Posted on July 20, 2016
I’m going to admit something embarrassing: Up until this year, I have never watched Seinfeld. Every time Seinfeld came on television in the 90s, I would change the channel as quickly as if I had just accidentally stumbled upon a network that consistently showed dentists drilling into teeth without putting their patients on novocaine. For whatever reason, I hated the show, and I would much rather watch reruns of The Simpsons or anything on Nickelodeon (Doug, Rugrats, All That) or reruns of Nick at Nite shows. Perhaps I was too young; perhaps I didn’t understand the jokes; perhaps Jerry’s voice just annoyed the crap out of me. Whatever it was, I never really watched an entire episode of Seinfeld.
Years later, I fell in love with Curb Your Enthusiasm, and through that show, I began to grow an superficial interest in Seinfeld. (Larry David is hilarious and awkward and brilliant.) Plus, I had a neighbor in Miami who just loved Seinfeld. He used to quote lines to me all the time, and they would float over my head. For instance, we were out to lunch one day, and I pulled out my wallet. Back then–this was when I was in graduate school–I had a gigantic, over-stuffed wallet. It was packed with papers, cards, business cards–pretty much everything but money– and I began to think it was hurting my back. When I put the wallet on the table to ask him what he thought, he burst out laughing and called it the Constanza wallet. Of course, I didn’t catch the reference.
Perhaps it was an interest in Larry David, perhaps it was a frustration with not being able to catch cultural references, but whatever it was, I knew I had to watch all nine seasons of Seinfeld in 2016. Over the last several months, I have embarked on a mission to watch every episode in chronological order. I have vowed to begin to understand references, and I have sworn that no matter how annoyed I became with Jerry’s voice, I would get through the series. Strangely, as an adult, I found that I loved the show–how can you not?–and I wanted to share with you some of the aspects I had been missing out on. Some of this might be a recap for you; some of it might be new. But this is what I learned from watching all nine seasons of Seinfeld.
1. George Constanza Gets Extremely Dark
In the episode “The Invitations,” George Constanza’s fiance dies after licking a bunch of envelopes from cheap wedding invitations that George, of course, buys. The death was shocking, and it was amazing how dark George became in the episode. We saw himself as a man who was heading into a marriage that he didn’t want to partake in but couldn’t stop from happening, and when his fiance died, he almost rejoiced–or at least remained completely indifferent–to the death of a woman he was about to spend the rest of his life with until the end of eternity. This episode didn’t seem like it came from a mainstream television show; it seemed like it originated from the mind of a brilliant French short-story writer who wanted to pursue the themes of love and existentialism. What was most shocking was the reaction that all of the actors had when they heard she died. They all just went and had some coffee.
Perhaps this statement from Jason Alexander will shed some light into the decision to kill off his fiance:
“I couldn’t figure out how to play off of her,” [Jason Alexander] said in a “Howard Stern Show” interview Thursday. “Her instincts for doing a scene, where the comedy was, and mine, were always misfiring. She would do something, and I would go, ‘OK, I see what she’s going to do, I’ll adjust to her.’ And then it would change.”
2. Elaine Benes Was Sex in the City
For a mainstream show on a national network, Elaine Benes’ character was truly a progressive woman. Of course, she was famously a part of the masterbation game–where the four friends wanted to see who would crack first–but she was also unashamed about her life that wasn’t traditional in terms of marriage, monogamy, or career. She was clearly ahead of her time–or perhaps our world was too far behind–for mainstream television. Elaine contrasted to many of the other female characters at the time, and Brigit Katz at the New York Times wrote the following:
“While Elaine’s TV contemporaries—say, for example, Rachel from Friends—were getting bogged down in humdrum will-they/won’t-they romance narratives, Elaine was cycling through partners almost as often and usually as dispassionately as her BFF Jerry.”
I never really thought much about Elaine before watching the show, but after learning about who she was, how independent she was, how real she was, I couldn’t help but find her to be, perhaps, my favorite character on the show. I also started watching Veep before Seinfeld, and I have come to think of Julia Louis Dreyfus as one of the funniest comedians–and skilled actors–out today.
3. These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty
If you said that line (“These Pretzels are Making me Thirsty”) before I started watching Seinfeld, then I would have stared at you and waited for context, for reasoning, for logic. The entire gag would have flown over my head like a humming bird moving onto the next flower. But now I understand. In one of the funniest moments on the show (at least for me), Kramer reveals that he has a line in a Woody Allen movie, and it’s “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” Each one of the crew give their take on how to say the line. Of course, George is in the midst of car-parking fiasco, and he turns the bit of dialogue into a moment that reveals his frustrations with life, love, and success, simply by the way he says the line.
From a perspective as an aspiring novelist, this scene spoke to me clearly about writing dialogue. It was all about inflection; it’s all about the way the character moves around the room; it’s all about how he runs toward the window at the cars below who are honking for him to get back to work and confront his failing and miserable life that translates into meaning. It’s a moment of brilliance, but it’s also a moment about meaning and language. What we say can change so drastically by the way we say it.
4. The Last Episode was Horrible
Out of all the seasons, I loved seven and eight the most, and I did think that season nine took a step back. It was still a good season, however, but the finale, well, was pretty terrible. I expected a great show like Seinfeld to end in a way that was spectacular. I expected there to be something incredibly hilarious, some twist of fate that brought two worlds together in a way that no one could have seen coming, but instead, the final episode was a recap, a walk-down-memory-lane as all the characters came back to serve as expert witnesses to testify how terrible Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine are as people.
Of course, everyone must have been wanting Jerry and Elaine to admit finally how in love they were with each other. (We almost had it on the plane.) The television audience must have been craving for them to embrace each other, look each other in their eyes deeply, and say our existence is better now that we’re together. Well, it didn’t happen, and the show ends with them all in prison. (Sorry for the spoiler alert.) While the last episode was pretty lame, I admire them for not giving into the pressure, to the idea, that life should only be seen as a epic voyage to love and marriage. Of course, my life has taken that route, and I’m grateful for it, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s lives have to be that way. There are other narratives to a personal journey, and there are other ways to live.
5. A World of References Have Been Opened
In the end, if I was going to write about all the different things that I learned from watching all nine seasons of Seinfeld, then this post would be so incredibly long, and I would be forced to spend more than a couple days writing this thing. But if I had to sum up what I learned in one final point, it’s that a world of culture almost opened up to me overnight. I now understand the puffy shirt and what my friend means when he makes fun of my overstuffed wallet. I understand what it really means when someone has an incredible desire for a calzone, and I, yes, finally understand the larger appeal of “No soup for you.” But ultimately, I was able to watch a series of actors so attuned with their characters, and that feels like it only comes once in a decade on t. I just feel bad it took me this long to realize how much I was missing.