Ten Reasons the ‘Seinfeld’ Finale Actually Rules
On May 14, 1998, more than 76 million Seinfeld viewers watched Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer get sentenced to a year of prison for violating a “Good Samaritan Law.” While witnessing a carjacking, the foursome stood by cracking jokes instead of helping the victim. The prosecution’s case focused on the gang’s “character,” rounding up witnesses from their past to testify against them. The result was a cavalcade of old Seinfeld characters, including icons like the Bubble Boy, Babu Bhatt and the Soup Nazi.
After the guilty verdict, Judge Arthur Vandelay opined, “I can think of nothing more fitting than for the four of you to spend a year removed from society so that you can contemplate the manner in which you have conducted yourselves. I know I will.”
The episode went over like a wet fart with critics and fans alike. To this day, it’s still considered one of the most disappointing series finales of all time. In the ensuing years, the show’s cast have joined in poking fun at “The Finale” as well. In the last episode of The Late Show with David Letterman, Julia Louis Dreyfus jokingly remarked, “Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale.” The cast also took shots at “The Finale” during the Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm. On the show, Larry pitched a reunion idea to Jason Alexander, and Alexander replied, “It could make up for the finale.” Even Seinfeld himself argued, “Larry, we’ve already screwed up one finale; we can’t do another.”
All jokes aside, on a Bill Simmons podcast, Larry David defended aspects of the episode, stating, “I wasn’t interested in an ‘emotional ride,’ and neither was Jerry,” adding, “I thought it was clever to bring back all those characters in a courtroom and testify against them for what they did.”
We agree with David, and to prove it, here’s our list of the 10 reasons the Seinfeld finale actually rules...
The Monk’s Scene
For almost all of Seinfeld, Monk’s served as a familiar backdrop for Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer to figure things out, complain or just talk about nothing. In “The Finale,” the scene where the gang discusses where to travel sums up the coffee-shop scenes throughout the series. They allowed for a break in the individual storylines and brought the episode back to being a show about nothing. But my favorite part is at the very end after the gang agrees to travel to Paris together; they stack their hands in the middle of the table and collectively shout, “Yeah!” This is something that Seinfeld, Alexander, Dreyfus, and Michael Richards actually did as a group before filming each episode, calling it “the circle of power.” During the final circle backstage, Seinfeld told the others, “For the rest of our lives, when anyone thinks of one of us, they’ll think of all four. And I can’t think of three people I’d rather that be true of.”
George Cheated in the Contest
When David left Seinfeld after the seventh season, the last two seasons felt different — a major point being the changes to George. Although George was still an integral part of the show’s greatest moments, he became more of a caricature as the series became wackier and less realistic.
But when David returned to write “The Finale,” it was clear that the old George was back. A noteworthy moment being that while everyone is admiring the private jet, George remains unimpressed, saying, “I’m a little disappointed; I thought it would be a lot nicer. Do you think this is the plane that Ted Danson gets?!” reminding us of his classic Ted Danson rants from the earlier seasons. And then, of course, as the plane malfunctions and starts to descend, George clears his consciousness by letting the gang know that he cheated in the Contest. Why did he cheat? “Because I’m a cheater!”
This scene perfectly captures the George Costanza character while simultaneously bringing a satisfying conclusion to the show’s most famous episode.
Jackie Chiles’ Best Performance
Phil Morris shines as the fifth Beatle in this episode, defending the “New York Four” as eccentric and articulate lawyer Jackie Chiles. In an interview with The Place to Be: A Seinfeld Podcast, Morris admitted to feeling panicked when he first read the script because he wasn’t expecting to have such a big role in the episode. But Morris delivered an incredible performance, contributing to some of the finale’s most memorable moments, including coupling up with Sidra, played by Teri Hatcher, and confirming to Jerry that “they’re real, and they’re spectacular.”
The Prison Scene
In the original script, the final scene of the series was the camera panning out as Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer sat in a prison cell. Upon reflection, Seinfeld felt it was a little too sentimental and decided to add a scene of his character doing stand-up for the inmates. Jerry works the crowd, cracking jokes about cell block D and telling a thief not to “steal” his jokes. Kramer is the only prisoner laughing, as the other inmates are heckling Jerry, including a cameo voiceover from David saying, “You suck! I’m going to cut you!” A comedic glimpse into their lives after the sentencing, Jerry said in a DVD interview, “It didn’t seem so depressing then — that we were still having fun in prison.”
In the Season Four episode “The Visa,” Babu gets deported after his visa renewal accidentally ends up in Jerry’s mail. In that episode, Babu vows that he will one day get back to America, and when he does, he will “exact vengeance on this man.” We didn’t know it then, but that vow would be fulfilled in the finale, as Babu pleaded with the jury to “Send them all away! Lock them up forever! They are not human. They are very bad. Very, very, very bad.”
In an interview, the man who played Babu, actor Brian George, said that Seinfeld passed him on the set and told him, “You’re the man.” He didn’t know what Seinfeld meant at the time, but he eventually realized that Babu would be the one to put the final nail in the gang’s coffin with that courtroom speech.
The Return of Jerry’s Stand-Up
In the first seven seasons of Seinfeld, Jerry’s stand-up routines were a staple of the show. His comedy bits were reflections of the episode storylines, as Jerry’s character used his “real life” experiences to craft his act. But after David’s departure, Seinfeld had to ditch the stand-up to focus more on writing the episodes. So it was a nice surprise to see him performing stand-up in the opening scene of “The Finale,” reminding us of the golden years of Seinfeld.
They Poked Fun at ‘The Finale’ Rumors
Seinfeld was a cultural juggernaut of the 1990s, so there was a lot of hype and anticipation for its final episode. However, as the series had no actual story arcs and wasn’t sentimental in nature, fans were curious to see how the writers would wrap up things. Not surprisingly then, countless rumors about the final episode circulated in the preceding days, weeks and months. Would Elaine and Jerry get together? Would Jerry and George move to California to write a TV show? Were they all going to die?
“The Finale” teased all those ideas, as the episode begins with George saying he wants his “15 minutes,” shortly followed by Jerry and George meeting with the new President of NBC to greenlight their television show. But their plane malfunctions, with Elaine shouting, “Oh my god, we’re going down! We’re going to die!” For his part, Jerry adds, “Is this how it ends?!” Just before the plane stabilizes, Jerry and Elaine “need to tell each other something.” Later on, we learn that Elaine was going to tell Jerry, “I love U…nited Airlines.” It’s all great stuff.
Newman’s Last Great Moment
Newman and Jerry’s mutual dislike provided an incredible rivalry for the series. After learning about Jerry’s private jet to Paris, Newman asks Jerry to take him on the jet as he is “one-quarter French” and has a cousin there who’s suffering very badly. But Jerry denies him, causing Newman to respond with a monologue foreshadowing the rest of the episode. The pertinent bits: “Your day will come, mark my words, Seinfeld!” and “An evil wind will blow through your little play world and wipe that smug smile off your face!” While Newman appears throughout the finale (eating popcorn at the trial), this scene puts a bow on their nine-season rivalry and brings closure to their relationship.
Unforgettable Guest Stars
Seinfeld had excellent guest stars over the years, and the finale was an opportunity to bring them all back together. Alexander said it best in an interview: “I love it because we were not a sentimental group, but there were so many people that came through over those nine years that made a huge difference in our lives. They all added to our ‘baby,’ and then they went away, and we never got to say ‘thank you.’ And Larry found a way to bring them back. The atmosphere was joyous and sentimental.”
The Call Back to the First Episode
In the last scene of the original script — when the gang is in the jail cell — Jerry remarks that the button on George’s sweater is in the worst possible spot: “The second button is the key button — it literally makes or breaks the shirt. It’s too high; it’s in no-man’s land.” This is an exact replica of the first conversation that Jerry and George had in the opening scene of the series premiere. It was a beautiful tribute to the show — and all of the Seinfeld die-hards out there like me.