Seinfeld was a successful television show on America's NBC. It earned high ratings in all of its eleven (not sure on this one) years before closing with a final episode of flashbacks. This last episode is widely held to be a disappointment, clearly less entertaining than an average episode.
Seinfeld's central cast consisted of four main characters: George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), Elaine Benes (Julia Luis-Dreyfus), and Jerry Seinfeld (himself). Though the show was taped in Los Angeles, it took place in New York City. Most episodes had little to do with the city itself.
Yet the big-city feel was inherent in the show's pace and plotting. Each episode contained several wild story arcs, such as a mannequin modeled after Elaine, a restaurant that sold muffin tops, or Kramer's plan to remove a lane from a stretch of highway. By the end of the episode (and often right in the middle), the story arcs intertwined, concluding with one irony or another.
Seinfeld consistently broke industry conventions, having no particularly happy endings, no "awww" moments, and nothing resembling any other American sitcom's plot. The characters had little compassion, the plots had no underlying message, and no lesson was taught.
Or was it? The ubiquitous theme of Seinfeld was human nature. Every character was, to some degree, greedy, self-interested, and open to breaking the law -- and the moral code. The audience had nothing to "live up to" -- no moral bashed over their heads. These characters could be laughed at because there were few -- if any -- redeeming virtues. And they were still the good guys.
It seems that no Seinfeld actor will ever live up to their former roles. Michael Richards and Jason Alexander tried -- and failed -- to carry their own sitcoms, but Julia Luis-Dryfus's sitcom may reverse the trend. Seinfeld himself has not made any sign of starring in another show; it appears he has returned to the stand-up business for good.
As hard as television execs have tried, it seems that no show will recreate the feel, the humor, the popularity of Seinfeld. It stands as one of the greats, a monumental sitcom in a sea of mediocrity.
'Seinfeld' was a long-awaited breakthrough in the American sitcom genre; not since 'I Love Lucy' has anything appeared that rattled the bars of American television convention so successfully, excluding only 'The Simpsons' which strictly speaking can't be classed as a sitcom. Although the essential genius of the show rests on Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up comedy (which is good but in itself probably nothing to rave about), the amazing transformation of the one-man act into a show based on four characters is nothing less than wonderful. A lot of credit has to go to the central actors, who by all accounts contributed a great deal to the script and who certainly fitted their characters like gloves.
So what makes the show funny? Getting back to the stand-up background, Seinfeld himself outshines other comedians in several ways :
1. He's not the least bit afraid to tear strips off the superficiality of American city culture. The irony inherent in his social commentary is at times nothing less than breathtaking.
2. While ripping the society around him to shreds, he somehow manages to never let go of his own dignity and self-respect for a second. Some people can't watch him for this reason, he just seems too arrogant.
3. Needless to say, he's an absolute professional; his delivery, especially his sense of timing, is close to perfect.
That's a pretty good start for a show, if you can get the right production team together which obviously they did (perhaps that part of it was largely a fluke). It was a team that threw themselves into the job and were (unusually) given lot of freedom, lending a highly refreshing recklessness to the plot. Indicative of this is the marvellous 'show within a show' episodes, in which two of the characters (Jerry and George) launch an attempt to write an NBC sitcom. This is absolutely unique in American television; never, except for those cute throwaway comments on 'The Simpsons', has an American television show invited people to laugh at the show itself so openly. (George's comment comes irresistably to mind: "What writing? It's a *sitcom*!)
And lastly, on the subject of the characters, Kramer, George, Elaine and Jerry are all so different, so strikingly in contrast to each other, that the potential for funny complications is pretty much endless. Compare this format with that of 'Friends', one of the first attempts to emulate the magnificent 'Seinfeld', in which it's difficult to tell any of the male characters apart (ditto for the females with the exception of the lovely Lisa Kudrow). And on top of that, despite the 'past relationship' between Jerry and Elaine, there is never the slightest hint at a romance between them - another cliche neatly circumvented.