The Seinfeld Finale
LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 3: (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards and Jason Alexander embrace on the set of the show “Seinfeld” during the last days of shooting, April 3, 1998 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

In the new series Let’s Revisit, ICON returns to the pop culture moments that demanded our attention and peels back the layers of time to see if they still hold up. From famous TV finales to cult films, iconic albums to fashion trends, Let’s Revisit casts a critical (and empathetic) eye over our shared history.

If you rewind the clock back to May 14, 1998, television was experiencing a truly important cultural moment – the last episode of Seinfeld. For nine seasons and 180 episodes, the ‘show about nothing’ had become something of a phenomenon. So when it came time to say goodbye, TV audiences tuned into The Seinfeld Finale with record numbers.

Crowds watching the final episode of the TV series “Seinfeld” broadcast in Times Square in New York City on the Jumbotron screen, May 14, 1998. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)

In the US alone, more than 76 million people watched the two-part finale, making it the fourth most-watched series finale ever, behind M*A*S*H. (1983), Cheers (1993), and The Fugitive (1967). But while everyone agreed it was worth watching, not everyone loved the finale as much as they loved the show.

It has been more than twenty years since The Seinfeld Finale screened, and yet opinion has remained divided on whether or not the show got the ending it deserved.

The Episode

After finally selling their series “Jerry” to NBC, Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) and George (Jason Alexander) decide to celebrate. They’re given access to NBC’s private plane and jet off for a weekend in Paris, inviting Elaine (Julia Louis Dreyfus) and Kramer (Michael Richards) along for the ride. While en route, the plane experiences engine troubles and the foursome get grounded in Massachusetts. While killing time, they see an overweight man being robbed, but the four jaded friends fail to intervene. They’re then apprehended on a little known ‘duty to rescue’ law, which lands the crew on trial.

The Seinfeld Finale
STUDIO CITY, CA – APRIL 3: (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) The courtroom scene from the final days of shooting the hit show “Seinfeld” including (L-R)Phil Morris, Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards, April 3, 1998 in Studio City, California. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

So begins the case of the century, as a rotating door of familiar faces take to the stand to recount their colourful experiences with Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer.

The Cameos

The Finale does a wonderful job of bringing back the most memorable side characters, from the Soup Nazi to the Bubble Boy and everyone in between. Officially there were 52 credited cameos, but these are our favourite five.

David Puddy (Patrick Warburton): Elaine’s long-suffering love interest (who never seemed that interested), stays true to form in the finale. At the end of the episode, as Elaine is being led off to prison, she dramatically declares “David, don’t wait for me.” To which he replies, “Alright” Genius.

Sidra Holland (Teri Hatcher): Jerry’s former flame arrives at the trial, giving damning evidence about the time Jerry sent Elaine into the sauna with her to determine if her breasts were real or fake! She then gets the ultimate payback by sleeping with the foursome lawyer, Jackie Chiles.

The Seinfeld Finale
Credit: NBC. Teri Hatcher appears in The Seinfeld Finale

The Soup Nazi (Larry Thomas): Arguably the most famous Seinfeld cameo of all time, the Soup Nazi returns in the finale to get revenge on Elaine for ruining his business.

The Seinfeld Finale
Credit: NBC. Larry Thomas as ‘The Soup Nazi’ in The Seinfeld Finale

Mabel Choate (Frances Bay): Stealing from the elderly is never a good look, which is exactly what Jerry did when he mugged Mabel for a loaf of marvel rye bread in The Rye. The jury sympathises with Mabel when she gives character evidence against Jerry during the case.

Jackie Chiles (Phil Morris): Based on OJ Simpson’s real-life lawyer, the flashy Johnny Cochran, Jackie Chiles was a series regular on Seinfeld. He represents Jerry and co in the finale, but not even his spectacular skills are enough to get them out of trouble.

The Things You Didn’t Know

The last conversation of the series sees Jerry and George in a jail cell talking about the position of a button on Jerry’s shirt. This is a word for word recreation of the first conversation from the series pilot in 1989.

Seinfeld ended after nine seasons. Desperate to keep the show going, NBC offered Jerry Seinfeld $110 million dollars for a tenth and final season.

Frank Sinatra died during the finale of Seinfeld, suffering a cardiac arrest on May 14th, 1998.

Rather than filming the finale in front of a usual live audience, it was filmed in front of friends and family. Recently, comedian Jimmy Fallon revealed he snuck onto the set and attended the taping.

The final episode was given the fake working title of “A Tough Nut To Crack” to throw people off.

How does it hold up?

If we learned anything from the recent (and rather grim) Friends reunion, it’s that not all once-loved shows should be revisited. The potential for disappointment far outweighs any real chance at finding new ways to enjoy old shows. But where Friends appears problematic in the harsh light of 2021, (let’s not even talk about Ross), Seinfeld has managed to maintain its razor-sharp wit and relevancy. The finale may not be the most note-perfect piece of TV ever produced, but it adequately ties up a series that redefined the way we watch television. Which is certainly something, for a show about nothing.