As many look forward at the start of the year, Celluloid Cinema is going to reverse the trend and look back at a show that is still incredibly relatable even though it has not had a new episode in over 17 years. Of course the show in discussion this week is Seinfeld. The hold that Seinfeld has been able to have over audiences for so long is really unseen in television and begs the question as to why the show is so appealing this long after its finale? Like I have said time and time again the key to making a good film or television show lies in having quality writing. While the concept of what quality writing is is very broad, for the sake of this article lets just discuss in terms of character creation by examining how the lead characters of the show help explore radical themes while the supporting characters provide constant engagement for the audience.
When Seinfeld first came out in 1989, television, as well as film was in somewhat of a lackluster state. Since the eighties were such a prosperous time for America, good family values were important to many causing a shortage of films and shows that went against the grain of what was deemed acceptable to make. As a result, Seinfeld came as a shock to the average viewer as they were not accustomed to seeing unethical topics explored in such an ornate format as a network show. After the initial two seasons, the show began to gain momentum across the country as audiences found out Seinfeld was the place to explore the ideas we were all thinking but never had he guts to do. No matter how outlandish the antics of our four main characters, Jerry, Kramer, George, and Elaine seemed, they all at times expressed traits that we wish we possessed or the courage to show. Arguably, the blandest of the big four, Jerry, was the vehicle used to explore and teach the audience why our social “rules” were so outlandish. Whether it was through his standup segments that bookended the episodes or throughout the course of the episode itself, Jerry remained as the one that was there to nitpick and really question if the rules of society were set in stone. In contrast to the blandness of Jerry, we have his widely eccentric neighbor, Mr. Cosmo Kramer. To describe Kramer in a single sentence is quite a feat to accomplish, so the best I could really say is that Kramer is like nothing that we have ever seen before. If Jerry spends his life questioning the rules of society, Kramer spends his as if he did not know the game of life even existed. Kramer wanders through his life doing whatever he pleases without questioning whether or not he is doing what is considered normal. The reason in which audiences are so drawn to Kramer is because he exercises a level of freedom that we all have, but are afraid to explore. While most of us concern ourselves with asking if we should do something, Kramer does not give a second thought as to if he should swim in the Hudson river to relive back pain or transform his apartment into The Merv Griffin Show. While the characters of Jerry and Kramer both spark audience engagement by exploring the fabric of society they do not rival in comparison to the other half of the big four.
George Costanza and Elaine Benes are not only the best friend of Jerry for their respective sex, but also are some of the greatest characters to appear in television. At face value George seems as if he is the one that is most confused by how society wants one to act yet, it is his great understanding of society which allows him to find the loopholes within society that ultimately are responsible for putting him in the predicaments he gets in. For one to understand the motivations behind George Costanza, one must understand that his primary goal, no matter which party is involved in the situation, is for him to somehow better his own life. Because of the want to better his life, George throws morals out the window and plays with the conventions of society. Ultimately, these manipulations never work out for George causing himself to get pushed into a corner causing his life to be in a worse place than when the episode started. However, that will not stop George from leaving his car parked at work overnight to make his bosses think he is always working or from gifting coworkers donations in their honor to a fake charity. Whereas George Costanza may represent the devolution of man, Elaine Benes brought to television the evolution of woman. While the idea of the woman being the homemaker was not as prominent in the nineties as it once was, there still remained a stigma in depicting a female character in the same state as a male character. While the female character was contained on screen to upholding traditional values, Elaine charted new ground for female characters by showing that an average American female is not restricted to family life and deals with the same social issues as males. Unlike many of the women characters on television at the time, Elaine did not cower to the male counterparts on screen, and in fact more often than not was the first one to spat off her disregard of others when they displeased her. In a time when people were concerned about appearing agreeable, Elaine’s character not only showed America that it was acceptable to rebel against New Yorker Cartoons or deaf people but that woman on television can show agency.
At this point, it is clear Seinfeld’s main characters were exceptional but, in order to truly understand the grasp of Seinfeld, the supporting characters also must be acknowledged. The problem with most scripted television is that the writers run out of stories to tell about the main characters causing them to make up outlandish or worse unentertaining scenarios that garner ill feelings from the audience. Sadly, these are issues that all shows eventually face, unless they end at the right time, which Seinfeld did. However, before Seinfeld ended it was able to last nine whole seasons without a decline in quality by extending its number of available stories through crafting minor characters to compliment the antics of the big four. While audiences were initially shocked by the actions of the main characters that they saw, every week as the show developed they slowly became more tamed compared to the rest of the characters that were introduced. From a lazy mailman that never seemed to do any work, to a dentist that switched to Judaism for the jokes (read more about the actor that played him HERE) this seemingly infinite cast of intriguing individuals presented audiences with reasons to connect with the show even more. By having such a wide range of characters to explore that the audience was always engaged in watching, the writers never had a week in which they did not have a fresh story to tell allowing for every episode to remain such high quality.
The writing of Seinfeld is something that I could discuss for hours and enjoy watching for an eternity but I think its time to wrap up this week’s article. The reason in which Seinfeld was able to create such a prominent viewership and remain relevant today really falls back on the show’s characters. While the four main characters were responsible for allowing the audience to originally connect with the taboo themes of the show, the supporting characters allowed the writers to never run out of stories to tell. If you ever want to craft a show that still is syndicated 17 years after it’s finale just create a world full of rich characters and your stories will write themselves.
For this week’s poll below Celluloid Cinema would like to hear whom our viewers favorite of the main four characters in Seinfeld are, so please vote below!