Is there a Seinfeld for 2010?

by Matt Stratton on October 24, 2010

The comedy show Seinfeld becomes popular.
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If you know me at all, you know that I consider Seinfeld to be one of the most essential and influential sitcoms of all time. Plus, I think it’s totally hilarious, and even though I’ve seen every episode at least four times, I still have my DVR record it.

Therefore, today, when my friend @heysuburban posted the following tweet, my interest was piqued.

My initial response was to suggest that I consider It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to be much more the heir apparent of Seinfeld…however, @heysuburban did (accurately) comment that How I Met Your Mother espouses the “episodes about nothing” motif originated by Seinfeld.

Ultimately, it goes back to the question of “what defines Seinfeld?” In my 2005 essay, “Latex Salesmen and Magic Loogies”, I postulated that the three defining characteristics of the show were “pop culture references, idiosyncratic analysis of the mundane details of everyday life, and misanthropic behavior.” If we agree with this list (and you had best agree, since I’m super smart), then HIMYM really only inherits the first and second items in the list…but not the third. Sure, Barney is kind of a giant d-bag towards women, but overall, he’s NOT a Seinfeld level d-bag.

Those guys live in Philadelphia.

To be fair, Sunny doesn’t really hit for the other areas, though. It’s not very pop-culture oriented (although that seems to be really a factor of ALL modern sitcoms today, as opposed to during Seinfeld‘s run) and it definitely does not have the minutiae investigation. But when it comes to the vicariously enjoyable behavior of characters who are, deep down, terrible human beings, nobody does it like Sunny – with the possible exception of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but that’s not really fair, is it?

Speaking of Curb, one phenomenon I have observed is that, surprisingly, being a Seinfeld fan does not always guarantee that someone enjoys Curb. What I have seen is that the deciding factor is WHY the person loved Seinfeld. Folks who predominately enjoyed Seinfeld for the “Seinlanguage” aspects (“regifter”, “close-talker”, etc) tend to violently dislike Curb (these people also generally consider Kramer or Jerry their favorite characters). However, Seinfeld fans who loved the anti-social behavior of the characters (and who exhibit a preference for George or Elaine) find Curb to be a perfectly natural progression of their favorite characters. I also find that these people enjoy shows like Sunny or The Office, whereas the first grouping tend to find those shows tedious or offensive/insulting.

What are your thoughts on the topic? What show (if any) carries the mantle of the Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer?

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  • http://velvetglove.org Marcelo

    I think the definition of Seinfeld you have is actually not very accurate. Seinfeld was great because Larry David, Larry Charles and (in later seasons) writers like Spike Feresten and Schaffer/Berg were “autobiographizing” their real life experiences and incorporating them into the show. Festivus, the “Hellooooooo” voice, the phone message swap, and even a lot of Kramer’s stuff like the reality tour and the long distance relationship downtown are all just exagerrated aspects of what people go through every day. In this sense the show wasn’t about nothing so much as it was about everything and about recognizing the common experiences we’ve all gone through. What makes George’s crazy behavior funny on Seinfeld is that that’s how we all really are inside, how we all behave or at least want to. And while Jerry, Elaine and Kramer all have different things going for them, they all exhibit the same self-centered behavior, from low flow showerheads to Elaine wanting Mr. Pitt’s racquet back.

    In this sense, I think the heir apparent to Seinfeld is the only other show that is as autobiographical and grounded in the reality that the writers experience day to day. I disqualify Curb because Curb to me is more about the improvisational process and the creation of really funny moments with great actors given Larry’s skeleton plots, but it doesn’t have the pitch perfect writing that Seinfeld did. The only other show that shares that is 30 Rock. You see so many people say things like “I am Liz Lemon” in the same way they used to say “I am George” or “I am Elaine.” 30 Rock is a touch more meta, but I think in the sense that the audience truly identifies with the characters and uses them as surrogates for the things they wish they could do or say, 30 Rock is the winner. Sunny doesn’t work for this because at about the 3rd season they just sorta took off into wackyland, and while it was funny, it wasn’t that same kind of autobiographical precision.

    I think if there’s one argument against 30 Rock taking this mantle is that it’s much more self deprecating and pitiful than Seinfeld. Seinfeld’s characters were proud of being who they were, it was like a revenge fantasy for the writers – whereas Liz always has this ideal self that she wants to be even if she never actually makes it that far. She also has the contrast in Jack and the elements that Liz admires in Jack vs. what she despises about him (and vice versa) are unique to that show. There’s also a touch more hugging and learning. But I think at its core 30 Rock is the closest thing we have to Seinfeld because of how true it rings.

    Arrested Development used to do some of this too, the way they had everyone on Atkins for an episode and stuff like that, but that show was its own amazing beast.

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