We’re not sure you’d be able to sell a ‘show about nothing’ these days. We’ve become far too comfortable with complex plots and high-octane drama. But Seinfeld isn’t of this era, in fact, you might even argue it’s from a better one.
The 1989-debuting sitcom was created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, and follows the fictionalised up-and-coming comic Jerry Seinfeld – you have to admire the narcissism – and his mates, seriously sarcastic Elaine, stingy and jealous George, and naïve neighbour Kramer. They’re all living in New York, though we don’t get to see many of the sights, as this lot are far too busy sitting around discussing the mundane facts of life and how they might scheme to out-do someone they know. All four are guilty of hubris, without much moral compass and even likeability, but they embody the virtues of messy friendship – and it is this that the made Seinfeld so distinctive on arrival. The unrealistically beautiful people in Friends didn’t arrive until five years later.
But why do we need to like them, when we can laugh at them instead? Seinfeld is brilliantly written, somehow making perfect plots out of everyday occurrences, and invites its audience to find joy in the pure idiocy of its subjects. And even though it was filmed thirty years ago (give or take), in terms of fashion the show looks brand new. If you wondered down Kensington High Street tomorrow you’d see more than one of Elaine’s floaty long sleeved dresses, and Jerry’s bright white trainers are a 2021 must have.
Without sounding too much like old Grandpa Must, it’s a crying shame the youngsters of today are too busy with that O.T.H.E.R 90s sitcom to give Seinfeld a chance, and they’d do well to take more from the 90s than Friends quotes and baggy jeans. So next time you interact with a youth, tell them from Must to ditch TikTok and start Seinfeld. At the very least, they’ll get some inspiration for their next Depop shop.
The Guardian’s Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett thinks it offers much more than that, though. She says that although “New York 25 years ago was no picnic…the weird, narcissistic world of Jerry and co is strangely comforting.” And it’s relatable too, according to Raphael Abraham in the Financial Times, who says “its forensic dissection of the daily routines of working, dating and kvetching still uncovers universal and discomfiting truths. But above all it’s just funnier than any other show then or now.” No wonder so many competing sitcoms took inspiration from the show then. Though Guardian writer Sarah Dempster reckons “Seinfeld‘s numerous copycats only remind us of its uniqueness,” unable to keep up with “the most consistently funny sitcom ever made.”
First shown July 1989.