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    "Seinfeld" Goes Directly to Jail

    The show that made "no hugs" a mantra stayed true to its icy principals Thursday night, giving its inexplicably attached audience the big, unsentimental kiss-off.

    The 75-minute Seinfeld finale saw nasty New Yorkers Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer sentenced to a year in jail for criminal indifference.

    Not exactly a wistful Sam Malone turning off the lights at the bar.

    But then Seinfeld wasn't exactly Cheers.

    "In the end," today's New York Post reasoned, "[the show] thumbed its nose at everyone who ever complained about what rotten people its core four were."

    As expected, some 76 million people watched the farewell. According to Nielsen ratings, the episode scored a 41.3 rating and a 58 share. (The share figure means that 58 percent of TVs were tuned to Seinfeld's swansong.) That leaves M*A*S*H's 1983 swan song--60.2 rating/77 share--safely as the standard-bearer.

    Critical reaction was--as critical reaction is wont to be--mixed.

    "...Suffered from an episode of arrested humor." (Associated Press) "It coulda been worse. It shoulda been better." (New York Post) "...A delightful and brilliant final plot." (New York Daily News) "...Slow, smug exercise in self-congratulation." (USA Today) "...Hilarious...Was everything Seinfeld was at its best." (New York Times)

    The final episode's state-secret plotline was the subject of intense speculation.

    It turned out that the two hottest and most widely reported scenarios were both (somewhat) on the money. Jerry and George did "go Hollywood"--well, at least, they sold their sitcom (Jerry) to NBC.

    But the gang didn't live happily ever after, as once suggested. Rather, as the Boston Herald reported on Tuesday, the unfriendly friends got busted for failing to intercede during a car-jacking.

    A lengthy trial sequence proved a good excuse to work in old clips and old guest stars (Teri Hatcher, Jane Leeves, and the Soup Nazi, aka actor Larry Thomas, included). Geraldo Rivera, said to be on a crusade to restore his news image, also was on spoof his CNBC news show.

    Seinfeld exits after nine seasons and seemingly nine hundred years of hype.

    The show's namesake star told The Tonight Show's Jay Leno he intends to take a brief break ("I have been funny every day for nine years. It's exhausting.") and then embark on a stand-up tour. Stops include Australia, Europe and New York City.

    One of the Big Apple gigs will be broadcast live on HBO on August 9.

    (UPDATED at 2:45 p.m. on 5/15/98)