Believe it or not, and you should believe it because no one starts a sentence that way and then follows it up with a lie, this week marks the 15-year anniversary of the Seinfeld finale. A common question to ask at a time like this is simply, has the show 'held up' over the years? Is Seinfeld still funny and relevant today, 15 years after 76 million Americans tuned in to see George, Kramer, Jerry and Elaine become the first people charged with violating the Good Samaritan law? I decided to find out the answers to these questions by following the scientific method.
The Question: Does Seinfeld Hold Up 15 Years Later? Is the show still funny and relevant in present-day America?
My Hypothesis: Yes, it holds up. Yes, it's still funny. Yes, it's still relevant. It is still the funniest network TV sitcom of all time. Only an idiot would disagree.
Testing: I figured the best way to test if Seinfeld holds up is to have a newcomer watch it. Luckily my girlfriend was the perfect guinea pig for this experiment as she was too busy as a child watching Full House and learning lessons about what it's like to live in non-traditional, possibly incestuous and very possibly homosexual family unit in San Francisco to be able to watch Seinfeld. After my initial shock of the realization that there exists a Jewish girl who didn't watch Seinfeld, I realized that we were the perfect duo to pair up and test the hypothesis. If this fresh-faced novice found the show funny and relevant then my hypothesis would be confirmed. So she, the Seinfeld neophyte, and I the wily Seinfeld vet that strongly believes that my greatest skill in this life is my ability to dominate Seinfeld Scene It (I'm better at that game then the Bubble Boy is at Trivial Pursuit), sat down and began our journey.
Conclusions: I came to a conclusion in this experiment that may shock many of you but because it was derived through science the conclusion must be infallible. Seinfeld does indeed hold up and it is indeed still funny however with one major caveat, the show only holds up in the present day if you watch the series in reverse from season nine down through season one.
Analysis: The answer to this question came by way of an accident, much like Fleming discovering penicillin, and of equal importance to the world. As we began diving into the beauty that is Seinfeld, I only had the complete seasons eight and nine box-sets at my disposal. Because Seinfeld is not a show that absolutely must be watched in order I decided we could watch season eight and nine first to get into it and then I would get the rest of the DVDs and we could watch the show in its linear format. By doing this I stumbled upon a major discovery; Seinfeld holds up best when you start by watching the show with the final two seasons first. Not coincidentally, these are the only two seasons where Larry David was not the head writer.
Almost every great show needs to be watched in order from the very first episode onwards. Most shows build up and up in layers as each episode becomes subsequently more complex, the world on the show becomes richer, and the viewing experience becomes more enjoyable. This is especially true for shows like Arrested Development or Parks and Recreation. To jump into an episode in a later season is to miss out on the genius of the show. You might still like it but so many call back and in-jokes will go over your head that you won't even know that you are being robbed of maximum viewing pleasure.
Seinfeld is the exact opposite of this. Season eight and nine are the post-Larry David years and they are very divisive to Seinfeld fans. Many fans believe that the core of the show was forever altered in those years and that with the central Larry David vision being gone, the show slipped out of a realistic, character based world and into a more surreal fantasy-land; anything for a laugh became the goal. Many others believe that a large chunk of the funniest episodes of the entire show come in seasons eight and nine and that they are comedic masterpieces. When you watch the run of the show in reverse what stands out is how right both sides are.
I advise newcomers to watch the show from season nine backwards (start at episode one of season nine but still save the finale for the very end) because the Larry David "show about nothing" format and his "yelling on behalf of society" minutiae is diminished and it allows the show to stand on its own merit strictly as a comedy. Once you become hooked on how funny the show is, it makes it easier to dive into how unique and brilliant it is during the Larry David years. Many people argue that character development stopped and the characters became caricatures in seasons eight and nine but when you watch in reverse you realize that this notion is not accurate. After seven years together, it makes perfect sense that neurotic, loser George would become angrier and angrier. It makes sense that Elaine would become more combative and would give up on any notion of real romance. It absolutely makes sense that all of Kramer's schemes and tendencies would get crazier and more unhinged. When you watch backwards you can actually see the development in reverse of each characters descent into madness. Jerry never changes because Jerry is not supposed to change. His charming indifference to everything and everyone are a core component of the shows universe. His whole life is a teenage boys fantasy (no real job, date beautiful women, eat cereal at midnight while watching cartoons) and thus it is imperative that Jerry never shows any progress or desire to change.
The simple fact is that the late season episodes are hysterically, and historically, funny. Although Larry David is my favorite human being in the entire world (sorry Dad!), and I believe that Curb Your Enthusiasm has surpassed Seinfeld as the best television comedy of all time, I must remind readers that the purpose of this experiment is to see if Seinfeld "holds up" in the present day. I am not saying that seasons eight and nine are better than the previous seasons, I am simply saying that I believe the last two seasons are the most accessible to an audience in 2013. Larry David's obsession with small scale social interaction is often so based on the current environment of the time he wrote them in, that many things that bothered him then are no longer relevant. The land line telephone and the answering machine are so vital to the comedy of earlier seasons that it can distract a current viewer from the comedic gold unfolding. Other major potential distractions include Elaine's hair and Jerry's computers.
A central tenet of Larry David's vision for Seinfeld was that the show would have "no hugging and no learning." Although season eight and nine are very different from what Larry David would write, I contend that this magnificent motto is never violated and thus the spirit of the show is very much intact. No one hugs, no one learns and we all laugh. What some critics and too die-hard-for-their-own-good fans often forget is that the purpose of a comedy is to make you laugh. If you sat through episodes like "The Merv Griffin Show," "The Bizarro Jerry" and "The Chicken Roaster" and didn't laugh then you are a terrible human being and you clearly belong to the un-dateable 95 percent of society. Episodes in earlier Larry David produced seasons have higher quality writing, they are more clever and witty, and they are more intelligent, but I don't believe that they are as laugh-out-loud funny to a first time viewer in 2013.
Final Conclusion: Seinfeld still holds up after 15 years and a re-run is funnier then any network sitcom that is currently on the air. This scientists recommends a Larry David/Jerry Seinfeld ticket for the 2016 Presidential election.
Peer Review: Have it in the comments.