In a 90s era when great US sitcoms were being produced almost conveyor belt style, the comedy trailblazer that was Seinfeld, always had that ability to stand out from the crowd.
But even 15 years after it finished, the adventures of a New York comedian and his wacky group of friends are still regularly shown, showing that true genius never dates.
Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (who left after series seven and created Curb Your Enthusiasm) and released in 1990, it has real life comic Seinfeld playing a fictionalised version of himself who tries to avoid getting involved in the chaos that surrounds him. Alongside him are his neurotic, cynical and selfish schoolfriend George (based on Larry David), his ex-girlfriend, the assertive but superficial Elaine and his extremely eccentric neighbour Kramer.
Famously described as a show about nothing, the clever storylines included such seemingly trivial things as waiting for a restaurant reservation, an old library book, a junior mint and finding your car in the parking garage. But each episode was carefully plotted and lying not so beneath the surface was a cavalier and outright hysterical attitude to society’s most controversial subjects. Seinfeld not only broke the rules but rewrote them as it tackled issues including masturbation, impotence, birth control, and even the Kennedy assassination.
The imaginative concepts broke through traditions and had an astonishing amount of energy. In the episode entitled “The Invitations”, Jerry meets a woman with whom he has a freakish amount in common. “Now I know what I’ve been looking for all these years…myself! I’ve been waiting for me to come along and now I’ve swept myself off my feet!” In ‘The Opposite’ George realises that going against his instincts can radically transform his life. In ‘The Merv Griffin Show’, Kramer sets up his apartment so that visitors have to act as though they are a talk show guest.
And boy, weren’t there some great catchphrases along the way. “My boys can swim”, “Master of his domain”, “spongeworthy”, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”, and “These pretzels are making me thirsty” are just some of the most recognised the show produced.
But for all Seinfeld’s edgy writing it was a show that revolved around its distinctive characters. While they couldn’t be trusted, especially George, we revelled in their spectacular failures. Right from the start the show kept to the “no hugging, no learning” rule, which meant that the characters would happily betray each other for personal gain, constantly avoiding any kind of sentimentality. While they nearly always got what they deserved, they refused to change their selfish ways and the cycle continued.
Any sign of maturity in the characters was quickly dismissed. The brilliance comes in making us care for characters who have no respect for each other or society’s traditions. While most other sitcoms have some if not all of their characters in cosy relationships by the end, Seinfeld showed why it just couldn’t work for their characters. George’s decision to propose to an ex-girlfriend is impulsive and done as part of a deal with Jerry. Elaine once ended a relationship over a guy’s limited use of exclamation marks. “You gotta see the baby” is the remark that best sums up the gang’s attitude to having children.
Frasier may have set records by winning 37 Emmys, and Friends was always more popular amongst the younger demographic, but it was Seinfeld that really took comedy to new levels. Never as popular in the UK for reasons including lack of promotion and poor time scheduling, it nevertheless remained popular worldwide. In American culture it still continued to amaze audiences, even after the show took a slightly more outlandish route in the last two series.
When it was announced that the show would end after 180 episodes, it made the front page of all the national newspapers, including the cover of Time magazine. In 2002 TV Guide voted it the greatest TV show of all time and Entertainment channel E voted it number 1 for why the 90s ruled. Jerry Seinfeld himself made it into the Guinness Book of records by turning down a deal of $5m per episode to continue the show. To put that in perspective, Charlie Sheen, the lead star of the most viewed comedy at the time, Two and a Half Men, was offered $1.78m per episode when he left in 2010.
While later episodes of Friends and Frasier dropped in quality when allowing marriage to enter into the equation, Seinfeld went against the happy ending formula and finished before betraying its original set up. For a show that was centred around a comedian, it knew all about perfect timing.
Jerry: All right. How ’bout this one: let’s say you’re abducted by aliens.
Jerry: They haul you aboard the mother ship, take you back to their planet as a curiosity. Now: would you rather be in their zoo, or their circus?
George: I gotta go zoo. I feel like I could set more of my own schedule.
Jerry: But in the circus you get to ride around in the train, see the whole planet!
George: I’m wearing a little hat, I’m jumping through fire… They’re putting their little alien heads in my mouth…
Jerry: At least it’s show business…
George: But in the zoo, you know, they might, put a woman in there with me to, uh… you know, get me to mate.
Jerry: What if she’s got no interest in you?
George: Then I’m pretty much where I am now. At least I got to take a ride on a spaceship.
Elaine: Kevin and his friends are nice people! They do good things. They read.
Jerry: I read.
Elaine: Books, Jerry.
Elaine: You know, men can sit through the most boring movie if there’s even the slightest possibility that a woman will take her top off.
George: So what’s your point?
George: I have a bad feeling that whenever a lesbian looks at me they think “That’s why I’m not a heterosexual.”
Jerry: Mom and pop aren’t even a mom and pop?
George: It was all an act, Jerry. They conned us, and they scored big-time!
Elaine: So, mom and pop’s plan was to move into the neighbourhood, establish trust… for 48 years, and then run off with Jerry’s sneakers?
Jerry: To a woman, sex is like the garbage man. You just take for granted the fact that any time you put some trash out on the street, a guy in a jumpsuit’s gonna come along and pick it up. But now, it’s like a garbage strike. The bags are piling up in your head. The sidewalk is blocked. Nothing’s getting through. You’re stupid.
Elaine: I don’t understand.
Jerry: I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism just for the jokes.
Priest: And this offends you as a Jewish person?
Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian.
George: It became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I’ve made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat – it’s all been wrong.
Estelle Costanza: Well, I’m out there (dating).
George: No, you’re not.
Estelle Costanza: Yes I am.
George: No, you’re not! Because I’m out there, and if I see *you* out there, there’s not enough voltage in the universe to electroshock me back into coherence.
Elaine: Why don’t you park in a garage?
George: Parking at a garage is like going to a prostitute. Why pay for it when you can apply yourself, and then maybe you can get it for free.
Elaine: You know, just admitting that another man is attractive doesn’t necessarily make you a homosexual.
George: Doesn’t help.
Kramer: No, she was completely topless.
George: How good of a look did you get?
Jerry: What do you mean?
George: Say she was a criminal and you had to describe her to the police…
Jerry: They’d pick her up in about ten minutes.
Jerry: Why didn’t you tell her your code?
George: I can’t give away my code to her.
Jerry: George, you’re gonna marry this woman… probably.
George: No way. The bank clearly says “Don’t give away your code to anyone”.
Jerry: So, you’re taking relationship advice from “Chemical Bank” now?
George: Why does it always have to be “us”? Why can’t there be a little “me”? Is that so selfish?
Jerry: Actually, that’s the definition of selfish.
George: I gotta call Elaine.
Jerry: She’s out.
George: Oh, yeah. The blind date.
Jerry: They call it a setup now. I guess the blind people don’t like being associated with all those losers.
George: So I’m the bad boy. I’ve never been the bad boy before.
Jerry: Why not? You’ve been the bad employee, the bad son, the bad friend…
George: Yes, yes, yes…
Jerry: The bad fiancé, the bad dinner guest, the bad credit risk…
George: OK, the point is made.
Jerry: The bad date, the bad sport, the bad citizen…
Jerry: The bad tipper.
Jerry: Well, I cashed the checks, the checks bounced, and now my Nana’s missing.
Cosmo Kramer: Well don’t look at me.
Jerry: It’s your fault.
Cosmo Kramer: My fault? Your Nana is missing because she’s been passing those bum checks all over town and she finally pissed off the wrong people.
Mr. Ross: I don’t think there’s any greater tragedy than when parents outlive their children.
George: Yes, I hope my parents die long before I do.
George: Maybe if he could see me with some of my black friends…
Jerry: That would be great except that you don’t really have any black friends.
Jerry: Outside of us, you don’t really have any white friends, either…
George: And as punishment, I should get to sleep with Elaine.
Jerry: That’s not punishing me, that’s punishing Elaine. And cruelly, I might add…
Kramer: I was returning some pants. I took a short cut in a subway tunnel and fell in some mud, ruining my pants. The very pants I was returning.
Elaine: I don’t understand – you were wearing the pants you were returning?
Kramer: Well, I guess I was.
Elaine: What were you going to wear home?
Kramer: Elaine, are you listening? I never even got there.
Elaine: Married women don’t “get together”. They have affairs.
George: Oh my God, an affair. That’s so adult. It’s like with stockings and martinis, and William Holden. On the other hand it probably wouldn’t cost me any money.
Cast and Awards
Jerry Seinfeld ……….. as Jerry Seinfeld
Julia Luis Dreyfus ……….. as Elaine Benis
Michael Richards ……….. as Cosmo Kramer
Jason Alexander ……….. as George Costanza
Number of series: 9
Number of episodes: 180
Years: 1989 -1998
Emmys: 10 from 68
Golden Globes: 3 from 15