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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

24

George Is the One With the Glasses: My Seinfeld Capitulation

My roommates and I make up a foursome, which means we can do the “which TV show character are you?” thing a lot. We are not dissimilar, but we are each able to easily slide into a certain type, especially when relative to each other: the nerd, the snob, the diva, the baby; the talent, the management, the executive, and the help; the brains, the looks, the muscle, and the wildcard. (We are all the useless chick.)

We’ve hammered ourselves into almost every popular main cast: Sex and the City, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, GIRLS. The only rule is to dutifully accept whatever roles we are cast; we vote democratically, so even if you contend that you are a Lucy, or, at least you could be if you could only find the right hair curlers, but everyone else thinks you are an Ethel, you have to accept your fate. After a while, it’s tempting to stretch your persona to fit the wider margins of an inflated, dramatized “you”: a Liz Lemon “blerg” here, a Linda Belcher “awwwwlright!” there. Once the game becomes commonplace, as it has in our home, it’s easier to validate your actions, too: if you’re in the midst of an emotional, passive-aggressive, on-and-off relationship with a man, you can excuse yourself for not setting up a book pitch with his ex-wife or causing his current one to break her tooth.

Recently, my roommates and I decided to tackle another famous foursome: Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine. We hemmed and hawed, weighed aspirations versus reality, and then decreed. Mairin (Jim Halpert, Lucy Ricardo) was cast as Elaine, due to her recent incorporation into our group; often grumpy and confused Alex (Bob Belcher, Dee Reynolds) was George; and Meaghan (Shoshanna Shapiro, Buster Bluth), by process of elimination, got to be Jerry. “You are a Jerry in life,” Meaghan, who’s seen the show 10 times, concluded, “but you’re the Kramer of our house, because you have messy hair and are always looking for snacks.” I didn’t quite understand what she meant.

I’ve never seen Seinfeld. It’s my go-to fun fact. The best icebreaker I’ve ever found is to ask someone what TV shows they watch, but the best argument igniter I’ve ever used to announce what I’ve never watched. “I’ve never seen Friends.” “I couldn’t get in to Freaks and Geeks.” “I’ve only seen one episode of The Simpsons.” But nothing riles people like announcing that you know nothing about “the show about nothing.”

It’s fun to attack. “Seinfeld can’t be that good,” I tell people. “How could you have NEVER seen a single episode?” I’m always asked, incredulously. “It’s the best TV show of all time!” And it’s simple: in eighth grade, in a conversation about what TV shows were current, a classmate told me: “Don’t watch Friends. There’s no black people on it. Seinfeld too. It’s racist.” So I didn’t. The show in no way appealed to me; already in six years into syndication, it was washed out and bland juxtaposed to Disney Channel Original Movies and Fox Family. It was about adults in adult situations. There were no kids, no palpable fun, and no splashy theme song—it wasn’t for me.

I approach pop culture with fervor; it’s a need to be a part of the in-crowd, to be a part of the conversation, to get everybody’s jokes. My boyfriend caught me slogging through True Detective, trying to stay awake for a show I had little interest in, and asked me why I even bothered. “I need to know what everyone’s talking about!” I haven’t yet made it to the tracking shot.

After six months with an HBOGO password and, thusly, six months with access to previously unavailable quality television, I’ve declared 2014 to be my TV year. I have big plans: finishing the Sopranos, starting The Wire and The West Wing, continuing Broad City and Veep, getting back into Looking… I was going to dedicate a year to the television zeitgeist, so that I could finally get it, supplementing my foundations of the canon with more than just pilfered Twitter jokes and background knowledge culled from VH1 talking heads. But I realized I can’t tackle conversations about comedy and novelty and television and sitcoms du jour in good faith without finally giving in, giving up, and watching Seinfeld.

Here are the bits I do know: there is a Soup Nazi. There is standup. There is a contest somehow related to masturbation. George is the one with the glasses. But Seinfeld-isms have followed me even as its champion avoider. Even though I’ve eschewed it, it’s the type of show—maybe the foremost show—that has totally permeated a cultural landscape, even 16 years after it ended. There’s so much that I’ve absorbed without knowing it (“yada yada,” double dipping); I even celebrated Festivus as a college-sanctioned holiday party for four years without knowing its source, an embarrassment for myself and my alma mater. But there’s still so much I’m missing out on: when someone proclaims their snack food is making them thirsty, the humor in waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant, when Liz Lemon explains that her memory has “Seinfeld money” after Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays her in a flashback.

The show premiered two years before I was born, and reigned during a transitory time: it premiered in 1989, amidst shows like Baywatch and Doogie Howser, M.D., programs that are now cultural relics that we stopped talking about long ago, used only to date an anecdote or a person. Yet the lengthy series was bookended by the rise of the Internet, and the instant, endless communication it brought forth. A friend told me she remembers her father watching old episodes of Seinfeld recorded on VHS; years later, she said, he prepared for the finale on an internet chatroom, trading speculations with other avid fans. We gleefully talk about pre-internet shows, most often in the realm of avoiding spoilers and the maintenance of novelty, but imagine a show like Seinfeld in our technological, hyper-sharable age: jokes ruined for you by a Vine, episodes dissected on blogs moments after the episode airs (the parody Twitter account @Seinfeld2000 has done some magical things with this very obsession). In its third and least popular season, the show still garnered an average of 17.66 million viewers per episode, only three million fewer than primetime juggernaut The Big Bang Theory’s most popular episode, its season six premiere (20.66 million viewers). (The Simpsons, perhaps the only other show that rivals Seinfeld in terms of zeitgeist and comedic importance, premiered that same year.) Twitter would fail-whale weekly.

Anyway, the complete series was on sale, so we bought it.

It’s hard to picture the show in a pre-Seinfeld world: the barriers have already been broken, the heirs already named, and I’ve already caught the second wave. Accordingly, I’m worried that I’ll be underwhelmed and that the novelty and importance of the show won’t be as tangible as I want it to be, because it’s more groundbreaking in content rather than structure. I’ve never seen shows like Doctor Who or Twin Peaks, but what I glean from them is that they both fundamentally changed how shows are made: in presentation, in storyline, in what’s acceptable to put on TV. Still, I’m prepared to like it, or, even more, to dislike it and at least have an explanation. “I’m Jazmine, and I really didn’t like Seinfeld,” I’ll begin to introduce myself. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

 

Jazmine has been promised that Seinfeld "definitely gets good in Season 3." 



24 Comments / Post A Comment

loopdeloop

"The show premiered two years before I was born." AHHHHHHHHHHHH

kellyography

@loopdeloop FOR REAL.

Lily Rowan

@kellyography Seriously though.

jazzloon

@Lily Rowan @loopdeloop @kellyography *shuffles back to the kid's table*

JK. My age is easily the worst thing about me, but I'm working on it a little every day. ;)

Lily Rowan

@jazzloon Speaking only for myself, I'm sure your age is perfect on you! The shock for me is realizing how long I have been an adult or close enough. Or, OK, I was in high school in 1989.

stonefruit

@jazzloon ahhhh this is you! <3 you, 'Loon-ie.

(I also don't care for Seinfeld. I am sure that this, along with my lack of appreciation for Woody Allen's humor, makes me a bad Jew.)

bluewindgirl

@loopdeloop Let's all lean into the Woody Allen backlash. Maybe not appreciating Woody Allen makes you a bad jew, maybe it makes you a decent human! Who can tell these days.

bureaucrab

As a "Seinfeld" aficionado I hope you dig the show (the opening of the Little Jerry episode is one of my favorite scenes of any show of all time) but as someone who gets a kick out of not really falling in line with what everybody else luuuuuuuuurves (Beyonce? Meh, okay.), if you don't like the show then go ahead and get down with your bad, contrarian self.

jazzloon

@bureaucrab I fully intend to hate-watch solely to adequately supplement my dislike for it, with quotes and story arcs.

But shh, shh, shh, Beyonce is everything and more. That Jennifer Lawrence though? Eh.

chevyvan

I dated someone who had the series on DVD and we rewatched a few seasons in their entirety last year. It was different than watching reruns b/c nothing was cut out and I don't think they show every episode in syndication. The things that struck me were 1). A lot of the show holds up. Definitely not all, but a lot. 2) Much of the material still feels provocative. 3) The humor is darker than I remembered (see, specifically, those episodes that don't get aired in syndication as much) 4) I couldn't believe that, in it's heyday - when I was approx 12-16 years old - that it was my favorite show! It's most definitely by adults, for adults, but my little brother and I were absolutely nuts for it. Go figure!

I hope you enjoy watching it!

Leslie Popplewell

@chevyvan The ubiquitous presence of cell phones these days destroys many Seinfeld plot points. But yes on the rest of it-- still very relevant! I overdosed on syndication Seinfeld for a few years and now I have no desire to see it anymore, though.

chevyvan

@Leslie Popplewell That's the one thing that took me out of Friday Night Lights (though I still loved it). The show basically pretended that cell phones didn't exist and people would just SHOW UP at each others homes to have meaningful conversations. I'm pretty sure even the poors in Dillon would have had cell phones at that point (well, maybe not Grandma Saracen).

Bus Driver Stu Benedict

Imagen if someoen 1st watch Seinfeld in modarn day

supernintendochalmers

Now I'm wondering how you'd feel about Curb Your Enthusiasm.

hearts & strings

@jazzloon: There is an excellent episode of Curd Your Enthusiasm in the 7th season, where Leon, one of the few black characters on that show goes to watch the rehearsal of the Seinfeld reunion show, and spends the whole time asking Larry: "Who's that?", which I always found completely hysterical.

While I have always had a soft spot for the show, last year I went through a wretched break-up and for some reason decided that I needed to watch every single episode of Seinfeld, and it seriously always made my day. I love that most of their problems would have been solved in modern times by just picking up a cell phone. Though it makes me nostalgic for the days when someone said they would be somewhere at a certain time and they just trusted that you would show up at said time, without having to trade texts back and forth about it all damn day.

And while I'm usually the cranky black friend in most of my friend groups, I definitely consider myself a 'Kramer'

Bus Driver Stu Benedict

@hearts & strings That's a good way to express your excitement about dairy!

hearts & strings

@hearts & strings ha! just caught that. These cheese curds are making me thirsty!

jazzloon

@hearts & strings that bit about Curbed sounds great. Of course, I've never seen it.

beetnemesis

I loved Seinfeld, but whenever I watch an episode nowadays, I keep finding myself thinking, "Wow, this would be a lot different if they all had cell phones."

jazzloon

@beetnemesis RIGHT?! If a show's premise can be so easily annihilated by the normal progression of technology then HOW has it stood up???

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

Jazmine, now you've got me thinking about every time a straight white guy thought it was LIKE WHOA AMAZING that I can toss out a Seinfeld reference here or there, because to me it's just part of the way people speak. I guess it's just interesting that there are still people who see Seinfeld as "their show" instead of something that was widely syndicated for a long time (and in some places still is), but that you've mostly encountered people who see it like I see it - part of the furniture, like it's always been there.

The great thing about it, though, is that (like a lot of sitcoms) other than the presence of recurring characters, it's quite episodic in nature, so if you want, you can just skip to the episodes that you're most interested in! (Though the concept of watching nine seasons of a very popular show for the first time in sequence is pretty cool, too.)

jazzloon

@Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that) Aaaye. So many times that someone has made a joke to me and I've just been "...I don't know what you're talking about." No one EVER realizes it. It's that steeped into the consciousness.

So the project with my roommate (A Blog About Nothing), a diehard Seinfeld fan, is to watch the show from beginning to end. It's not going to be easy, nor has it been particularly interesting. There will be drinking games. But I want to watch the whole thing to a) prove I can do it and b) have a foundation to stand on when I say IT'S SO SUBPAR.

Air Dates

well, I have a lot to say when it comes to tv shows, especially when running an Air Dates website. Seinfeld was none of my favorites though, not even when it was in its peaks on ratings. When it comes to old days, my favorite has always been Frasier. I sometimes watch my favorite episodes over and over again. But it is nice to see some nostalgia here.

1849941234@twitter

very Good opinion Jazmine, Keep Writing.i glad to read

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