey, that Gowdy makes some great points! Of course he’s the idiot who wrote that Brady article . ….”
LOL. Touche. Sometimes I just want attention even negative attention.
I was admittedly disappointed with the finale when I first watched it. But since then, I’ve made a 180. It’s a brilliant ending. Watching through the series currently with the hubs, my appreciation for Elaine has grown exponentially. She is a very underrated character.
I appreciate this comment! Very well stated. I agree about Elaine. I wrote something about that for our 5 on tv funny women.
I really liked the finale, but got to tell ya that I was really disappointed in the private jet. Guarantee when Ted Danson gets one its a lot nicer.
I know I’m late to the party, but yes, yes, yes! I just caught the 1st half of the finale on the CW, and it struck me (not for the first time) that the finale is actually quite brilliant. So I googled, and every article on page 1 of the results talked about why the finale was bad. Yours was the only outlier. I think the whole thing went over a lot of heads, mine included (in my defense, I was 17 at the time).
I can respect the critique above that the trial felt like “something” in a show that was famously about nothing. But that was really just the show’s tagline. What made the show truly avant-garde was that everything was played for laughs. Someone dies, it’s funny. Someone has cancer, funny. Nazis come to town, funny.
Traditional sitcom finales always have a note of sadness to them, simply because the show always feels compelled to offer a reason why things are coming to an end. Characters are moving away, or starting a family, or otherwise moving on with life, and therefore the gang is disbanding. The Seinfeld finale avoided this in a savvy fashion; instead, it brought all the show’s minor characters together, allowed the audience to re-experience some of the show’s most memorable single-episode characters, and delivered a long-overdue (and completely unexpected) comeuppance to the most hilarious bunch of narcissistic sociopaths the world had ever known. Like you said, it would have been impossible to write an ending to that show that would have pleased everyone. The only way to go was to stay true to the show, and I’m glad they did.
Thanks of much for the comment! I have no issue with Seinfeld fans not liking the finale, but I think it deserves some love. When I shared this article to Seinfeld fan Facebook groups last year there was a ton of disagreement but I was surprised at how many people also liked it. This comment is gold, Jerry!
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