''Seinfeld''s codependent friendships -? EW takes a closer look at the series? dysfunctional pals.

Eight years into the show, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Elaine Benes articulated the essence of Seinfeld quite nicely. She was exasperated with her good buddy Jerry Seinfeld — nothing new there: The glue that holds their relationship together is exasperation, alternately amused and angry. But this time, Elaine felt a summing-up was called for; she needed to make a grand expostulation, and so she did, by yelling ”I can’t spend the rest of my life coming into this stinking apartment every 10 minutes to pore over the excruciating minutiae of every single daily event!”

But of course, excruciating minutiae are what this show exists to examine, to fuss over, to spin comedic gold from. And Elaine will keep coming into that stinking apartment (which, by the way, probably smells more like still-misty Lysol, given Jerry’s compulsive cleanliness) for as long as the sitcom airs in perpetuity. She can’t help it; she loves Jerry, George Costanza (Jason Alexander), and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) every bit as much as she sometimes hates them.

Consider the nature of friendship as it is reflected, fractured, and ground into the dirt by Seinfeld. The bond between our niggling, nudging four musketeers (their battle cry might be ”All for one and one for me!”) is a group dynamic rooted in jealousy, rage, insecurity, despair, hopelessness, and a touching lack of faith in one’s fellow human beings. For a show whose plots often turn on the surreal (the one where George builds himself a little place to escape the world underneath his desk; Elaine meeting the Bizarro World Jerry, George, and Kramer; Jerry drugging a girlfriend so he can play with her vintage-toy collection in peace), it has been the distinctive achievement of cocreators Seinfeld and Larry David to offer us a portrait of late-20th-century urban friendship that is actually more realistic than any ever portrayed on a television series, sitcom, or drama. (Once David left the show, after the ’95-96 season, Seinfeld lacked that subtle degree of manic angst that distinguished his best work, but the show frequently made up for it with an increase in belly laughs as solid as any the series has produced.)

Like lots of good pals, Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer are acutely, quiveringly attuned to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They understand in their very different bones that someone you know well is also someone you can fight with, argue over, and sell out far more effectively than a mere acquaintance, or even an enemy. (That’s why Wayne Knight’s Newman is such a slippery recurring foe for our gang; he’s not in their loop — he’s the malicious, blubbery Other.) These chums are united by common quests — for money, for romance, for the perfect apartment. There’s a more than pathetic whiff of desperation about their need for one another (maybe that’s what’s stinking up Jerry’s apartment). But that it is made hilariously pathetic gives the show its unique tension.

Let’s break down the particulars of their codependency:

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