Yesterday, College Humor posted “If People Talked about Seinfeld Like They Talk about Girls,” a satirical reaction to current media criticisms that HBO’s Girls is racist, juvenile, just TMI, hipster sexist (apparently that’s a thing), a fantasy world for Millennials, and founded entirely on nepotism.
I’m not here to debate these readings of Girls (who has the time and/or energy?). Rather, I am interested in what College Humor is maintaining via its send-up: namely, that Seinfeld (1989-1998), at its inception and throughout its run, was immune to criticism. First, here’s College Humor‘s (fairly witty) post:
Do you watch Seinfeld? Do you like it? REALLY?! Ugh, I mean it’s fine, I guess, I just think it has A LOT of problems.
The whole thing just seems SO self-indulgent. Seinfeld stars a comedian named Jerry Seinfeld who plays a comedian named Jerry. Wow. Really, Jerry? He also created the show and writes it. It’s like he can’t give up control of anything.
Sometimes it seems like he’s just using this show as an excuse to play out his fantasies, y’know? Every show opens with him performing stand-up to a great crowd that loves every one of his jokes. And he’s constantly having sex with these beautiful women. Like, WAY too beautiful for a schlubby guy like Jerry. Even George, who’s like short and fat, and Kramer, who’s just kind of gross, both also have sex with these beautiful women. It’s like, yeah, okay, Jerry. I guess enjoy the dream while you can.
He really seems to think he’s funny. Do you think he’s funny? I don’t think he’s funny. Like, the critics say it’s a funny show, but the comedy is kind of weird. And nothing ever HAPPENS. It’s just these privileged white people (and I mean, they’re ALL white) living their lives in New York. The only non-white characters are wacky immigrant cab drivers and soup vendors. Oh, hilarious: they can’t speak English well — what’s so groundbreaking about that?
And are we supposed to LIKE these characters? I know you say that part of the humor is seeing yourself reflected in these characters, but none of them are good people. They’re selfish, petty, narcissists. They’re constantly talking about themselves while treating other people like garbage. They claim to be friends, yet they do absolutely horrible things to each other. Are we supposed to see ourselves in this? That seems kind of twisted to me.
Did you know there’s an episode called “The Contest” that’s all about masturbation? And one called “The Apology” that’s about Jerry being casually naked around the apartment with his girlfriend. I know they’re trying to be edgy, but honestly it’s boring. Like, wow, an ugly guy doing things I’m used to seeing hot guys do. Great. It’s not funny; it’s just off-putting. And have you seen the stuff Jerry wears? He’s got big white sneakers and tight jeans – not flattering at all.
Also, did you know Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the daughter of the billionaire Gerard Louis-Dreyfus. It seems a little disingenuous to cast her as personal assistant when she’s probably never had to work a day in her life.
And speaking of never working a day, what’s up with Kramer? He doesn’t seem to have a job and yet somehow he can live by himself in a giant high-rise Manhattan apartment. Are we to assume that his parents are giving him money? Is all this someone’s New York experience? Because it sure ain’t mine!
I guess I just like a different kind of comedy. Have you seen Louie? Now there’s a great show that can’t have the exact same criticisms leveled against it.
See, it’s funny, right? But to claim that Seinfeld was completely without its detractors is—like the grammar in the title of College Humor‘s piece—inaccurate (when a clause with a verb follows, it’s as, not like).
In fact, for its first two seasons especially and then somewhat throughout, Seinfeld was panned by critics for being too lame, too self-indulgent, too racist, too homophobic, too yuppish, and too liberal in its depiction of New Yorkers. What’s more, this now “defining sitcom of our age” was even questioned (repeatedly) by those who put it on the air! The show is “too New York, too Jewish,” NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff once balked.
I’ve compiled below several of the criticisms heaped upon Seinfeld, both at its beginning when it was titled The Seinfeld Chronicles (like the bad press, betcha most don’t remember that either) and at its end, when it was “master of its domain,” so to speak. This is the result of about an hour of researching (a show that began pre-Internet). I’m fairly sure, if I didn’t have a conference presentation to write and deliver tomorrow (eek!) and had time to delve into library indices and databases, I could locate several more.
Update: See also Jaime Weiman’s reaction to the post as he argues that “the College Humor author is almost proving the opposite of the point he’s trying to make.”
“But lacking much in the way of attitude, the show seems obsolete and irrelevant. What it boils down to is that Seinfeld, likable as he may be, is a mayonnaise clown in a world that requires a little horseradish.” — Matt Roush, Life
“This five-episode summer diversion, which NBC has been kicking around for at least half a season waiting for the ‘right time’ to unleash it on the viewing public, is not what could be termed an inspired piece of television. There’s none of the self-referential surrealism of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show that the show’s premise—a comedian playing ‘himself’—suggests there will be. The revolutionary concept here consists of cutting a couple of times per episode to Jerry performing his act at a comedy club where, naturally, everybody laughs at all his jokes. Theoretically there’s some sort of—I hesitate to use the word—’counterpoint’ between the stand-up material and what loosely passes for the plot. Now, Jerry Seinfeld is funny—in sort of an upscale, Jewish George Carlin kind of a way—but he’s not that funny. The stand-up situations obviously aren’t real, so it sounds like he’s working a room of laugh-track machines. It would have been better, but too daring for NBC, to have him delivering jokes to an empty room, or to the camera.” — Rick Marin, The Washington Times
“In the history of pilot reports, Seinfeld has got to be one of the worst of all time. I have it next to my desk; it says ‘overall evaluation: weak.’” — Warren Littlefield, former NBC President of Entertainment
Seinfeld is “too New York, too Jewish.” — Brandon Tartikoff, then President of NBC
“Call me a hopeless Puritan, but I see, in this airwave invasion of sitcoms about young Manhattanites with no real family or work responsibilities and nothing to do but hang out and talk about it, an insidious message about the future of Western civilization.” — Elayne Rapping, The Progressive
Seinfeld is the “equivalent of sophomoric talk radio.” — Steven D. Stark, Glued to the Set: The 60 Television Shows and Events That Made Us What We Are Today
“They think they’re doing Samuel Beckett instead of a sitcom.” — Roseanne Barr, comedian
“Is horror too strong a word for what is, after all, only a depressingly insipid stand-up comic and his painfully tame sitcom? I don’t know. […] These people are very depressed. Let me tell you, kids, being that depressed can be really scary. Thus the horror of Seinfeld. It leaves me that depressed. Not only depressed but lonely.” — Ron Rosenbaum, Esquire
“Why do I find myself becoming uneasy about the show? Increasingly, it seems, Seinfeld wants to be about something, and that something is either painfully obvious or awkwardly jarring. […] The show has never been terribly concerned with political correctness. Its depictions of minorities, from Babu the Pakistani who was eventually deported because of Jerry’s carelessness to the Greek diner owner with an apparent yen for amply endowed waitresses, can be patronizing. And its attitudes toward women can become downright hostile, as the final episode illustrated with its portrait of a gleefully nasty female network executive. — John J. O’Connor, NY Times
“Seinfeld is the worst, last gasp of Reaganite, grasping, materialistic, narcissistic, banal self-absorption.” — Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic
”Why don’t the characters just move to penthouses on Fifth Avenue? How can they be playing smart Jewish people hanging out in a diner eating all the eggs they want for $3.99 when they are the most highly paid TV actors of the late 20th century? Why don’t they just tie Jerry Seinfeld’s compensation to how the Knicks do next year?” — friend of NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd as quoted here.
“The passing of Seinfeld, that Cheez Doodle of urban fecklessness, into cryogenic syndication inspires no tear in this cave. Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine never spoke for my New York, not on a Southern California soundstage, lean and mean in their terrarium, wearing prophylactic smirks to every penis joke.” — John Leonard, New York Magazine