Seinfeld Star Reflects on Series Finale: "It Didn't Quite Land the Way They Wanted"

On May 14, 1998, 76 million people had something to say about the "show about nothing." The Seinfeld series finale, titled "The Finale," was widely viewed as a disappointment: as one critic wrote, the divisive episode was "like a middle finger to viewers who wanted confirmation that the characters had grown or at least seen the error of their ways." But the sitcom created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld had long had an unofficial rule of "no learning, no hugging." After nine seasons, the two-part series finale was essentially a 56-minute finger-wagging from Babu Bhatt (Brian George), who famously chastised the fictional Jerry as a "very, very bad man."  

The episode sees Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Kramer (Michael Richards) arrested in Latham, Massachusetts, for violating the Good Samaritan Law. Yada, yada, yada, the "Good Samaritan trial" turns into a media circus with the prosecution trotting out a parade of guest star character witnesses — Babu, library cop Joe Bookman (Philip Baker Hall), the Soup Nazi (Larry Thomas), and many more — testifying against the four defendants. 

In the end, Judge Vandelay (Stanley Anderson) sentences Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer to a year in prison, "Removed from society so that you can contemplate the manner in which you have conducted yourselves." For many viewers — including co-star Wayne Knight, who played Jerry's long-running nemesis Newman — the verdict on the Seinfeld finale wasn't quite sponge-worthy.

"I think I'm like the rest of the public as far as the finale goes. I don't think you can end that show in a way that would work," Knight said during a recent appearance at Pennsylvania's Steel City Convention. "The idea of doing a retrospective winds up feeling like a clip show, so I think that they tried to pay tribute to all of the people who had walked through that set, all the great performances, all the great people. And it didn't quite land in the way that they wanted."

In between the clips and the cameos, David wanted to "show that these people are not deserving of any glory," Knight added about the self-centered and cynical group of friends, who wind up behind bars in the show's final scene. "He wanted them to have the worst time possible. And as a concept, that works, but I don't know if it works as a finale." 

Seinfeld himself was satisfied with the finale, which he remembered as a tribute to the sitcom's many iconic characters and guest stars from nine seasons and 180 episodes of Seinfeld

As the comedian wrote in a Reddit Q&A in 2014, "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. 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."

Reflecting on the "intensely disliked" Seinfeld finale in a 2014 interview, David told Bill Simmons of Grantland, "I know that people hated it. They were disappointed. A lot of people were disappointed. I think people just didn't like the fact that they wound up in jail, you know?" 

"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. They haven't written it beforehand, they don't know what the show is," David said. "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 is streaming on Netflix.