Seinfeld has become one of the most enduring comedies of all time but it didn’t get there by trying to look like other television shows. Part of the reason Larry David’s progressive sitcom earned such high ratings is because it was so unique — and so hilarious. Despite controversial topics and dark humor, fans just kept coming back for more.
This fact is most exemplified in the show’s finale, which has been described as a “middle finger” to all the fans watching at home. Here’s why it’s considered one of the worst series finales of all time.
‘Seinfeld’ was never meant to teach life lessons
The show Seinfeld has been described as a show about nothing, but the truth is more complicated than that. In reality, it’s a portrait of “a supremely selfish comedian and his equally obnoxious friends” who learn nothing and make no apologies about their lack of emotional growth.
This is all because David had two rules for Seinfeld writers: no hugging and no learning. He didn’t want Seinfeld to become some feel-good show preaching moral messages for the masses. Instead, he injected his comedy with the outlook of jaded, potentially nihilistic New Yorkers.
Larry David returned to write the final episode
The show’s creator had departed the series in season 7, but returned to write the final episode, which had the fake working title, “A Tough Nut to Crack.” The two-part finale (which was really called “The Finale”) aired on May 14, 1998 and received plenty of criticism from loyal fans. It currently has a 7.7 rating on IMDb.
In the finale, Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer are heading to Paris on a private plane when it unexpectedly has to make an emergency landing in the fictional town of Latham, Massachusetts. While there, the four main characters witness a carjacking but instead of helping the overweight victim, they make fun of him and leave, recording the whole thing with Kramer’s camcorder. Later they’re put on trial for violating the “Good Samaritan Law” that would have dictated they help the man.
After a lengthy court case that brought character witnesses from the previous 9 seasons, referencing multiple incidents that transpired along the Seinfeld journey, the four friends are sentenced to one year in prison. Even afterward, they’re not remorseful in the least for failing to help the carjacking victim or for any of their actions in the past.
Right before the final credits, the gang is seen joking around in the holding cell awaiting prison transport. The last scene shows Jerry cracking jokes in a prison jumpsuit.
Many fans absolutely hated the finale
The Seinfeld finale attracted a record-breaking crowd of more than 76 million viewers. However, most of those fans weren’t pleased with what they watched.
As Vulture reported, the finale seemed to be, “deliberately provoking the viewers to hate them and question whether the years they spent watching the series were wasted.” There was a distinctive trolling quality to the finale, “like a middle finger to viewers who wanted confirmation that the characters had grown or at least seen the error of their ways.”
One IMDb reviewer said, “So much is wrong here. Why does Kramer allow this man to be mugged? He has always shown a higher morality. And why are the other three being so especially cruel? It’s a stretch, to say the least.”
But David stuck to the “no learning” mantra until the bitter end. And it’s true, the characters never learned a single thing.
Critical reception was no better, but Jerry Seinfeld stands by it
Fans despised the finale and critics did too. Entertainment Weekly reported that “The Finale” was, “off-key and bloated…Ultimately, Seinfeld and David’s kiss-off to their fans was a loud, hearty, ‘So long, suckers!'”
However, Jerry Seinfeld defended the finale in a 2014 Reddit interview. “I was happy with the Seinfeld finale because we didn’t want to do another episode as much as we wanted to have everybody come back to the show we had so much fun with,” he said.
He continued: “It was a way to thank all of the people who worked on the show over the years that we thought made the show work. I don’t believe in trying to change the past but I’m very happy with it.”
There’s a running joke that the ending of The Sopranos and the ending of Seinfeld should have been swapped. If they had, the final scene would have been the gang sitting down at a diner (and Tony Soprano would be in prison where he belonged).
Maybe then the last moments of Seinfeld wouldn’t be so controversial. Not that they really care what you think.