“I’m A Great Quitter. It’s One Of The Few Things I Do Well.” – George Costanza
Sometimes, I begin to write a review and ask myself, how will I ever type the words I want to express my feelings about a television show or a film that I just watched and loved a lot. It becomes a mental challenge for me to find and complete words because there is a range of writing that is assigned for certain things.
I had watched a few episodes of Seinfeld in the past but never happened to complete them. Thanks to Netflix which gave me the chance to stream the episodes. And now I ask again, what am I going to write to justify my fondness for the show. I will try and hope Seinfeld lovers will accept this.
“The Sea Was Angry That Day My Friends.” – George Costanza
Picture this, the late 1980s. New York, the city of immigrants. People land here and imagine the American dream, they bring their ambitions with them. The smokey streets of New York make the sound day and night. People of humor struggle their life to write something that makes the audience laugh. New York is the heritage of cultures and trends, call it mafia, call it fashion, call it comics, call it music, call it a comedy. Call it anything, New York is a dream most of us wish for. If I speak of comedy, so many comedy clubs came into existence fifty years ago. Comic Strip Live is arguably the most prominent of all comedy showcases where many great comedians performed and made their name. Jerry Seinfeld was one of them.
So picture this New York story. Jerry fictionalizes his own life story with his friend, writing partner, and the show’s co. creator Larry David trying to break into showbiz by convincing NBC executives to give them a shot. A middle-class fellow living in an apartment has a neighbor and ex-girlfriend to circulate his life around. With only four central characters, they have a lot to talk about. A very limited content for story continuity, the city’s four bachelors roam around, complain, whine, shout, argue, and fail. They are some bunch of losers who are meeting no progress in life. But the show goes on like that because Seinfeld is the show about nothing.
The idea of this sitcom was not bought by anyone in the NBC office. They had to wait one year to expect a kick-off to get a season that happened by chance. The order of the first season was of mere five episodes and that is considered to be the smallest sitcom order in television history. The first season didn’t run in favorable numbers but attracted a young male audience. So the producers gave a green signal to continue and the rest is history.
“Serenity Now!” – Frank Costanza
There are a lot of things about the show that was admired and praised. For me, the biggest talking point about Seinfeld was the writing, it was phenomenal, and it was compulsive. The humor had the quality of making the simplest jokes lively and funny. Seinfeld had nothing much to do with the story but the writing was so sharp that Larry and Jerry developed tons of ideas out of nowhere to start at the restaurant’s table as conversational humor and play it rightly for the next twenty-three minutes. Just, for example, a comedy about a pen, shoes, a red dot, a marine biologist, etc. The writers had an entire episode in a parking garage about a missing car. All this shows, how talented were the writers.
I still want to emphasize the show’s writing by speaking about the importance of a story. There were many unforgettable sitcoms before Seinfeld and those shows were heavily constructed on the humor as well as the plotline. And this is where Seinfeld distinguishes itself from the others, it didn’t have a story at all. And if there was, it was ordinary. Four strugglers hanging around a restaurant talking about their minutiae of lives and coming up with the episode’s topic of the day. So it is between the lines spoken by these friends that brings a lot of responsibility to the heads of the writing staff mostly led by Larry. In one of the documentaries I watched on YouTube called ‘The Making of Seinfeld‘, the writing staff confirmed that Larry was the one who orchestrated the show’s quality of writing. He was the one to approve and finalize every single line of humor to be used in each episode. Picking every line for scrutiny is why Seinfeld, to this day, is fresh and full of life.
“No soup for you!” – Soup Nazi
In my opinion, two factors are heavily involved to make a sitcom successful. One is writing and the other is picking the most suitable actors to fit in that writing. Yes, the latter condition is applicable in all genres of television shows and films. But here, I am stressing about the role of producers and the casting directors auditioning and deciding the right actor to fit in a role to captivate the audience by being funny. Because making people laugh is one of the most difficult arts in showbiz. Seinfeld, in both the factors, was collectively blessed with. As Jerry played his own role, the show found three of the most perfect choices who fitted in the shoes of Elaine Benes, George Costanza, and Cosmo Kramer – Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards.
Julia brought a lot of strength in her character that struggles to find work, meets plenty of boyfriends, and is stuck in bizarre situations. Jason Alexander as George gave his character physically the sorriest look of being a loser and a pervert who always fails, gets jealous, overthinks relations, and shouts and throws his anger. Speaking of the character’s superiority in being unlucky, I’ll be jocular to find Jason himself and inform the readers of his being the unluckiest actor to be nominated for a record seven times without winning ‘Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series‘ for the role.
Michael Richards was around 40 years old and the oldest of the four when he got the role of Kramer. This role will go into the history books of the American comedy shows when an audience of all ages and times will remember him as Kramer to be one of the most beloved characters. A physical comedian of that age and lanky height with the agility of a young man and rib-tickling slapsticks is a blessing for the audience and a luxury to the show. If the audience ever found any of the Seinfeld episodes boring and all the characters underperforming, they knew they can rely on Kramer to torch laughter in all his silliness. He was cordially acceptable even if there was a chance of his being offensive. He was the most beloved character of the show who many times saved the episode from falling flat.
With central characters came the recurring and minor characters who never looked to be just an extra effort of filling the space in the episode. Those were also well-written. Like Jerry Stiller as George’s hot-tempered war veteran Frank Costanza, John O’Hurley as Elaine’s boss Mr. Peterman with a peculiar speaking style of a radio jokey of the golden era, or Wayne Knight as Kramer’s overdramatic best friend Newman who loathes Jerry. Even in extremely short appearances, the show made us laugh watching the characters of African-American lawyer Jackie Chiles and a Pakistani restaurant owner Babu Bhatt. Although, the character of George Steinbrenner as George’s boss was never depicted from the front but his scenes were always shot from the back. I find it hilarious but the character became a question to me when his face was still not discovered in the finale. So what was the point of keeping his face away from the audience then?
“A Festivus for the rest of us” – Frank Costanza
I am not sure how often this happened before the show’s creation but it was innovative to start and finish almost every episode of the first seven seasons with Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy routines with his thoughtful and chucklesome observational jokes. That was also because Jerry played his own role so it made sense. However, the routine scenes were not mostly related to the episodes. It just tried to give importance to the character’s job. But in some episodes, Larry and Jerry wisely connected the routine scenes by depicting the life of a stand-up comedian who quests for moments that make him develop humor to use on the stage.
The finale of the fourth season “The Pilot” showed Jerry being recognized by one of the producers at the NBC that he cannot act because of his being a stand-up comedian. This covered the accuracy of the sitcom’s ugliest fact that Jerry Seinfeld really wasn’t a good actor at all. His writing and jokes protected his legacy and the other three characters also made his performance vulnerable.
As I talked about Elaine’s character above, on a few occasions, I felt Elaine’s character weight over her personal and economic life was given a sharp contrast as she was a lonely character like Kramer and the only female character in central. The backgrounds of Elaine and Kramer were not that much brought to attention as compared to Jerry and George who had their parents in the supporting roles and a lot of minutes and dozens of episodes were invested in them. If I am not wrong, the backgrounds of Kramer and Elaine were rarely touched. Once Kramer’s mother appeared in “The Switch” where we came to know that his first name was Cosmo. Elaine’s father appeared once in “The Jacket”.
So my point is that Elaine’s lone female character in the men’s world was challenging and several times gave attention to detailing woman’s struggles in personal and economic life. Like in ‘The Subway’ episode when she feels insecure stuck on the train and overthinks that someone will harass her. Or once in a restaurant, she is outraged witnessing all the hired big-breast waitresses that happened in the finale of the fourth season “The Pilot”. She was once in relation with a psycho in “The Opera” who attempted to be threatening to her and she pepper-sprayed him and ran away. In “The Pick“, she felt massively insecure when her nipple shows up on a Christmas card without her notice. There was certain awkwardness in her personality that made Jerry and George insecure. It was funny that they had no courage to admit to Elaine that they felt uncomfortable as she looked weird while dancing at the party as Elaine danced in “The Little Kicks”, only once in the entire show.
Babu Bhatt’s character of a Pakistani immigrant trying to do his restaurant business was quite a representation of those many thousands of South Asian low-scale/mid-scale workers who try to somehow settle outside their countries, especially in American and European regions but their visa/immigration situation becomes a problem. So comic story aside, I think it was interesting that the writers highlighted this issue.
From the seventh season, there was continuity in the comical incidents. The humor from the previous episodes of this season was mentioned in the coming episodes like the barking dog that disturbed Elaine and the pact between Jerry and George of changing their lives in “The Engagement” were mentioned later in that season. Maybe Larry and Jerry tried some new ideas for this season as this was the former’s final season as a producer and the writing head.
“Yada, Yada, Yada” – Elaine Benes
There is room for a lot of ideas after we observe plenty of comebacks and returns from the original works in the shape of prequels, sequels, and spin-offs that become memorable on television and film formats. I don’t believe in the continuity of Seinfeld as it is a sin to even consider a one-season stretch for the sake of the audience missing it and regretting the consequences. Larry and Jerry have built their legacies around this show, with Jason, Michael, and Julia also.
But after watching this series and seeing the developments the other memorable programs are meeting ahead on different networks, I think of a few ideas that can get commissioned for max one limited series.
I think of a limited project about Kramer’s background story before he met Seinfeld. I think of Newman’s character post-Seinfeld. Or reflecting on Frank Costanza’s military life about his embarrassing series of mishaps and later as a traveling businessman. How about a funny courtroom drama about Jackie Chiles, no matter if pre- or post-Seinfeld. Seinfeld chronicles have a lot of potential to spare a thought and create a universe.
“Boy, these pretzels are makin’ me thirsty.” – Cosmo Kramer
This has been a decades-long debate if Seinfeld is the greatest television show of all time or at least in the United States. If I check Seinfeld’s rank amongst the greatest in the most popular magazines or the media companies of the United States, it will prove that the show has been almost every critic’s staunch favorite and has been stamped with great honors and regard.
One of the strongest American foundations for the writers, the Writers Guild of America, considers the show the second best-written television series after The Sopranos. Both Rolling Stones and Entertainer Weekly have ranked the show third amongst the all-time greatest.
Seinfeld tops on TV Guide and the most interesting part about this is that Seinfeld is NBC’s property and TV Guide is owned by CBS. This top 50 list was created by the TV Guide editors. They had 16 CBS shows on this list but crowned Seinfeld.
I have a lot to catch to understand if Seinfeld really is the greatest sitcom of all time if not overall genres. I have watched plenty of sitcoms from the 1990s and so far I believe, Seinfeld has to be the greatest sitcom of that decade. But I will not declare this because I am yet to watch Frasier.
“How long it takes to find a bra? What’s going on in there? You ask me to get a pair of underwear, I’m back in two seconds…you know about the cup sizes and all? They have different cups.” – Frank Costanza
Seinfeld is typically an authentic New Yorker sitcom that gives an honest portrayal and feel of the city. In my sitcom-watching experience, the only other sitcom that had attractive New York aesthetics before I watched Seinfeld was Taxi. Seinfeld is one of the most deadly combinations of comic writing and comic acting. This is one of those classic sitcoms that proves that you don’t need to use curse words or talk about sex in all your comic lines to captivate the interest of the audience to maintain ratings. Apart from the first season which was quite average, I think the third, fourth, eighth, and ninth seasons were the show’s peak.
Seinfeld’s finale was watched by over 76 million U.S. television viewers which put them third in the list of most-watched series finales in the U.S. behind M*A*S*H and Cheers. The respect that this show earned was so vast that when this episode was aired, TV Land decided not to run any program at that time and rather showed a closed office door with some handwritten notes that said “We’re TV Fans so… we’re watching the last episode of Seinfeld. Will return at 10pm et, 7pm pt.” Such incidents hardly surface.
When the show was closest to farewell, the second last episode ‘The Chronicle’ recapped most of the memorable scenes that happened throughout the show with impressive editing and played Green Day‘s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) in the background. The feeling was strong, my emotions were hurt, my heart was breaking, and I was in denial that the time is up and Seinfeld is wrapping up. I may watch it again but that impression of watching and completing the show in its entirety the first time is something else. That will never happen. If this is how I felt while watching this on Netflix, I wonder how the world reacted when the show was concluded in 1998.
When you immensely love a tv show, its characters, its continuity, you imagine that the show will never end. Seinfeld is one of those television shows that sentenced me to eternal grief that its life, that I thoroughly enjoyed and lived with, was finally expired.
“George, we’ve had it with you. Understand? We love you like a son, but even parents have limits.” – Frank Costanza
FAVORITE SEINFELD EPISODES
S01 E01 – The Seinfeld Chronicles
S01 E04 – Male Unbonding
S02 E02 – The Pony Remark
S02 E03 – The Jacket
S02 E08 – The Heart Attack
S03 E01 – The Note
S03 E03 – The Pen
S03 E05 – The Library
S03 E06 – The Parking Garage
S03 E07 – The Cafe
S03 E12 – The Red Dot
S03 E13 – The Subway
S03 E14 – The Pez Dispenser
S04 E09 – The Opera
S04 E11 – The Contest
S04 E14 – The Movie
S04 E16 – The Shoes
S04 E17 – The Outing
S04 E23 – The Pilot (1)
S04 E24 – The Pilot (2)
S05 E03 – The Glasses
S05 E06 – The Lip Reader
S05 E10 – The Cigar Store Indian
S05 E11 – The Conversion
S05 E12 – The Stall
S05 E14 – The Marine Biologist
S06 E08 – The Mom & Pop Store
S06 E09 – The Secretary
S06 E13 – The Scofflaw
S06 E16 – The Beard
S06 E18 – The Doorman
S06 E21 – The Fusilli Jerry
S06 E22 – The Diplomat’s Club
S06 E23 – The Face Painter
S06 E24 – The Understudy
S07 E05 – The Hot Tub
S07 E06 – The Soup Nazi
S07 E12 – The Caddy
S07 E16 – The Shower Head
S08 E01 – The Foundation
S08 E03 – The Bizarro Jerry
S08 E04 – The Little Kicks
S08 E05 – The Package
S08 E06 – The Fatigues
S08 E09 – The Abstinence
S08 E10 – The Andrea Doria
S08 E11 – The Little Jerry
S08 E12 – The Money
S08 E13 – The Comeback
S08 E17 – The English Patient
S08 E19 – The Yada Yada
S08 E21 – The Muffin Tops
S09 E03 – The Serenity Now
S09 E06 – The Merv Griffin Show
S09 E08 – The Betrayal
S09 E10 – The Strike
S09 E11 – The Dealership
S09 E12 – The Reverse Peephole
S09 E17 – The Bookstore
S09 E18 – The Frogger
S09 E20 – The Puerto Rican Day
S09 E23 – The Finale (1)
S09 E24 – The Finale (2)
“It’s outrageous, egregious, preposterous.” – Jackie Chiles