''All in the Family,'' ''Cheers,'' ''Seinfeld''? -- A finale exam of classic sitcoms

By A.J. Jacobs
May 29, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Now that Kramer’s burst through Jerry’s door for the last time, how does the Seinfeld finale stack up to other classic sitcom finishes? Here’s a look:

MARY TYLER MOORE The Sistine Chapel of sitcom finales. The episode — which has everyone but windbag Ted getting fired from WJM-TV — flawlessly blends pathos and punchlines. Case in point: the heart-tugging group hug followed by a hilarious en masse shuffle to pick up a Kleenex. Big points as well for refusing to give us a neat, happy, they-all-get-a-new-job ending. To paraphrase Lou, we treasure these people. A+

NEWHART So unexpected, so pomo, and so very funny. At the end of an increasingly bizarre show — in which a Japanese golf magnate buys the town and Lisa Kudrow makes a cameo as a Long Island princess — Bob wakes up next to Suzanne Pleshette on the set of The Bob Newhart Show. ”I was an innkeeper in a crazy little town in Vermont,” he marvels. The stuff of finale dreams. A-

THE ODD COUPLE Long before Seinfeld, this duo displayed a refreshing refusal to learn. In this clever if rushed sign-off, Felix remarries Gloria after swearing off his finicky ways. Yeah, right. The show ends with the ”new” Felix triumphantly dumping trash on Oscar’s floor — only to clean it up moments later. B+

ALL IN THE FAMILY No weddings, no deaths, and no wacky cameos. Just a small but surprisingly poignant story: Despite a life-threatening illness, Edith spends hours cooking corned beef and cabbage for Archie’s St. Patrick’s Day party. After she collapses in pain and curmudgeonly Archie learns of her sacrifice, he offers a rare testimonial of love: ”I ain’t nothing without you.” If you’ve seen the virtually Edith-free Archie Bunker’s Place, you know he’s right. B+

CHEERS A satisfying nightcap, sharply written by creators Glen and Les Charles. The 98-minute wrap-up has Rebecca marrying her plumber, Woody becoming a city councilman, and Sam and Diane having one last, misguided fling. Those final, quiet minutes — Sam, alone in the bar, locking up for the night — are as classy as a flute of chilled Cristal. B+

THE BOB NEWHART SHOW A low-key end for the king of low-key. Bob decides to take a job teaching at an Oregon college, throws a going-away bash, and reluctantly confesses to his friends ”I love you guys.” Then, they all croon ”Oklahoma” to stave off tears. (Next to group hugs, group sing-alongs are a finale writer’s best friend.) B

THE COSBY SHOW The final shot — which has Cliff and Clair dancing off the set and out the studio door — is an elegant one. The rest of the hour, however, is an amusing if unexceptional example of the squishy series. Theo graduates from college, Cliff fixes the doorbell, Rudy acts wacky — you get the idea. B-

ROSEANNE A not-so-successful attempt to explain away the atrocious post-jackpot final season: It was all a novel written by Roseanne after Dan died! Not helping matters: Roseanne’s Tony Robbins-like voice-overs (”I learned no one can stop me but me”), excessive oohing and ahhing over Darlene’s baby, and a concluding quotation from T.E. Lawrence. C-