Not-stalgia: Why I Don't Miss 'Seinfeld'
I remember laughing occasionally at Seinfeld. I'm pretty sure there's tape of me somewhere, probably on a podcast, acknowledging that it's good. Because of peer pressure.
I don't like Seinfeld, I don't miss it, and every time I'm asked to participate in some sort of acknowledgment of its greatness, or its place in the pantheon, I feel myself cringe and lie and say I understand, but I am here to tell you, and then never to be so cowardly again: I don't understand.
This was brought back to me in full force when I saw the Super Bowl ad Sunday night with Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander, and I thought, almost involuntarily, "Not this again." When I mentioned this on Twitter, I thought that I would immediately be crushed under the weight of other people's nostalgia and hostility, but no! There are many of us! And we all feel alone! We all feel like we are the only ones!
I am here to tell you: There are many of us. It is a show that benefits from the kind of nostalgia that enforces itself through consensus, by assuming that We All Know how great it is and how important it is, and for plenty of people, that is a legitimate reflection of their joyful adoration with which I'd never quibble.
But there are many of us.
I rolled my eyes and gave up on the Seinfeld-themed Super Bowl ad at precisely the same moment I always find myself giving up on Seinfeld episodes: when they laid down The Thing That Was Now Going To Be A Thing. In this ad, it was the idea of the "over-cheer." When the show went off the air, this was one of the things people talked about — "Remember 'yada yada'? Remember 'shrinkage'? Remember 'master of your domain'?"
Yes. Yes, I do, because it was always so incredibly obvious to me that I was supposed to. For a show that prided itself on being about nothing, about being wild and free and edgy, I always felt, even though I was not receiving PR emails at that time, like I was receiving a PR email announcing that this week, the thing we were all going to say was funny was ... "Serenity now!" More and more as the show went on, it felt labored to me, self-aware in a completely '90s, chokingly smug kind of way, where the show wasn't about nothing as much as it was about itself and how very very in the loop you were for watching it.
It was a fairly common thing at the time — it was something that similarly drove me utterly mad about Sex and the City. Before memes were really memes, they were catch-phrases, and catch-phrases are not the highest form of comedy. Why it was supposed to be any cooler when Kim Cattrall said some dopey thing about sex and everybody then quoted it for a year than it was when Dana Carvey said "Isn't that speeeecial?" and everybody then quoted it for a year, I do not know. At least Church Lady sketches were short.
A lot of people will tell you that the fact that the characters were such unrelenting jerks was the turnoff, and I get it, and I basically agree. But there was more to it than that. For me, Seinfeld was always a bunch of really unhappy, unpleasant, unrelatable, unchanging people trying to make "fetch" happen, over and over and over again. Only "fetch" would then usually happen, which just means you have to keep hearing people say "fetch," which really isn't any better. (It's an analogy. Sorry.)
I've found almost everyone on Seinfeld funny in other things (especially Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whom I revere), and I dug (and admired) Seinfeld himself in the documentary Comedian. But this show? This show that the stroll into Tom's Restaurant during Sunday night's game so badly wanted me to miss, that so many other people miss, that is on so many people's lists of the greatest everythings? I do not miss it. I did not get it. It was emphatically, truly, always Not For Me.
So if it was Not For You, now you know you are not alone.