The final Seinfeld is over, and an estimated 76 million of you tuned in on Thursday night. Was it everything you hoped for? After nine years on the air, this was the end for Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer, and they didn’t go quietly. True to form, the 75-minute finale of the top-rated sitcom was about as sentimental as a root canal. No tears, no hugs, no “I love yous.” Just the gang finding themselves in a whole lot of trouble for doing what they do best: nothing.
While the NBC sitcom drew a whopping 41.3 rating and 58 share in overnight ratings, it didn’t come close to toppling the all-time record, held by the final episode of M*A*S*H, which earned a staggering 60.2 rating and 77 share when it signed off in 1983. Seinfeld didn’t even beat the 1993 finale of Cheers, which had a 45.9 rating and 72 share.
But those who tuned in were treated to a fitting end to the series. Warning, if you haven’t seen the episode yet, there are spoilers ahead…
The Larry David-penned final episode started optimistically enough, with NBC’s new president deciding to resurrect Jerry, Jerry and George’s old pilot about nothing. “George and I are moving to California,” Jerry declares, but not before the network offers him the use of a private jet to go anywhere he chooses. The four of them decide on Paris, but things go awry when Kramer, attempting to get water out of his ear, falls into the cockpit and sends the plane plummeting. “Is this how it ends? It can’t end like this!” Jerry screams as the plane nosedives.
Of course it can’t, and the plane doesn’t crash, but it does make an emergency landing in Latham, Mass., where the group witnesses a rotund gentleman getting carjacked. Instead of lending a hand, the four of them just stand there, doing nothing except cracking jokes while Kramer videotapes the entire episode. They are arrested under the recently passed “Good Samaritan” law, and faster than you can say “criminal indifference,” they are put on trial. We know trouble lies ahead when the prosecutor says that it will all come down to “character.”
What follows in a seemingly endless parade of witnesses who have been wronged by the so-called “New York Four.” There’s the old lady whose marble rye Jerry snatched; there’s the bubble boy, who continues his “Moors-Moops” argument with George; there’s the virgin, who tells the court of the contest the gang had to “see who could go the longest without gratifying themselves”; there’s the library cop, Mr. Bookman; the doctor who told of George’s “restrained jubilation” after learning of the death of his fiancé, Susan; the druggist who sold Elaine a gross of Today sponges; Babu; the Soup Nazi; and on and on. The packed courtroom is filled with almost every secondary character on the series, from the Costanzas to Puddy to Mr. Pitt to Keith Hernandez to Newman, who gleefully watches as his nemesis is taken down.
To no one’s surprise, Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer are found guilty, and Judge Art Vandelay, who describes their “selfishness, self-absorption, and greed,” sentences them to a year in prison to think about their “callous indifference to everything good and decent.” But not even jail can change their true natures, as Jerry complains about the amount of milk in his cereal and wonders whether they’ll have to wear orange prison uniforms.
The end of the show finds the four in a hell of their own making, sitting together in a jail cell as Jerry starts commenting on George’s shirt buttons. “Don’t you get the feeling we’ve had this conversation before?” asks George. “I think so,” says Jerry. They’re right—it was from the first scene in the pilot episode of Seinfeld back in 1989. We realize the four of them are doomed to stay together and repeat the same conversations over and over and over again, just as we are sentenced to reruns well into the 21st century. The final scene of the final Seinfeld ends with Jerry, in an orange uniform, doing stand-up for his fellow prisoners. Some of his new material: “So what’s the deal with the yard? And what’s with the lockup?” Only Kramer appreciates Jerry’s unique brand of observational humor.
Jerry Seinfeld appeared later that night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and walked out on stage amid chants of, “Jerry, Jerry!” Moved by the reaction, he quipped, “What the hell, I’ll do one more season. C’mon, let’s go!” Seinfeld told his old friend Leno that he was “exhausted.” “I feel that I need some kind of break from being funny,” he said. “I have been funny for every day for nine years. It’s exhausting.” The comedian also echoed the sentiments of many who have overdosed on Seinfeld coverage. “I am amazed by what has been going on the past week,” he said. “Can you imagine what it’s been like for me? I’m sick of myself.” Concluded Seinfeld, “I’m the only character who’s going to continue on,” he said. “I’m still having episodes in real life.”