Hard to believe that it’s already been 10 years, to the month, since Seinfeld went off the air and into the land of eternal syndication. Newsweek marks the occasion with a debate on whether the show still holds up. It’s not much of a debate, really, as even the writer taking the anti- side concedes the show’s verbal dexterity, the must-see-ness of its best episodes, and its comforting familiarity.
That’s right, “comforting familiarity,” a phrase we probably never would have associated with Seinfeld during the supremely cynical sitcom’s run. After all, before Seinfeld, most sitcoms were designed to reassure viewers with messages about how life is ultimately fair and how you can always depend on friends and family for support. (Indeed, many still are.) Seinfeld, whose characters famously refused to grow or learn, had none of that, yet it remains reassuring nonetheless. It’s reassuring, for instance, to be reminded that other people are just as petty as you (or even more so), that they share your frustration with arbitrary social codes, your annoyance with the irritants of everyday life, and your sense that life is, in fact, ultimately not fair.
addCredit(“Seinfeld: Everett Collection”)
And there’s also, by now, the reassurance of nostalgia. Life really did seem simpler in the Seinfeld ’90s — the economy was good, New York wasn’t on perpetual Orange Alert, and characters felt free to be as insular and self-absorbed as they wanted, without being concerned with the world beyond the coffee shop. Today, sitcoms from Larry David’s follow-up Curb Your Enthusiasm to Two and a Half Men take a certain bitter, crass, Darwinian selfishness as a given, without much indication that they’re being ironic or satirical about it. Compared to these shows, Seinfeld feels like Leave It to Beaver. This is not a knock on the newer shows, only an acknowledgment that the exploits of Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer (clockwise, from right) feel like warm family picnics next to the free-fire zones of some of today’s sitcoms.
What say you, PopWatchers? Is Seinfeld still the master of its domain, or is it as stale as an old marble rye? Do you like it more or less now than you did during its run?