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Why Gen Z loves Seinfeld We're sick of sanctimony culture

Seinfeld is faulty.


May 15, 2023   5 mins

Long ago, in another age, young people gathered in sitting rooms to watch television. And these moments of fixed attention, and the TV shows that create them, define generations. A quarter of century ago last weekend — slacking on the sofa, surrounded by Kurt Cobain posters, and suffused with unyielding, cynical disaffection — a generation watched the finale of Seinfeld.

We young people do not do this anymore (television? sitting room?). The sodality of these collective experiences is lost to us, streaming alone in our bedroom-cells. But atomised as we are, generational mood is not completely lost to us. And over the past year, I realised we were all watching Seinfeld. It came around on the Netflix churn in late 2021, arriving like a fresh breeze across the plain of contemporary streaming. Its comic furniture was clearly old — the canned audience laughter, the answerphone messages, those airy flannel shirts tucked into belted jeans. But, in its essential pulse of irony and irreverence, it felt so fresh, so crisp. And, at a time of stultifying, hand-wringing sincerity, something as small as a nasty joke can feel like a punkish, even revolutionary act.

Seinfeld is a faulty sitcom. It doesn’t move properly; it’s missing key parts. It’s “about nothing”, goes the trite assertion. Its triumph is, therefore, one of absence, of refusal. Too incapable to act, Jerry Seinfeld plays himself: stand-up comedian, New Yorker, neat freak and mid-afternoon cereal-eater. But even as a lead he is not the wisecracking protagonist of too many American sitcoms. Instead, he and his apartment often just serve as a planetary centre for his three friends, George, Elaine and Kramer, to orbit. Between them, they exhibit all the vices of man: deceit, spite, narcissism, self-pity, sloth. “No hugging, no learning,” was the mission statement behind the show.

The emotional tenor is therefore pre-Darwinian, any possibility of human mutation, development or evolution flatly rejected. Characters only circle each other, pursued by a supporting cast of cranks, eccentrics and misfits. All motives are low; all manners undignified. Sex is a relentless yet elusive necessity to be pursued through any means, but romantic relationships are too complicated or just embarrassing to maintain. “Sex, that’s meaningless,” says Jerry. “But dinner — that’s heavy. That’s like an hour.” Girlfriends are always new; breakups always imminent. When George does get engaged, he spends the bulk of a season regretting it and trying to break it off.

Such paraphernalia of the predictable sitcom are aggressively boiled away to leave only the relentless imposition of irony: that crushing recognition of the gap between our perspective on things and their bald reality. Consequently, the world can be faced with a shrug or a cackle, too absurd and pointless to take seriously. Jerry can’t even take it seriously — often his mouth simply corpses into a leery smirk halfway through scenes.

The eyeroll, the irreverence, the irony, the stasis, the self-reference — all of this made Seinfeld into the great saga of popular postmodernism. But by the time of its finale, this was a cultural movement many lived in fear of. David Foster Wallace articulated a particularly terrified critique: television, he believed, had bred perilous levels of self-awareness into its viewing public, puncturing our sentimentality and leaving only “flatness, numbness and cynicism”. The critic James Wood agreed, identifying a literary fashion for long absurd novels full of irony, two-dimensional characters and conceptual play. He called it “hysterical realism”, and Seinfeld can be slotted into this genre, a “systems sitcom” in the vein of a Don DeLillo novel.

Between them, Wallace and Wood pointed the way toward the elevated, moralising path that culture has taken ever since. On television came Friends, immediately displacing Seinfeld as the popular chronicle of young America, and later becoming the great millennial sitcom. And, while imitating Seinfeld’s New York, group-of-mates setting, Friends is its irritating, naïve younger sibling, never escaping the frothy fountain of its opening credits. Its Manhattan is a brownstone dreamscape, where you live across the hall from your best friends, renting (where possible) from a monied family member.

And, like a particularly protracted and simplistic Austen novel, it submits tamely to the demands of romantic teleology. Essentially: hang around with your university mates for 10 seasons, and chances are you’ll end up marrying or having kids with at least one of them. Seinfeld’s singletons are achingly self-aware; the Friends friends don’t even know they’re in a TV show. They have shapely, winning flaws, not sordid neuroses. Optimistic, improving, they do silly things to cheer each other up like put turkeys on their head. They move to the suburbs to start families. There’s a lot of hugging.

Friends was symptomatic of the mood of sincerity which has since overcast much of the culture. For the past two decades, the cultural stock exchange has been led by a boom in conveyed emotion and self-conscious virtue. We listen to heart-baring, confessional-romantic anthems. We read novels about toxic love quadrilaterals. We watch Ted Lasso conquer English football by baking biscuits. But in more recent years, even this has calcified, slipping from the pure emotional sincerity of Friends to a more overbearing preoccupation with moral sincerity.

Irony has come to be seen as a dereliction of our human and political responsibilities. In fiction, the critic Becca Rothfeld gives a name to this millennial middlebrow: “sanctimony literature”. In these books and outside them, writers and their characters exhibit an inquisitorial obsession with “goodness”. They stress over structural racism and their carbon emissions. They mull over the power imbalances of BDSM. And they are attracted by wholesome, generous, unbelievable people, whose complications come in the form of redeemable scars and wounds, not profanities or sins.

Thanks to the politicisation of everyday life, which accelerated in the late 2010s, this is now representative of an entire sanctimony culture. It demands the iterative performance of goodness across everyday life. We do it on social media, striving to display virtues personal (wealth, sociability, romantic success) and political. We willingly upload and surrender our personal lives, commodifying the very emotions that we seek to display. We buy self-care and wellness, a new marketplace which serves this desire for authentic fulfilment. We inspect artists and writers for actionable wrongdoing.

When art and entertainment are run at such a hysterical temper, irony, detachment and withdrawal are an escape. And, therefore, so is Seinfeld, which makes no such gestures towards value or judgement. Its priorities are visible even at a structural level: for most of its run, each episode began and ended with a stand-up set by Jerry. All narrative momentum, any dramatic peril, dissolves and is then transformed into a framing device of pure humour. In this, Seinfeld is arguably the most straightforwardly comic comedy ever made. Morality is no consideration; politics are only ever an opportunity for social embarrassment. “You don’t have any black friends,” Jerry chides George, “Outside of us, you don’t have any white friends either.”

In this world of ethical grandstanding, where every word and gesture is freighted with political significance, a show about “nothing” is a little revelation. And there are other signs of this backlash. The one truly original form of digital-cultural expression, meme culture, is savagely ironic and two-dimensional, populated by wretched caricatures and vicious stereotypes designed to satirise and undermine the self-righteousness of society. Seinfeld has already become an integrated part of this universe, thoroughly pastiched through clipping and quotation, and it’s no surprise it fits so well. The style of online humour is pithy and generally dark, even existential. And there are a dozen such George lines per episode: “I’m depressed. I’m inadequate. I’ve got it all!”

If irony is back, it is a tool as well as a condition. Seinfeld came at the end of a long tail of postmodern art, which was interested in capturing and critiquing mass media. Our own transactional information age — far more intrusive and involving than even David Foster Wallace could pretend television is — has made a mockery of a generation which sought to use it sincerely, treating their personal lives with the cruelty of a reality TV show producer. The clarity of irony is its strength, burning through pretensions and leaving a behind a reality which is sometimes cold but always honest. This is the mood that is starting to circulate among Gen Z, a vibe shift still in inchoate infancy. And at the generationally-regenerative distance of 25 years, Seinfeld is part of our voice — and our rebellion.


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Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

Extraordinary that no-one has produced an ironic comedy about Woke which, let’s face it, is so inherently funny, that it would be an immediate hit

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Sadly, Hugh, I suggest cowardice rules the day in the rarefied world of commissioning editors. They simply don’t have the cojones.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

What the Babylon bee (on YouTube).

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Perhaps someone can have a go with a sitcom for Titania McGrath? Set, I don’t know, on a university campus?

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

That could be pretty funny.

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Nice idea though Titania has been surpassed by reality; Andrew’s creation started out as a parody, now she looks moderate.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

That could be pretty funny.

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Nice idea though Titania has been surpassed by reality; Andrew’s creation started out as a parody, now she looks moderate.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Wokesters have no sense of humor. They would take it as a documentary about themselves!

0 0
0 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

You’re right. One of the characteristics of the Woke crowd is the total absence of irony.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

” Little Britain” was a frightening predictor of where nu britain hewkay was heading, ten years ago, as we all laughed…. little knowing that it would come true.

0 0
0 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

You’re right. One of the characteristics of the Woke crowd is the total absence of irony.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Bruels

” Little Britain” was a frightening predictor of where nu britain hewkay was heading, ten years ago, as we all laughed…. little knowing that it would come true.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

South Park does a little (OK, it can be extremely) crude, but they pretty often poke fun at this lot. Actually Family Guy does too.
Huh, anyone else remember when The Simpsons was good?

Last edited 1 year ago by Caty Gonzales
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

You beat me to it on Family Guy. And the entire “PC Principal” season of South Park, from about 7 years ago. (Many anti-wokesters, and even some of the woke-sympathetic, may find it hilarious if they can withstand they crudeness you mentioned).
With the exception of a few episodes, I’d say The Simpsons has been running on fumes for over a decade.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 year ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

You beat me to it on Family Guy. And the entire “PC Principal” season of South Park, from about 7 years ago. (Many anti-wokesters, and even some of the woke-sympathetic, may find it hilarious if they can withstand they crudeness you mentioned).
With the exception of a few episodes, I’d say The Simpsons has been running on fumes for over a decade.

Simon S
Simon S
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I read that John Cleese is working on it!

James Anthony Seyforth
James Anthony Seyforth
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant
Ben Jones
Ben Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Sadly, Hugh, I suggest cowardice rules the day in the rarefied world of commissioning editors. They simply don’t have the cojones.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

What the Babylon bee (on YouTube).

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Perhaps someone can have a go with a sitcom for Titania McGrath? Set, I don’t know, on a university campus?

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Wokesters have no sense of humor. They would take it as a documentary about themselves!

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

South Park does a little (OK, it can be extremely) crude, but they pretty often poke fun at this lot. Actually Family Guy does too.
Huh, anyone else remember when The Simpsons was good?

Last edited 1 year ago by Caty Gonzales
Simon S
Simon S
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I read that John Cleese is working on it!

James Anthony Seyforth
James Anthony Seyforth
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

Extraordinary that no-one has produced an ironic comedy about Woke which, let’s face it, is so inherently funny, that it would be an immediate hit

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago

Who could have guessed that youngsters might eventually realise that life is better when “comedy” is written to make you laugh.
For the sake of the younger generations, I sincerely hope that someone has the capability to develop the next Cheers – and some broadcaster has the intelligence to screen it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Barton
Ben Jones
Ben Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

When a fair number of zeitgeisty Gen Z kids think humour is in and of itself oppressive (someone has to be the victim of the joke, right?) I don’t see a golden future for anything but nihilistic memery.

James Stangl
James Stangl
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

I dunno; my daughter is Gen Z, and she and her school chums have quite a sense of humor, and seem to get the idea that comedy involves poking fun at human foibles. Of course, they’re in a private school that is mercifully un-Woke. And she has a dad who was raised on Monty Python, Mel Brooks, and other un-PC comedy!

James Stangl
James Stangl
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

I dunno; my daughter is Gen Z, and she and her school chums have quite a sense of humor, and seem to get the idea that comedy involves poking fun at human foibles. Of course, they’re in a private school that is mercifully un-Woke. And she has a dad who was raised on Monty Python, Mel Brooks, and other un-PC comedy!

Nick Duffy
Nick Duffy
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is very much a 21st century cousin of both Seinfeld (Four friends, all with terrible personalities) and Cheers (set in a US bar). And very funny.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Nick Duffy

Thanks – I just noticed that this started in 2005 – which is a few years before the wokery started to ruin everything. I’m looking forward to it already.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Update – just watched the first 5 episodes – fantastic – so thanks again

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Barton
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Update – just watched the first 5 episodes – fantastic – so thanks again

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Barton
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Nick Duffy

Thanks – I just noticed that this started in 2005 – which is a few years before the wokery started to ruin everything. I’m looking forward to it already.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

When a fair number of zeitgeisty Gen Z kids think humour is in and of itself oppressive (someone has to be the victim of the joke, right?) I don’t see a golden future for anything but nihilistic memery.

Nick Duffy
Nick Duffy
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is very much a 21st century cousin of both Seinfeld (Four friends, all with terrible personalities) and Cheers (set in a US bar). And very funny.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago

Who could have guessed that youngsters might eventually realise that life is better when “comedy” is written to make you laugh.
For the sake of the younger generations, I sincerely hope that someone has the capability to develop the next Cheers – and some broadcaster has the intelligence to screen it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Barton
Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
1 year ago

Yadda, yadda, yadda 😉

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Raiment
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Lol

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

“Here’s to feeling good all the time”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLmuyFLKfmk

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

An observation is that alcohol and other substances were rarely partaken of. Oh, and REVENGE is a motif that runs throughout. Mainly Elaine and George.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

An observation is that alcohol and other substances were rarely partaken of. Oh, and REVENGE is a motif that runs throughout. Mainly Elaine and George.

harry storm
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

big time.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Lol

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

“Here’s to feeling good all the time”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLmuyFLKfmk

harry storm
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

big time.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
1 year ago

Yadda, yadda, yadda 😉

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Raiment
Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 year ago

I am still waiting for the teenage rebellion against all this. Surely now that pronouns and virtue signalling are force fed to them in school they will push back. I can’t understand how they tolerate this treacly nonsense. When are they going to just state obvious things like men in skirts are creeps, worshipping billionaire do-Gooders is lame, and my pronouns are $&@& and $&&$! Come on kids – get cynical.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Thank you. People bang on about kids being brainwashed at school affecting future elections. Surely kids are not that daft and must wonder who the hell would want to be a teacher? Men amongst boys, boys amongst men etc. Is the revolution so won?

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

They are.
As a teacher and mother, I can tell you those that speak out are bullied.They are told they are in the wrong. So they come home and whisper about it to their parents.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Thank you. People bang on about kids being brainwashed at school affecting future elections. Surely kids are not that daft and must wonder who the hell would want to be a teacher? Men amongst boys, boys amongst men etc. Is the revolution so won?

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

They are.
As a teacher and mother, I can tell you those that speak out are bullied.They are told they are in the wrong. So they come home and whisper about it to their parents.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
1 year ago

I am still waiting for the teenage rebellion against all this. Surely now that pronouns and virtue signalling are force fed to them in school they will push back. I can’t understand how they tolerate this treacly nonsense. When are they going to just state obvious things like men in skirts are creeps, worshipping billionaire do-Gooders is lame, and my pronouns are $&@& and $&&$! Come on kids – get cynical.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

“When George does get engaged, he spends the bulk of a season regretting it and trying to break it off.”

One of my favourite scenes is when George comes up with the genius idea to demand that his fiance signs a prenup, the intended outcome being that she’ll react badly and angrily end the engagement. Instead of course she bursts out laughing, telling him she’s got more money than him, “Sure, bring me the prenup, I’ll sign it” amid fits of derisive giggling.

George’s expression of weary defeat was pure gold.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

“When George does get engaged, he spends the bulk of a season regretting it and trying to break it off.”

One of my favourite scenes is when George comes up with the genius idea to demand that his fiance signs a prenup, the intended outcome being that she’ll react badly and angrily end the engagement. Instead of course she bursts out laughing, telling him she’s got more money than him, “Sure, bring me the prenup, I’ll sign it” amid fits of derisive giggling.

George’s expression of weary defeat was pure gold.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
Ben Jones
Ben Jones
1 year ago

I watched ‘Friends’ (actually a Gen ‘X’ comedy, not Millennial) primarily because (a) I fancied Jennifer Aniston and (b) the writing was sharp. I wonder what Nicholas would make of ‘Black Books’, a British comedy which makes Seinfeld look like an episode of ‘The Brady Bunch’.
I’m not saying America doesn’t do great sitcom (it does), but I think the UK is better. America, OTOH, does far better drama. Give me Toast, Darkplace, The IT Crowd, Father Ted, Black Books, Spaced (etc), basically anything prior to the 2016/17 Woken-Krieg. Surreal, cynical and funny.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

I think you’re right – look at the League of Gentlemen for chrissakes – it’s a whole other level of messed up.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Or ‘Bottom’ for that matter – I can’t imagine any US sitcom having a character called Eddie H*tler
but then that sort of thing is probably a bit ‘problematic’ these days
Seinfeld seems to me just safe enough to be acceptable

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

I can’t see you obviously, but I bet you’ve all got smashing blouses on.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

I bought you that coca-cola in good faith!!

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

I bought you that coca-cola in good faith!!

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

I don’t know about that.
Archie Bunker raged about Jews and Blacks and Pollacks long before it was going on anywhere else.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Till Death Do Us Part?

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
1 year ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Till Death Do Us Part?

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

I can’t see you obviously, but I bet you’ve all got smashing blouses on.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

I don’t know about that.
Archie Bunker raged about Jews and Blacks and Pollacks long before it was going on anywhere else.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Or ‘Bottom’ for that matter – I can’t imagine any US sitcom having a character called Eddie H*tler
but then that sort of thing is probably a bit ‘problematic’ these days
Seinfeld seems to me just safe enough to be acceptable

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Fraser?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago

Written by the same crowd as Cheers – not dark comedy – just clever.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

All human vanities and weaknesses laid bare

Last edited 1 year ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

Frasier, Seinfeld etc. all funny, but the best ever American sitcom was obviously M*A*S*H, because it was funny (black humour) but also had a heart. Those characters could make you laugh, they could make you cry at the same time. Some may think it was schmaltzy, but I prefer to think of it as just having a lot of humanity. Hawkeye and Hotlips Houlihan are immortal.

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

Frasier, Seinfeld etc. all funny, but the best ever American sitcom was obviously M*A*S*H, because it was funny (black humour) but also had a heart. Those characters could make you laugh, they could make you cry at the same time. Some may think it was schmaltzy, but I prefer to think of it as just having a lot of humanity. Hawkeye and Hotlips Houlihan are immortal.

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Hamilton
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

All human vanities and weaknesses laid bare

Last edited 1 year ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Kat L
Kat L
1 year ago

Love that show, the 90’s really were great weren’t they?

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago

Fraser was great!

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago

Written by the same crowd as Cheers – not dark comedy – just clever.

Kat L
Kat L
1 year ago

Love that show, the 90’s really were great weren’t they?

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago

Fraser was great!

tom j
tom j
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

At its best British comedy is as good as the best American comedy. Fawlty Towers and the Office are absolutely the peak. Toast and Darkplace and the IT crowd are 2nd Tier, they are fun but not great, they will not last. Seinfeld is up there as well, if you haven’t managed to get into it is very much worth the effort, it might be cynical but it is also very very funny. What the Americans do better even with their great comedies, is to make 10 seasons rather than 2.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

I’m not sure it’s a matter of which country does better sitcom, because the best American sitcoms travel well to the UK, while UK sitcoms don’t travel west nearly so well. The Americans therefore are better at creating a sitcom that both Americans and Brits enjoy.

Although I share your love of the almost surreally clever and side-splittingly hilarious Black Books, I would still have to say that the best sitcom ever is Frasier, in my opinion.
I understand that Kelsey Grammar is in the middle of reviving it though, to include Nicholas Lyndhurst of all people, and I predict sadly that this might end up knocking the show off the top spot in my personal sitcom hall of fame.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

I think you’re right – look at the League of Gentlemen for chrissakes – it’s a whole other level of messed up.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Fraser?

tom j
tom j
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

At its best British comedy is as good as the best American comedy. Fawlty Towers and the Office are absolutely the peak. Toast and Darkplace and the IT crowd are 2nd Tier, they are fun but not great, they will not last. Seinfeld is up there as well, if you haven’t managed to get into it is very much worth the effort, it might be cynical but it is also very very funny. What the Americans do better even with their great comedies, is to make 10 seasons rather than 2.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

I’m not sure it’s a matter of which country does better sitcom, because the best American sitcoms travel well to the UK, while UK sitcoms don’t travel west nearly so well. The Americans therefore are better at creating a sitcom that both Americans and Brits enjoy.

Although I share your love of the almost surreally clever and side-splittingly hilarious Black Books, I would still have to say that the best sitcom ever is Frasier, in my opinion.
I understand that Kelsey Grammar is in the middle of reviving it though, to include Nicholas Lyndhurst of all people, and I predict sadly that this might end up knocking the show off the top spot in my personal sitcom hall of fame.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
Ben Jones
Ben Jones
1 year ago

I watched ‘Friends’ (actually a Gen ‘X’ comedy, not Millennial) primarily because (a) I fancied Jennifer Aniston and (b) the writing was sharp. I wonder what Nicholas would make of ‘Black Books’, a British comedy which makes Seinfeld look like an episode of ‘The Brady Bunch’.
I’m not saying America doesn’t do great sitcom (it does), but I think the UK is better. America, OTOH, does far better drama. Give me Toast, Darkplace, The IT Crowd, Father Ted, Black Books, Spaced (etc), basically anything prior to the 2016/17 Woken-Krieg. Surreal, cynical and funny.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

I’m on my 5th rerun of Seinfeld
. I am so shallow.

jack levy
jack levy
1 year ago

5th? Lol. I’m probably on my 555th!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  jack levy

Well I watch certain clips more often!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  jack levy

Well I watch certain clips more often!

jack levy
jack levy
1 year ago

5th? Lol. I’m probably on my 555th!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

I’m on my 5th rerun of Seinfeld
. I am so shallow.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

The author should try On The Buses next.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Then he could apply his particular brand of illiterate pretentious drivel (boiling away the paraphernalia, forsooth!) to “Love Thy Neighbour.” Or the “Carry On” films.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think, Geoff? The ‘Carry On’ films were comedy gold compared to what’s coming out now.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

My point – aligning with Matt M, I thought – was that the writer of the article would run screaming from the simpler and harsher fare on offer in days of yore.
The “Carry On” films are sometimes re-run during the day on one of the commercial stations here (I live outside the UK). The best point of comparison I can think of in that era is “Dad’s Army,” which admittedly isn’t very apposite, because it started later, and it was TV series, and one of the very best (the film they made of it was rather disappointing).

Last edited 1 year ago by Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

My point – aligning with Matt M, I thought – was that the writer of the article would run screaming from the simpler and harsher fare on offer in days of yore.
The “Carry On” films are sometimes re-run during the day on one of the commercial stations here (I live outside the UK). The best point of comparison I can think of in that era is “Dad’s Army,” which admittedly isn’t very apposite, because it started later, and it was TV series, and one of the very best (the film they made of it was rather disappointing).

Last edited 1 year ago by Geoff Wilkes
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Geoff Wilkes

That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think, Geoff? The ‘Carry On’ films were comedy gold compared to what’s coming out now.

Geoff Wilkes
Geoff Wilkes
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Then he could apply his particular brand of illiterate pretentious drivel (boiling away the paraphernalia, forsooth!) to “Love Thy Neighbour.” Or the “Carry On” films.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

The author should try On The Buses next.

Jessie Mannisto
Jessie Mannisto
1 year ago

I appreciated this take, perhaps because mine is different, so it made me think constructively.
I’m an elder Millennial who disliked Friends as a teenager and only recently discovered Seinfeld myself (my family was like that — but now we all like it). Harris talks about Gen Z’s “preoccupation with moral sincerity,” with its “iterative performance of goodness.” This struck me because lately I’ve been seeking what I would have called moral sincerity in reaction to the what seems to me an obvious performance. Granted, I’ve gone more toward exploring an earnest virtue ethic in response to all this sanctimonous, performative crap, but the author made me consider whether I might be in a smaller cultural space than I had thought.
At any rate, humor is essential in life. People’s reactions to good-natured teasing about their foibles tells us something quite important about them. And this certainly does say something about the path of the golden mean and a truly moral life.
Thanks for the thought-provoking piece!

Jessie Mannisto
Jessie Mannisto
1 year ago

I appreciated this take, perhaps because mine is different, so it made me think constructively.
I’m an elder Millennial who disliked Friends as a teenager and only recently discovered Seinfeld myself (my family was like that — but now we all like it). Harris talks about Gen Z’s “preoccupation with moral sincerity,” with its “iterative performance of goodness.” This struck me because lately I’ve been seeking what I would have called moral sincerity in reaction to the what seems to me an obvious performance. Granted, I’ve gone more toward exploring an earnest virtue ethic in response to all this sanctimonous, performative crap, but the author made me consider whether I might be in a smaller cultural space than I had thought.
At any rate, humor is essential in life. People’s reactions to good-natured teasing about their foibles tells us something quite important about them. And this certainly does say something about the path of the golden mean and a truly moral life.
Thanks for the thought-provoking piece!

Maurice Frank
Maurice Frank
1 year ago

The best thing to come out of Seinfeld was Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Maurice Frank

SO true!!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Maurice Frank

SO true!!

Maurice Frank
Maurice Frank
1 year ago

The best thing to come out of Seinfeld was Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

“We inspect artists and writers for actionable wrongdoing.”
Artists and writers must as a matter of critical emergency engage in as much actionable wrongdoing as possible.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

“We inspect artists and writers for actionable wrongdoing.”
Artists and writers must as a matter of critical emergency engage in as much actionable wrongdoing as possible.

Rick Lawrence
Rick Lawrence
1 year ago

Lots of opinions about other TV shows and their merits or lack thereof but not a lot of opinion about the article itself. I thought the piece was very well written and perceptive. I kept wondering where this stream of insight was coming from. If original thought, then congrats to the author.

Rick Lawrence
Rick Lawrence
1 year ago

Lots of opinions about other TV shows and their merits or lack thereof but not a lot of opinion about the article itself. I thought the piece was very well written and perceptive. I kept wondering where this stream of insight was coming from. If original thought, then congrats to the author.

J Mo
J Mo
1 year ago

British fans couldn’t even watch it reliably when it was airing, if I recall correctly. The BBC used to put episodes on erratically at odd times after 11. Hard to imagine in the days of streaming.

J Mo
J Mo
1 year ago

British fans couldn’t even watch it reliably when it was airing, if I recall correctly. The BBC used to put episodes on erratically at odd times after 11. Hard to imagine in the days of streaming.

Nicolas Jouan
Nicolas Jouan
1 year ago

Single-camera sitcoms, and especially The Office US, killed the game for 90s sitcoms in my opinion. As a former Friends fan, I shiver at even trying to re-watch these overstated jokes with long pauses and tracks of imaginary audiences somehow choking of laughter after every utterance from the main characters, and remember I once thought these were the funniest things in the world.
Humour has a life-cycle I guess.

Nicolas Jouan
Nicolas Jouan
1 year ago

Single-camera sitcoms, and especially The Office US, killed the game for 90s sitcoms in my opinion. As a former Friends fan, I shiver at even trying to re-watch these overstated jokes with long pauses and tracks of imaginary audiences somehow choking of laughter after every utterance from the main characters, and remember I once thought these were the funniest things in the world.
Humour has a life-cycle I guess.

Cam Marsh
Cam Marsh
1 year ago

Preferred Larry Sanders tbh.

Cam Marsh
Cam Marsh
1 year ago

Preferred Larry Sanders tbh.

Daniel P
Daniel P
1 year ago

Gotta love it…..Once again GenX is leading the way past all this woke BS.
Seinfeld IS our generation.
Friends was too, but it was our younger sisters. No…in reality, Friends is what we hoped for and Sienfeld is how we actually lived.
Its why our stomachs turn watching all the virtue signaling, fake niceness, posturing for selfies. It makes us sick to our stomachs watching all these people put on airs and try to feed the world their performative happiness and virtue when we know that they are no less fucked up that the rest of us and no more virtuous either.
Say what you like about GenX, we do not have a lot of tolerance for fake.

Daniel P
Daniel P
1 year ago

Gotta love it…..Once again GenX is leading the way past all this woke BS.
Seinfeld IS our generation.
Friends was too, but it was our younger sisters. No…in reality, Friends is what we hoped for and Sienfeld is how we actually lived.
Its why our stomachs turn watching all the virtue signaling, fake niceness, posturing for selfies. It makes us sick to our stomachs watching all these people put on airs and try to feed the world their performative happiness and virtue when we know that they are no less fucked up that the rest of us and no more virtuous either.
Say what you like about GenX, we do not have a lot of tolerance for fake.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

HBO’s ” Curb your enthusiasm” and Larry David was a predictor of woke to come, and is similar TV genius…

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

HBO’s ” Curb your enthusiasm” and Larry David was a predictor of woke to come, and is similar TV genius…

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago

Seinfeld was great because it didn’t teach any lessons on morality.

Marissa M
Marissa M
1 year ago

Seinfeld was great because it didn’t teach any lessons on morality.

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago

My favourite Steinfeld episode was the one where Jerry gets lumbered with a dog left abandoned when its boozed-up dog-loving English owner dies on a plane flight. As someone who loathes dogs and their doting owners it was satisfying to see these animals getting some well-deserved satirical contempt for once.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

It’s the owners who anthropomorphise their pets. Dogs are just animals that fit in a house. You don’t loathe giraffes or wildebeest do you?

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

Just the kind of silly commeint I should have expected. Dare to criticise ‘man’s best friend’ and out come the dog apologists with their blame-the-bad-owners trope.
I keep track of dog attack stories whenever I can find them in the news. You might be surprised to know how often these attacks come from dogs with responsible, dog-loving owners who are surprised to find that their precious pet could suddenly become dangerous and inflict serious (often life-changing) injury. There is no need for anyone to keep a large potentially dangerous dog as house pet – especially in an urban apartment. So why do people keep dogs which are large enough and aggressive enough to seriously injure an adult or even kill a child?
There are issues other than the threat of violent attack. Consider, if you will, dog faeces! There ar an estimated 11.1 million pet dogs in the UK depositing an average of 340gm of faeces each per day. That comes to almost 3,800 metric tonnes per day. Even if responsible owners bag it up where does it go? I guess that dog-lovers don’t want to know. (That comes to 1,387,000 metric tonnes of toxic faeces per annum, by the way). Then what about dog urine? Every dog owner has to wait while their precious pet does its territory marking bit by squirting its pee up against any convenient vertical surface. As far as I know the long term consequences of all these urine deposits have not been studied.
I know from experience that dog owners are deeply resistant to criticism – I have been threatened with violence when criticising dog owners face to face. The trouble is these pets give their owners the irrestistable feeling that they are loved and lovable. It’s a form of addiction.

Last edited 1 year ago by N Satori
N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

Just the kind of silly commeint I should have expected. Dare to criticise ‘man’s best friend’ and out come the dog apologists with their blame-the-bad-owners trope.
I keep track of dog attack stories whenever I can find them in the news. You might be surprised to know how often these attacks come from dogs with responsible, dog-loving owners who are surprised to find that their precious pet could suddenly become dangerous and inflict serious (often life-changing) injury. There is no need for anyone to keep a large potentially dangerous dog as house pet – especially in an urban apartment. So why do people keep dogs which are large enough and aggressive enough to seriously injure an adult or even kill a child?
There are issues other than the threat of violent attack. Consider, if you will, dog faeces! There ar an estimated 11.1 million pet dogs in the UK depositing an average of 340gm of faeces each per day. That comes to almost 3,800 metric tonnes per day. Even if responsible owners bag it up where does it go? I guess that dog-lovers don’t want to know. (That comes to 1,387,000 metric tonnes of toxic faeces per annum, by the way). Then what about dog urine? Every dog owner has to wait while their precious pet does its territory marking bit by squirting its pee up against any convenient vertical surface. As far as I know the long term consequences of all these urine deposits have not been studied.
I know from experience that dog owners are deeply resistant to criticism – I have been threatened with violence when criticising dog owners face to face. The trouble is these pets give their owners the irrestistable feeling that they are loved and lovable. It’s a form of addiction.

Last edited 1 year ago by N Satori
James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago
Reply to  N Satori

It’s the owners who anthropomorphise their pets. Dogs are just animals that fit in a house. You don’t loathe giraffes or wildebeest do you?

N Satori
N Satori
1 year ago

My favourite Steinfeld episode was the one where Jerry gets lumbered with a dog left abandoned when its boozed-up dog-loving English owner dies on a plane flight. As someone who loathes dogs and their doting owners it was satisfying to see these animals getting some well-deserved satirical contempt for once.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
1 year ago

If only
 If only


Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
1 year ago

If only
 If only


James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

In my teens I looked on in wonder at my Dad in hysterics watching Dad’s Army. Eventually I came round and learned to love its cleverness. The never seen Captain Mainwaring’s wife, the anticipation of Fraser’s eyebrows signalling ‘we’re doomed.’ Seinfeld used similar repeated jokes, you knew you were going to laugh. ‘Cheers’ for me lacked that, it spoke to my kids but I’d become too old to empathise, they were just silly neurotic kids where The Big Bang Theory recaptured it for all. They were clever neurotic and, bar Penny, could afford to live in a brownstone. You had to wonder at the Cheers finances.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

In my teens I looked on in wonder at my Dad in hysterics watching Dad’s Army. Eventually I came round and learned to love its cleverness. The never seen Captain Mainwaring’s wife, the anticipation of Fraser’s eyebrows signalling ‘we’re doomed.’ Seinfeld used similar repeated jokes, you knew you were going to laugh. ‘Cheers’ for me lacked that, it spoke to my kids but I’d become too old to empathise, they were just silly neurotic kids where The Big Bang Theory recaptured it for all. They were clever neurotic and, bar Penny, could afford to live in a brownstone. You had to wonder at the Cheers finances.

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

I don’t really know anything about these programmes, but this was an excellent sharp piece of writing

Stephen Quilley
Stephen Quilley
1 year ago

I don’t really know anything about these programmes, but this was an excellent sharp piece of writing

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 year ago

Yeah. Think about when The Honeymooners in the 1950s, with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, was about a bus driver, a sewer worker, and their wives.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 year ago

Yeah. Think about when The Honeymooners in the 1950s, with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, was about a bus driver, a sewer worker, and their wives.

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
1 year ago

So glad the younger generation is discovering Seinfeld.
Seinfeld has actually stood the test of time rather well. Friends is still cute but the wit falls a bit flat.

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
1 year ago

So glad the younger generation is discovering Seinfeld.
Seinfeld has actually stood the test of time rather well. Friends is still cute but the wit falls a bit flat.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

I read a book on this topic when it came out in 2000: “Shows About Nothing; Nihilism in Popular Culture from the Exorcist to Seinfeld,” by Thomas Hobbs. Given that the phrase “about nothing” was in quotes in the third paragrah, one would assume the author was aware of the work and has decided not to credit it. But one of the books central themes involved nihilism and degeneracy, both of which are missing in this article, so I’m not so sure. The article makes some interesting observations butwould have benefitted from more background.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

I read a book on this topic when it came out in 2000: “Shows About Nothing; Nihilism in Popular Culture from the Exorcist to Seinfeld,” by Thomas Hobbs. Given that the phrase “about nothing” was in quotes in the third paragrah, one would assume the author was aware of the work and has decided not to credit it. But one of the books central themes involved nihilism and degeneracy, both of which are missing in this article, so I’m not so sure. The article makes some interesting observations butwould have benefitted from more background.

Curtis Girginoff
Curtis Girginoff
1 year ago

Seinfeld remains a timeless piece of comedy for it’s realism, and I would disagree with the notion that it is postmodern in any sense. It never held pretensions to an ideal (like Friends, which provided a sterile and naive picture of the world) but wrote it’s characters as real people. I’ve often felt that is the key to enduring art – real human beings dealing with the paradoxes of life. I remember reading David Foster Wallace and thinking, “Who the hell are these people?” All the while, Jerry and George are in all of us.

Mara
Mara
1 year ago

In general, I’ve noticed a trend of people rewatching old sitcoms as a form of escapism from the current cultural landscape. I totally get why. It’s almost impossible to get through a modern show without being force fed woke virtues.

0 0
0 0
1 year ago

Reading the comments here of the “unwoke” in their little circle jerks are pretty hilarious.

Stoater D
Stoater D
1 year ago
Reply to  0 0

So you are woke are you ?
So you never thought to think for yourself ?
That’s what’s really sad.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Stoater D

Thanks for dealing with the tuat.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Stoater D

Thanks for dealing with the tuat.

Stoater D
Stoater D
1 year ago
Reply to  0 0

So you are woke are you ?
So you never thought to think for yourself ?
That’s what’s really sad.

0 0
0 0
1 year ago

Reading the comments here of the “unwoke” in their little circle jerks are pretty hilarious.