Overrated Series: Seinfeld

David B Morris
8 min readApr 7, 2024

My Personal History and Why I Think The Show About Nothing Was Saying Something Unpleasant

I was thirteen. It was on when I was watching TV….yada, yada, yada, I never found it funny.

When I was growing up as a child and teenager, the most popular show was Seinfeld. It was the most revolutionary show in history, the one that everyone in America was watching.

I was only in my formative years when it came to television but at that point I had an easier time with comedy then drama. I like so many shows on Must See TV. I was a huge fan of Frasier from the moment I watched it at age fourteen. I had a certain fondness for Wings. My sister was a fan of Mad About You which had its moments. But by this point Seinfeld was airing in syndication and I’d seen several episodes. I didn’t laugh once. So I made it a point of pride never to watch Seinfeld when I was growing up. I did watch the series finale because I didn’t want to miss out and no, I didn’t find it funny either but at the time I thought I was missing something that the rest of the world was getting.

Over the last quarter of a century my pallet has improved immensely when it comes to recognizing my own flaws. Over time I have watched many shows that I dismissed the first time and realized my errors — ER was by far the biggest one. But despite multiple efforts no matter how many times I watch so many of the ‘classic’ episodes of Seinfeld, I still haven’t laughed once. Reruns of Frasier and Wings still do and some shows like Murphy Brown still have a timeliness. But the show that is considered one of the greatest shows in the history of the medium has no more appeal to me now than it did thirty years.

I grant you that Seinfeld, like so many other great shows, may be an acquired taste and that I’ve had my own flaws when it comes to many series that millions of people considered classics — I never got into Everybody Loves Raymond then or now and Roseanne always left me cold. But it’s only been fairly recently that I was able to put my finger on why I’ve had such a problem with Seinfeld. And since we are about to witness the end of its badly behaved sibling Curb Your Enthusiasm this weekend, I figured it was worth sharing why. (For the record I have just as many problems with that show, but I’ll get to that in a different article.)

Now I could be honest and say part of my problem with Seinfeld was that I found the entire premise unfulfilling. I get the idea that the show being about nothing was supposed to be groundbreaking but call me old-fashioned, I like my shows to involve you know, plots, character growth and about more than just jokes about being unpleasant. But that’s a meaningless criticism because Seinfeld was not a sitcom in any definition of the term, certainly not the ones of the 1990s. It might explain my personal problem but that’s not a realistic reason to find fault with it and clearly tens of millions of Americans did find it funny.

This actually gets me to the deeper reason why Seinfeld was a product of its time — and place. Seinfeld was set in 1990s New York. And as much as America has a bad impression of New York City today, in the 1990s we actually deserved it. I have a feeling that’s the reason the other contemporary phenomena that debut the same year as Seinfeld Law and Order — became such a huge phenomena because they both have the perception of New York as the rest of the world sees.

Both of them look at New York as a place where the worst aspects of our society come out. In Law and Order, it’s cold-blooded murder, in Seinfeld, it’s treating your fellow citizen like a piece of trash. Seinfeld, much as the argument may be it was about nothing was about something — it was about indulging the worst impulses of your character and having it being treated as normal behavior by your friends and most of your fellow residents.

In that sense the controversy of the series finale may be making a statement that fans of the show didn’t understand. Once Jerry and the gang left their comfort zone of New York and went into small-town America, the behavior that New York considered typical was viewed in a different context. That’s perhaps the real reason so many people rejected the series finale. Were Seinfeld and his co-writers actually making a deliberate political statement as well as a joke at the viewer themselves? Were they in fact turning the fact that really the people we had been laughing at for nine seasons were in fact true and other monsters — and that at the end of the series, they had no self-awareness that they had done anything wrong?

It’s an interesting theory but I don’t know if Seinfeld or his co-writers were ever truly that deep to begin with. Every time I watch an episode of Seinfeld, I just see a picture of how Jerry and his friends live in a world where horrible behavior is basically considered the norm and acceptable. Maybe that’s the reason no one has been able to recreate Seinfeld in all the years since — it’s not just that in the world we live in, bad behavior is the kind of thing that becomes a viral sensation, but there’s no world where so many of the New York elements apply the same way.

And this gets me to what is probably the most troubling element of Seinfeld’s New York. For a city that is one of the most diverse in the country, I didn’t see a hell of a lot of diversity. Friends has always taken the brunt of accusations for having no black people in New York, but Seinfeld was just as guilty of it. Jerry dated a lot of women, but I never remember an African-American woman ever being a date, Elaine dated a gay man before she dated a black man (and how the hell did that past muster in 1990s TV?), the one African-American Kramer dated led to a horrible black-face joke (just as cringeworthy) and I have no idea about George, except he might have dated his maid.

For a groundbreaking show, Seinfeld leaned on every racial and gender stereotype imaginable. The penultimate episode set during the Puerto Rican day Parade was taken out of syndication for justifiably being offensive but it just leans on a fact that almost all of the people the gang of four associated with were white and Jewish. All the minorities in Manhattan either worked in menial jobs or were emigrants or domestics.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, this was not a crime that Seinfeld or even Must-See TV itself alone were guilty of. In the era of 90s network sitcoms, there were white comedies and African American comedies and never the twain would meet. A Different World and Friends may have taken place in New York, but it was Mad About You we saw Lisa Kudrow in . This was, in a sense, true of the few comedy series that were run by African-Americans: Living Single never interacted with white New York. I honestly think the first comedy series set in New York that had something resembling integration was ABC’s Spin City.

But there’s a darker message in Seinfeld’s New York. Only white people can get away with the horrible behavior. Remember the episode where George gets into a screaming match with someone over who deserves a parking spot and when the cops show up they start taking sides? If the other person had been any kind of minority, that argument would ended with at best the minority being ordered to move. Anyone who lives in America that isn’t Seinfeld knows that the inevitably worst contest.

If you’re a defender of the show, I suppose you could argue there was subtext here, but again I don’t think Seinfeld was ever that deep. All of this was about realizing situations that were unpleasant in the context of making laugh lines. If you’re fine with laughing about unpleasant behavior — and God knows even the funniest of Peak TV has been about laughing at nasty people doing nasty things — then I can see why you might enjoy it. But you could make an argument that the New York that Seinfeld is set in is the same way that Donald Trump was rising to national prominence as well. I kind of think that everyone else in Jerry’s New York would be just fine with everything he does then and now. He was, after all, one of their own.

Some might think I’m going a bridge too far. I would remind them that George’s longest job was working for the Yankees under George Steinbrenner. And anyone who knows anything about Steinbrenner knows that for the greater part of his ownership of the Yankees, he was everything Trump was and more. Some of his former players openly said that Steinbrenner and 45 had a lot in common. Steinbrenner has undergone a lot of humanization for his second half of ownership of the Yankees — and Seinfeld helped do a lot to do so. But he was an ogre, a bully and control freak who was willing to feud with the press, hated his players and got rid of any manager or general manager who he didn’t like. When George delivered his famous diatribe to Steinbrenner that got him hired for the Yankees, he was saying what the entire city of New York thought of him at the time. (‘The Opposite’ by the way is the only episode in all of Seinfeld that I ever laughed at or enjoyed.) That Steinbrenner hired him was basically the kind of joke that only a New Yorker could appreciate. Had the show lasted a few years longer, I imagine Kramer being able to be hired by The Apprentice.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that while several of the actors and writers of Seinfeld were able to win Emmys more than once, Seinfeld itself only won Best Comedy once in its entire nine year run. I truly believe that Frasier, which won five consecutive years, was the smarter, subtler and funnier show. I would make the same argument for the other two shows that won during this period — Murphy Brown and Cheers. All three of these shows dealt with relevant issues, darker moments, involved character growth and were fond of making us laugh with the characters as much as at them. Whereas Seinfeld at the end of the day dealt with nothing. I don’t think this is the case of the Emmys being willfully blind to great television or recognizing a formula over something groundbreaking. Compared not only to them, but so many of the other comedy series that were nominated and won Emmys over the next two decades, Seinfeld was not particularly ambitious, layered or interested in anything but in itself. If that’s enough for you, well, that’s fine. For me Seinfeld will never be a laughing matter.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.