I was always more of a “Friends” person. In the World Series of series known all over the world, “Friends” would be my Most Valuable Player every single time.
This is the disclaimer I’ve always provided to people when someone makes a reference to “Seinfeld” in my presence. In the same way a sign that reads “warning: toxic algae in bloom” will stop a bunch of tourists from running into a lake, telling someone that you like “Friends” as they tee up a joke they once saw in a “Seinfeld” episode is a clear signal to abort the mission. It saves the attempter from having to explain their joke (which is awkward for everyone) and the receiver from having to force out an insincere laugh.
That is, unless you’re me and unless that conversation is with your editor about the 30th anniversary of “Seinfeld.”
Suddenly, my trusty ticket out of a conversation about TV I don’t want to talk about became a ticket into an assignment revisiting some of the show’s classic episodes as someone who has not watched a lot of “Seinfeld.”
I never had anything against the show in particular, other than I was simply too busy to be bothered to watch a show famously about nothing when there was so much TV out there about something – and “Friends” on Netflix.
For my mission, I opted to revisit six episodes considered among the show’s very best, according to my fiancé, CNN critic Brian Lowry and a lot of internet lists.
As a rule, I did not seek any subsequent information on the writing or production of these episodes prior to watching them (in some cases, for the first time). Great TV does not need an oral history or additional context – for example, the knowledge that it was in some way considered to be groundbreaking for one reason or another – to be enjoyed.
The verdict? Revisiting “Seinfeld” is a bit like eating a piece of cake from King Edward VIII’s wedding to Wallis Simpson – it’s delicious because it’s cake. But then you get to that butter-based frosting and realize that the television landscape is one, big poorly ventilated English basement.
I explain more below. Note: The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. You are invited to respectfully disagree but if you want to call her names, congratulations on living up to her extraordinarily low expectations for masters of the web comment domain.
“The Puffy Shirt” (Season 5, episode 2)
Aired: September 23, 1993
Of the episodes I watched, this one made me laugh the most.
In this classic, Jerry accidentally agrees to wear a shirt designed by Kramer’s low-talking girlfriend and is ridiculed because it makes him look like a pirate.
I’m a sucker for a sight gag and it doesn’t get better than Jerry looking defeated in that white, frilly rag.
This episode gets bonus points because George’s hands get Kentucky fried, and I don’t like him.
“Soup Nazi” (Season 7, episode 6)
Aired: November 2, 1995
This episode was such a struggle because the main storyline involving the icon known as Soup Nazi was truly hilarious and remains a perfect comedy gem.
But a subplot about a grown woman who enjoys being spoken to by her significant other in a manner and tone one might use when communicating with a small, fluffy four-legged creature left me annoyed.
In the episode, they call this behavior schmoopiness. I call it the reason people finally got tired of only 45-year-old men writing television.
“The Invitations” (Season 7, episode 24)
Aired: May 16, 1996
This episode has the single best line of all five episodes I watched: “Now I know what I’ve been looking for all these years – myself! I’ve been waiting for me to come along. And now I’ve swept myself off my feet!”
This line, recited by Jerry, was self-aware and perfectly delivered.
The downside of this episode is that where a show like “Friends” would have allowed the characters a moment of humanity when George’s fianceé died, “Seinfeld” just let the band play on, to the show’s detriment.
I get it, these four people are not great people. But are they people at all?
If not, do I want to watch?
‘“The Opposite” (Season 5, episode 21)
Aired: May 19, 1994
This was the best written episode of the ones I watched.
It centers on George learning that in order to succeed in life, he must do everything he normally would not do – like not lie or, if he was me, watch “Seinfeld” instead of “Friends.”
“The Contest” (Season 4, episode 10)
Aired: November 18, 1992
The brilliance of this episode is that it’s about masturbation and the word is not said once.
Brilliant is not the word I’d use to describe the rest. Gross? Absolutely.
Particularly, George timing his visits to his hospitalized mother so he could watch a female patient in the neighboring bed get sponge bathed by an attractive nurse made my stomach churn.
This character didn’t just age poorly, he turned into old Melisandre from “Game of Thrones.”
I understand that I’m not supposed to like George or Kramer as people, but when 50% of the main cast is entirely so unlikeable 100% of the time, I have trouble justifying the viewing time.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the best part of this episode. Made me wish someone gave her her own…oh, right.
“The Frogger” (Season 9, episode 18)
Aired: April 23, 1998
The episode might be named as a reference to George’s mission to rescue a beloved Frogger video game machine from a closing pizza place but the real star of this story is Elaine.
Her plot takes place mostly within work, where she’s trying to navigate her office’s over celebratory culture. She’s sick of pretending to celebrate promotions and birthdays and farewells and tired of cake.
Until, that is, she has a craving for cake, walks into her boss’s office and eats a pricey piece of sponge that she must quickly replace.
There’s a surveillance camera moment in which Elaine is seen dancing on screen with the priceless pastry and it hits you upon rewatching that “Seinfeld’s” anniversary is really just the anniversary of Julia Louis-Dreyfus cementing her status as an American treasure.