When Seinfeld aired on NBC in 1989 it was panned as “sophomoric talk radio” and “mildly amusing.” Even comedian Roseanne Barr, whose sitcom ran contemporaneously with Seinfeld, found the show about four Manhattanites rather pretentious: “They think they’re doing Samuel Beckett instead of a sitcom,” she asserted. However, by the end of its run (1998), Seinfeld was praised as “an authentic American comedy of manners” and “the defining sitcom of our age.”
This term, we will explore the series from its early shaky period—when its own studio executives considered it “too New York, too Jewish”—to its news-making series finale. We will also look at the show’s extraordinary and profitable afterlife via syndication, Curb your Enthusiasm (2000– ), Jerry Seinfeld’s web series (2012– ), and Twitter accounts like @SeinfeldToday.
Finally, so that students will understand that Seinfeld—like all media texts—is a product of the time period (and industry) in which it was created, we will place the series in its historical and cultural contexts; for the same reason, students will be introduced to several critical and theoretical perspectives to the show.