Tuesday, 03 August 2010
I’ve always been a huge fan of Seinfeld. Such a big fan, in fact, that I can pretty much quote any moment from the show verbatim. My friends like to point this out to me by calling me a “Seinfeldipedia,” a “Seinfeldologist”, and “obsessed.”
I have been watching the show ever since I was a boy, so I’ve seen every episode of the show multiple times. I’m sure by now you must think that I do nothing but sit in my room watching Seinfeld DVD’s on repeat, but I assure you I do have a life.
Still, the show is often proclaimed as the greatest show of all-time. In 2002, TV Guide gave Seinfeld that honor. I know a few people who don’t like the show, but the majority of people I talk to find it hilarious.
So I started thinking about why Seinfeld was so successful, aside from the typical “It’s a show about nothing” argument (which is true, but it only scratches the surface). The show had essentially no running plot threads or character development, but it was still one of the most successful shows ever.
Even without a typical plot structure, the writers of Seinfeld mastered the ability to bring together the various plot threads for each character in each episode. Look at the episode “The English Patient.”
The episode has three major plot threads that come together at the end. Jerry goes to Florida to visit his parents and crosses oaths with the Mandelbaums, a grandfather, father and son who are apparently the same age and think they can lift heavy weights. Jerry does this with ease, which aggravates them to the point where they all throw out their backs and wind up in the hospital.
George meets a beautiful woman named Danielle who tells him that he looks just like her boyfriend Neil. Although she eventually decides she would rather be with George, he is oblivious to this fact because he is obsessed with figuring out how someone like him could get a girl like her.
Kramer asks Jerry to pick up some Cubans while he is in Florida because he has a deal in a place with an investor. Jerry assumes he means cigars, but is surprised when three Cuban men show up at his door. It turns out that Kramer hired them to roll cigars for him.
These three seemingly unrelated plots are united when the Mandelbaums tell Jerry that because he put them in the hospital, their crepe restaurant is going to go out of business because they cannot roll the crepes. Jerry enlists the Cubans (who turn out to actually be Dominicans) to fill in for them. Danielle takes Neil to the restaurant to break up with him, and he ends up burning his face with the crepe because the Dominicans rolled them too tightly, causing them to explode in the customers’ faces. As a result, Danielle breaks up with George in order to tend to Neil.
The way the writers interwove plots and made the seemingly insignificant details crucial is what set it apart from some of the other sitcoms of its time.
Seinfeld also mastered the art of setting an episode in one small location and then creating 30 minutes of television from it. From “The Chinese Restaurant”, in which Jerry, George and Elaine wait for a table, to “The Parking Garage” in which the four friends can’t remember where they parked their car, the writers were able to create something out of nothing and, more impressively, turn those episodes into classics.
And I bet you don’t realize it, but some of the terms you might use on a daily basis were created and popularized by Seinfeld. Have you ever called someone a “regifter” after they gave the present you gave them to someone else? Or have you ever said “yadda yadda” when you wanted to skip past part of a story? Or called someone a low, high or close talker? Thank Seinfeld.
Yes, it was a show about nothing. But it was also a show that popularized pop culture phrases and has, so far, survived the test of time. Two weeks ago, the soup stand that inspired the famous “Soup Nazi” episode reopened in midtown Manhattan. I’ll have to stop there the next time I’m in town.
Is Seinfeld the greatest sitcom ever? Or is it overrated?