“I didn’t know she had a pony! How was I to know she had a pony? Who figures an immigrant’s going to have a pony? Do you know what the odds are on that? I mean, in all the pictures I saw of immigrants on boats coming into New York Harbor, I never saw one of them sitting on a pony! Why would anybody come here if they had a pony? Who leaves a country packed with ponies to come to a non-pony country? It doesn’t make sense! Am I wrong?”
Seinfeld is the most successful — and arguably the most beloved — sitcom of all time. But how do the antics of TV’s favorite self-absorbed foursome hold up today? In When We Were Young’s latest episode, we take a look back at all nine seasons of the hit 90s series to see how it stands nearly two decades after its polarizing finale. Are the show’s views on sexuality, gender, and race antiquated, or was Seinfeld ahead of its time?
And, most importantly, is Seinfeld still funny? Grab your Junior Mints, throw on your puffy shirt, and GET OUT, because we’ve got a whole lot to say about the “show about nothing.” Listen here and subscribe here, and please leave us a kind review!
Reviews of Seinfeld‘s early seasons:
Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly. “Seinfeld isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s one of the most amiable shows on the air.”
Richard Hack, The Hollywood Reporter: “What remains is a group of terrifically talented people (with Alexander and Louis-Dreyfus stand-outs) who mix but never really mesh. Seinfeld, which had a trial one-shot last year as The Seinfeld Chronicles, is slated to run for three more weeks on NBC. That should be enough.”
Seinfeld has been massively influential — there are few comedies on TV these days that weren’t in some way shaped by it. TV comedy is enjoying an era in which it feels like more characters are self-absorbed than not, and that wouldn’t have happened without the colossal success of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s seminal series. And yet the show doesn’t feel stale — with some exceptions, it’s as fresh as anything that’s currently airing. Seinfeld was also a pioneer in self-reference — not just the Season Four arc in which Jerry and George pitch a “show about nothing” to NBC, but also in bizarre moments like Kramer’s
Personally, my experience with Seinfeld in the late 90s revolves almost entirely around its ending. I can’t recall watching the show before the crazy hype surrounding its final season, though it’s possible I did catch it sometimes. I know I caught some of it in syndication around that time, and later, which is where I got a special affinity for stray episodes like “The Big Salad” and “The English Patient,” which aren’t necessarily fan favorites but strike my particular funny bone. Shortly before starting the podcast, I decided to revisit several of Seinfeld‘s best seasons because I was working a lot and stressed out and didn’t want to have to watch anything that required any effort. I knew Seinfeld would do the trick, and it did.
The show is at its worst when it tackles strangely dark and outlandish violence, like Kramer’s mistaken identity as a killer in the oddball Los Angeles arc, and at its best when it satirizes the most mundane aspects of human existence, like “The Airport,” which contrasts Elaine’s misery in coach with Jerry first class delights. Our episode also delves into Seinfeld‘s controversial treatment of gays and various races, which may not be super progressive but still stands above most of its peers from that era (ahem, Friends). Personally, I was surprised I didn’t find anything to get very worked up about from this Clinton-era sitcom, since the jokes are ultimately always at our central foursome’s expense. When George is desperate to show off a black friend or Jerry’s meddling gets a kindly restaurant owner deported, our sympathies lie with the guest stars rather than our self-absorbed main cast. That’s rare.On the other hand, watching Seinfeld can be a little dismaying. Here’s a show about four white people in New York City without any significant problems — and the problems they do have are generally created by themselves. Seinfeld aired between 1989 and 1998, which was a relatively peaceful and prosperous time, a handful of years before 9/11 ushered in a sobering awareness of global turmoil. In light of the recent election, it’s hard not to see Seinfeld as indicative of that era so much of America wants to return to (and make “great again”), when white people could behave boorishly and laugh off the struggles of minorities. What makes it still work is that the show doesn’t ultimately condone this behavior, given its punishing final episode. Spoiled white Americans get their comeuppance in Seinfeld, but as has been proven all too true, life doesn’t imitate art nearly as much as it should.
At least Seinfeld is still good for laughs…
When We Were Young is a new podcast devoted to the most beloved pop culture of our formative years (roughly 1980-2000). Join us for a look back to the past with a critical eye on how these movies, songs, shows, and more hold up now.
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