Seinfeld’s Finale: A Clip Show Done Right

Ah, the Clip Show episode. It’s an inevitable staple of longrunning sitcoms and anime. It’s when a show has an episode which compiles some of the show’s most memorable moments. This is usually in the frame narrative of having characters reminisce over everything that has happened. Friends, Scrubs, The Office, The Cosby Show… if I listed every show to use the clip show format, I’d be here all day.

Now for fans of any given series, seeing a clip episode of your favorite show is delightful. You get to remember all your favorite moments, and it’s cute, and it’s fun.  But it’s not like it makes for fascinating television. It’s all just a rehashing of what has already happened.

Seinfeld had a couple of clip show episodes in its nine seasons – one commemorating the 100th episode, another just before the finale. That being said, “The Finale” is a fascinating clip show in its own way. The last episode (a two-part affair) of Seinfeld puts the characters on trial, bringing back to some of the show’s greatest side characters – you get to see the Soup Nazi, the library cop Lt. Bookman, the Low-talker, Mr. Pitt, Mabel Choate, Babu Bhatt, Mr. Pitt – pretty much every significant recurring guest star and memorable one-off shows up for the trial. It’s a wonderful moment for someone who loves the show, when they can point to each minor character and remember each funny moment.

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The episode, more than just showing these characters flashes back to their iconic moments; the gang visiting the Soup Nazi, Jerry stealing from Mabel Choate, the handicapped woman in the defective wheel chair barreling down the hill, George and Jerry getting arrested for public urination, Elaine “accidentally” groping Sidra Holland’s “real and spectacular” assets, etc., etc. Again, if I list every wrong thing the Seinfeld group did, I would be here all day. Point is, the list goes on and on.

And I’ll admit, it’s not a traditional clip show episode; there’s enough happening with the overarching plot of the series to the point where it’s not just a few characters reminiscing, obviously. But it still involves characters looking back at things that were happening during the course of the series – which certainly sounds like it qualifies as a clip show.

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The real strength of this finale is that the context and framing of these moments fundamentally changes the series. By having a moment at the end in which our protagonists are put on trial and each humorous moment is scrutinized, it makes Seinfeld something entirely different.  As the saying goes, eventually you’ll see all your chickens come home to roost. There are consequences to every wrong they do. This final episode gives the series its necessary context: this isn’t the silly, everyman story of four friends living in New York City – this is a case study of four people who frequently exhibit sociopathic behaviors across the course of nine seasons.

To summarize, a good clip episode isn’t just going to show you all your favorite scenes. Ideally, it’ll go above and beyond, providing a frame narrative which provides new context and changes the way you think of the series. It makes you realize just how awful everyone in seemingly every sitcom is.. Honestly, if It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia doesn’t do something like this, I’ll be surprised or perhaps disappointed.

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