The one ‘Seinfeld’ episode that was banned
(Credit: Netflix)

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The one 'Seinfeld' episode that was banned

Despite its seemingly innocent premise as “a show about nothing,” Seinfeld has not been immune to controversy, both on and off the screen. From actor Michael Richards’ racially charged outburst at The Laugh Factory to Jerry Seinfeld‘s relationship with a 17-year-old girl at the age of 38, there have been numerous incidents involving the show and its cast that rightfully sparked controversy. However, the most significant on-screen controversy arose in the 20th episode of the final season: ‘The Puerto Rican Day’.

Following the perspectives of each cast member as they attempt to traverse New York during the Puerto Rican Day parade. The episode follows a very old-school Seinfeld atmosphere of being without any clear direction or specific plot point, a rarity within the later seasons. ‘The Puerto Rican Day’ is awash with the kinds of jokes and scenarios that viewers had come to expect from the show over its nine-year reign, complete with Elaine being short-tempered and stressed-out, George Costanza being neurotic and self-loathing, Kramer being outlandish and Jerry Seinfeld sitting back, quipping about the unfolding events while talking about Superman. 

So, if it followed the same formula as seemingly every other episode, why did NBC ban the broadcasting of the episode for four years? Well, the controversial moment of the episode comes towards the end. During one scene, Jerry’s bizarre neighbour Kramer accidentally sets fire to a Puerto Rican flag with a sparkler. 

In an attempt to extinguish the fire, Kramer proceeds to throw the flag to the ground and stomp on it. Never a show to shy away from predictability, the ensuing crowd of the Puerto Rican Day parade see Jerry’s neighbour desecrating their flag and set about him as a mob, with Michael Richards’ character then exclaiming, “It’s like this every day in Puerto Rico.”

Unsurprisingly, given the historically harsh treatment of Puerto Rico by the US, the Seinfeld scene caused quite a stir among the Puerto Rican community. Activists criticised the show’s creators and its network, NBC. Fernando Ferrer, the borough president of The Bronx at the time, also heavily criticised the episode. Manuel Mirabal, President of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, told the press, “It is unacceptable that the Puerto Rican flag be used by Seinfeld as a stage prop under any circumstances.”

The show’s creators were disappointed by the reactions to the episode, with Jerry Seinfeld in particular noting that the controversy erupted before the episode even aired. The comedian once claimed that, when asking a protester how the episode could be offensive if he had not himself seen it, the protester responded, “We assume that it’s offensive.”

Such was the anger and upset within the Puerto Rican community that protests erupted outside of NBC’s base at Rockefeller Centre in New York City. Fearing more protests, NBC formally apologised for the offence caused by the episode and prevented it from being re-run after its initial broadcast. However, in 2002, the episode reappeared, with the network assuming that enough time had passed since the first broadcast that the controversy would have died down. Today, the episode is readily available to stream on Netflix, complete with the unedited flag-burning scene.