Seinfeld

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Template:Infobox television Seinfeld is a television sitcom, considered to be one of the most popular and influential of the 1990s in the U.S., to the point where it is often cited as epitomizing the self-obsessed and ironic culture of the decade. In 2002, TV Guide released a list of the top 50 greatest shows of all time and ranked Seinfeld #1. The show was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. It stars Jerry Seinfeld playing Jerry Seinfeld, a character named after and based largely on himself, and is set predominantly in an apartment block in Manhattan's Upper West Side, New York. It features an eclectic cast of characters, mainly Jerry's friends and acquaintances – Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), George Costanza (Jason Alexander) and Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). It is produced by Castle-Rock Entertainment (then helmed by actor and producer Rob Reiner) and is distributed by Columbia Pictures Television (now Sony Pictures Television).

Overview

The show has been famously described as "the show about nothing" (a self-referential phrase from an episode describing Jerry and George's attempt to create a sitcom idea), as most of the comedy was based around the largely inconsequential minutiae of everyday life, and often involved petty rivalries and elaborate schemes to gain the smallest advantage over other individuals. The characters have also been described as utterly selfish and amoral; the show standing out by depicting these traits in a comedic fashion. (However, it should be noted that a common motif concerns characters' attempts to do nice things for people, only to have them backfire exponentially.) In contrast to many other sitcoms, the allowing of scenes to lapse into sentimentality was generally avoided, and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David's dictum of "no hugging, no learning" gave the show its distinctively cold and cynical tone. However, themes of illogical social graces and customs, neurotic and obsessive behavior, and the mysterious workings of relationships ran in numerous episodes, making it possible to categorize the show as a comedy of manners. The show's creators made a conscious effort to reflect the activities of real people, rather than the idealized escapist characters often seen on television, although many of the show's plots involve intricate, and often cyclical strings of events that converge in the end to form a grand irony.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine, and Jerry Seinfeld as himself

Previous shows on television were almost always family or co-worker driven, but Seinfeld holds itself up as being a then-rare example of a sitcom wherein none of the characters were related by blood or employed in the same building or business. In fact, many characters were not employed at all.

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Tom's Restaurant, a diner at 112th St. and Broadway in Manhattan, referred to as "Monk's Cafe" in the show.

According to Bruce Fretts' 1993 The "Entertainment Weekly" "Seinfeld" Companion, Seinfeld's audience was, "TV-literate, demographically desirable urbanites, for the most part-who look forward to each weekly episode in the Life of Jerry with a baby-boomer generation's self-involved eagerness." Likewise, in episodes adhering to the original concept, the show featured clips of Seinfeld himself delivering a standup routine at the beginning and end of each episode, the theme of which relates to the events depicted in the plot. By this device the distinction between the actor Jerry Seinfeld and the character who is portrayed by him is deliberately blurred. In later seasons, these standup clips became less frequent. All of the main characters were modeled after Seinfeld's or Larry David's real-life acquaintances. In fact, many of the plot devices are based on real-life counterparts - such as the Soup Nazi (based on Al Yeganeh) and J. Peterman of the J. Peterman catalogue.

Another violation of the fiction convention of isolating characters from the actors playing them, and separating the characters' world from the actors' and audience's world, was a story arc that concerned the characters' roles in promoting a television sitcom series named Jerry. Jerry was much like Seinfeld in that Seinfeld played himself, and that the show was "about nothing". Jerry was launched in the 1993 season finale of Seinfeld, in an episode titled "The Pilot". This story arc, along with other examples of self-reference, have led many critics to point out the postmodern nature of the show.

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Jerry Seinfeld performing his famous stand-up comedy at the ending of an episode ("The Boyfriend Part. 2)

According to Katherine Gantz, this entanglement of character and actor relationships "seems to be a part of the show's complex appeal. Whereas situation comedies often dilute their cast, adding and removing characters in search of new plot possibilities, Seinfeld instead interiorizes; the narrative creates new configurations of the same limited cast to keep the viewer and the characters intimately linked. In fact, it is precisely this concentration on the nuclear set of four personalities that creates the Seinfeld community".

Another attribute that makes Seinfeld exceptional is that in almost every episode, several story threads are presented at the beginning, generally involving the various characters in separate and unrelated situations, which then converge and are interwoven towards the end of the episode in an ironic fashion. Due to the densely-plotted construction of the storylines, attempts to summarize the action in a given script are generally more verbose than one would expect for a sitcom. Despite any separate plot strands, the narratives show "consistent efforts to maintain [the] intimacy" between the small cast of characters. "Much of Seinfeld's plot and humor hinge on outside personalities threatening—and ultimately failing—to invade the foursome, ... especially where Jerry and George are concerned." (Gantz 2000)

Gantz maintains that another factor in, or further proof of, spectators' and characters' participation in a Seinfeld community is the large amount of in-slang, "a lexicon of Seinfeldian code words and recurring phrases that go unnoticed by the infrequent or 'unknowing' viewer". These include "Bubble Boy", "Master of My Domain", "Shrinkage", "Mulva", "Crazy Joe Davola", "Man Hands", "Yada Yada Yada", "Dr. Van Nostran", "Spongeworthy", and "Art Vandelay".

The show premiered as The Seinfeld Chronicles on Thursday, May 31, 1990 on NBC. Seinfeld was not an immediate success. After the pilot was shown, on July 5, 1989, a pickup by NBC did not seem likely and the show was actually offered to Fox, which declined to pick up the show. It was only thanks to Rick Ludwin, head of late night and special events for NBC, for diverting money from his budget, that the next four episodes were filmed. After nine years on the air and 180 episodes filmed, the series finale of Seinfeld aired on Thursday, May 14, 1998. It was watched by a huge audience, estimated at 76 million viewers. Jerry Seinfeld holds both the record for the "most money refused" according to the Guinness Book of World Records by refusing an offer to continue the show for 5 million dollars per episode, and another record for the Highest Ever Annual Earnings For A TV Actor[1], while the show itself holds the record for the Highest Television Advertising Rates[2].

In 2004 a deal was negotiated to make Seinfeld available on DVD for the first time. Due to legal problems with the cast involving episode commentary and other DVD extras, the release was pushed back. The first 3 seasons were released November 23, 2004, and season 4 was released on May 17, 2005. Season 5 and season 6 are scheduled to be released on November 22, 2005.

Characters

Main characters

Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld (played by Jerry Seinfeld)—A standup comedian who seeks out relationships with attractive women which rarely last more than one episode. A number of episodes involve some obsession of Jerry's that results in offending the romantic interest and ruining the relationship. Among his strongest obsessions are his impulsive need for neatness, his love of Superman and for cereal. There is a reference to Superman, either visually, conversationally, or thematically, in over 70% of the episodes in the series.

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Main characters on Seinfeld TV program. From left to right: Cosmo Kramer, Elaine Benes, George Costanza, Jerry Seinfeld

George Costanza

George Louis Costanza (played by Jason Alexander)—A "short, stocky, slow-witted, bald man" (as described by Elaine), the neurotic George is a self-loathing, congenital liar domineered by his parents, Frank and Estelle. He has held many jobs, including that of a real estate agent and assistant to the traveling secretary for the New York Yankees. He also worked briefly at a sporting equipment company called Play Now and at Kruger Industrial Smoothing (and—very briefly—at Pendant Publishing) in addition to nearly acquiring a job as a bra salesman for Sid Farkus, a friend of his father's. His relationships with women were always unsuccessful, including his engagement to Susan Ross, played by Heidi Swedberg. The character of George was largely based on the show's co-creator, comedian Larry David. Episode plots would frequently feature George manufacturing elaborate deceptions at work or in his relationships, in order to gain or maintain some petty advantage. These schemes would invariably backfire. Many of George's predicaments were based on ones that Larry David had found himself in at one point or another in his own life.

Cosmo Kramer

Cosmo Kramer (played by Michael Richards)—Tall, wild-haired, and almost always wearing trousers too short for himself, Kramer is the most eccentric Seinfeld character. He is usually called by his last name. For much of the series, his first name was unknown. Once his full name was revealed, most minor characters began calling him Cosmo, but the main group continued calling him Kramer. Since he appears to be perpetually unemployed (aside from a few rare instances) he is frequently involved in hare-brained money-making schemes, nearly all of them his own inventions. One of the most popular characters on the show, he is often described as the "action character" that draws audiences with his wild and unusual antics and movements. In one show, Kramer is called a "hipster doofus." He is based on Larry David's neighbor, Kenny Kramer. Kramer adopts a different bizarre habit or money-making scheme almost every episode. He is friends with Newman, as well as a wide variety of (mostly off-screen) acquaintances and shady partners, including Lomez and Bob Sacamano.

Elaine Benes

Elaine Marie Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus)—Like Jerry, much of Elaine's life revolves around trying to arrange relationships with attractive individuals, although some of hers last longer than Jerry's. The most noticeable is her on-again, off-again relationship with David Puddy (played by Patrick Warburton). She has also held jobs for Pendant Publishing, The J. Peterman Catalog, and as a personal assistant to the wealthy Mr. Pitt. Elaine was a composite of many female acquaintances of the writers, the two most prominent being writer Carol Leifer, Seinfeld's real-life ex-girlfriend, and the other being Monica Yates, Larry David's ex-girlfriend. In the show Elaine and Jerry dated, and "broke up", timeline-wise, just before the first episode, remaining friends over the course of the show. Elaine went to Tufts University (her "safety school") and usually works as a writer-editor. Elaine is most often a victim of circumstance, usually coming into conflict with inadequate boyfriends or the arbitrary demands of her eccentric employers.

Recurring characters

This is quick list of recurring characters. For more see: Minor characters in Seinfeld

Memorable incidents

See also List of Seinfeld terms

The Dry Heave

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Elaine Doing the Dry Heave

In the episode "The Little Kicks" Elaine does the notorious Dry Heave dance in front of co-workers at a J. Peterman party (to which George and later Jerry exclaim "Sweet Fancy Moses!"). Thoroughout the entire episode she is made fun of by co-workers behind her back; at first she believes it is George that has caused her troubles, until she is told it is her horrendous dancing in which she moves her thumbs around and does little kick-ups with her feet. She is eventually informed by Jerry.

Moops

In the episode "The Bubble Boy", George claims "The Moops" is the answer to the Trivial Pursuit question "Who invaded Spain in the 8th century A.D.?". The Bubble Boy contested the answer, claiming it was the Moors (which is correct). George, with his stubborn nature, in reaction to the belligerent arrogance of the Bubble Boy, and out of spite, refused to accept the response in favor of the (presumably misprinted) answer given by the card. This incident is based on an actual error spotted by one of the writers while playing the home edition of Jeopardy!.

The Contest

One of the most controversial Seinfeld episodes, "The Contest", centers around a pact of self-denial between Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine. The four place a bet (with Elaine contributing a higher stake) on who can go the longest without masturbating. In the show however, they were able to convey the meaning without actually using the word "masturbation". Kramer's early exit from the bet has become a classic moment in Seinfeld history, with his simple "I'm out!" as he slams his cash on the counter. This episode also features Jane Leeves (of Frasier fame) as "The Virgin", Jerry's girlfriend at the time.

Other classic moments include: Jerry's rant about the woman across the street, who struts around naked in her apartment, compromising his ability to remain "Master of His Domain" (and the same woman responsible for Kramer's early departure); Elaine's fascination with John F. Kennedy, Jr.; George's subtle introduction of the subject matter with the phrase, "My mother caught me"; and the "ease" with which the characters can sleep at night, depending on their current standing in the contest.

In an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, during an argument between Larry David and Jason Alexander, it is mentioned that David participated in a contest exactly like this one.

The Soup Nazi

In this episode, Jerry introduces Elaine to a soup restaurant run by a draconian owner, whom the customers have nicknamed the "Soup Nazi." Based on a real-life New York City soup store, the owner enforces strict customer rules about ordering: State your order, then move quickly down the line with your money ready. Jerry coaches Elaine on them, but she disregards the rules, wasting the Soup Nazi's time and infuriating him. He kicks her out, yelling, "No soup for you!", which would become a catch phrase. The episode also includes a plot about an armoire that Elaine buys and then leaves on the street, asking Kramer to watch it. It is stolen right in front of him by a pair of effeminate, antique-loving Latino thugs, played by Yul Vazquez and John Paragon. Later, she finds the Soup Nazi's recipes and distributes them widely in an act of revenge, ruining his business. Larry Thomas guest stars as The Soup Nazi, a role that netted the actor an Emmy nomination.

The Junior Mint

Jerry accompanies Elaine on a hospital visit to a seriously ill ("something with his spleen") ex-boyfriend, Roy, whom she broke up with because he was fat. Kramer tags along to steal latex gloves, and gets the surgeon to invite him to view the surgery. When his date cannot make it to the surgery, he asks Jerry to join him. During the surgery, Kramer persistently offers Jerry a Junior Mint which he tries to paw away; instead, it flies over the viewing mezzanine, and falls into Roy's open chest cavity. The doctor notices something, but cannot figure out what, and closes the cavity. Roy's condition is critical, but then significantly improves. The doctor credits the upturn to "something beyond science, something from above."

Mulva

In the same episode as the Junior Mint, Jerry is dating an attractive woman whose name he cannot remember. He spends the episode avoiding the use of her name, and trying to find ways to ascertain it, including digging in her purse and having his friends stop by, hoping she will introduce herself. She tells Jerry that her name rhymes with a part of the female anatomy. Jerry and George try to guess the name, with choices of Bovary, Mulva, Loreola, Hest, and Gipple. She suddenly realizes Jerry doesn't know her name, and breaks up with him, leaving his apartment in a huff. Jerry suddenly remembers her name, and calls out to her from his window, "Dolores!" According to the commentary for this episode on the Seinfeld Season Four DVD, this episode would have originally ended after Jerry's attempt to guess his girlfriend's name. The scene where Jerry successfully guessed her name was added after the audience was asked what they thought the woman's name was, and an audience member answered with "Dolores". The writers liked the name, so they added the scene.

The Move

From the episode The Fusilli Jerry. "The Move" refers to a sexual technique invented by Jerry that he shares with George with the promise that if George can master it he'll "never be alone again". Elaine's on/off boyfriend, Puddy, uses it on Elaine, leading Elaine to chastise Jerry for sharing intimate secrets with Puddy, a hallmark of male-bonding. The best aspect of the writing in The Fusilli Jerry is that the entire technique of The Move is never shared with the audience. Instead, the writers wisely opted to have the cast refer minimally to specific steps one must take when executing The Move, perhaps leaving the audience to fill in the gaps themselves. Or not, which is even funnier.

"Serenity NOW!"

A relaxation technique used by George's father. It turns out to be very ineffective, according to George's nemesis, Lloyd Braun, who spent time in a mental institution because he suppressed his own anger for years. Kramer tries using the tenchique but explodes anyway, destroying 25 computers that George had been storing in Kramer's apartment.

Product placement

A recurring feature of Seinfeld was its use of specific products as plot points, especially various candy products. These products might be a central feature of a plot narrative (e.g. Junior Mints and Pez), or associating the candy with a guest character (e.g. Oh Henry! bars), or simply discussing the merits of the candy in a conversational aside (e.g. Chuckles). Examples of non-candy products featured in Seinfeld are Rold Gold pretzels (whose advertisements at the time featured Jason Alexander), Kenny Rogers Roasters (a chicken restaurant chain), Drake's Coffee Cakes, Snapple, Entenmann's and the J. Peterman clothing catalog (which actually went bankrupt whilst the show was still active).

While the show's creators claim that they themselves were not engaging in a product placement strategy for commercial gain, Seinfeld is widely credited by marketers and advertisers with effecting a change in attitude toward product placement in US primetime TV shows[3] [4]. In general, product placement became much more frequent in TV shows after Seinfeld demonstrated that a successful show could work specific products into its plots and dialog.

For details of a study on the effectiveness of product placement (without respect to whether it was paid for or intended to promote products), see "Television Programs and Advertising: Measuring the Effectiveness of Product Placement Within Seinfeld." by Dana T. Weaver of Penn State University.

Two types of advertising, neither of which were actual product placement, also capitalized on the Seinfeld show. One is described as a "Webisode," a reverse form of product placement. In this form, instead of inserting its product into an episode, American Express "inserted" Jerry Seinfeld and an animated Superman into its commercial. The second type is the use of the show's actors, such as Jason Alexander in a Chrysler commercial. In this type, which ran after the series ended, Alexander behaves much like his character George, and his relationship with Lee Iacocca is said to play on his relationship with George Steinbrenner in the show.

Music

A signature of Seinfeld is its theme music: distinct solo synthesized bass guitar "pickups" which open the show and connect the scenes. These short riffs were composed by Jonathan Wolff and are considered groundbreaking in their use as sitcom music. They vary throughout each episode, and are played in an improvised blues-funk style. An additional musical theme with an ensemble, led by a synthesized mid-range brass instrument, ends each episode.

Non-original music featured in the show:

  • "Superman March" - John Williams - In "The Race" (Season 6, #10)
  • "Manaña (Is Good Enough For Me)" - Jackie Davis - In "The Blood" (Season 9, #160).
  • Theme from The Greatest American Hero ([5]) - In "The Susie" (Season 8, #149) ([6])
  • "Morning Train (9 to 5)" - Sheena Easton - In "The Bizarro Jerry" (Season 8, #137) and "The Butter Shave" (Season 9, #157)
  • "Slow Ride" - Foghat - In "The Slicer" (Season 9, #162). Elaine tunes into her bedside radio and offers up a few characteristic dance moves.
  • "Downtown" - Petula Clark - in "The Bottle Deposit (1)" (Season 7, #131). George looks for clues about his work assignment when Wilhelm mentions the song to him.
  • "Wouldn't It Be Nice" - The Beach Boys - In "The Hamptons" (Season 5, #85).
  • "Desperado" and "Witchy Woman" - Eagles - In "The Checks" (Season 8, #141)
  • "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" - Green Day - From the album "Nimrod"- In The Clip Show, Part 2 (Season 9, #22).
  • "(Once, Twice) Three Times a Lady" - The Commodores - In "The Pothole" (Season 8 #15).
  • "Hello" - Lionel Richie - In "The Engagment" (Season 7, #1), "The Invitations" (Season 7. #24), "The Voice" (Season 9, #2).
  • "Everybody's Talkin'" - Harry Nilsson - In "The Mom and Pop Store" (Season 6, #8).
  • "Shining Star" - Earth, Wind and Fire - In "The Little Kicks"

(Season 8, #4). Elaine does the infamous dry heave dance to this.

  • "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good" - Herman's Hermits
  • "Theme From The Godfather" - Nino Rota - In "The Bris" (Season 5, #5)

Ending

Template:Spoilers The series ended with a two-part episode in which the four are sentenced to one year in prison in Latham County, Massachusetts. After Seinfeld accepts a sitcom deal with NBC, the four decide to fly on NBC's private aircraft to Paris to celebrate. They are delayed in Latham County after engine trouble, and while killing time in town, they witness a fat man being robbed. Instead of helping him, they make wisecracks while Kramer videotapes the robbery. The victim sees them doing this during the robbery, and mentions it to the reporting officer. All four are arrested for breaking a fictional Good Samaritan law which requires citizens to assist in such a situation. This leads to a long trial that brings back many characters of past shows, testifying as character witnesses against the group for their "selfish" acts over the years of the series. The Virgin, the low talker, the Pakistani, and the Soup Nazi, are called to the witness stand, among many more old enemies and acquaintances. In the final scene before the credits, the four main characters sit in a jail cell and begin a conversation about buttons, using lines from the very first episode of the series. In a last bit of comedy during the credits, Jerry is seen wearing an orange prison suit, telling prison-related jokes and is threatened by a fellow prisoner (voiced by Larry David, who returned to write the finale).

The original finale episode was screened without the laughter track usually used in the series, and was scripted by Larry David who returned after a long hiatus from the series. The finale episode has been criticized for being vindictive towards the characters - who are shown to be amoral, selfish misanthropes who don't deserve a laughter track - and, by extension, towards the audience who were fans of the characters. Other Seinfeld fans see the finale episode as a welcome return to the earlier misanthropic spirit of the series, in contrast to the general "wackiness" of the post-Larry David final seasons.

In rerun screenings of the finale, the episode is typically significantly cut down, and a laughter track is put back in place.

Criticism

Though the series always had many devoted fans throughout the show's later seasons, many fans have criticized the show for changing its tone and humor too much throughout the show. This may be due to the fact that the show's writers and producers have changed throughout the seasons. As with any long-running series, the question of if and when the show jumped the shark is fiercely debated, with many differing opinions held.

Many fans have different views on when the show was at its high point. Some fans prefer the very early seasons, such as seasons 1-3, when the show featured a more slow-paced comedy, with an emphasis on real-life situations. Then on the other hand, other Seinfeld fans think of Seasons 4 and 5 as Seinfeld's "Golden Era," arguing that the show was intelligent and consistently funny.

Starting with Season 6, however, some Seinfeld fans felt that the show had deteriorated in quality, with less interesting storylines, and often attributed this change to the departure of director Tom Cherones and one of the show's writers, Larry Charles.

One common opinion among some fans of the show seems to be that the show reached its lowest ebb during the final two seasons (seasons eight and nine). These fans contend that, by this stage, the plots had become ever more detached from reality, the characters had changed beyond recognition (especially Elaine and George) and that the humor had descended into a much lighter slapstick and farce. This is usually attributed to the fact that Larry David had left the show at the end of the seventh season (although he did return to write the series finale) and instead, by this point, all of the show's writers (with the exception of Peter Mehlman) had not been on the show before Season 6. The final two seasons (apart from the series finale) also did not feature any stand-up comedy segments performed by Jerry Seinfeld, which had been a minor but constant feature of the show since its beginning.

Finally, other fans argue that the show never deteriorated significantly in quality at any point in its run. [7] While accepting that the tone of the show may have changed somewhat throughout the run of the series, these fans contend that the quality of humor was never compromised.

Cast careers after Seinfeld

After the end of the show, Jerry's co-stars continued their acting careers. Alexander accumulated many new acting credits in film, theatre, and television, including guest appearances on Larry David's new HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Louis-Dreyfus also appeared in Enthusiasm, has received on-screen and voice credits in television and animated film. Richards continued to appear in new film and television works as well.

Additionally, all three took title roles in their own unsuccessful television series. This gave rise the term "Seinfeld Curse," used by some to describe the career of the actors post-Seinfeld. When asked about the curse, David once said, "It's so completely idiotic.... It's very hard to have a successful sitcom." [8] Most new sitcoms do not enjoy the success of hits like Seinfeld. The actors and their shows are:

David's Curb Your Enthusiasm went on to win Emmy awards. The series relied on his signature humor embodied in the Seinfeld character of George. In the summer of 2005, John O'Hurley, who played J. Peterman in a recurring role on the final seasons of Seinfeld, received extensive publicity when he finished as the runner-up on the highly rated American ABC reality series Dancing With The Stars to Kelly Monaco.

References

  • Seinfeld, Jerry. Sein Language. Bantam. 1993. ISBN 0553096060.
  • Fretts, Bruce. The Entertainment Weekly Seinfeld Companion. New York: Warner Books. 1993. ISBN 0446670367.
  • William Irwin (Ed.). Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing. Peru, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company. 1999. ISBN 0812694090.
  • Greg Gattuso. The Seinfeld Universe: The Entire Domain. New York: Citadel Press. 1996. ISBN 0806520019.

Sources

See also

External links

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Lists

Frequently Asked Questions

Episodes

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