Seinfeld (1989 - 1998)
Signed up the 25/04/2017
You’re gonna over-dry your laundry”
“You can’t over-dry”
“Same reason you can’t over-wet. You see, when something’s wet, it’s wet. Same with death. Like once you die, you’re dead. Let’s say you drop dead and I shoot you, you’re not gonna die again, you’re already dead. You can’t over-die, you can’t over-dry.”
- one of the opening dialogues in the pilot episodes
Seinfeld chronicles the lives of four friends living in New York City. Jerry Seinfeld, who plays a fictional version of himself, is an over clean-freak, whose relationships barely last, due to his tendency to make small issues into huge disasters. His detail of the minutiae things in life are what drives his stand-up comedy and subsequently, his overall demeanor. His best friend is George Constanza (Jason Alexander), an insecure, neurotic, cheap and immensely dishonest man, who often gets himself into awkward social situations due to his negative traits – from lying about his occupation, or quitting his job because his boss did not want him to use his private bathroom and then showing up the next day like nothing happened, or lying about being homosexual because he wants to break up with a girl. Then there’s the only female lead, Jerry’s ex-girlfriend, Elaine Benes, (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who is hyper-aggressive and somewhat self-involved. Much like Jerry, her relationship pursuits don’t go far because she constantly scrutinizes everything a partner does. In one episode, Jerry even tells Elaine, “I wonder what you’re find wrong with this one”. And finally, there’s Jerry’s wacky neighbor, Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), with his grand slide entrances into Jerry’s apartment, which are a dramatic exaggeration of his physical comedy. His big hair and bugged eyes serve no purpose on the show and is a disruption to the three characters as he consistently causes chaos in their lives. His silliness went to stupidity very quickly as the series progressed, especially coupled with one Jerry’s other neighbor and nemesis, Newman.
The characters spend most of their time in Jerry’s apartment or the coffee shop, talking about their lives and exchanging advice on dealing with whatever situation they are in, as well as over-analyzing the behaviour of people. The characters somehow have a way of having their lives interwind with one another’s, even if it is unintentional. The storylines occur as a result of this – and this leads to very few happy endings, often at the expense of other people.
Although each episode deals with its own unique plot (there is rarely continuity perhaps with the exception of season 4 when Jerry & George pitch for a pilot episode on NBC), I love that the characters show no growth with each season but we are still aware of who they are. We know the characteristics of each person; therefore, we know how each will deal with whatever situation, without it being predictable. Seinfeld reinvents comedy as an art form as well as an experimental sphere for anything to be critiqued. For one, it is relatable. None of the topics discussed are of high intellectual stature. Secondly, it represents the everyman. It is committed to ridicule its own characters. I think audiences don’t adhere to change with sitcoms as with any other genre. That’s the reason viewers begin to decline when characters start to show slight growth. Though, there is no moral compass, mistakes are repeatedly made daily that I wouldn’t dare imagine either one of the characters ever stopping to be petty, getting married or having kids.
Commitment-phobic George comes close (to “growth”) however, when he gets engaged to Susan, a former TV executive at NBC. They dated for most of season 4 but eventually broke up. Beginning of season 7, Jerry and George decide to take their lives serious and stop dating woman casually. George panics at the thought and prematurely asks Susan to marry him. To his surprise, Jerry fails to uphold what George decrees as a “pact” when he breaks up with his girlfriend for eating peas ‘one at a time’. George, now having feelings of regret for committing himself to a woman he “barely even likes” blames Jerry for his decision as he thought he was going to follow suit. In the season 7 finale, Susan abruptly dies, and George feels liberated, while the rest of the cast feels indifferent. Her remembrance slowly fades away as though her character never existed to begin with. Hence the “no hugging and no learning” rule that was instilled on set from the beginning – for characters not to get attached to their characters or the characters around them.
George Costanza is no doubt my favourite character. I think that for most people, Kramer might be a definite favourite due to his randomness, weird noises, physical comedy and extremely high energy, but I noticed his unimportance during the “Chinese Restaurant” episode where Kramer was absent. The episode, considered one of the break out episodes of the season, featured Jerry, Elaine and George waiting to be seated at a Chinese Restaurant. The episode takes place entirely at the restaurant in the waiting section. It views as a play where the entire episode is driven by dialogue. In that moment, I think we realise the significance of Seinfeld – being able to be driven solely by a storyline of nothing but pure conversation – as pointless and minutiae it is, it really set the precedence of what the show is. In fact, to me, the funniest episodes are when Kramer has little to no significance. In more ways than one, he shows how much of a support he is to the other actors. He is not a single commodity that can hold his own – he can but it becomes more outlandish than it is primitive.
The genius of George Costanza can only be appreciated if you actually watch the show with purpose. Loosely based on the life of co-creator and executive producer, Larry David, he needs a little more time to be respected as the breakthrough character. They took some of the most repugnant traits real people have and made it funny. See unlike Kramer, George is actually a real person – a short, stubby, bald, slow, petty, glasses wearing and compulsive lying person. Who refers to themselves in the third person? “George is getting very upset!” or fights an elderly money for a 20-dollar bill, or runs out of a burning house pushing women and children for his own safety? Interestingly, they do not give Jerry Seinfeld the ridiculous scenes and in the same breath, George is created in a way that does not upstage Jerry. They co-exist with one another. He stars in a way that makes him embryonic in the show. Like, you can’t have an episode without him. And when they are talking, it’s like two guys chatting and having a conversation – and it’s funny. A conversation about nothing. He was good at being bad and that’s that. Jason Alexander turned that role into his own. “There’s a little George Constanza in all of us” the actors says.
One of the most interesting things about Seinfeld is the finale. It doesn’t make you long for more or induce tears of nostalgia. Maybe it’s cause the characters are the same as when the show first began. With other sitcoms, and probably the reason fans cry for reboots or re-runs is because for years you have invested in the characters – they grow with you, and they become people we actually relate with and perhaps even like. On Friends, we had Monica and Chandler getting married and adopting twins, Rachel and Ross having a baby, and Phoebe settling down. For better or worse (luckily for the better) it being a “show about nothing” made it unique.
Seinfeld was a great show and one of the only comedy shows to get better with time. You can notice a significant development in the writing. It gets more ridiculous and funnier. Seinfeld is probably considered the greatest sitcom of all time because it knew when it was time to stop.
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