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Needle Drop: The Time Seinfeld Made Us Cry

How Green Day helped the least emotional show of the 90s get sentimental for two whole minutes.
  • Hugs after all. The cast of Seinfeld bids farewell. (Photo: NBC)
    Hugs after all. The cast of Seinfeld bids farewell. (Photo: NBC)

    Welcome to Needle Drop, our ongoing series about crucial pop music moments on TV. It's brought to you by Mark Blankenship, Primetimer's Reviews Editor and the co-host of the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    Seinfeld’s mantra among its creators was “no hugging, no learning”, which is another way of saying “no sentimental claptrap.” That stance came to define the show's arch irony that’s now emblematic of the 90s, but it also influenced edgy modern comedies like Atlanta and Russian Doll.

    24 years ago this week, however, when the Seinfeld aired its series finale, it did so with a little mushiness. Not in the infamous last episode, which sent the characters to jail for being the kind of jerks who stand around making fun of people, but in the clip show that preceded it. The hourlong special, titled "The Chronicle" (which airs in syndication and streams on Netflix in two parts as the show's 177th and 178th episodes), featured favorite scenes and bloopers, which was wistful enough, but in the end it really went for the emotional jugular, closing with a montage set to Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”. Even now, watching it can activate the tear ducts.

    This was not a very Seinfeld move. “Time of Your Life” is a plaintive ballad about moving on. It has a yearning chorus and a gently plucked acoustic guitar. It practically demands heartfelt singalongs, preferably around a fire on the last night of camp. Certain lyrics beg to be scrawled in high school yearbooks or written in permanent marker on the poster your castmates sign after closing night of the play. In some ways, it’s a perfect song for hugging and learning.

    That said, the term “good riddance” is right there in the title. Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has said he wrote the tune to deal with his rage after breaking up with a girlfriend. So although it’s accepted as a ballad we can cry to, it still carries the seed of something angry. That makes it slightly more appropriate as the soundtrack for a touching montage of a series that resisted the very notion of touching montages.

    And anyway, audiences were going to be sad about the end of Seinfeld, no matter the show's mantra. When we love something, we feel its loss, and the show's producers were right to give us two minutes to acknowledge that (and to demonstrate just how many times the show's characters did actually end hugging one another). It doesn’t diminish the ironic fun to say the show was something unpredictable that in the end was right, or that it helped us have the time of... well. You know.

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    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Seinfeld, NBC, Green Day, Needle Drop