Why is the ‘Seinfeld’ Finale Still Hated More than the One from ‘Friends’?

By now, Netflix bingers are well into Friends, after the series was released in its entirety on Jan. 1. They’ve surely passed “We were on a break!” and are well on their way to Ross’ red-sweater paternity test.

However, as a huge Friends fan, there’s one thing that’s always bothered me about the series—that being the over-the-top saccharine ending with a chase to the airport and three cliffhangers in a matter of 10 minutes (Will he get to the airport? Will she get on the plane? Will she get off the plane?).

True Friends fans know this was kind of a cop-out. After all, how many times did Ross and Rachel almost get back together only to break up? What made us think they didn’t break up once they got to Central Perk after the final “key” scene? Surely, they were going to argue over whether to move to Paris or not.

And yet, the Friends finale from 2004 has remained relatively unscathed from fans compared to NBC comedy comrade Seinfeld. In fact, in a recent Grantland podcast with Bill Simmons, Larry David addressed how much grief he got with the finale from 1998, saying, “I thought it was clever.”

And it was clever. Way clever. It took risks, it garnered laughs, it wrapped things up. It did everything a good finale should do, and yet that particular episode is much more divisive than the weaker Friends finale. Why is that?

For one thing, there was no happy ending. Elaine and Jerry didn’t get together (although who really wanted to see that?). George didn’t finally grow up. Kramer didn’t get a job. No one had kids. Larry David’s ending served almost as a punishment for the personalities that collectively represented America’s uninhibited id. (There’s a reason why a Rutgers professor is teaching these characters.) Maybe in some way, audiences felt like they, too, were being punished.

Friends took the easier way out, the crowd-pleasing one. Everything that was expected to happen, happened. The only surprises were pleasing ones (Twins! She got off the plane!). What’s most frustrating was that for a show that was pretty original (lesbian weddings, surrogate babies to your brother), it used the cliche romantic comedy ending, which  30 Rock ended up doing better (“I was about to do the whole run to the airport thing, like Ross did on Friends and Liz Lemon did in real life”).

That’s probably one of the biggest differences between the two classic shows. Seinfeld was a show that did things its own way, whereas Friends appealed to what audiences wanted to see. Seinfeld unapologetically killed off one of its only redeemable characters, while Friends boosted its ratings by randomly adding Joey into the Ross and Rachel love story. While both shows are hilarious and textbook ‘90s comedy, they both had very different ways of execution. In the end, the Seinfeld finale proved that audiences really do like their happy endings and want a say in where their favorite characters end up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

12 comments

  1. Avatar
    Ben 6 years ago

    That is an interesting thought I had basically forgotten Friends for the most part but still get into Seinfeld, now because it is just an overall stronger show. So I don’t know if it is an overall preferring a happy ending but being a different show that people are watching. For me the ending of Seinfeld didn’t work because it played like a clip show of just bringing back all the old characters and just wasn’t that funny to me. I always liked what
    Julia Louis-Dreyfus wanted too do, They all get everything they always wanted and then the car they are in blows up.

    An interesting theory I am curious what fans of both shows say now.

    1. Avatar
      Craig Kennedy 6 years ago

      I didn’t stick around to the end of Friends. I tend to get impatient with sitcoms after 3 or 4 good seasons. The ending of Seinfeld though I thought was classic. I didn’t mind the clip show aspect of it and I loved the idea that they were punished in the end for basically being terrible people.

      1. Avatar
        Alex Goes 6 years ago

        I’ve always been a huge Friends fan–and a huge Friends apologist. Now that I’ve been re-watching it on Netflix, I’m wondering where/when it started to go off the rails. I know that when it started it was accused of being a Seinfeld rip-off, and then it focused on serialized plotlines like Ross and Rachel. I think the strongest element of that show was the cast–that’s something that was always a strength. I think the best episodes involved the entire cast in Monica’s apartment (the one with the poker, the one where no one’s ready, etc…). The ending is definitely too saccharine and sentimental, and the Joey/Rachel plotline is indefensible. By the end, I could’ve cared less about Ross and Rachel–although the prom video episode is one of my favorites.

        1. Avatar
          Craig Kennedy 6 years ago

          I can’t remember now why or when exactly I quit watching Friends back in the day. I never much cared for Ross, but I love the rest of the cast, especially Chandler and Phoebe, but your’e right it was at its best when they were all interacting together. A true ensemble.

          Really enjoying rewatching it on Netflix.

          1. Avatar
            Alex Goes 6 years ago

            You’re right. Ross has always annoyed the crap out of me. Chandler and Phoebe are my favorites as well–and Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow are probably my favorite actors post-Friends. It’s interesting how the cast’s careers have unfolded–Jennifer Aniston (and to a lesser extent, Courtney Cox) became stars. But Kudrow has been consistently great in all of her work (The Comeback, The Opposite of Sex, and Romy and Michelle). And Matthew Perry has had some bad luck ratings wise,, but I’ve enjoyed most of his post-Friends work (especially the underrated Go On).
            I actually think that part of the obstacle for Aniston’s career over the years is that her strength is great comedic character acting. Aniston blew up and became a leading lady (but I think that she and the rest of the cast are at their best in an ensemble).

          2. Avatar
            Craig Kennedy 6 years ago

            We talked about Perry in a recent Water Cooler Podcast, the one with one of the Midseason TV Previews because he’s got a new version of the Odd Couple coming up with the guy from Reno 911. We’re all kind of hoping that it’s a hit because he’s overdue.

  2. Avatar
    Alex Goes 6 years ago

    @CRAIG KENNEDY
    I hope you’re right–the casting for the Odd Couple seems a bit weird to me. But here’s hoping–It’s baffling to me that Matt Leblanc has had better tv success than Perry.

    1. Avatar
      Craig Kennedy 6 years ago

      Seriously, Alex. Perry is way more talented than One-Note-Joey.
      When I saw the cast for Odd Couple, I assumed Perry would play the uptight Felix character. He doesn’t strike me as an Oscar Madison, but maybe he’s trying to branch out. Hopefully he’s good and audience accept him.

  3. Avatar
    Raygo 6 years ago

    I think time has been the ultimate arbiter of the Seinfeld finale. I can admit that I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by the episode when it first aired, but it more than holds its own in syndication. The beauty of the finale is you can watch any episode of Seinfeld in any order, and it all comes full circle. Whereas a show like Rosanne or the recent Two and a Half Men march to a conclusion with actual closure (including the necessity of watching children age) … the Seinfeld gang go to jail for a bit, but you have no doubt they’ll be out, unreformed and back to doing their usual yada yada with nary a hint of any change in *their* social consciousness. It has proven to be perfect, and keeps the show endlessly amusing all these years later. Hats off to Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld for a genius sendoff.

    1. Avatar
      Craig Kennedy 6 years ago

      I just rewatched the Seinfeld for our recent Water Cooler Podcast and it was perfect. I’d like to hear from people who still hate it how they would’ve ended it differently. I can’t imagine a better way for that show to go out.

  4. Avatar
    Christophe 6 years ago

    It is not a matter of quality but affection. Seinfeld might have a better finale or even be a better, wittier, smarter series altogether (highly subjective), but Friends is more likeable. On this side of the Atlantic (Europe), Friends is still a very well-known cult series, being shown on several TV channels every day, and still relevant to teenagers and early 20-somethings, whereas Seinfeld has faded into oblivion.

    1. Avatar
      Craig Kennedy 6 years ago

      I have to admit, though I didn’t think much of it at the time, I’ve been rewatching Friends lately and it holds up pretty well. Likable is a good description. Except for Ross. Haha, I can’t stand that guy.

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