It was the show about nothing that was really about everything
Why binge watch Seinfeld?
It’s not long into the third season of Seinfeld that one of the show’s most iconic episodes brings George and Jerry to the offices of 30 Rock and NBC, where they pitch a sitcom that’s about nothing. The episode, The Pitch, is by no means the best in the show’s mammoth 180 episode run, but it’s become a lynchpin in almost all of the critical discussion of Seinfeld ever since, which has and always will be referred to as a show about nothing. It’s just funny that nothing could be further than the truth.
Co-created by its star Jerry Seinfeld and writer Larry David, Seinfeld became a show about nothing by actually being a show about everything. Consider the American sitcom landscape up until the point the show debuted in 1989: sitcoms traditional straddled the home of all-American families, creating a problem of the week that was weakly resolved by the end of the episode, rarely informing the following ones. When workplace comedies like Cheers moved things out of the family living room and into a public space like a bar, the primary focus of much of the comedy and action was set around a will-they-won’t-they of romantic pairings, mixed in with the fallings out and makings up of friendships surrounding them.
What Seinfeld so searingly did was embrace the minutiae of life. Whole episodes extract the brilliant genius of stupid and petty grievances, the kind of off-hand events that can consume each of our days but that we rarely remember over the space of our lives. Each of the main four characters explores the most mundane things throughout the show, leaving to critics and theorists to grab a hold of the “show about nothing” description and running with it. Instead, it just a brilliantly observed dedication to all things. And it’s one of the most influential TV shows of all time, so you just need to watch it for your TV literacy good.
How long will it take to binge?
Even though US comedies are extremely easy to watch in binges, clocking in at rarely more than 22 minutes per episode, Seinfeld ran for nine seasons and clocks in at a total of 180 episodes. That all adds up to a daunting two days and 18 hours of TV viewing. But with winter on the way, a casual two to three episodes a night should see you finish the whole thing before the end of the year.
Where can you binge it?
Here’s the tricky part... Despite having earned its stripes as one of the most significant sitcoms in the history of American television, Seinfeld never really seemed to catch on with TV buyers on this side of the Atlantic. Although it did air on the BBC, its exposure to European viewers has always depended on home media viewing. You won’t find it on subscription services like Netflix or Sky On Demand, although those with a US IP address can find episodes on the American streaming service Hulu.
DVD is your best bet – and why not make hay while the Brexit sunshine is burning the pound. The entire boxset will set you back about €50, including delivery, while individual seasons should set you back more than a tenner apiece. You won’t do much better on second-hand sites, but copies do seem to be available to take out from the Libraries Ireland website catalogue.
Any hurdles to overcome?
The show actively courts cynicism, occasionally bending over backwards to find the lols in a heavy dose of nihilism. The four characters, all of them essentially misanthropes, find fault in almost everything, so it’s probably best not to binge on too many episodes at once, lest the whole thing begin to become unrewarding.
Who steals the show?
In truth, this is one show where the central four characters, and the actors who inhabit them, are so essential to each other and the entire essence of the show that it’s extremely difficult to single out anyone. Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Kramer (Michael Richards), George (Jason Alexander), and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) inform everything about each other, bouncing off each observation and non-event in ways that propel the story along. Instead, it’s the cameo performances dotted throughout that arguably shift, rather than steal, the limelight, with every viewer having their own personal favourite.
A scene to sample:
How could we wax lyrical about the nothingness of Seinfeld without its own meta-scene in which George tells Jerry to pitch a show about nothing:
What to follow it up with?
While everyone bar Jerry Seinfeld attempted to launch their own sitcoms shortly after Seinfeld wrapped in 1998, they were all cancelled in quick succession, leading to the media referring to a so-called ‘Seinfeld curse’. In the years since, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has had the most success, first with The New Adventures of Old Christine, but recently with Veep, something for every TV connoisseur’s binge list. Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm is the spiritual spin-off Seinfeld never got, and Jerry Seinfeld’s charming web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has become a cult hit in its own right.