Seinfeld, one of my all-time television shows, celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this year. Seinfeld was originally pitched as a show about how a comedian gets his material – you can tell that this is the case because all of the episodes in the early seasons begin with Jerry doing some kind of stand-up routine that ties directly into the episode in question.
Seinfeld is often referred to as “a show about nothing,” which is actually something I take issue with. To be fair, the show created this reputation all on its own – when George and Jerry pitch their show (within the show) to NBC, they refer to it as being about nothing. But again, as (real-life) Jerry Seinfeld has explained at length that it is actually about how a comedian comes up with material. Saying that Seinfeld is about nothing is a bit of a reductionist statement that really ignores just how crazy and bizarre the show is. And let me tell you, these episodes got WACKY. Below, I’ve found a few of the wackiest.
- “The Stranded” – Jerry and Elaine get stranded at a party, and Jerry tells the host, Steve, to stop by his apartment if they’re ever in the city. Steve winds up in Jerry’s apartment when Jerry is just about to leave, and hires a prostitute. Jerry pays the prostitute to get her out of his apartment – just as a police officer is coming in. Jerry gets arrested.
- “The Susie” – When one of Elaine’s co-workers calls her by the wrong name and Elaine can’t correct her, she simultaneously pretends to be Elaine and “Susie” until she tries to get out of it by telling her coworkers that “Susie died,” and hosting an actual funeral – with many attendees – for the fake Susie. (Side note; a bookie shows up in the middle of the funeral and accuses Jerry of murdering Susie.)
- “The Airport” – In trying to meet up with Jerry and Elaine as their flight lands in New York City, George pisses off a criminal, who later meets up with him on another flight George isn’t supposed to be on. The criminal then locks George in the airplane bathroom, and George presumably gets the shit beaten out of him.
- “The Limo” – at the airport, George and Jerry get in someone else’s limo by pretending to be them – only on their way to the destination do they realize that they’re impersonating a neo-nazi. George presumably gets the shit beaten out of him.
- “The Marine Biologist” – George lies about being a marine biologist, and finds himself in the exact wrong situation – a beached whale is suffocating. In an epic manner, he saves the whale
- “The Opera” – On their way to the opera, Elaine realizes that the crazy man she’s been seeing recently is the same crazy man who wants to kill Jerry. At the Opera, the man is there dressed as Pagliacci the clown.
- “The Trip” – George and Jerry visit Kramer in Los Angeles just after he is accused of murder. Y’know, typical sitcom stuff.
- “The Cadillac” – George scores a date with famous actress Marissa Tomei (played by Marissa Tomei) because she is attracted – by her own admission – to short, stocky, bald men. When Tomei finds out George is “engaged,” she punches him in the face.
- “The Invitations” – (This one is infamous, you probably already know it.) George buys the cheapest wedding invitations he can find, his fiancee licks too many and dies due to the toxic glue she was licking. After the funeral, George calls Marissa Tomei to try to arrange a date.
- “The Betrayal” – Elaine attends (and ultimately ruins) a wedding on the other side of the world out of spite, Jerry sleeps with George’s ostensible girlfriend and woman-of-his-dreams, and Kramer’s friend Franklin Delano Romanowski announces his vendetta against Kramer, frequently wishing that Kramer literally drop dead. Oh, and this whole episode takes place backwards.
- “The Visa” – Elaine forgets to give Jerry his mail, leading to Babu Bhatt – a pretty problematic racial stereotype of a character – getting deported.
- “The Bottle Deposit” – This one’s got so much plot it couldn’t fit into one episode, it’s a two-parter. Kramer and Newman fill a mail truck with empty soda cans and bottles and drive it hundreds of miles to a state with higher recycling incentives. Adventure ensues, Kramer finds the mechanic who stole Jerry’s car, Kramer kicks Newman out of the truck, and the two meet up again later on at a farmer’s house where Newman tries to sleep with the farmer’s daughter. The farmer shoots a shotgun at the duo as they run into cornfields.
- “The Mom & Pop Store” – While visiting a Mom & Pop shoe repair store (cobbler), Kramer encourages the owners to call an electrician. The electrician informs them that they need to repair their electrical circuits, which they can’t afford. Mom & Pop disappear, stealing dozens of peoples’ shoes with them.
- “The Mom & Pop Store” – Jerry nearly gets mugged because he’s wearing cowboy boots.
- “The Mom & Pop Store” – While trying to flag down famous actor Jon Voight (played by Jon Voight), Kramer gets bitten by Jon Voight.
I could do this all day, but this is a good place to stop.
So what’s my point?
Seinfeld is not about nothing, and its episodes often have winding, over-the-top plots. But Seinfeld earned its reputation as “the show about nothing,” by grounding these crazy situations with small, seemingly inane conversations. The show can have George and Jerry talk about the similarity of the words “salsa” and “seltzer” in one episode, and then have Kramer and Newman drive for hundreds and hundreds of miles in a mail-truck full of empty soda cans as part of a recycling scam. Seinfeld does a great job of capturing two extremes of life; the everyday simplicities and absurd misadventures. It’s like an observational comedy set mixed with a cartoon. There’s few other shows like it. And the situational comedy sticks with me more than a lot of other media. Multiple times a week, something will happen and I’ll find myself saying, “Hey, this is like that episode of Seinfeld.”
I think it’s pretty telling that Seinfeld can go so over the top on such a regular basis but still be known as “The Show About Nothing.” If anything, I think that it says a lot about the quality of their “nothing” scenes. As much as the show dabbles in the absurd, it captures everyday life in a way that manages to feel incredibly relatable.