When “Seinfeld” came out in the early ’90s, it re-wrote the rules on how viewers react to characters. Having rewatched the series with a fresh pair of eyes last year, I saw just how revolutionary this show was. Sure, it had hilarious jokes that people in offices and workplaces all over still quote. But it set a template that other shows have used since in varying forms of success.
Basically, not only was it a show about nothing, but it also was a show which the main characters are horrible people. They are narcissistic, self-involved and care little, if any, of anyone else. They were truly horrible people. Sure, they were funny, but they would be people most would hate if they ever met them in a real life scenario.
And I think the crucial aspect of this design was co-creator Larry David. It was like he used “Seinfeld” as a personal justification for all the crazy things he actually did in real life. The characters, especially early on, all seem like psychological extensions of David’s persona, even Jerry Seinfeld himself on the show. I picked this up after not watching “Seinfeld” since it aired. I am a huge fan of David’s HBO program “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and after watching that, it was clear to me the characters were all somewhat a “Larry David.”
And that angst and anger, cleverly masked with hilarious stories and dialogue, is what made this show stand out. Before this, sitcoms usually had one jerk in the cast. The rest was a family or a group of friends who help each other through conflicts.
Not here. These characters only help one another when there is something to gain. Which usually there was for plot sake. If you think about it, there are no redeeming qualities in Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer.
And I think that is what made the show as popular as it was. Nothing like that had really worked before, but “Seinfeld” came at a time when angst was on the rise, especially among younger viewers. They could relate to ripping on their friends without apology. It came after a decade of “Cheers,” where the characters pretty much all got along and so forth.
I also think, after speaking with people, that there is this weird rivalry between fans of “Seinfeld” and fans of “Friends.” I certainly in the former camps, seeing that I find “Friends” as unwatchable. I see the appeal, but I also see the appeal to modern pop music. It’s there but not very interesting.
What David and Seinfeld laid out was a new model for programs. Get rid of the cute, friendly, safe scenarios and replace it with bizarre, cynical and risky content.
And shows like “It’s Always Sunny,” “The League,” “Arrested Development” and “Community” all took note of this formula. Some have been more successful than others at it, but they stand out a little more than most programs.