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What happens when comedies like 'Seinfeld' meet a new audience?

All 180 episode of 'Seinfeld' will hit Netflix on October 1. Will the American situational comedy work decades after it first aired from 1989-98?

September 19, 2021 / 11:41 AM IST
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld knocks on the Oval Office window on December 7, 2015, to begin a segment for his series, ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.’” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons)

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld knocks on the Oval Office window on December 7, 2015, to begin a segment for his series, ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.’” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons)

Have you seen Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee? How about the American situational comedy, Seinfeld, which was famous for its 'plot about nothing' trope - something that is common to both shows?

Starring Jerry Seinfeld as a fictional version of himself, Seinfeld aired on NBC (National Broadcasting Company) from 1989-1998. The yesteryear TV show, co-written by Seinfeld and Larry David, will be available on Netflix from October 1. (Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee is already on Netflix.)

Netflix is airing all 180 episodes of Seinfeld, including Episode 176 called 'The Puerto Rican Day’, which was banned after the telecast featured a character stomping on the national flag of that country.

The show is now primed for a new audience. As with other television shows from that era, it begs the question: Will it still work 30 years after its time?

'Postmodern comedy'

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Seinfeld features the actor and stand-up comedian (and now car collector) Jerry Seinfeld and explores his relationships with his close friend George Constanza (Jason Alexander), his ex-girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and neighbour Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards).

This winsome foursome and their drab and equally hilarious everyday life form the core of the show.

Some episodes from Seinfeld such as "The Chinese Restaurant", "The Contest" and "The Soup Nazi" were big hits with critics.

The series is widely considered among the best of all time. Quotes from many episodes have gone on to become catchphrases across the world. Words that meant little, like "Happy Pappy", became tangential ways to connect with the show. Seinfeld was at its best when its cast did absolutely nothing. Critics called it a "postmodern comedy", as it blurred reality and fiction.

Seinfeld today

Most parts of Seinfeld continue to work the way they were intended. The work by the main cast is spontaneous, solidly even and quick-witted. Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes played an unusual role as the unorganized ex-girlfriend, and her role was quite endearing.

An inescapable characteristic of the modern sitcom is the unflinching look at relationships and sex. In Seinfeld, it’s the inability of its main character to date properly, an attribute shared by both Constanza and Kramer. Seinfeld seems to go out on a different date each time, Constanza is plagued by insecurity when it comes to women, and Kramer “falls backwards into sex”.

The history of American sitcoms can be dated to the popular show I Love Lucy (1951-57) though Pinwright’s Progress (a British sitcom) is generally credited to be the first one. But for the purposes of this article, we are looking at shows that make us pine for Seinfeld.

More like this

If you dig TV series like Seinfeld, you will probably like Curb Your Enthusiasm too. It has Larry David in the lead - and what's more, he is also the main writer on the show. The cult classic is based on the 1999 hour-long mockumentary Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm. Unlike the special, the TV series was semi-fictional and was aired on HBO and featured the work of comic greats like Jeff Garlin and Cheryl Hines.

In 2005, Craig Thomas and Carter Bays pitched to CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) a show based on their friendship during their twenties and thirties in New York. The show, called How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM), went on to become one of the most popular shows ever made. It follows the adventures of architect Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) and his group of friends. Many critics were put off by the show, but this one found it romantic, engaging and funny. As HIMYM is quite recent, it remains relevant and up-to-date. The comedy is still fresh, and the cast is charming.

Any article about sitcoms from the past would be incomplete without Mr Bean (1990-95). This British series with Rowan Atkinson (he is better known as Mr Bean) was co-created with Richard Curtis. (Curtis also directed comedies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary.) Described by Atkinson as a "child in a grown man's body", Mr Bean has the star getting into trouble as he goes about doing everyday tasks.

Phenomenal Friends

If you go on Netflix, you would see that Friends (1994-2004) is still trending in India. With incredible chemistry from its magnetic ensemble cast, the series had six friends navigating life in Manhattan, New York. This show continues to get attention from nostalgic fans, who assembled in large numbers to watch the reunion of the cast when it was broadcasted in 2021. But it also seems to appeal to younger audiences.

One of many traits such TV shows share is that at some level, they encourage mindlessness watching which makes them thoroughly enjoyable. The gag-a-minute promise is usually met - and one tends to just smile through the seasons.

Fiction has the ability to cut close to reality. The insecurity and commitment phobia of Chandler Bing (played by Matthew Perry in Friends) or the rank pettiness of George Constanza (Alexander in Seinfeld) may still strike a chord with viewers. In the comedy on celluloid, we may find ourselves within what unfolds on our screen. These characters somehow manage to infuse meaning into the ordinariness of our everyday lives.

Humour that transcends

Veep (2012-19) is another unmissable show. With Louis-Dreyfus playing the American vice-president, this series is about the bumbling, clumsy VP and her staff as they go about their daily routine. With the actress bringing onboard her sublime comedic skills, Veep is a laugh riot. The humour is intelligent, and very satisfying.

Shows popular in the 1980s include Small Wonder. Indian viewers would remember Small Wonder from when it was telecast on Star World in the mid-1990s, when cable TV was still new here. It was shown in the US between 1985 and 1989. The show featured a robot called Vicki and was well-liked among children. For Indians, the show provided access to popular US TV shows and was a hit with kids.

Honorary mentions would include series such as Arrested Development, the long-running The Simpsons, Parks and Recreation, Freaks and Geeks, New Girl, That ’70s Show, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, BoJack Horseman and The Office (both the BBC original and the American remake). The list is endless.
Nandhu Sundaram lives in the tiny town of Arumanai in Tamil Nadu. He is a freelance journalist who writes on film and politics and the intersection between the two.
first published: Sep 19, 2021 11:27 am

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