THEY’RE considered TV’s greatest sitcom and its greatest drama, but when it comes to their finales, only one got it right.
With some extra time on my idle hands, I just finished watching the final seasons of “Seinfeld” and “The Sopranos” for the first time since they aired. I was hoping the final hour of “Seinfeld” would be funnier than it played 10 years ago, now that all of the pressure was off it, and that I’d pick up clues in “The Sopranos” to help me make sense of that abrupt cut to black. No luck on both counts.
“Seinfeld”‘s finale plays even worse than I remembered. Regarding the plot, I’d forgotten about NBC’s resurgent interest in Jerry and George’s sitcom proposal, or their narrow escape from death aboard a private jet headed to Europe — and for good reason: the twists are tired and lead nowhere. Well, actually, the diverted plane gets Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer to Massachusetts, where they’re arrested for failing to stop the carjacking of a fat guy (he’s fat, so that’s why it’s funny!) We didn’t need the law to tell us these four were not Good Samaritans. And we certainly didn’t need a lethargically paced courtroom parade of past characters like the Soup Nazi to prove it.
In the DVD bonus features, Jerry Seinfeld suggests that the finale was received poorly because Larry David (who returned to pen the episode) tried to do “big” when the show was best at doing “small.” Maybe, but size wouldn’t matter if the episode had just been funny.
Your best bet when revisiting “Seinfeld” these days is to just skip the cleverly titled finale, “The Finale,” as well as the infamous penultimate episode, “The Puerto Rican Day,” which proved the regular roster of writers could be just as unfunny without David. Kajillionaire Seinfeld crowed at the time that he wanted to end the show while it was on top. He waited two weeks too long.
A year after Tony Soprano suddenly vanished from our televisions, I’m still as intrigued by the final episode as I was the day I first saw it. This time, it seemed a bit slower than I remembered, but David Chase was smart enough not to “go big.” Instead, he simply shows how Tony’s life as a mob boss has altered everyone around him, from FBI Agent Harris to widowed sister Janice to his own kids. Meadow’s friend Hunter shows up for the first time in years, but there’s a point to her appearance — as opposed to The Bubble Boy returning in “Seinfeld”‘s finale to get one last desperate, nostalgic laugh.
And I could watch that final scene of Tony, Carmela and A.J. in the diner over and over again (and have). And what about Meadow just outside the door — has parallel parking ever been more suspenseful? Has Journey ever sounded better? Have onion rings ever seemed more ominous? I still interpret the sudden blackness as Tony getting whacked; let’s face it, he was doomed from the start. And the genius of that abrupt cut is that Chase found a way to kill Tony Soprano — whom we’d grown fond of against our better judgment — without taking him away from us. A year later, I still think the show couldn’t have ended any better.