is a situation comedy which ran from July 5, 1989 to May 14, 1998. One of the most popular and influential TV programs of the 1990s, it epitomizes the self-obsessed and ironic culture of the decade. In 2002, TV Guide ranked Seinfeld as the greatest TV show of all time. The show was created byLarry DavidandJerry Seinfeld.
It stars Jerry Seinfeld playingJerry Seinfeld, a character based largely on himself, and is set predominantly in an apartment block in Manhattans Upper West Side (seeGeography of Seinfeld). It features an eclectic cast of characters, mainly Jerrys friends and acquaintances such asElaine BenesJulia Louis-Dreyfus),George CostanzaJason Alexander) andCosmo KramerMichael Richards). It was produced byCastle Rock Entertainment(then helmed by actor-producer Rob Reiner) and distributed by Columbia Pictures Television (now Sony Pictures Television).
The show has been famously described as the show about nothing (a self-referential phrase from an episode describing Jerry and Georges attempt to create a sitcom idea), as most of the comedy was based around the largely inconsequential minutiae of every-day life, and often involved petty rivalries and elaborate schemes to gain the smallest advantage over other individuals. Seinfeld himself notes that his original premise and the purpose for the standup excerpts that bookended each show was that the show would be about how a comedian gathers material for his act. The characters have also been described as utterly selfish and amoral; the show stood out by depicting these traits in a comedic fashion. However, it should be noted that a common motif concerns characters attempts to do nice things for people, only to have them backfire exponentially. In contrast to many other sitcoms, the allowing of scenes to lapse into sentimentality was generally avoided, and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry Davids dictum of no hugging, no learning gave the show its distinctively cold and cynical tone. However, themes of illogical social graces and customs, neurotic and obsessive behavior, and the mysterious workings of relationships ran in numerous episodes, making it possible to categorize the show as a comedy of manners. The shows creators made a conscious effort to reflect the activities of real people, rather than the idealized escapist characters often seen on television, although many of the shows plots involve intricate, and often cyclical strings of events that converge in the end to form a grand irony.
Previous shows on television were almost always family or co-worker driven, butSeinfeldholds itself up as being a then-rare example of a sitcom wherein none of the characters were related by blood or employed in the same building or business. In fact, many characters were not employed at all. According to Bruce Fretts 1993The Entertainment Weekly Seinfeld Companion,Seinfelds audience was, TV-literate, demographically desirable urbanites, for the most part-who look forward to each weekly episode in the Life of Jerry with a baby-boomer generations self-involved eagerness. Likewise, in episodes adhering to the original concept, the show featured clips of Seinfeld himself delivering a standup routine at the beginning and end of each episode, the theme of which relates to the events depicted in the plot. By this device the distinction between the actor Jerry Seinfeld and the character who is portrayed by him is deliberately blurred. In later seasons, these standup clips became less frequent. All of the main characters were modeled after Seinfelds or Larry Davids real-life acquaintances. In fact, many of the plot devices are based on real-life counterparts – such as theSoup Nazi(based on Al Yeganeh) andJ. Petermanof theJ. Peterman Catalog.
Another violation of the fiction convention of isolating characters from the actors playing them, and separating the characters world from the actors and audiences world, was a story arc that concerned the characters roles in promoting a television sitcom series namedJerry.Jerrywas much likeSeinfeldin that Seinfeld played himself, and that the show was about nothing.Jerrywas launched in the 1993 season finale ofSeinfeld, in an episode titled The Pilot. This story arc, along with other examples of self-reference, have led many critics to point out the postmodern nature of the show. According to Katherine Gantz, this entanglement of character and actor relationships seems to be a part of the shows complex appeal. Whereas situation comedies often dilute their cast, adding and removing characters in search of new plot possibilities,Seinfeldinstead interiorizes; the narrative creates new configurations of the same limited cast to keep the viewer and the characters intimately linked. In fact, it is precisely this concentration on the nuclear set of four personalities that creates theSeinfeldcommunity.
Another attribute that makesSeinfeldexceptional is that in almost every episode, several story threads are presented at the beginning, generally involving the various characters in separate and unrelated situations, which then converge and are interwoven towards the end of the episode in an ironic fashion. Due to the densely-plotted construction of the storylines, attempts to summarize the action in a given script are generally more verbose than one would expect for a sitcom. Despite any separate plot strands, the narratives show consistent efforts to maintain [the] intimacy between the small cast of characters. Much ofSeinfelds plot and humor hinge on outside personalities threateningand ultimately failingto invade the foursome, … especially where Jerry and George are concerned. (Gantz 2000)
Gantz maintains that another factor in, or further proof of, spectators and characters participation in aSeinfeldcommunity is the large amount of in-slang, a lexicon of Seinfeldian code words and recurring phrases that go unnoticed by the infrequent or unknowing viewer. These includeBubble BoyMaster of My DomainShrinkageMulvaCrazy Joe DavolaMan HandsYada Yada Yada, Dr. Van Nostrand,Spongeworthy, and Art Vandelay (which is a menu option at Moes Southwest Grill).
The show premiered asThe Seinfeld Chronicleson Thursday, May 31, 1990 onNBC. Seinfeld was not an immediate success. After the pilot was shown, on July 5, 1989, a pickup by NBC did not seem likely and the show was actually offered to Fox, which declined to pick up the show. It was only thanks to Rick Ludwin, head of late night and special events for NBC, for diverting money from his budget, that the next four episodes were filmed. After nine years on the air and 180 episodes filmed, theseries finaleofSeinfeldaired on Thursday, May 14, 1998. It was watched by a huge audience, estimated at 76 million viewers. Jerry Seinfeld holds both the record for the most money refused according to the Guinness Book of World Records by refusing an offer to continue the show for 5 million dollars per episode, and another record for the Highest Ever Annual Earnings For A TV Actor, while the show itself held the record for the Highest Television Advertising Rates through 2004, when the final episode ofFriendsaired.
In 2004 a deal was negotiated to makeSeinfeldavailable on DVD for the first time. Due to legal problems with the cast involving episode commentary and other DVD extras, the release was pushed back. The first 3 seasons were released November 23, 2004, and season 4 was released on May 17, 2005. Season 5 and season 6 were released on November 22, 2005.
Jerome (Jerry) Seinfeld(played byJerry Seinfeld)Astand up comedianwho seeks out relationships with very attractive women which rarely last more than one episode. He usually notices some very minor defect they have and makes a big deal about it, causing his relationships to end in very embarrassing ways. He is always making observations about everything and mocking people. Of the main characters, he seems to be the most sensible, in that he usually just sarcastically comments on the strange things the others do, instead of participating. On occasion he will reluctantly help his friends, but he seems to take the most pleasure in seeing them fail. However, he does put up with a lot from his friends, particularly Kramers constant mooching. Among other things, he is obsessed with cleanliness, cereal, andSuperman(there were visual, conversational, and thematic references to Superman throughout the series). His constant need to dissect tiny events in his life begins to wear the other characters thin in later episodes, especially Elaine. Jerry is the only character to appear inevery episodeof the show.
George Louis Costanza(played byJason Alexander)A short, stocky, slow-witted, bald man (as described by Elaine), the neurotic George is a self-loathing, congenital liar domineered by his parents,FrankandEstelle. He has held many jobs, including that of a real estate agent and assistant to the traveling secretary for theNew York Yankees. He also worked briefly at a sporting equipment company called Play Now and at Kruger Industrial Smoothing (and very briefly at Pendant Publishing) in addition to nearly acquiring a job as a bra salesman for Sid Farkus, a friend of his fathers. George was also a hand model for less than one episode.
His relationships with women were always unsuccessful, although ironically, his most disastrous relationship, an engagement toSusan Ross(played byHeidi Swedberg) was one of the few that ended well for George. (He feared marriage and the death of Susan bailed him out, although her parents continued to torment him after her demise.) His talents include lying, the video gameFrogger, parallel parking, finding good deals, knowing whether someones uncomfortable at a party, and the ability to recall the best public restroom near a given location in Manhattan.
The character of George was based on a combination of the shows co-creator, comedian Larry David, and Jerrys real-life childhood friend Michael Costanza. Episode plots would frequently feature George manufacturing elaborate deceptions at work or in his relationships, in order to gain or maintain some petty advantage. These schemes would invariably backfire. Most of Georges reprehensible actions are the result of his taking the advice of others too seriously. For example, Jerry once jokingly suggested that he should only do the opposite of what his instinct tells him, as instinct has led only to misfortune. This comment led George to try and center his whole life around the principle. His disastrous engagement to Susan also began with a remark made by Jerry. Thus it can be argued that George is not really a bad person but just easily swayed by others. Many of Georges predicaments were based on those that Larry David had found himself in at one point or another in his own life.
Elaine Marie Benes(played byJulia Louis-Dreyfus)Like Jerry, much of Elaines life revolves around trying to arrange relationships with attractive individuals, although some of hers last longer than Jerrys. Her most memorable is her on-again, off-again relationship withDavid Puddy(played byPatrick Warburton). She has also held jobs for Pendant Publishing, TheJ. Peterman Catalog, and as a personal assistant to the wealthy Mr.Justin Pitt. Elaine was a composite of many female acquaintances of the writers, the two most prominent being writer Carol Leifer, Seinfelds real-life ex-girlfriend, and the other being Monica Yates, Larry Davids ex-girlfriend. In the show Elaine and Jerry dated, and broke up, timeline-wise, just before the first episode, remaining friends over the course of the show. The couple rekindled their romance inThe Dealand slept together inThe Mango(in order to save their friendship, which was deteriorating due to the revelation that Elaine faked her orgasms while they dated), but the relationship reverted to platonic in both instances without any significant explanation.
Elaine went to Tufts University (her safety school) and usually works as a writer-editor. Elaine is most often a victim of circumstance, usually coming into conflict with inadequate boyfriends or the arbitrary demands of her eccentric employers. She is usually fairly apathetic to the problems of others, unless of course they affect her directly. She can be surprisingly ruthless, and seems to be inwardly bitter about the state her life is in. (In one episode, in a discussion about what she wanted to be when she grew up, Elaine says she doesnt remember, but it wasnt this. She also occasionally remarks that she needs to find new friends, and even tried to fit in with Bizarro Jerry, George and Kramer before they rejected her inThe Bizarro Jerry.) She is also known for her unusual spastic dancing style.
Cosmo Kramer(played byMichael Richards)Tall, wild-haired, and almost always wearing pants too short for him, Kramer is the most eccentric Seinfeld character. He is perhaps most famous for his entrance, opening the door to Jerrys apartment and sliding into the room. Until the 6th season, his first name was unknown. Once his full name was revealed inThe Switchby his mother,Babs Kramer, most minor characters began calling him Cosmo, but the main group continued calling him Kramer. In the pilot, he is actually referred to as Kessler by Jerry, since the writers were worried about upsetting the real-life Kramer.
Kramer is perpetually unemployed after going on strike from a bagel shop that he worked at before the show began. In The Strike (episode 166,season 9), Kramer briefly goes back to work at the shop after 12 years of striking only to go back on strike a few days later. Throughout the series, he frequently pursues hare-brained money-making schemes, nearly all of them his own invention. Despite the failure of the majority of these schemes and his unwillingness to even apply for a normal job, he always seems to have money when he needs it; this running joke was never explained.
One of the most popular characters on the show, Kramer is often described as the action character that draws audiences with his wild and unusual antics displaying Michael Richards skillful physical comedy. In one show, Kramer is called a hipster doofus. He is based on Larry Davids neighbor,Kenny Kramer, whose real-life Seinfeld Reality Tour was actually spoofed in one episode as the Cosmos J. Peterman Reality Tour. In contrast to the other characters, his eccentricities lead him to be almost always painfully honest. He is friends with Newman, as well as a wide variety of (mostly off-screen) acquaintances and shady partners, includingLomezandBob Sacamano.
Newman(played byWayne Knight) Jerry and Kramers neighbor; a portly, vengeful and spasmodic U.S. postal carrier. Newman is Jerrys archenemy, and at the same time Kramers friend. In his first (offscreen) appearance, (The Revenge, Season 2, Episode 12), Newman was voiced by Larry David. Wayne Knight later re-dubbed the voice in The Revenge for syndication. Newman and Jerry often use a specific routine of greeting each other when they meet, Newman saying Hello, Jerry, and Seinfeld replying Hello, Newman, both speaking in a venomous tone of mutual disgust. He never misses a chance to get Jerry into trouble. Nevertheless, he never seems to mind hanging around in Jerrys apartment from time to time as if they were friends. Occasionally, a story places him in the role of a fifth member of the group, though usually he is an antagonist. Like many of the Seinfeldian characters, Newman is a paradigm of contradiction. On the one hand he is slovenly (realizes he is sitting on a fork in his apartment), lazy (doesnt deliver mail when it rains, despite the famed saying, Neither snow, nor rain, nor sleet, misquoted by George in the show as neither rain…), and completely selfish. However, he displays a surprising sensitivity, as in his infatuation with Elaine and his poetry for Kramer in the bookstore, as well as intelligence, such as when he decides in a Solomon-esque way to assign the rightful owner of the bicycle.
Estelle Costanza(played byEstelle Harris) Georges nagging and often obnoxious mother
Frank Costanza(played byJerry Stiller) Georges hot-tempered, eccentric father
Susan Ross(played byHeidi Swedberg) Georges ex-fiance whodies from licking toxic envelopes, mailing her wedding invitations
Helen Seinfeld(played byLiz Sheridan) Jerrys quintessentially Jewish mother
Morty Seinfeld(played byPhil Brunsand later byBarney Martin) Jerrys father; a retired raincoat salesman
Jacopo Peterman(played byJohn OHurley) Elaines eccentric and loquacious boss
Mr. Steinbrenner(played by Lee Bear, voiced byLarry David) George Costanzas boss while working for theYankees– a satire of real-life Yankees owner George Steinbrenner
Uncle Leo(played byLen Lesser) Jerrys unavoidable and annoying uncle
David Puddy(played byPatrick Warburton) Elaines on-again/off-again boyfriend
Mr. Wilhelm(played by Richard Herd) Georges superior at theNew York Yankees
Mr. Lippman(played byRichard Fancy) Elaines boss at Pendant Publishing; later owner of Top Of the Muffin To You!
Mr. (Justin) Pitt(played byIan Abercrombie) an eccentric millionaire who hired Elaine as his personal assistant
Jackie Chiles(played byPhil Morris) Kramers lawyer and parody of Johnnie Cochran
Kenny Bania(played bySteve Hytner) a stand-up comedy hack, and one of Jerrys nemeses
Crazy Joe Davola(played byPeter Crombie) a lunatic who stalks Elaine, George, Jerry and Kramer. At one point he tries to attack Jerry while yelling Sic Semper Tyrannis!
Sue Ellen Mischke(played byBrenda Strong) – Elaines rival, she is often referred to as The Braless Wonder. She is also the heiress to the Oh Henry! candy bar fortune.
Sally Weaver(played byKathy Griffin) – In The Doll Susans old roommate from college, Sally Weaver, gives Jerry a package that she wants him to be careful with. In The Cartoon Sally opens her stand-up one-woman show,
Bob Sacamano- Kramers oft-referenced but never-appearing friend, who often is the source of bizarre anecdotal advice.
Mr. Kruger(played by Daniel von Bargen) – Georges boss at Kruger Industrial Smoothing.
One of the most controversialSeinfeldepisodes,The Contest, centers around a pact of self-denial between Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine. The four place a bet (with Elaine contributing a higher stake) on who can go the longest without masturbating. In the show, however, they were able to convey the meaning without actually using the word masturbation. Kramers early exit from the bet has become a classic moment inSeinfeldhistory, with his simple Im out! as he slams his cash on the counter. This episode also featuresJane Leeves(ofFrasierfame) asThe Virgin, Jerrys girlfriend at the time.
Other classic moments include: Jerrys rant about the woman across the street, who struts around naked in her apartment, compromising his ability to remain Master of His Domain (and the same woman responsible for Kramers early departure); Elaines fascination withJohn F. Kennedy, Jr.; Georges subtle introduction of the subject matter with the phrase, My mother caught me; and the ease with which the characters can sleep at night, depending on their current standing in the contest. It was revealed inThe Puffy Shirtthat George was the winner of The Contest, although in The Finale four years later, George admitted that he had cheated and that Jerry was the true master of his domain.
In a 2001 episode ofCurb Your Enthusiasm, during an argument between Larry David and Jason Alexander, it is mentioned that David participated in a contest exactly like this one, after Jason comments that that sort of thing would never happen. On the second DVD of the Season 4Seinfeldcollection,Kenny Kramerstates that David did participate in such a contest and complained to him at the time about how difficult it was. On the third week, according to Kenny Kramer, David was the victor.
In the episodeThe Bubble Boy, George claims The Moops is the answer to the Trivial Pursuit question, Who invaded Spain in the 8th century? The Bubble Boy contested the answer, claiming it was the Moors (which is correct). George, with his stubborn nature, in reaction to the belligerent arrogance of the Bubble Boy, and out of spite, refused to accept the response in favor of the (presumably misprinted) answer given by the card. This incident is based on an actual error spotted by one of the writers while playing the home edition ofJeopardy!.
Jerry accompanies Elaine on a hospital visit to a seriously ill (something with his spleen) ex-boyfriend and artist, Roy (Sherman Howard), whom she broke up with because he was fat. Kramer tags along to steal latex gloves, and is invited by the surgeon to view the surgery. When his date cannot make it to the surgery, Kramer asks Jerry to join him. During the surgery, Kramer persistently offers Jerry a Junior Mint which he tries to paw away; instead, it flies over the viewing mezzanine, and falls into Roys open abdominal cavity. The doctor notices something, but cannot figure out what, and closes the cavity. Roys condition turns critical, and George decides to buy some of his triangle art thinking that if the artist dies, he could make a profit if the value of the art increases. However, Roys condition significantly improves, something Roy credits to the fact that George bought his art. The doctor credits the upturn to something beyond science, something,from above.
In the same episode as the Junior Mint, Jerry is dating an attractive woman whose name he cannot remember, though she told him her name rhymes with a part of the female anatomy. He spends the episode avoiding the use of her name, and trying to find ways to ascertain it, including digging in her purse and having his friends stop by, hoping she will introduce herself. Jerry and George try to guess the name, with choices of Bovary, Mulva, Loreola, Hest and Gipple. She finally realizes Jerry doesnt know her name, and breaks up with him, leaving his apartment in a huff. Jerry then suddenly remembers her name, and calls out to her from his window, Dolores! According to an interview with Castle Rock executive Glenn Padnick that is included on the Seinfeld Season Four DVD, the script originally called for Jerry to call out the name Cloris. However, between scenes during the taping of the episode, the audience was asked what they thought the womans name was, and an audience member answered with Dolores. Padnick decided that this name was better than what the script had and went down to the stage and had the scene taped with the audience members guess. The mystery woman was played bySusan Walters.
From the episodeThe Fusilli Jerry. The Move refers to a complex sexual technique invented by Jerry that he shares with George with the promise that if George can master it hell never be alone again. Elaines on/off boyfriend, Puddy, uses it on Elaine, leading Elaine to chastise Jerry for sharing intimate secrets with Puddy, a hallmark of male-bonding. The entire technique of The Move is never shared with the audience, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps themselves. George attempts to use it on his own girlfriend at the time, but she catches him with crib notes detailing the maneuvers written on his hand.
Larry Thomas as Yev Kassem, better known asthe Soup Nazi
In this episode, Jerry introduces George and Elaine to a soup restaurant run by a draconian owner, whom the customers have nicknamedthe Soup Nazi(it is revealed in the last episode that the Soup Nazis name is actually Yev Kassem). The restaurant is based on Soup Kitchen International in New York City. The owner enforces strict rules about ordering: State your order, then move quickly down the line with your money ready. Jerry coaches Elaine on the rules, but she disregards them, wasting the Soup Nazis time and infuriating him. He kicks her out, yelling, No soup for you!, which would become a catch phrase. The episode also includes a plot about an armoire that Elaine buys and then leaves on the street, asking Kramer to watch it. It is stolen right in front of him by a pair of effeminate, antique-loving men, who Kramer later refers to as street toughs. Later, Elaine finds the Soup Nazis recipes and distributes them widely in an act of vengeance, ruining his rry Thomasreceived an Emmy nomination for his role as the Soup Nazi.
In the episodeThe Little KicksElaine performs her notorious Full Body Dry Heave dance in front of co-workers at a J. Peterman party. George (and later Jerry) exclaim Sweet fancy Moses! in reference to Elaines dancing skill. Throughout the episode she is mercilessly mocked behind her back by co-workers; at first she believes George has caused her troubles, but later learns her dancing is at fault. The dance involves her hands in thumbs up mode and little kick-ups with her feet. She is eventually informed by Jerry through an unfortunate illegal video pirating incident.
From the Season Nineepisode of the same title, it is a relaxation technique used by Georges father, especially when arguing with Mrs. Costanza. It turns out to be quiteineffective, according to Georges nemesis, Lloyd Braun, who spent time in a mental institution because he suppressed his own anger for years (serenity now, insanity later). Kramer tries using the technique but explodes anyway, destroying 25 computers that George had been storing in Kramers apartment. Then Georges father uses Hoochie mama while Mrs. Costanza tries to put her car into the garage.
My boys can swim! – George/Kramer,The Fix-Up
Maybe the dingo ate your baby! – Elaine,The Stranded
These pretzels are making me thirsty! – Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer;The Alternate Side
Not that theres anything wrong with that! – Jerry, George, Kramer, Helen Seinfeld, Estelle Costanza;The Outing
. – Jerry & Mrs. Seinfeld; several episodes, starting withThe Suicide
Barring some unforseen incident… – several characters, starting in Season 5
Yada, yada, yada. – Jerry, George, Elaine;The Yada Yada
No soup for you! – The Soup Nazi;The Soup Nazi
The jerk store called, and theyre running out of you! – George,The Comeback
I proclaim this, the Summer of George! – George,The Summer of George
I dont wanna be a pirate! – Jerry,The Puffy Shirtalso rephrased in following episodes
Seinfeldran for nine seasons, one of the longest and most succesful runs for a sitcom in television history. While it never strayed from its basic premise of following four observant but neurotic New York City singles, and had plenty of devoted fans right up through the end, it was also widely criticized for losing its inspiration over time. As with any long-running series, the question of if and when the show jumped the shark is fiercely debated, with many differing opinions held.
In seasons 1 and 2, the show moved relatively slowly with more of an emphasis on real-life situations. Standout episodes included The Deal, in which Jerry and Elaine try to add casual sex to their friendship, and The Chinese Restaurant, which documented Jerry, Elaine and George waiting over twenty minutes to be seated for dinner. With its focus squarely on dialogue and everyday troubles, the show developed a cult following and glowing write-ups in the press. At the same time, viewership was fairly low and these episodes can seem lathargic to many viewers better acquainted with the later seasons.
Seasons 3-5 are generally considered to beSeinfelds Golden Era, where it was lauded by critics for being intelligent and consistently funny. It was also becoming increasingly popular with viewers, and became known as a watercooler show, in that the previous nights episode would commonly be talked-about around the workplace the next day (usually at the watercooler, between tasks.) Many of the series most famous episodes, such as The Parking Garage, The Boyfriend, The Contest, The Outing and The Puffy Shirt, hail from this period, and catch-phrases like are you master of your domain? and …not that theres anything wrong with that (from two aforementioned episodes) became pop culture staples. In the middle of its fourth season, NBC placed the show on Thursday nights at 9:30 pm, followingCheers. The following year,Seinfeldreplaced the departedCheersat 9:00, where it became the anchor of NBCs Must See TV lineup.
During season 6, the show received some criticism for being slightly wackier and faster-paced, relying heavily on incredible misunderstandings for its plot-twists, alaThrees Company; this coincided with a change in directors (Andy AckermanreplacingTom Cherones) and what Jerry Seinfeld admitted was a slight creative drought – he told TV Guide that he and his writers were crawling by the seasons end. The series still remained generally well-regarded, producing infamous episodes such as The Fusilli Jerry and The Jimmy. Despite its continued success, the cast and crew publicly stated that the next season would be the series last, a proclamation that would not come to pass.
At the beginning of season 7, there was a critical buzz thatSeinfeldwas returning to full form. This followed a drastic change in the writing staff, as well as the introduction of a story arc involving George Costanzas engagement. It also relaxed its pace a bit, and re-introduced the character of Susan Ross (one of the NBC executives from the pilot thread in season 4) as Georges fiance. Now-classic episodes such as The Soup Nazi, The Sponge and The Rye followed, and it was decided that the series would continue indefinitely. As the seventh season came to a close,TV Guidedevoted a front page cover asking, Is Seinfeld the best comedy ever? They answered the question in 2002 by namingSeinfeldthe 1 TV show of all tim