Saturday, February 9, 2013

SEINFELD: The Rankings

Below I've rated every Seinfeld episode, completely subjectively, in order of how much I would want to watch the individual episode. Primarily I've rated them based on my own feeling about their rewatchability and how much they make me laugh, although I'm sure other factors played out in my mind as I sorted them out. (See my previous post discussing the best seasons and writers.) Season, episode number, and writers (inclusive of story and teleplay credits) are also listed

1. The Marine Biologist - 5:14 - Ron Hauge and Charlie Rubin
2. The Opposite - 5:21 - Andy Cowan, Larry David, and Jerry Seinfeld
3. The Bizarro Jerry - 8:3 - David Mandel
4. The Invitations - 7:22 - Larry David
5. The Puerto Rican Day - 9:20 - (collectively written by season nine writers)
6. The Secret Code - 7:7 - Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer
7. The Non-Fat Yogurt - 5:7 - Larry David
8. The Merv Griffin Show - 9:6 - Bruce Eric Kaplan
9. The Barber - 5:8 - Andy Robin
10. The Junior Mint - 4:20 - Andy Robin
11. The Gum - 7:10 - Tom Gammill and Max Pross
12. The Glasses - 5:3 -
Tom Gammill and Max Pross
13. The Puffy Shirt - 5:2 - Larry David
14. The Postponement - 7:2
- Larry David
15. The Engagement - 7:1
- Larry David
16. The Rye - 7:11 - Carol Leifer
17. The Foundation - 8:1 - Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer
18. The Summer of George - 8:22
- Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer
19. The Pitch/The Ticket - 4:3-4
- Larry David
20. The Maestro - 7:3
- Larry David
21. The Chinese Restaurant - 2:11
- Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
22. The Doll - 7:16 -
Tom Gammill and Max Pross
23. The Betrayal - 9:8 - David Mandel and Peter Mehlman
24. The Frogger - 9:18 - Gregg Kavet, Andy Robin, Steve Koren, and Dan O'Keefe
25. The Raincoats - 5:18 - Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Larry David, and Jerry Seinfeld
26. The Pen - 3:3 - Larry David
27. The Soup Nazi - 7:6 - Spike Feresten
28. The Dealership - 9:11 - Steve Koren
29. The Soup - 6:7 - Fred Stoller
30. The Pledge Drive - 6:3 - Tom Gammill and Max Pross
31. The Lip Reader - 5:6 - Carol Leifer
32. The Wig Master - 7:18 - Spike Feresten
33. The Little Kicks - 8:4
- Spike Feresten
34. The Voice - 9:2 - Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer, and David Mandel
35. The Comeback - 8:13 - Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin
36. The Strike - 9:10 - Dan O'Keefe, Alec Berg, and Jeff Schaffer
37. The Slicer - 9:7 - Gregg Kavet, Andy Robin, and Darin Henry
38. The Switch - 6:11 - Bruce Kirschbaum and Sam Henry Kass
39. The Wink - 7:4 - Tom Gammill and Max Pross
40. The Pick - 4:13 - Larry David and Marc Jaffe
41. The Pothole - 8:16 - Steve O'Donnell and Dan O'Keefe
42. The Face Painter - 6:22 - Larry David and Fred Stoller
43. The Cartoon - 9:13 - Bruce Eric Kaplan
44. The Soul Mate - 8:2 - Peter Mehlman
45. The Parking Space - 3:22 - Larry David and Greg Daniels
46. The Susie - 8:15 - David Mandel
47. The Alternate Side - 3:11 - Larry David and Bill Masters
48. The Watch - 4:6 - Larry David
49. The Wallet - 4:5 - Larry David
50. The Bottle Deposit - 7:20 - Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin
51. The Kiss Hello - 6:16 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
52. The Mom and Pop Store - 6:8 - Tom Gammill and Max Pross
53. The Reverse Peephole - 9:12 - Spike Feresten
54. The English Patient - 8:17 - Steve Koren
55. The Mango - 5:1 - Larry David
56. The Hot Tub - 7:5 - Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin
57. The Checks - 8:7 - Tom Gammill, Max Pross, and Steve O'Donnell
58. The Cafe - 3:7 - Tom Leopold
59. The Calzone - 7:19 - Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer
60. The Burning - 9:16 - Jennifer Crittenden
61. The Butter Shave - 9:1 - Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer, and David Mandel
62. The Contest - 4:11 - Larry David
63. The Dinner Party - 5:13 - Larry David
64. The Stakeout - 1:2 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
65. The Van Buren Boys - 8:14 - Darin Henry
66. The Race - 6:10 - Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Larry David, and Sam Henry Kass
67. The Abstinence - 8:9 - Steve Koren
68. The Parking Garage - 3:6 - Larry David
69. The Boyfriend, Parts 1-2 - 3:17-18 - Larry David and Larry Levin
70. The Fusilli Jerry - 6:20 - Marjorie Gross, Ron Hauge, and Charlie Rubin
71. The Muffin Tops - 8:21 - Spike Feresten
72. The Nap - 8:18 - Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin
73. The Little Jerry - 8:11 - Jennifer Crittenden
74. The Andrea Doria - 8:10 - Spike Feresten
75. The Fatigues - 8:6 - Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin
76. The Hamptons - 5:20 - Peter Mehlman and Carol Leifer
77. The Chinese Woman - 6:4 - Peter Mehlman
78. The Chicken Roaster - 8:8 - Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer
79. The Finale - 9:22 - Larry David
80. The Blood - 9:4 - Dan O'Keefe
81. The Pie - 5:15 - Tom Gammill and Max Pross
82. The Cigar Store Indian - 5:10 - Tom Gammill and Max Pross
83. The Movie - 4:14 - Steve Skrovan, Bill Masters, and Jon Hayman
84. The Doodle - 6:19 - Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer
85. The Seven - 7:13 - Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer
86. The Wizard - 9:15 - Steve Lookner
87. The Package - 8:5 - Jennifer Crittenden
88. The Chaperone - 6:1 - Larry David, Bill Masters, and Bob Shaw
89. The Wait Out - 7:21 - Peter Mehlman and Matt Selman
90. The Yada Yada - 8:19 - Peter Mehlman and Jill Franklyn
91. The Serenity Now - 9:3 - Steve Koren
92. The Keys - 3:23 - Larry Charles
93. The Maid - 9:19 - David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer, Alec Berg, Kit Boss, and Peter Mehlman
94. The Library - 3:5 - Larry Charles
95. The Pez Dispenser - 3:14 - Larry David
96. The Implant - 4:19 - Peter Mehlman
97. The Couch - 6:5 - Larry David
98. The Sponge - 7:9 - Peter Mehlman
99. The Shower Head - 7:15 - Peter Mehlman and Marjorie Gross
100. The Bookstore - 9:17 - Spike Feresten, Darin Henry, and Marc Jaffe
101. The Millennium - 8:20 - Jennifer Crittenden
102. The Gymnast - 6:6 - Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer
103. The Visa - 4:15 - Peter Mehlman
104. The Opera - 4:9 - Larry Charles
105. The Pilot - 4:23 - Larry David
106. The Jimmy - 6:18 - Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin
107. The Cadillac - 7:14 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
108. The Money - 8:12 - Peter Mehlman
109. The Secretary - 6:9 - Carol Leifer and Marjorie Gross
110. The Junk Mail - 9:5 - Spike Feresten
111. The Masseuse - 5:9 - Peter Mehlman
112. The Pony Remark - 2:2 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
113. The Caddy - 7:12 - Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin
114. The Virgin - 4:10 - Peter Mehlman, Peter Farrelly, and Bobby Farrelly
115. The Outing - 4:17 - Larry Charles
116. The Apology - 9:9 - Jennifer Crittenden
117. The Doorman - 6:17 - Tom Gammill and Max Pross
118. The Label Maker - 6:12 - Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer
119. The Conversion - 5:11 - Bruce Kirschbaum
120. The Big Salad - 6:2 - Larry David
121. The Friar's Club - 7:17 - David Mandel
122. The Pool Guy - 7:8 - David Mandel
123. The Sniffing Accountant - 5:4 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
124. The Shoes - 4:16 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
125. The Jacket - 2:3 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
126. The Smelly Car - 4:21 - Larry David and Peter Mehlman
127. The Wife - 5:17 - Peter Mehlman
128. The Trip, Parts 1-2 - 4:1-2 - Larry Charles
129. The Beard - 6:15 - Carol Leifer
130. The Bubble Boy - 4:7 - Larry David and Larry Charles
131. The Fire - 5:19 - Larry Charles
132. The Old Man - 4:18 - Bruce Kirschbaum and Larry Charles
133. The Subway - 3:13 - Larry Charles
134. The Stall - 5:12 - Larry Charles
135. The Heart Attack - 2:8 - Larry Charles
136. The Strongbox - 9:14 - Dan O'Keefe and Billy Kimball
137. The Scofflaw - 6:13 - Peter Mehlman
138. The Understudy - 6:23 - Carol Leifer and Marjorie Gross
139. The Nose Job - 2:9 - Peter Mehlman
140. The Bris - 5:5 - Larry Charles
141. The Cheever Letters - 4:8 - Larry David, Elaine Pope, and Tom Leopold
142. The Diplomats Club - 6:21 - Tom Gammill and Max Pross
143. The Stand-In - 5:17 - Larry David
144. The Airport - 4:12 - Larry Charles
145. The Tape - 3:8 - Larry David, Bob Shaw, and Don McEnery
146. The Deal - 2:9 - Larry David
147. The Good Samaritan - 3:20 - Peter Mehlman
148. The Note - 3:1 - Larry David
149. The Red Dot - 3:12 - Larry David
150. The Handicap Space - 4:22 - Larry David
151. The Suicide - 3:15 - Tom Leopold
152. The Letter - 3:21 - Larry David
153. The Limo - 3:19 - Larry Charles and Marc Jaffe
154. The Statue - 2:6 - Larry Charles
155. The Baby Shower - 2:10 - Larry Charles
156. The Truth - 3:2 - Elaine Pope
157. The Busboy - 2:12 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
158. The Fix Up - 3:16 - Elaine Pope and Larry Charles
159. The Stranded - 3:10 - Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, and Matt Goldman
160. The Stock Tip - 1:5 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
161. The Phone Message - 2:4 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
162. The Robbery - 1:3 - Matt Goldman
163. The Revenge - 2:7 - Larry David
164. Good News, Bad News - 1:1 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
165. The Apartment - 2:5 - Peter Mehlman
166. The Dog - 3:4 - Larry David
167. Male Unbonding - 1:4 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld
168. The Ex-Girlfriend - 2:1 - Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld

(Not listed: Highlights of a Hundred - 6:14, The Chronicle - 9:21)

Friday, February 8, 2013

SEINFELD - The Rankings: Seasons and Writers

I've rated every Seinfeld episode, completely subjectively, in order of how much I would want to watch the individual episode. Primarily I've rated them based on my own feeling about their rewatchability and how much they make me laugh, although I'm sure other factors played out in my mind as I sorted them out. Before I get to the full rankings, a few accolades...

Below I've averaged out my rankings of each season, noted how many top 25 and top 50 episodes each season had, and averaged the top three episodes from each season to give a sense of each season's peak.

Season Episodes Average Top 25 Top 50 Top 3 Avg
Seven 22 54.8 8 12 7
Eight 22 59.5 3 8 12.7
Nine 21 64.9 4 9 12.0
Five 21 70.7 7 8 3.3
Six 22 88.3 0 4 32.3
Four 22 96.3 2 5 23.0
Three 22 115.9 0 3 39.3
Two 12 138.5 1 1 86.0
One 5 143.4 0 0 128.7

Season seven, the season George spent engaged to Susan and Larry David's last season on the show, is a worthy champ. If we judge a season by its best episodes, however, season five closes the gap. It's the only season with three episodes in my top 10, including the top two. Interestingly, coming off the season when Jerry and George pitched a pilot to NBC, season five had no major season-long arc.

My rankings also reveal the show's learning curve. Season two was a small step forward. Season three to four to five saw the show rise to become a mega-hit. I do think season six was a small step backward from the hilarity to be found in the two seasons on either side of it, five and seven.

It's Larry David and it's not close.

This fact is a bit harder to quantify using my rankings, though. David was credited with an incredible 55 scripts - more than twice as many as anyone else. He was responsible for 9 of my top 25, and 1/3 of my top 75 episodes. But those high numbers includes plenty of clunkers, which leads David's average episode ranking to regress to the mean. Most of his weakest episodes came in the show's early seasons, when he and the show were still finding their legs. (Peter Mehlman, Jerry Seinfeld, and Larry Charles also have low average rankings mainly due to the scripts they are credited with from the earliest years.)

Bottom line: for the seven seasons David worked on the show, he influenced every script. And his final season, taken as a whole, is arguably one of the greatest seasons in television comedy history. Overall, Jerry Seinfeld deserves equal credit to David in terms of crafting the style, humor, and substance of the show. And Seinfeld's voice is can be heard in every script. But David stands alone as the show's greatest writer.

All that aside, lets take a look at the numbers. I've averaged out every episode each writer received a credit or co-credit for, whether it was story or teleplay (usually it was both). I counted both individuals and partnerships that contributed at least two scripts. Sometimes an individual contributed scripts both alone and in a partnership, hence some writers appear on two lines. Larry David, for example, wrote 17 scripts with Jerry Seinfeld. David's total of 55 scripts include those 17. And I only highlighted the most substantial partnerships.

Anyway, here are the numbers for writers credited with at least 5 episodes, in order of average ranking:

Episodes         Avg Top 25 Top 50  Top 75
Steve Koren 5 52.8 1 2 4
Andy Robin 11 53.4 3 6 9
Gammill and Pross 13 56.6 4 6 9
Berg and Schaffer 13 60.8 3 5 7
Spike Feresten 8 62.5 0 3 6
David Mandel 8 62.9 2 4 5
Kavet and Robin 9 63.1 1 4 7
Dan O' Keefe 5 63.4 1 3 0
Carol Leifer 6 83.2 1 2 2
Jennifer Crittenden 5 87.4 0 0 2
Larry David 55 91.0 9 17 25
Peter Mehlman 20 103.1 1 2 2
David and Seinfeld 17 111.2 3 3 5
Larry Charles 16 131.3 0 0 0

You can see how working on the show in its early years (as well as the fact that I don't like Larry Charles's scripts) dragged down Larry Charles, Jerry Seinfeld, Peter Mehlman, and Larry David. You can also see how no one really rises to the top: a 52.8 average is hardly a coronation for Steve Koren. Still, the top of the chart highlights some great writers who contributed much to Seinfeld's brilliance.

Just for kicks, here are the other writers I ranked:

Writer Episodes          Avg
Bruce Eric Kaplan 2 25.5
Fred Stoller 2 35.5
Hauge and Rubin 2 35.5
Steve O'Donnell 2 49.0
Sam Henry Kass 2 52.0
Darin Henry 3 67.3
Bill Masters 3 72.7
Bruce Kirschbaum 3 96.3
Marc Jaffe 2 96.5
Marjorie Gross 4 104.0
Bob Shaw 2 116.5
Tom Leopold 3 116.7
Elaine Pope 3 151.7
Matt Goldman 2 160.5

Friday, February 1, 2013

SEINFELD - Season 9, Episode 22 - The Finale

“The Finale”

First Script Read: April 1, 1998
Filmed: April 8, 1998
Aired: May 14, 1998
Nielsen rating: 41.3
Audience share: 58 (76 million viewers)
Directed: Andy Ackerman
Writer: Larry David

When first watched "The Finale" on May 14, 1998, along with 75,999,999 of my friends, I enjoyed it. In the days and weeks after it aired, as it became clear that most people thought the episode was a letdown, I kept defending it. Now, I'll admit that my love for the show was so great that I wanted to enjoy it. I also argued that expectations and anticipation for the episode had been SO high that it couldn't possibly live up to all the hype. Most of all, I argued that the ultimate fate of the four characters was justified. These were bad people, and a jury of their peers (both an actual jury and a courtroom filled with their acquaintances) ruled them to be bad people. I thought the judge, the delightfully-named Art Vandelay, got it exactly right after the guilty verdict was announced:

VANDELAY: Order! Order in this court! I will clear this room! ... I do not know how, or under what circumstances the four of you found each other, but your callous indifference and utter disregard for everything that is good and decent has rocked the very foundation upon which our society is built. I can think of nothing more fitting than for the four of you to spend a year removed from society so that you can contemplate the manner in which you have conducted yourselves. I know I will. This court is adjourned.

The New York Four didn't deserve a happy ending. They deserved exactly what the judge gave them - an extended time away from the social dynamics they were obsessed with fitting into, and the relationships that gave them more pain than joy. Time to contemplate their lives and ponder their decisions. The ending worked.

Over time I've come to grips with a different problem with "The Finale." It wasn't that funny. That is, it didn't live up to the high bar of funny that Seinfeld had set and reached for so many years. 

To be sure, there are plenty of laughs throughout the episode. I love the scene with Jerry and George at NBC, for example, echoing past visits with NBC executives. I especially like the exchange between George and NBC exec Kimbrough as the two discuss the direction of the show, Jerry:

KIMBROUGH: And Elaine... I wouldn't mind seeing something happening between you two.
JERRY: Definitely.
GEORGE: I tell you, I really don't think so-called relationship humor is what this show is all about.
KIMBROUGH: Or we could not do the show altogether. How about that?
GEORGE: Or we could get them together! Woooo!!!

Peter Riegart as Kimbrough nails the deadpan retort to George, and Jason Alexander's animated response merits a big laugh.

"The Finale" is also fun. Besides numerous references to past episodes, the story manages to bring back a long list of delightful old characters, from Babu to the Marble Rye Lady to Mr. Pitt to the pharmacist who sold Elaine his entire stock of birth control sponges. Just about everyone they had wronged over the years reappears for a chance at revenge.

Still, there's the funniness problem. With Larry David himself responsible for the script, why didn't the final episode nail the comedic landing? On the DVD Inside Look featurette, Jerry Seinfeld suggests, in retrospect, that the flaw in the finale was that they tried to go too big with the story and the audience wasn't prepared. For its entire run Seinfeld had found comedy in the minutiae of everyday life, the same observational humor Seinfeld himself had built his stand-up career upon. In "The Finale," on the other hand, the character go through a near-death experience in a plane, followed by nationally infamous trial that results in the drastic fate of imprisonment. Those are high stakes. It's also a big story in the sense that it is painted with broad brushstrokes, broad enough to bring all those characters back into one episode. Consider those broad strokes and those big stakes in contrast with Jerry fretting about his girlfriend's "man hands," Elaine discovering she isn't a good dancer, or George loathing his parents. "The Finale" told a story on an entirely different level, and that might have thrown the audience out of its comfort zone a little.

To be sure, big, crazy stuff happened in Seinfeld episodes. But whether it was George pulling a golf ball out of a whale's blowhole or Kramer rolling a giant ball of oil out a window onto the head of a Jerry's girlfriend, those big moments were the culmination - and often the intersection - of little ideas. Kramer hitting golf balls into the ocean + George trying to impress a woman by claiming he's someone he isn't. Kramer trying out another in a long series of inventions + George working at a playground equipment company + Jerry's girlfriend being annoyed at a stupid voice Jerry and his friends had come up with. Those stories found silliness in little things. "The Finale" sought silliness in bigger things.

Interestingly, Larry David kept returning to big concept storylines. In Curb Your Enthusiasm, he honed his skill for finding comedy even when the show went big. While the average episode (which include, arguably, the funniest episodes) focuses on the web of little, Seinfeld-like problems the character of Larry David gets into as a result of his personality flaws, most of the season-long arcs are launched and concluded with bigger-themed stories. Season four of Curb begins with an incredible offer from Mel Brooks to star in The Producers and ends with Larry's unexpected triumph at the premiere. Season five begins and ends with near-death experiences and shocking revelations about Larry's family. And season seven's arc (launching in episode three that year) begins with Larry's decision to do a Seinfeld reunion show and ends with the reunion show itself, the closest thing Seinfeld fans will probably ever get to an epilogue for the series (and a MUST watch for any Seinfeld fans, considering the old cast and crew are all involved in the update on the Seinfeld characters' lives.)

Even those episodes fit a little bit uneasily within the Curb Your Enthusiasm sensibility. But in setting a routine of big shows serving as brackets for each season, David taught his audience to expect them. So it's not jarring when something truly big happens to Larry in a season premiere or finale.

Of course, David had guided Seinfeld through a couple big season-long arcs, such as the Jerry/NBC story in season four or George's engagement in season seven. Still, those seasons ended with a return to stasis. Curb seasons often end like "The Finale" - with a surprising, irreversible development: Larry discovering he isn't Jewish, Larry becoming a broadway star, etc.

Larry David's brilliance sets Curb Your Enthusiasm apart from all the other sitcoms that draw from Seinfeld's style. The long-term change that Larry's character lives through in Curb also differentiates the series and is one reason why the show is considered a masterpiece of television's new millennium. David's other masterpiece, Seinfeld, will never return, but it launched a sub-genre of sitcoms that tread in Seinfeld's wake, occasionally expanding on its brilliance. 

Television is filled with shows depicting a group of friends behaving badly to each other and to the people around them. Some of the most popular sitcoms have a dash of Seinfeld-like snarkiness in them. Two and a Half Men springs to mind, for example. Many of the shows that fit most neatly into the "friends acting nasty and snarky" sub-genre have cropped up on cable. There, free from FCC regulation, the nastiness can be much nastier. FX has built a weekly block around two sitcoms that fall in this category, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League. Philadelphia Inquirer TV reviewer Jonathan Storm even called Sunny "Seinfeld on crack," a review the show embraced and used as promotion. It's apt. Here's a quick list of how Sunny takes Seinfeld's framework one step further into darkness:
-Three guys and a girl mistreat each other and those around them.
-Instead of hanging out in a coffee shop, they hang out in a bar.
-Their get rich quick inventions or endeavors are supplemented by get rich quick criminal behavior.
-Their parents are frequently involved, but in much more grotesque ways than Seinfeld. Most prominently, Danny DeVito's brilliant, appallingly base Frank Reynolds makes George's father (also a Frank!) look like a saint.
-They are much stupider.

Still, Sunny, when it is at its most brilliant, occasionally dares to dabble in political and social satire, something that Seinfeld tended to avoid. Seinfeld never tried to parody the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as Sunny did in season two's "The Gang Goes Jihad." Most of the other shows in the "friends acting nasty and snarky" sub-genre just aim for mean-spirited laughs without saying anything interesting.

We'll see how Sunny handles its finale, whenever it comes. I can imagine it going in one of two ways. The show might deal its characters a final punishment, well-deserved for their misdeeds over the years. Or it might make a potentially more profound statement, embracing the show's amorality and nihilism, and allow its characters to depart from our television screens unpunished and intact, despite everything they've done.

And perhaps that hints at the ultimate flaw in Seinfeld's finale. Personally, I believe in morals and ethics. I believe we live in a universe where our decisions and our actions mean something, that they have consequences beyond our own narrow, self-absorbed perspective. In punishing Seinfeld's characters for their misbehavior, "The Finale" resonated with that belief. That's one of the reasons I approved of it. But nothing that had happened in Seinfeld up to that point suggested that the universe of the show was guided by any code of justice. The characters behaved poorly throughout the show, but they never seemed to lose ground in their lives. To be fair, they rarely gained anything by their efforts either, and they often experienced setbacks to their career and their relationships because of their behavior. In the end, though, their lives remained pretty much the same. And one code "The Finale" did remain true to was the characters never learned any lessons. Even as they begin their sentence, Jerry and George literally end up right back where they started in the series pilot, obsessing over the minutiae of George's shirt button position.

"The Finale" tantalizes the characters with the possibility of a great victory and step forward. The NBC deal is a huge career victory for Jerry and George. But its also an affirmation of all four lives since Jerry is based on the quartet. The NBC of Seinfeld's universe is basically saying, "Your lives are special. People would be interested in you." At the end of the 20th century, there are few higher complements. But a higher power than NBC intervenes. The law, and perhaps fate or God or karma or something, confirms George's fears. God wouldn't let them be successful. They must be punished, not rewarded. And I thought the punishment was fitting. On reflection though, I'm applying my own sense of justice to the show, not the system of justice, or rather the lack of substantial punishment, the show had established. Many viewers complained about the unhappy ending, but the conclusion that these four miserable souls should be punished for their behavior might be the most optimistic ending possible. But that faith in a higher moral code was perhaps the most jarring element of "The Finale," and perhaps its most significant betrayal of the hilarious, provocative universe the show had created. For once, the consequences of their actions was not nothing, but something.