TV

What if 'Seinfeld' Aired Today?

In 25 years, our star-crossed text messages and Instagram issues will seem as quaint as Jerry and George's answering machine and parking garage shenanigans.

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Dori Rosenthal/Wikimedia

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Seinfeld. Popular wisdom holds that Seinfeld was "a show about nothing." And of course this isn't exactly true—the show was about relationships, social niceties, narcissism, and modernity. More specifically, it was a show about the conflation of these things.

Unlike the characters on Friends—our other 1990s über-sitcomthe Seinfeldian gang wasn't so much a makeshift urban family as a group of people who found each other's company varying degrees of advantageous and esteem-boosting. These were not good people, to put it mildly. "Seinfeld was defiantly not lovable," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in New York, describing the world they inhabited as "a kind of open-air prison of social ritual". 

But Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine dissected, in minute and unflinching detail, all the quirks and agitations of daily life that generally went unremarked upon. They pointed out the absurdity of situations we'd all found mildly flabbergasting. They said the things we all wished we could (or someone would, at any rate) say, before the Internet came along to satisfy these sort of wish-fulfillment needs. 

In reruns, Seinfeld works best when its central conundrums hinge more on interpersonal dynamics than technology. I now find it delightful how many issues could apparently arise from answering machines. At the time, though, these types of things were surely novel dilemmas. Which is why, right now, the best tweets from the "Modern Seinfeld" Twitter account are the ones about technology ("Kramer creates an app that gives you ideas for other apps").

Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) isn't affiliated with Jerry Seinfeld or NBC (and Larry David apparently isn't a fan). It's a parody account, based on the simple premise: "What if Seinfeld were still on the air?" The account—launched in 2012—is run by comedian, playwright, and TV writer Jack Moore, who currently writes for a new ABC show called Manhattan Love Story and was an editor for Buzzfeed, and Josh Gondelman, a web producer for John Oliver's Last Week Tonight and writer for New York magazine. The @SeinfeldToday tweets that seem the most spot on and clever to me are probably the ones that best typify the answering machine phenomenon—in 15 to 25 years, our star-crossed text messages and Instagram issues will seem quaint, it not completely unrecognizable: 

Jerry gets paranoid about his girlfriend's past when her iPhone automatically connects to the wi-fi at Newman's apartment.

— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) June 3, 2014

Elaine's BF notices she has no Instagrams with black people. She awkwardly tries to take pics w/ black co-workers to prove she's not racist.

— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) April 28, 2014

Jerry's GF always smokes an e-cig in bed. GF:"But it's vapor." J:"You say that like vapor's something I want. I don't want vapor! No vapor!"

— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) April 16, 2014

Jerry's girlfriend won't stop saying that she "literally can't." "What?! Can't what?! Finish your sentence!"

— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) March 18, 2014

George swipes right for every woman on Tinder. E:"What if you're not attracted to her?" G:"If she's attracted to me, I might be!"

— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) December 21, 2013

Jerry's Twitter's hacked. People like "Hacked Jerry" better. George tries to get trampled on Black Friday so he can sue. Everyone is polite.

— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) November 30, 2013

Kramer and Newman search Brooklyn for a McDonald's rumored to carry the McRib year-round. A Twitter troll slowly drives Jerry crazy.

— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) April 25, 2013

A Twitter troll slowly drives Jerry crazy… There's something immensely sad about this (entirely plausible) plot point. In New York, Seitz mentions how Seinfeld catchphrases today would be made into ample memes and gifs. Seinfeld was—in its time, at least—saved from the gif. Which brings us to a much shorter-lived show that also debuted in 1989, in August: Saved by the Bell.

To younger members of Gen X and older millennials, this is part of the childhood canon. I think we all died a little inside yesterday in the Reason D.C. office when we realized that none of our interns and a few of our youngest staffers had no idea who Jessie Spano was. By a quick show of birth years, we pipointed 1990 as the crack in this generational divide. I shudder to ask them about the Soup Nazi—though I suppose Seinfeld is a show you're more prone to watch in reruns as an adult than Saved by the Bell. (Another show launched in 1989, The Simpsons, is still airing after all these years.)   

Since I'm just digressing at this point, I'll point you to some of Reason's Seinfeld coverage from way back (#TBT!). Here's Charles Oliver in 2000, smacking down the idea that "Homer Simpson and Jerry Seinfeld (are) symbols of a spiritual rot in American popular culture." And here's Nick Gillespie writing about the show in 1995, back when it was still "difficult to think of (TV) as a possessing an aesthetic dimension." If Seinfeld aired today, it's hard to imagine it even making the top 10 or 20 indicators of cultural rot list; but I can see Alyssa Rosennberg writing think pieces about its gender dynamics and Salon's contrarian takes on George's hairline. The biggest differences for a modern Seinfeld probably wouldn't be the technology or types of problems our characters confronted but the cultural conversation around it. 

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  1. sounds like a lot of folks with way too much time for their hands. I’ve always wondered how insanely difficult it would be to put All In The Family on the air today in this era of hypersensitivity.

      1. the ones who feel the need to modernize Seinfeld. It’s okay, Elizabeth; not a shot at you.

        1. just checking. =)

          And I don’t know, they’re comedians & writers for a living so the modern Seinfeld account is good professional publicity for them. They only tweet about once a week or less

          1. What’s the deal with Elizabeth Nolan Brown? She’s harder to figure out than those little packets of airplane peanuts…

            1. I mean, what’s the deal with cancer?

              1. Hey, I *have* cancer!

                1. Tough crowd.

              2. up to I looked at the bank draft that said $5552, I be certain that my mom in-law truley making money parttime at there labtop.. there brothers friend has been doing this 4 only about 17 months and just now paid for the morgage on there mini mansion and got a great Volkswagen Golf GTI. read more at works33.com
                (Go to site and open “Home” for details)

    1. A modern AITF would have Archie being a slavering pro-government Obama-ite, who believes that HIS president can do no wrong. Mike and Gloria would have to be libertarian conservatives.

      1. No, he’d still be a 2-dimensional caricature of whatever a conservative is in the fevered mind of the modern liberal, who has probably never actually met one.

        That’s what brain-dead partisans will never understand: comedy is good, when it makes fun of everyone, not just your political or cultural enemies.

        1. Enter South Park.

      2. OMWC, rehabilitated Archie. He recants and joins the prog ranks.

        1. I believe that was In The Heat Of The Night

    2. I was thinking the exact same thing as I read this.

  2. Wow, a post about nothing

    1. ENB can do it, because she has hand.

      1. And she’s going to need it.

  3. I have tried, but I cannot find it to be watchable. What am I missing?

    1. I don’t know! I hate most sitcoms, this is one of the few I’ve ever liked…

      1. I will admit to watching Friends (hey, all those high school girlfriends made me, I never watched it by myself!) and Saved By the Bell, but I was young and didn’t know any better.

        Also, while Epi slumbers in Seattle, I think It’s Always Sunny is stupid too.

        1. Bite your tongue! Always Sunny is the best sitcom ever created.

          1. The Andy Griffith Show is the best.

          2. Always Sunny is this generation’s Seinfeld.

            1. Little too edgy. More like this generation’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

              1. Wait, isn’t Curb Your Enthusiasm still this generation’s Curb Your Enthusiasm???

                /not handling my 30s with grace

            2. Always Sunny is this generation’s Seinfeld.

              No, unfortunately, it’s this generation’s Taxi.

            3. Starts out funny but eventually degenerates into “if we shout louder, maybe it will be funnier?”

          3. Don’t know about that. American comedies just don’t do unlikeable characters well – DeVito’s talent for it notwithstanding. It just becomes heavy-handed and predictable after a while. See South Park as an example.

    2. What am I missing?

      Good taste?

        1. You do realize that you’re not helping your argument not one bit by posting anything from Seth McFarlane, right? RIGHT?

          I’m just busting your balls. Taste in comedy is subjective, except for McFarlane productions, which are objectively fetid and funny only to people with genetic brain malformations or head traumas.

          1. I knew that was a risky video clip to post.

            1. And now the stench of it hangs on you like George’s mediocrity.

            2. Hey The Jerk Store called…

              1. It’s a smart line, and a smart audience will get it. I’m not gonna dumb it down for some bonehead mass audience!

          2. Early Family Guy was hilarious. Everything else he’s done has been awful.

            1. A jihad on Family Guy.

      1. Aye, this. How can a person hate both Seinfeld and Always Sunny. Does not compute.

        1. Just smile and back slowly away. Don’t turn your back on him.

          1. This. Someone that dead inside is… scary.

            Also, accountant.

            1. Also, accountant.

              It’s true.

              *sobs into hands*

    3. I never understood the appeal either. Then again I can’t think of any sitcoms that I liked.

    4. What I really like about Seinfeld is that it doesn’t try to be anything but a comedy. No one learns anything, the characters don’t really grow or progress in any significant ways and there are no morals to the story. There is a place for some drama and character development in comedy too, but I really appreciate one that just wants to be funny. Too many sitcoms try to introduce serious plot elements, or unnecessary romance or social issues.

      1. This exactly. That’s why the ending was so good too. No big sappy everybody gets married or moves away or gets the big promotion or gets pregnant ending. It’s pure comedy from start to finish.

  4. I’ve always preferred early seasons of Seinfeld (before Larry David left the show). The ones that incorporated Seinfeld’s actual standup routine and threaded them throughout were better written and felt more real.

    Later seasons could still be funny but felt far more contrived.

    1. One of my favorite episodes is the one where George gets the massage from the guy. The interaction between them during the massage is hilarious. Probably couldn’t be made today though.

      1. Also couldn’t/wouldn’t be made today: The Puerto Rican Day Parade.

        1. They won’t air it in syndication if that tells you anything.

          1. That they are a very festive people?

    2. Yeah the storylines were a bit much. But the characters in the later ones were good. Like Puddy.

      1. Feels like an Arby’s night.

    3. Rental Car Reservation…da bomb.

      1. When I was about 13 my parents and I took a trip to Seattle, the hotel we booked lost the reservation, and he recreated that scene line for line.

        1. *He being my dad. Half the lobby was laughing their asses off.

        2. “You know how to take the reservation.”

          “You’re good at that. You just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s the important part of the reservation. The holding.”?

  5. I saw an interview either Larry David or Jerry Sinefeld did with Charlie Rose back when Seinfled was still running. They said it wasn’t designed to be a show about nothing. (That was the tag for the show-within-a-show that they did in the episode where everybody went to LA.) Instead, it was a show about “how a stand-up comic gets his material”.

    That’s the thing that I think makes the early episodes so good. Even if we hadn’t had the words, we all knew what a close talker was, or a low talker or a high talker. Or a re-gifter.

  6. I preferred Frasier and Arrested Development.

    Seinfeld was good but overrated imo.

    1. Maybe it’s a Zeigiest thing, but as much as I liked Frasier when it was on (but prefer Cheers), I don’t watch it in reruns. Arrested Development is twisted genius, but I only catch it occasionally.

      Seinfeld I will watch when I come across it. There’s something about it, the writing the cast, the themes and topics, that separates it from other comedies, especially the dreadful Friends, which had one good season before it peaked.

      It’s also generational. There are a few comedies from the 70’s that still resonate today (Taxi, Barney Miller, All in the Family, The Odd Couple, etc.), but I was a kid in the 70’s, so those things always have greater value than what comes later in your life. I tend to avoid sitcoms like the plague today, barring the exceptional ones, such as Better of Ted.

      1. Never got into Frasier. Frasier was perfect in Cheers.

        Taxi is incredible.

        1. I though they did a competent job with a 1-note character like Frasier Crane, but it took the whole cast to do it.

          I still lust after Lilith.

          1. Yea what is it about Lilith? The dancer’s body, the pale skin, femme fatale…?

      2. It’s also generational.

        I found that after about 40, I could not be bothered to watch a new sit-com anymore. So the last one I watched regularly was probably Arrested Development. The one exception is Big Bang Theory which I catch once in awhile mostly because it’s on so damn much and it’s not as horrible as I expected.

      3. Seinfeld is one of those shows with a certain timelessness I think. Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, All in the Family, Taxi – you can watch those over and over again. It’s in that class. I really like Frasier and have the entire series on my media player, but it’s just not at the same level. I started watching Seinfeld when I was probably… 12 or 13? Seen every episode at least a dozen times. I can still put it on and watch an entire season in a sitting.

  7. Seinfeld needs to be on Netflix, now!

  8. “It’s Always Sunny” seems to be similar in premise, but with much more dislikeable characters.

    1. It’s absurdist, while Seinfeld was mostly unconventional.

    2. My view is that Seinfeld asked questions about social niceties and proprieties.

      Always Sunny asks questions about basic morality.

      So IASIP can get much, much, darker than most shows, but some of us like that.

  9. Second worst series finale in TV.

    1. What’s the worst? Battlestar Galactica?

      1. The M*A*S*H finale sucked, hard. There, I said it.

        1. Meh, the entire series sucked. Unwatchable.

          1. It was pretty damn good TV until they killed off Henry.

          2. Finally. I’m not the only one.

            Man, a couple of my friends were hardcore for M*A*S*H.

            1. Young man, I suggest you get different friends.

            2. MASH was stuff of comedy for my parents, because most of the time they couldn’t find a fluent speaker to portray the “natives”. So lots of time they spoke gibberish.

              It was a terrific show, although they tried to play the Vietnam war themes in a Korean war. Since the Korean war did build half a nation, the incessant “I want to get the hell out of here, and why are we shooting at eash other” anti war sentiments rung a big hollow.

      2. I stopped watching BSG when they decided not to kill all the Cylons. After that it just got stupid.

    2. It was a perfect finale. They were a bunch of self centered assholes who went to jail for being self centered assholes.

      1. This. I never understood how anyone who was a fan of the show could possibly not like the ending.

        Cheers takes the cake for worst sitcom finale in history for me. The Office ties or comes in a close second.

      2. I really disliked the finale. However, it opened the door for a hilarious, spot-on short film about Jerry Seinfeld going to Oz prison (with the actual cast) and the ensuing hijinks. It aired on SNL shortly after the finale–Google it if you haven’t seen it. But it does rely on knowledge of the show Oz to get all the jokes.

      3. It was a good idea, but it wasn’t executed well. Sure, the show Seinfeld became more contrived as time went on, but the finale was just a step too far. You could feel the writers trying to punish the characters instead of it being a natural development of the story.

  10. How are they showing them in widescreen now??? That’s what I want to know. T.J. Hooker I can understand, as that show was so forward thinking that of course Bill Shatner is going to foresee the advent of the flatscreen television and film his series in 16:9 ratio. But how did Seinfeld know back in the 90s?

    1. Elaine told him it was sponge-worthy.

    2. I’m seeing a lot of that with pre-HD shows lately. I finally figured out that they’re stretching the left and right 10% or so to fit the screen. You’ll notice it when the camera pans around and stuff is getting morphed out of shape as it enters and leaves the scene.

      1. Those sneaky sons of bitches.

      2. They also clip a little off the top and bottom. Kinda like widescreen Kubrick movies, since he usually composed his shots for 4:3.

    3. Episodes were shot with 35mm film. Sony remastered the prints in HD for syndicated broadcasts.

  11. Was this article the master of its domain?

  12. It is impossible to watch The Simpsons and not gain a keener appreciation for and resistance to methods of mass marketing and manipulation.

    From the 1995 Gillespie article. Yeah whatever Nick. I have yet to figure out why people take him seriously.

  13. A ton of Seinfeld episodes would have never happened if they had smartphones.

    1. Including the Chinese restaurant episode, which is ironic since it’s one of the best episodes in the series.

    2. As many episodes that would not happen with smartphones would be offset by the number of episodes that smartphones would create.

    3. Just saw the Bubble Boy episode last night, which is one entirely wiped out if smartphones existed.

  14. I think Seinfeld will join the Honeymooners in timeless comedy TV shows. You didn’t have to live in the 50’s to appreciate Ralph Kramden learning to play golf, or Ed Norton sleepwalking. And talk about cultural and technology differences!

    I give Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld credit for two things. One, they were willing to make fun of EVERYTHING, with no boundaries to cultural sensitivity. And two, they created 4 distinct characters who each carried the show at different times. It never hinged on Seinfeld alone.

  15. That absolutely marvelous episode that took place wholly in a Chinese restaurant lobby would have never happened today.

    1. Dammit, I should have scrolled all the way down.

  16. What made Seinfeld’s writing great was not only that each subplot was clever and funny in itself, but that all of them braided or intersected in the end. That’s why George pulling a golf ball from his shirt pocket was one of the best gags ever on TV.

    1. “She told me to go to hell, and I took the bus home”

    2. What made the writing great was the writers.

      Seinfeld and David really hired great writers; I make it a point to look for the writing credit on each show because it is usually a name I recognize from other well-done shows. Several writers from Get A Life eventually wrote Seinfeld episodes, for example.

      1. Chris Peterson: Alright, alright, I’ll call in the ship-to-shore radio for help…

        Chris Peterson: Hello? Hello? Breaker, breaker one-two-three, breaker uh… this is Tightpants anybody got their ears on? Yeah, I need a good buddy to come to my twenty and lend assistance to Tightpants Senior and myself. Copy that? Anybody copy that? Come back. Ten-ten-nine. Ten-ten on your twenty.

        Fred Peterson: Chris, that’s just a plastic toy, nobody can hear you.

        Invisible Finger, me, and Dan the Automator are the only three people that liked Get a Life.

        1. Kramer is just a less retarded version of Chris Peterson.

    3. Yep, called “dovetailing.” Arrested Development was another show that expertly drew all its plot lines together for a crazy ending.

      1. “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, not surprisingly I suppose, also uses dovetailing. And when it works well it’s brilliant.

  17. You’ll excuse me as I wish to go read the latest issue of Glamour Magazine. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

  18. If Seinfeld returned today, it would still be filmed somewhere at Koreatown, because NY would gobble up money from the production companies. The Seinfeld apt is still in K-town, I believe.

    The problem with the show is that it was too white. All the characters were white, and the actor who portrayed Kramer was caught on camera saying he wanted black people to be hung.

    So you see, Seinfeld should never have existed. I don’t know what happened in that Chinese restaurant episode, but I’m sure Kramer said something like “Come on, Jerry, let’s get out of here, these people look too different from you and I.” And Jerry said “I mean, Wwwhhhhy, do you people, not, have apple pie?”

    Were people really into a show about Delis, Derek Jeter in his early years, behind the scenes Steinbrenner, and Bryan Cranston as a sensitive dentist?

  19. going to share it on social media Reverse Phone Detective

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