Seinfeld was, famously, a show about “nothing.” But if Jerry Seinfeld were ever to bring it back â as he suggested was “possible” during a recent appearance on Ellen â would nothing still fly?
Seinfeld‘s cast of 30-something singles feels today like a snapshot of 1990s America. Thumbing through reruns on Hulu, it quickly becomes evident that plenty of the humor didn’t age well.Â
There’s the running gay joke, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” The various shades of misogyny in the way Jerry, George, and Kramer conduct their dating lives. The jarring lack of diversity in the cast. Even innocuous gags, like the half-hour build-up to a punchline in “The Parking Garage” that today’s cellphones would render obsolete, would never fly today.
Viewed through the reactionary lens of a post-political correctness world, Seinfeld is a travesty. It was never kid-friendly, but it’s not even teen-friendly anymore. The show’s dramatized take on life and love was never accurate, but it’s now inaccurate to the point that it’s more of a cultural artifact and source of nostalgia than it is an enduring piece of entertainment.
Seinfeld was never kid-friendly, but it’s not even teen-friendly anymore.
And yet. Without Seinfeld, there would be no 30 Rock. No It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. No Arrested Development. For all that doesn’t hold up, Seinfeld was a revelation for scripted television. It proved that a sitcom didn’t need a point or an overarching lesson to impart. Seinfeld demonstrated how a strong central gag and a likable cast could easily carry half-hour chunks of story.
In other words, “nothing” isn’t the problem. Seinfeld lit a torch that many other successful shows have since carried. It’s true, many of those old jokes didn’t age well. But the same could be said for plenty of episodes and gags from Seinfeld predecessors.
Name a modern world-set TV series that isn’t in some way a product of its time. 30 Rock may be woke by Seinfeld standards, but the show has been criticized over the years for its handling of a number of topics. The world grows up, and the stories created for TV grow up along with it.Â
The real question we need to ask, then, when speculating about a Seinfeld revival: What reason is there for it to exist at this point?
Seinfeld worked because it captured a particular cast at a particular moment in their lives. Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer, together as a group, were a relatable bunch. We identified with their problems, if not always their solutions. As much as it was about nothing, the show depended on a fundamental hook of this mostly single, 30-something foursome navigating work and relationships on their own in the big city.
There’s no question that audiences are open to the idea of more Seinfeld. Just listen to the audience reaction on Ellen when Jerry responds to the idea of a revival with: “It’s possible.” But is that same audience really ready for what the reality of New Seinfeld would look like?
It’s been almost 20 years since the final episode aired and our 30-somethings have become 50-somethings. That singles-struggling-with-life-in-the-big-city schtick isn’t nearly as relatable.
OK. Fine. Maybe take things in another direction. Marry off one or two members of the foursome. Add some kids to the mix for a new twist on the show’s sardonic perspective on family. Own those old jokes, the problematic ones, and use them to show how these characters are (or aren’t) capable of growth.
That sounds… fine, right? Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s mockumentary take on Larry David’s life played with the idea when, during the HBO show’s seventh season, Larry teamed back up with Jerry for a Seinfeld reunion. It hewed closer to the original schtick than an actual reunion likely would.
The handful of scenes recreated for Curb brought audiences back to familiar Seinfeld sets, situations, and patter. It felt like an aging band returning to the songs that made them famous in the first place. It’s a welcome sight, it’s something you can tap your foot along to, but it doesn’t feel quite right.
Curb‘s revival of Seinfeld worked as a series of comedy sketches, but can you really imagine a full season of 30-minute episodes featuring these characters? The past 10 years of TV are awash with programming that delivered newer, fresher takes on Seinfeldian characters, from obvious predecessors like It’s Always Sunny to stealth impersonators like How I Met Your Mother.
We still love Seinfeld today because of nostalgia: It was the perfect show for the moment in which it existed. More than that, it has a real legacy. Entire books have been written about the show’s lasting impact on the entertainment that followed.
How do you take that magic now and bottle it up for a revival? Is such a thing even possible? New Seinfeld would have to be a completely separate beast, a new series driven by fresh ideas and original humor. You can revive the characters and their fictional lives, but not their cultural impact.
It might be best to let Seinfeld live on as the artifact it’s become: Difficult to watch today through any lens other than nostalgia, but an undeniably vital player in the evolution of TV storytelling.Â
Any revival carries the risk of needlessly tarnishing that legacy, particularly at a moment when this new “golden age of TV” is ruled by a young and increasingly diverse crowd of creators. Seinfeld had its moment, but that moment is over. Isn’t it enough that this show about nothing actually led to something?