Not Jerry; but his show.
To crib from Roger Ebert: I HATED, HATED, HATED this sitcom.
I felt like I was the lone American who loathed this show. "It's a show that's about NOTHING!" so many people in the 90's enthused into my ear canals. "Nothing! Can you believe it?"
Yeah, I could believe it. It was nothing all right. Nothing to me.
I remember it well. It was 1993 and I was between real jobs. I'd been fired from my job at Robinson, Weintraub and Gross, boutique literary agency. I'd been perfectly happy just being the receptionist. I managed to write a screenplay between answering the phone and doing "coverage" on scripts. The screenplay, entitled The Secretary, was a "suspense-thriller-murder-mystery" very much inspired by Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren. It was about a secretary, natch, who....what did she do? She was involved in a murder and was having an affair with her boss. It was fun. Kind of campy. It was concentrated effort to write a kind of movie that was extremely popular in the late 80's/early 90's: think Basic Instinct. Every studio wanted a Basic Instinct. As a matter of fact, right after I finished The Secretary, this movie came out:
And speaking of temps; I myself was a temp after I got fired. I may have actually been a Kelly girl! Why did I get fired, you ask? Well, I was pressured to become an assistant agent to an agent who decided to push all of his work off on me. I resented this and didn't do the work...so, there you go. I didn't want to be an agent anyways.
In any event, I wound up at the Glendale Federal Bank Loan File Vault. Myself and three other people. We could've been a sitcom ourselves. Our job was to go through the loan files and check them for certain documents before refiling them. It was mind-numbingly boring. The four of us would chat all day. It was me. A girl named Jennifer. A second young woman who had a very Eastern European name...I think it might've been "Ilka." She was a female body-builder. And then another guy whose name is lost to the mists of time. He was your average Joe type; so let's call him "Joe." He was very nice.
The loan file vault was two stories...oh my God, it's all coming back to me now. It was a windowless room with a table and rows of ceiling to floor shelves, containing the files. Of course, I was always trying to do anything but what I was being paid to do. Lets just say my "yield" was a lot less than the other three kids. Thank God we didn't have quotas.
One of the things I distracted myself with was "The Flight Simulator," which I concocted. What you would do was plunk a co-worker into a rolling office chair, with all the electric fans on high and pointed at the chair. Then, someone would flick the light-switch up and down real fast and then you would push your co-worker down the aisle of file shelves as fast as you could. I could've done it all day!
But back to Seinfeld. One day the show came up in conversation. I'd heard of it, of course, but had never seen it. I wasn't watching much TV at the time. Joe was enthusing about how much he enjoyed the show. It was from him that I first heard the "It's a show about nothing!" bit. I remember thinking..."How could it be a show about nothing. Every show has to have a plot..." In retrospect, I find that's it's not a show about "nothing." It's a show about a lot of "somethings." It's a show about complaining. Complaining in a very specific way. A very Jewish way. They might've called the show KVETCH!
Now, as I'm 1% Jewish, I feel I can discuss the Jewishness of the show if not with authority; then at least a modicum of confidence.
So, TV has had a long history of Jewish characters/families/sitcoms/etc. which makes sense, since so many comedy writers, particularly in the early days of TV were Jewish. Almost from day 1 of TV we had a sitcom about a Jewish family. The Goldbergs. Not to be confused with ABC's current The Goldbergs. The original Goldbergs appeared in 1949 and ran for five seasons. It's more or less forgotten now, lost to the mists of time (I've never come across a single episode and I watched/watch quite a bit of TV). Then Bridget Loved Bernie (he was Jewish) and then Rhoda Morgenstern came along on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (she got a spinoff and she was Jewish). Then, along came Fran Fine as The Nanny. And of course, Seinfeld, which was about a Jewish guy and his gentile friends; but come on...they were all Jewish. George and the Costanza family were supposed to be Italian(?), right...yada, yada, yada. Kramer wasn't Jewish? Yada, yada, yada. Elaine was a "shiksa"? Yada, yada, yada. And of course, the current Goldbergs. The thing that bugs me about these shows that feature Jewish characters is the nearly complete lack of Jewish culture and religion in the storylines. I mean, I can recall the Goldbergs mentioning Hanukkah once in nine seasons. Now, The Nanny actually got into Fran Fine's Jewish life, fairly regularly. I can recall at least one episode being set in the temple she went to. And it made that show better. It enriched it. Deepened it a little. Sitcoms have a tendency to be a little on the shallow side.
And you probably couldn't have gotten more shallow than Seinfeld; which was one of the reasons I disliked it with such intensity when I finally watched it. I decided to give it a chance after loved ones nearly berated me for not watching/loving it. One day I was visiting my parents and my Dad said, "Find Seinfeld for me, will you..." as he offered me the remote. "Seinfeld?" I scowled, "you watch Seinfeld? Why?" "I love it. It's funny!" This was a man who never watched sitcoms in his life.* Now he was into Seinfeld? What was happening?
So anyways, I go there on a Thursday night: May 14th, 1998 to be exact; and the place is packed. "Hmmmmm," I wondered, "what's going on?" There seemed to be the buzz of anticipation on the air. People were excited about something. And then I found out what. Everyone was there to watch the finale episode of...you guessed it...Seinfeld.
So, I threw my arms up, ordered a beer and watched. When it ended, I thought: "Not only is this an awful television program; that was one of the worst episodes I've ever seen of any television show..." Even the eager watchers around me seemed to be disappointed. It wasn't until much later, when I knew more about the show, that I realized the disappointment was real. Apparently even fans of the show hated the last episode.
And then one episode had Patrick Warburton with his shirt off. So I watched.
So was it Warburton's "David Puddy" (as in "pud" the Yiddish(?) slang for dong; get it?) what finally hooked me? Maybe. Maybe not. I still actively disliked the show. And then...about a year ago...I was channel surfing and there was nothing on (including? except?) but Seinfeld; so I watched. And suddenly, it was like some veil was lifted. I finally got it. I was finally finding it funny. I don't know how it happened, because all the other opinions I held of the show were still firmly in place. Had I come to realize on some subconscious level that the humor of Seinfeld was about the absurdity of life? The possible meaninglessness of it? Was that the "nothing" that this show about nothing was about?
Was Seinfeld actually Waiting for Godot as a sitcom...or Sartre's No Exit? Was it a kind of dark, dark, meta-textual gallows humor? That all the Kvetching! was Rage! against the dying of the light? Is that why the characters end up trapped in a jail cell, oblivious. That it didn't matter because they were already trapped in Manhattan. I mean if you think about it, Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer are stuck. They never move forward. They can't form successful partnerships. They would rather find a great apartment than life partner. They have no self-awareness of their emptiness. Pretty heady for a sitcom. I wonder if this was the original intention...and why people rejected that last episode. Because, when you think about it; it's pretty bleak. We want characters to find redemption; or at least some kind of emotional growth. But not Seinfeld. Which is perhaps what makes it a classic and so darkly funny.
So, could the four main characters of Seinfeld actually be archetypes, like say, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? I mean, there's a theory out there about Gilligan's Island: that the seven castaways actually represent the Seven Deadly Sins...
The Skipper: Wrath
The Professor: Pride
Mr. Howell: Greed
Mrs. Howell: Sloth
Mary Ann: Envy
A very intriguing theory; and, if true, I can only think it is one of the reasons that show has had such longevity. Did Sherwood Schwartz consciously plan it that way? Who knows?
In any event...I now actively seek out Seinfeld to watch and laugh at (with?). The show produced 180 episodes! I've only, thus far, seen a fraction of them. The show airs at 10 pm on my local CW affiliate. For some reason, I only like to watch the show at night. If it comes on during the day, I won't watch. Why? Who knows. I'm weird. I think I read somewhere that the rights to the show are split between two entities: someone has the rights to a certain batch of shows. Which would explain why I've seen the two-part "Jerry's Pilot" episodes a dozen times thus far. But it also means I have a lot of Seinfeldian shenanigans in my future. Everything old is new again!
In my world, anyways.
It's a show about nothing! NOTHING! Can you believe that? Nothing!
Yada, yada, yada.
*Maybe the occasional episode of All In the Family.
P.S. I have to say that I do find Seinfeld more that a tad on the misogynistic side. I mean, you could argue that the whole enterprise is misanthropic; so it includes women. Yeah, you could. But still, it seems to me that women get the much shorter shrift in the proceedings. I mean we know Elaine (charming as she is) is pretty much a sociopath: that's a given. But even the endless stream of Jerry and George and Kramer's "girlfriends" and office assistants and store clerks and female executives, ad infinitum...the female characters are almost always shrews or buffoons or harridans or connivers. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Oh wait, there kind of is.
P.P.S. So, watching the show, I'm picking up a lot of faces from the Fridays cast. Maryedith Burrell, for example. Also, David Naughton, who once hosted Fridays. Fridays was an ABC show. Did ABC have David Naughton under some iron-clad contract? (Please see my blog: "Career Paths, Vicissitudes, Makin' It Or Not" from July 2021 for more info.).