The Time Of Our Life: Remembering The Night Seinfeld Ended

“For the rest of our lives, when someone thinks of one of us, they’ll think of all four of us. I can’t think of three people I’d rather that be true of.

[Jerry Seinfeld, to Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards, in the huddle before the finale]

 

It’s something unpredictable
But in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life

[Green Day]

 

During the 1997-98 school year I was a sophomore at the University of South Carolina. And every Thursday night at 9:00 I would gather with my brother Ashley, and our friends Shawn Simeral and Bryan Baxley to watch Seinfeld. It was our favorite show. For all of us. Occasionally others joined us and occasionally we would meet up at 8:00 to watch Friends as well, but there was no doubt the night was dedicated to Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. They were a huge part of our week and had been for several years.

Halfway through the year, we got the news that this was it for Seinfeld. This would be the last season. I remember Ashley collecting as many magazines as he could that had this news on the cover. It’s weird to think that back then we got news without Facebook or Twitter. But just the same, the TV show that defined our adolescence was going off the air.

 

 

So, of course, we, like millions of other Americans, had the big finale party. Since school was out for us on May 14, 1998, we had it at our parents’ house. The place was packed. I recall so many details. I was decked out in my black T-shirt that had Wayne Knight on the front saying “Hello, Jerry” and on the back in big block letters said HELLO NEWMAN. I wore it every Thursday back then. I remember sitting in my favorite chair, which was closest to the TV. I remember sneaking a peek at our church’s youth pastor, who was was among the invited guests, when Elaine and Puddy went at it over Hell in a scene during the clip show.

I remember the clip show (now called “The Chronicle”) being cut off short so that the finale could start early because it could not fit into a one-hour time slot. I remember one thing they didn’t cut was a brief, sentimental video with more serious video and photos, including stills of the main characters and empty shots of Jerry’s apartment and Monk’s. “Good Riddance” by Green Day played behind it, a song subtitled “The Time of Your Life”. I remember wanting to cry, which was completely unexpected because anyone who knows the show knows that it was anti-serious 99.99% of the time. They even mocked crying in one episode, with Jerry not understanding what “this salty discharge” was and in real production, the writers and cast adhered to a “No hugging, No learning” mantra at Larry David’s direction.

Yet in the huddle before the finale, we would later learn that Jerry, Jason and Julia all started crying. Because life cannot always imitate art. Michael, the method actor who hated mistakes during filming (which you can see on the outtakes), was the only hold out on emotion. Yet, the lyrics to the Green Day song overlapping those Seinfeld images struck a chord with me because in sitcom terms, Seinfeld did give us the time of our life. And just like Jerry, Jason and Julia, its ending hit me in the feels.

 

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 3: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards and Jason Alexander embrace on the set of the show “Seinfeld” during the last days of shooting, April 3, 1998 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

 

As far as the finale itself, I’ve written about it elsewhere and this isn’t even about that. It’s about the event. The night. The hype. The fact that copies of the script were shredded at the end of each day to ensure that it didn’t leak. That people gathered even by the millions in some cities, like St. Louis, to watch on huge screens. The photo below is at Times Square in New York. What an incredible image.

Seinfeld felt larger than life and so its finale absolutely was. TVland went completely off the air during it to honor it. I cannot imagine how badly it would break the internet if it happened today.


I remember after the New York Four were convicted and they had their last moment together in the prison, coming full circle by ending the show with the same conversation that it began with, that I could not laugh at the post-episode scene with Jerry doing his stand-up in an orange jumpsuit, complete with one more Larry David calling out from off-camera moment. It was setting in to me that it was over. After the credits rolled, NBC gave an immediate live thank you to Seinfeld with a picture of the Big Four. If not for the fact I’ve seen the finale many times, I’d probably remember the NBC thank you better than the jail comedy scene. Because it was my sentiment exactly.

 

My brother and I said goodbye to all our friends and I soon went to bed. I never took off my HELLO NEWMAN shirt, a symbolic non-gesture of someone refusing to let go. And as I laid there in the dark and the quiet, I finally did shed a tear. Somewhere between Green Day and NBC’s thank you and the fact that it was finally reality that there would be no new Seinfeld, I felt sad. It was oddly surreal.

In hindsight, I don’t regret feeling that way, but Seinfeld fans cannot truly feel sad these days. In the last 20 years we have gotten the 9-DVD set and its “Notes About Nothing” and other fun extras, continuous repeats of the 180 episodes on TBS, a reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Facebook pages dedicated to doing nothing but quoting the show, memes, gifs, etc. etc. etc. Those of us that have wanted Seinfeld to live on, have gotten that wish. Perhaps only rivaled by The Andy Griffith Show, Seinfeld has thrived after its end. It won’t die. It’s all over the American consciousness daily.

So for that one moment in time, a collision of emotions in reaction to nine seasons of sublime TV comedy occurred. I was there. I’ll never forget it. As far as TV goes, it has always been the time of my life.

 

 

 

 




Five TV Moments That Made Me Literally ROTFL

I look like and argue like my dad. But I laugh like my mother. That woman can laugh. She can really get going. It’s fun to experience. And I am thrilled I inherited it from her.

There’s nothing quite like laughing so hard you fall out of your seat and start rolling on the ground, fully incapacitated. I could probably name 50 times it has happened in my life. Many of my closest friends and relatives know me for those moments. It is quite a spectacle. It is when life is at its emotional perfection.

It’s special. And the moments that cause it will always be special to me. Today I relive five moments from watching TV that caused me to live out the ROTFL acronym quite literally.


Seinfeld
The Episode: “The Fire” (Season 5, Episode 19)
The moment: Kramer recounts how he saved the pinky toe.

The first time I can recall that I fell on the floor laughing at a TV show. I can take you to the spot in my parents’ living room in Tookeydoo, SC where the magic happened.

Kramer is dating an annoying woman, Toby, who according to Elaine is like “a contestant on the Price is Right”. Kramer takes her to see Jerry do his stand up and she heckles him. Jerry gets flustered as a result and gets a bad review by a magazine. With George as his guide, he decides to get the ultimate comedian’s revenge by going to Toby’s workplace and heckling her. She, in turn, gets upset, leaves in a huff and loses her pinky toe to a street sweeper.

Kramer saving the toe is not seen on camera. But him telling the story of how he saved it—by hopping on an NYC bus that was about to be hijacked—is. The scene is all Kramer. Pure, unadulterated, 100% Kramer. Using his whole body to tell a story with more twists than an Oceans 11 movie. By the time he gets to the part where he had to drive the bus because the driver passed out, I was on the ground, convulsing with laughter, begging for mercy.

True story: I once told this as close to how Kramer tells it as I could for a sermon illustration at my church in Chicago. And when I brought it home with, ‘You kept making all the stops?” “PEOPLE KEPT RINGING THE BELL!” two people in the audience nearly had a ROTFL moment. That’s how funny it is.

Image result for kramer driving the bus gif


King of Queens
The Episode: “Name Dropper” (Season 7, Episode 5)
The moment: Doug fakes a heart attack when he can’t remember Carrie’s co-worker’s name.

I fell on the floor for this moment but I must add that my roommate at the time, Chris, laughed harder than I did. Which is saying something. In fact, he laughed longer and harder at this than anyone I’ve ever seen.

Carrie had already reprimanded Doug in the episode for not paying attention and learning names of people at work. So at a work gathering, Doug finds himself alone for a minute and one of Carrie’s coworkers flags him down. Doug refuses to acknowledge that he doesn’t know her name so he, in classic Doug fashion, begins interacting with her like they’re best friends. Then Arthur, who invited himself for the free shrimp, shows up and asked to be introduced. Doug is trapped. Carrie is still gone. So in a move of utter desperation, he fakes a heart attack.

We were both on the floor. Chris laughed at least 15 minutes, uninterrupted. By the time he stopped it was the end of the episode when Doug fakes another heart attack in a similar situation causing the laughter to start over.


“Community”
The episode: “Contemporary American Poultry” (Season 1, Episode 21)
The moment: Pierce goes toe-to-toe with a lunch server after they run out of chicken fingers.

I doubt anyone, even the staunchest Community fans, laughed at this scene quite like I did. My wife videoed the second half of it and just that much was several minutes of uncontrollable laughter.

The Greendale Cafeteria serves the most streets ahead chicken fingers and when everyone knows it’s Chicken Finger Day, there is a race to the cafeteria to get them because they always run out. This day, Pierce and Jeff are next in line and at that very moment, they run out again. They express their outrage. The server says nothing. Pierce calls her a “mute idiot”. She hands Pierce a note that he reads and then responds, “Well throat surgery may humanize you but *this* [pointing to the empty chicken finger tray] is still unacceptable.”

So that exchange got me going. For a long time. When I finally got it together, I rewound it because we missed about half the episode at that point. And I started at the beginning of the scene with Jeff saying, disgusted, as they realize there is no more chicken: “Again?!?!” And then Pierce adds directly to the lunch server, “At least apologize!” And that got me going again.

I bet I lost five pounds laughing that day. And Kayla started holding the remote.


Arrested Development
The Episode: “Good Grief” (Season 2, Episode 5)
The moment: Gob’s burial “illusion” falls through 

Arrested Development delivered jokes like a machine gun and while laughing at one you may miss three. This episode is no different.  George Sr. has reportedly died in Mexico so now they have to plan a wake for him. They don’t tell Buster, who has been faking being in the army because he can’t handle that kind of information (evidenced by his lost parakeet when he was a child). Gob offers to be buried in a coffin in his father’s stead, since they don’t have a body, as one of his “illusions”. And during the wake, Gob keeps Buster distracted with getting the illusion set up so he doesn’t find out the news.

At the climax of the episode Buster (who is wearing a magicians army outfit Gob lent him, since, you know, he’s not really in Army) and Gob gets ready to perform. The Final Countdown begins to play, setting the mood. And while Gob is getting in the coffin he lets it slip about George Sr. and Buster freaks out and abandons his duty. Gob then falls through the coffin trap door, into the grave, the coffin falls on top of him and the bulldozer driver begins to put dirt on him as the audience politely claps as though they were at a golf match and not at a magic trick during a wake. Which, BTW, is something you will only experience in the Bluth family.


Psych
The Episode: “True Grits” (Season 6, Episode 15)
The moment: Shawn and Gus decide to “Fight the Power” with Thane

A man named Thane approaches the Psych private detective duo because he was falsely imprisoned for two years and eight months and released through the Innocence Project. He gets restitution if they can find the real thief and, being wary of the police for messing up in the first place, solicits the help of Shawn and Gus.

At first, they reject him. But in a fine bit of acting by Anthony Anderson, Thane appeals to the heart of justice: he lost everything during those 32 months, including his woman. Shawn and Gus converge again to reconsider. Moved to tears by his impassioned speech and especially the loss of his woman (“He set her free, like a hurricane” “She got married quick”), they decide to help him. Shawn gets worked up into a tizzy–“Fight the power! Together!”–and as Gus tells him to not go all Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing Shawn goes all Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing by throwing the trash can against the window.

 

Image result for Psych just because you put syrup on something don't make it pancakes

 

Shawn and Gus are the standard for comedic duos to me as far as timing, chemistry, and banter. And this scene is as good as it gets.

I fell on the floor again a couple of minutes later when Juliet informs them that she is the one who put Thane away in the first place, meaning Shawn and Gus will be going against her police work. And it becomes such an awkward moment that Gus flees the scene, peeling out in his car, screeching the tires along the way.

So, that’s my list.  Have you ever had a ROTFL moment while watching TV?

 




Five Classic Curmudgeons of TV and Film

Movie and Television history is profuse with amazing and unforgettable crusty old men. Mean, cranky, ancient, eccentric – got to love those aged dudes and their disdain of all these hippies (everyone under 50) and newfangled contraptions. In our adoration of these wise, gray-haired, ne’er-do-wells, we have decided to highlight five iconic crusty old curmudgeons from either film or TV lore. Note: This is not necessarily a “best-of” list. These are simply the five cantankerous old coots that we have chosen to write about. – Ben Plunkett

 

Arthur Spooner – The King of Queens
by Gowdy Cannon

Frank Costanza could go from 0 to outrageously psychotic in two seconds. Arthur Spooner could get there, just a bit more slowly. And sometimes that was actually funnier. Arthur was Carrie’s dad, but it was his interactions with son-in-law Doug that showed how uninhibited Jerry Stiller was as a comedic actor and that caused me to cry tears from laughter. From the simple way he called him “Douglas” to their insane, petty, over-the-top, roll-on-the-floor-laughing showdowns in the kitchen, Arthur Spooner was just different enough from Frank, yet just enough the same. My favorite moments:

–Arthur tries some of Doug’s kids breakfast cereal and gets the prize 3D glasses. Doug is clearly upset because the cereal is his but he tries to be an adult about it. But he can’t because Arthur won’t stop acting juvenile. So Doug acts childish in return and the back and forth ends with Arthur ripping up the glasses and Doug destroying the still-full box of his own cereal as Carrie walks in.

–Arthur asks Doug how many stamps he needs for tickets he is mailing. Arthur doesn’t like Doug’s answer so Doug insults Arthur’s mooching off his family. It ends with Arthur destroying Doug’s sandwich and Doug destroying Arthur’s mail.

–Arthur asks Doug to pass the “catsup”. Doug won’t until he says “ketchup”. Arthur refuses so Doug pours an insane amount of ketchup on Arthur’s burger, demanding that Arthur call it “ketchup” as both yell back and forth until Arthur cedes. “And that’s how we learn”.

(And my personal favorite)

–Doug is answering a political survey over the phone when Arthur comes in and tries to make a phone call on the same line. He realizes what Doug is doing, insults his answers and this begins an exchange of severe putdowns between the two (including “Why don’t you tell him you’re enormous?” and “Why don’t you tell him you live in our basement?”) that ends with Doug asking “Why don’t you tell him your total salary last year was $12?” To which Arthur replies: “That was after taxes!” I don’t know why that Arthur line is so funny. Maybe the look on his face. Or the volume of the conversation. Or how inane the comment is. But I hurt from laughing at it and I’ve seen it several times.

As far as cranky old curmudgeons, Arthur Sponer takes a backseat to no one.

 

Carl Fredricksen – Up
by Phill Lytle


Merriam Webster defines crotchety as: subject to whims, crankiness, or ill temper. Thesaurus.com gives us these synonyms for crotchety: Cantankerous, crusty, grouchy, grumpy, and ornery. When we first meet the older Carl Fredricksen, he is all these things and more. He has grown sour after the passing of his beloved Ellie. He is prone to outbursts of anger, is mean-spirited to Russell, a young “Wilderness Explorer.”, and doesn’t seem to enjoy much about his life anymore. In other words, every second he is on screen is a joy for the audience. His complaints are hilarious. His lack of patience with Russell, and anyone else for that matter, never ceases to amuse. Buried deep down in Carl is a noble, honest, and good man. It takes some time for the audience to find it, but the journey is no less enjoyable during the search.

Favorite moments and lines:

Already exasperated with Russell’s constant talking and enthusiasm, Carl says, “Hey, let’s play a game. It’s called “See Who Can Be Quiet the Longest”. The line is perfectly delivered by Ed Asner, one of the great curmugeonly actors of all time. But the response by Russell takes the joke to another level, one that makes us laugh, but also reveals a great deal about our main characters, “Cool! My mom loves that game!”

Once they have nearly reached their destination by air, they are forced to continue the rest of the way on foot. Carl, wanting things quiet delivers this little nugget of gold to Russell, “Now, we’re gonna walk to the falls quickly and quietly with no rap music or flashdancing.” I’ve always loved that the two things Carl mentions are rap music and flashdancing, as if those were obviously things Russell would be involved in.

Finally, early in the film, when the builders are trying to get Carl to leave his home, he spots one of the businessmen in the distance. The man is wearing a suit, looking distinguished and professional. Carl yells at him, “You in the suit! Yes, you! Take a bath, hippie!” I think that one speaks for itself.

 

 

Merlin – The Sword in the Stone
by Ben Plunkett and Phill Lytle

He is, perhaps, the progenitor of all curmudgeons. Merlin is both cranky yet full of vigor. Quick tempered yet a great teacher. Ornery yet kind and caring. The first time we meet this magical old hermit is right after young Arthur literally drops in on him and Merlin is literally waiting. Along with Merlin’s even more curmudgeonly pet talking owl, Archimedes, Arthur is prepared for his rightful place of king. Every kid I knew wanted to have a mentor like Merlin, someone who could transform us into a fish or a squirrel. Someone who could teach us about the world. Someone to take note of us and invest in our lives. Someone who would fly off the handle and disappear to Bermuda when he got angry…

Favorite moments and lines:

Merlin tries to explain the way of the world to young Arthur, telling him that everyone faces adversity, “Oh, bah! Everybody’s got problems. The world is full of problems.” Merlin gets his beard caught in the door and yells, “Oh, blast it all! There, now! You see what I mean?”

When Merlin transforms Arthur and himself into squirrels, an older, lady squirrel becomes quite enamored with Merlin. Growing every more frustrated, yelling “Madame!” at key points of discomfort, Merlin finally decides enough is enough, “By George! I’ve had enough of this nonsense! ALAKAZAM!” He transforms himself back into a human being, leaving the female squirrel confused and upset. “There! Now you see? I’m an ugly, horrible, grouchy old man!” Even Merlin recognizes that he belongs on this list.

While he could be a very grouchy curmudgeon, Merlin also had times of great wisdom, like when he taught Arthur the lesson of love during his very squirrely adventure: “Ah, you know, lad, that love business is a powerful thing,” said Merlin.
“Greater than gravity?” asked Arthur.
“Well, yes, boy. In its way, I’d, uh… Yes, I’d say it’s the greatest force on earth.”

 

 

Frank Costanza – Seinfeld
by Ben Plunkett


Ah, Frank Costanza. Prone to psychotic outbursts. Hilariously and boisterously confrontational. No wonder his son George is a mess (with the very capable assistance of the almost equally psychotic Estelle, of course). The senior Mr. Costanza was portrayed to perfection by Jerry Stiller, whose acting, I imagine, was key to making Frank one of the most iconic crusty old curmudgeon’s of all time. But like all of Seinfeld, there was seriously great, hilarious, and memorable writing going down. A handful (but not nearly all) of Frank’s most memorable quotes and moments:

– “Serenity Now!”

– In my mind the episode “The Strike” is the perfect Seinfeld episode in just about every way. It is in this episode that much to George’s chagrin, Frank’s creation, the alternative holiday Festivus, is revealed to the world.

– “This is Frank Costanza. You think you can keep us out of Florida? We’re moving in lock, stock and barrel. We’re gonna be in the pool. We’re gonna be in the clubhouse. We’re gonna be all over that shuffleboard court. And I dare you to keep us out!”

– Festivus wasn’t the only case of Frank thinking outside the box. In the episode “The Doorman” in another insane fit of invention Frank collaborates with Cosmo Kramer to invent the Bro/Mansierre to assist older fellas in holding up their increasingly sagging chests.

– “He stopped short. You think I don’t know what that’s about? That’s my old move! I used it on Estelle forty years ago! I told everybody about it! Everybody knows! (demonstrates the move) Mmm! I stopped short.”

 

Lt. Mark Rumsfield – The ‘Burbs
by Phill Lytle


I’ve long considered The ‘Burbs to be one of the Tom Hanks’ greatest films. I realize I am in the minority, but I am not alone. I’ve met many people that believe the film is wildly underrated. What makes the film work so well is not just the fantastic performance by Hanks, but the wonderful and eccentric supporting cast. No one steals more lines and earns more laughs than Bruce Dern as Lt. Mark Rumsfield. Rumsfield is a retired military man, yet still living in constant vigilance and readiness for war. He is opinionated, suspicious of everyone, and ready to jump to the worst conclusion possible at the drop of a hat.

Favorite moments and lines:

Unfortunately, most of his dialogue is salty, after years in the military, and I will not reprint it on REO. (The film is rated PG-13, so the saltiness is not as extreme as it could have been.) Just watch the movie and enjoy his well directed vitriol and sarcasm. But, for the sake of this article, here are a couple I can mention:

Rumsfield takes great pride in his yard. Unfortunately, he has a neighbor (Walter Seznick) down the block whose yard far surpasses his own. His reasoning why his yard can’t compete with Walter’s, “That old fart. He’s got the best lawn on the block. And you know why? Because he trains his dog to crap in my yard.” A bit coarse and rough around the edges, but straight to the point.

When a group of our main characters head over, uninvited, to the new neighbor’s house, Rumsfield does his best to make everyone uncomfortable with questions, poking around, and examining as much of the house as he can. His interaction with the new family, the Klopeks, is delightful in its boldness and rudeness. One particular exchange has always cracked me up. Introducing himself to the youngest of the Klopek family, “Rumsfield’s the name. Don’t think I caught yours, sonny?” Hans, responds nervously, “H-H-Hans.” Rumsfield responds in the most natural manner possible, “Hans! Oh-ho! A fine Christian name. Hans Christian Andersen! What are you, Catholic?”

That should give you a good idea what to expect from Lt. Mark Rumsfield and an indication why he made our list.




In Defense of the Seinfeld Finale

“I got so much grief from the Seinfeld finale, which a lot of people intensely disliked…” (Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld)

 

If you want to start an argument among Seinfeld fans my advice is to ask this simple question: “What did you think of the finale?”

I’ve been talking with Seinfeld fanatics since before Kramer had a first name and I have seen firsthand how volatile conversations about Seinfeld can be. This is perhaps the biggest time bomb.

Let me preface my defense of the finale by saying that it was nowhere near the funniest episode or even as funny as an average episode. Out of 180 total episodes, I doubt it would crack the Top 100 for laugh out loud moments. I can easily support that critique. Similarly, if someone wanted to be introduced to the show there is no way I would want them to see the Finale totally aside from the nature of a finale not being an episode to watch first. It was a different beast from episodes like The Comeback and The Marine Biologist.

But even with all this, I loved the way the show ended.  Here are five reasons why:

 

1. Larry David came back. 

I for one do not think the show fell off a cliff the post Larry David seasons since probably half of my favorite moments came in Seasons 7-9. But there is no Seinfeld without Larry David. And to bring him back to recreate the magic of Seinfeld’s origins–everything from Jerry doing stand up to open to the very last conversation bringing the show full circle–made the finale worth remembering. From writing to producing to championing the show with such passion he would argue with NBC executives, Larry David was as important to mainstreaming and popularizing Seinfeld as anyone.

 

2. They found a creative, clever way to bring back the best one-off characters from the show’s history. 

Who didn’t enjoy experiencing the Bubble Boy testify, railing against George about the Moors again? Or watching Babu wag his finger one more time? Or seeing the Soup Nazi refuse to spell his name and demand the next question?

This was what made Larry David so proud of the finale and I have to agree with him. Finales should be a trip down memory lane in some sense and they found a truly unique way to recall inimitable characters and jokes that were defining moments for this award winning series.

 

3. This scene with Newman:

 

Newman, the character who appeared the most outside of the main four[1. I you don’t count Ruthie Cohen, and I don’t] and who Jerry cannot explain his hatred for, had his moments. He even stole some scenes. But they saved the pinnacle Newman meltdown for last. Either this or Frank Costanza interrupting the trial to yell at George Steinbrenner is the biggest laugh of the Finale to me. And this is definitely a “Gowdy stands up to clap” moment.

 

4. The characters gave us 45 final, glorious minutes of what made them great.

Not to contradict myself above but if someone did want to know what Seinfeld was like and they only had 60 seconds to do so, I absolutely would show them the comments the New York Four made on Kramer’s video while the fat tub was getting robbed. Anyone who didn’t smile and nod when George complained about no catsup–while in jail–probably missed most of the show’s run to that point. Jackie Chiles’ rants; Frank yelling about Hideki Arabu; Puddy’s utter indifference to Elaine going to jail complete with the Puddy stare and the Puddy voice-tone reply of “Alright” to Elaine’s “Don’t wait for me”…the finale unquestionably reminded us of why we became addicted to the show in the first place. Not all of these moments were boisterously laugh funny, but they were all quintessential Seinfeld.

 

5. The conclusion was absolutely true to the nature of the show.

I wish I had kept better files back in 1998 when this episode aired because I cannot remember who it was or where I read it but someone perfectly captured the ending by pointing out that the characters in the show didn’t care about anyone else and the show’s ending showed they didn’t care about us either. No good vibes. No sappy ending. Just the standard “Everyone loses” Seinfeld climax. There is something so real about that I can’t help but love it.

And the verdict: Four completely self-absorbed narcissists who left countless lives worse than how they found them, going to jail for a year. Poetic Justice in inane form. And the crime could not have been any more fulfilling–breaking a law based on a story from Jesus, a man who was perfectly contrary to them. The moment that “guilty” verdict is read, my goosebumps shatter as though I were watching a walk-off grand slam Cubs win. What an ending! It all, indeed, came crumbling down. And Newman was there. In all his glory.

As Larry David has said, everyone writes their own finale in their head[2. Anyone who wanted Elaine and Jerry to get together needs to get bonked upside the head with a marble rye.] and it is impossible for a show as popular as Seinfeld to make everyone happy in an episode like this. But I respect it because they did exactly what they wanted to do the way they wanted to do it. And they did not care about anyone else. The same man who yelled at NBC reps for not liking his Chinese restaurant episode idea, and got his way (and eventual great acclaim for the idea), went out the only way he could. And I cannot dog that. It worked.

 

I’m but one voice, yet 19 years ago I walked away from the TV longing for more new Seinfeld. Nevertheless, I was still completely satisfied by its ending. Two decades later I feel the same. The greatest show of all time went out on top. No critiques of the finale can change that.

 

Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know below!

 

 




“He’s The All-Time Best Seller”: How George Costanza Became the Greatest Character in TV History

You know you really need some help. A regular psychiatrist couldn’t even help you. You need to go to like Vienna or something. You know what I mean? You need to get involved at the university level. Like where Freud studied and have all those people looking at you and checking up on you. That’s the kind of help you need. Not the once a week for eighty bucks. No. You need a team. A team of psychiatrists working around the clock thinking about you, having conferences, observing you, like the way they did with the Elephant Man. That’s what I’m talking about because that’s the only way you’re going to get better.

[Jerry, to George]

 

And You Want to Be My Latex Salesman

Confession: when I find out someone is a Seinfeld fan, I silently judge them based on who their favorite character is. For my wife it’s Elaine and I get that. She’s a woman and Elaine is THE woman on this show. Julia Louis-Dreyfus stood next to three entertainment icons for nine years and held her own. So no judgment. But generally speaking, any answer other than the right one earns secret scorn from me, which I know is totally unfair.  

When Seinfeld went off the air on May 14, 1998 there was no doubt to me who was the best character. It was Kramer. He was why my brother Ashley started watching the show, and why he influenced me and my friends to start watching around Season 3 when the show was new. In the beginning we watched every week to see what Kramer would do or say next. His hair, antics, physical comedy, randomness and high energy one-liners made for a legion of fall on the floor laughing moments. In Season 5’s “The Fire” when he explains how he saved a pinky toe while on a hijacked bus that was “out of control!!,” that may be the hardest I’ve laughed watching TV.

 

Ruth.  Mantle.  Gehrig.  Costanza?  

But something clearly happened in the next few years as I continued to watch on syndication and through a set of old VHS tapes my friend Joel Riley gave me. I still laughed at Kramer. But I really laughed at George. There were scenes that I was seeing for the 10th time where at the end I was so blown away by whatever George did–be it a diatribe or a lie or a rationalization–I would stand up and clap. The genius of George Costanza could only be appreciated with time.

I’ll say it this way: if the average sitcom fan watched Seinfeld for the first time, I think they would be much more likely to laugh at Kramer and find George supremely annoying.  I would understand that. It’s why the brilliance of George’s character flew under the radar (at least for fans like me) the whole original run. To find George funny–to get George–you have to know him. And that means you need to see the episodes more than once. George is a culture unto himself and he, like Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, takes a little time to fully appreciate. This is probably why I judge people for thinking Kramer is the best; it makes me wonder if they have seen the show repeated times.

 

This Pear Shaped Loser

So George’s meteoric rise to the top of the Greatest TV Character list in the years after the series ended still strikes me as incredible since the show is probably as popular now as it was 20 years ago. George, unlike Kramer or Jerry, would not be funny in real life. He is (pardon the reference) the opposite of what anyone would find attractive or appealing or entertaining. He’s short, bald, slow-witted, petty, and the most neurotic person in real life or fiction maybe ever. These adjectives come easily for a fan of the show since they are straight from its dialogue and it seems Seinfeld went out of its way to let us know how uncool he was and what a loser he was[1. According to the “Notes About Nothing” on the Seinfeld DVDs, the wardrobe department was told to dress George in a way to make him as uncool as possible]. He went seasons without a job. He lived with his parents as a man in his 40s. If the Seinfeld main cast was in a race to see who could be the most narcissistic, George won by a mile. Or at least several hundred feet.

 

“I’m disturbed. I’m depressed. I’m inadequate.  I got it all!”

So why is he funny, even all these years later? I can’t answer that question with any confidence. Just as with Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother Where Art Thou? they took some of the most repugnant traits real humans have and made it funny. It’s like a magic trick to me. Why is it one of the funniest, most memorable TV subplots ever when George battles with Kip/Ned/Moe over the Twix? Why do I say that George’s impassioned speech about having to be the first out of the fire is the best scene in the series? Why did I once spend $12 to buy a salad at Tom’s Restaurant in New York City simply because George once said, “You had to order the BIIIG salad!!!”?

Even though I can’t be sure, I can guess. At least part of it is the acting. Jason Alexander deserves every award he won for this role times a thousand. It’s a marvel to see him in real life because he is nothing like George, at least based on his interviews. He’s soft spoken, jovial and oozes humility. So I can appreciate what talent it takes to act out the scene where George explains why his worlds cannot collide: because it’s an impeccable transformation to a boisterous, angry megalomaniac. It was, and is, something special to watch this mild-mannered man in real life be the exact opposite of himself numerous hours a week for several months each year over nine years. Anyone else in the role of George hurts the show significantly. I would die to meet Jason Alexander–and I rarely get excited about celebrities. But George is my guy.

 

A low rumple. A metallic ‘squink.’ A ‘glonk.’ Someone crying out…”Dear God!”

As with any good entertainment, you have to credit the writing and hair-brained storylines as well. I mean, TV shows just don’t have dialogue quite like George’s Marine Biologist beached whale story. God bless the mind that put “The sea was angry that day…like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli” to paper. Or whoever thought up everything George says and does after a guy at work zings him while eating shrimp.  If you want to see the most glorious collision of acting and writing, go watch “The Comeback” from Season 8 of Seinfeld[2. My analysis of George’s Jerk Store comeback: It’s smart. It’s a smart line. And a smart audience would appreciate it. And HE’S NOT GOING TO DUMB IT DOWN FOR SOME BONEHEAD MASS AUDIENCE.]. Never have neurotic and petty been so entertaining. The writers even made George’s answering machine funny[3. Which you can see here.].

 

You’re Stuck On Some Clown From the 60s!!!

And believe it or not, almost paradoxically, the legacy of George is also tremendously enhanced when he’s mixing it up with other characters and (sort of) blending in instead of–as he so often did–dominating the scene. I’ll forever be amazed by Jon Favreau’s performance as Eric the Clown in “The Fire” because he went toe-to-toe with the greatest TV legend ever and did not back down under the weight of George’s idiotic obsession with Bozo. Watching the two men go back and forth over clowns is one of the Top three greatest Seinfeld moments ever to me. Similarly when George and Jerry talk about their new sitcom “Jerry” being a show about nothing. It’s just two guys having an incredibly funny conversation. George doesn’t upstage Jerry; they play off of each other with perfect timing and execution. Like watching Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in a half court set for the Boston Celtics in the 80s.

 

If you take everything he accomplished in his life and condense it down to one day, it looks decent

When you start discussing “greatest” anything you open up debate and critique and I welcome it all. But I’ll defend my choice of George Costanza with all the inane logic of “Remember Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it.” It took years and countless repeat viewings to appreciate what Jason Alexander accomplished with such a unique yet utterly repulsive character. I doubt it will ever be topped. It’ll take someone being as funny or funnier during the 25th viewing of their antics as the first or second. Because Costanza is. He’s been the bad date, the bad house guest, the bad employee and the bad tipper. But he somehow turned all of that into a great character. Indeed, the Greatest of All Time.

 

Who is the best Seinfeld character of the main four?

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Dealing With the Ramons In Your Life

Do you know anyone like this?

 

 

I do. I know lots of people like this. But it wasn’t until a conversation I had with my brother that I really began thinking about these people.

I remember it was 10 years ago, around this time. Ashley and I were talking on the phone (which is odd to think about since we only text these days) about the College Football BCS Championship and whether Florida deserved to play against Ohio St. more than Michigan or Southern Cal. And after talking about this for a while Ashley says out of nowhere: “Do you know what someone should preach a sermon on? Dealing with the Ramons in your life.”

I knew exactly what he was referring to since we both speak Seinlanguage. He was referring to the Seinfeld episode, “The Pool Guy,” from the clip above. If you cannot gather it from this 30-second scene, Ramon was extremely annoying and had very low social intelligence. In a prior scene he bumps into Jerry and Kramer at the movies and awkwardly takes the seat between them even although they very obviously did not want him to do so. In a later scene he follows Jerry around all afternoon before Jerry finally tells him they can’t be friends. Ashley was telling me in a way I could understand the clearest that he struggled with annoying people in his daily life.

That conversation really got me thinking. I thought about the Ramons I had in high school. I thought about the ones I had in college. I thought about the ones I’ve had in Chicago. It seems no matter where I’ve been there have always been people that have irritated me greatly. Rick Warren in his book The Purpose Driven Life calls these ‘EGR’ people: “Extra Grace Required”[1. Please know that I have little doubt that I am and have been a Ramon to other people. I know some people do not like the way I laugh. Some do not like the way I preach. Back in Bible college my youth ministry professor, James Evans, told us that there would be those people that would be hard to deal with in our future ministries. But he added that to someone else, we might be that person. That is important to remember for me.].

My personal Ramons have all been the same story. I always think I’m cooler than Ramon. I think I am smarter. I think I am better at life. And that is basically why I treat Ramon the way that I do, which is the exact opposite of how the Bible says to treat him.

I listened to Ashley’s idea and about nine months later I preached a sermon about it, when I finally found passages that I felt convinced fit the topic, Romans 15:1-7 and Ephesians 4:1-6. I’ve preached it at my church another time since then and at several youth camps and retreats. Here is what I learned by studying these two chapters from Paul:

 

I need to spend time around Ramon

Here’s some honesty: my greatest temptation with the Ramons in my life is not to insult them or gossip about them or mistreat them. It’s to ignore them completely. To act like they are not there. To avoid their gaze at church, walk on the other side of the room to avoid their path or turn the other way in public.

But Paul writes in both of these passages that we are to bear with others in love, to build them up, and not just please ourselves. You cannot bear with someone if you avoid them. You cannot build them up from a distance. I am also convinced Paul had at least a Ramon type idea in mind as he wrote some of these verses because of the verbs he used. You don’t “bear with” people you get along with, at least not generally. You do not need to be told to be humble and gentle unless you are tempted not to be. Ramon is the greatest application of these verses to my life. Because my attitude toward Ramon, better than just about anything else, shows how prideful I truly am and badly I can treat others.

I remember a time in my past when a guy who desperately needed the interaction of a male mentor asked me to go fishing with him. The morning we were supposed to go, I overslept because I didn’t care enough to set my alarm. I remember another time being on a bus for a middle school field trip that I was helping chaperone as a volunteer. The only seat left on the bus when I got on was next to the loudest, most obnoxious kid in the class. It was no coincidence that he was alone. I sat next to him. He tried to make conversation but I was curt with him. Finally, I turned my back on him to talk to the cooler kids in other seats.

The amount of times I’ve ignored the Ramons in my life is astronomical. This is quite often a sin of disobedience.

 

How I treat Ramon is an issue of Christian Unity 

This has overlap with the previous point. In Ephesians 4 Paul uses the word “one” over and over to describe Christian unity: one Father and Lord, one faith, one baptism. In Romans 15 he says we glorify God with “one heart and voice.”

Yet we find every possible way we can to divide the church in the U.S. We divide by race and ethnicity. We divide by music preference. We divide based on things–and people–we find annoying.

Even within the church we divide ourselves from the Ramons. I recall several years ago taking 13 people from our church on a mission trip to Mexico. Before our trip, we drove up to Wisconsin to have a team-building retreat. During one exercise I had them randomly line up on a three-inch wooden beam. Then, I told them to rearrange themselves in order of their birthdays without leaving the beam or touching the ground in any way. After many hours, they did it. We then met and discussed what we had learned. One person said the exercise forced her to talk to people in the group she never talks to. That hit me like a hammer. Here we were a group from a church of 75-100 people, only 13 of which were going on this trip…and yet some people never had never talked to each other.

Jesus prayed against Christian division in John 17. He died to unite the church according to Ephesians 2:11-22.  He died so that Ramon’s would never be ostracized.  Yet, they often are.

 

What if to Jesus, I am Ramon?

After clamoring for us to love those in the church who are weaker than we are and making pleas for us to be completely unified in mind and voice, Paul in Romans 15 nails the point as hard as he can with these words: “Accept each other, then, just the way Christ has accepted you.”

Christ accepted me when I was a failure of a student and person my sophomore year at USC, taking sleeping pills every night because my life was so messed up. Christ accepted me even though I was hooked on pornography. He accepted me even though I was lazy and selfish. He accepted me even though I lived as though God didn’t matter at all. I’m sure at least in some manner of speaking, to God, I was Ramon.

So why don’t I accept Ramon with that kind of grace? Why do I judge him so much? Why do I treat him as though he were invisible and meaningless instead of a wonderful being created in the image of God?

I think the key resides in how much I forget how much Jesus loves me.

Leading up to the command that we need to “bear with one another in love” in Ephesians 4, in the first chapter of Ephesians Paul says that In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” Then in chapter 2, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in your sins…For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” And in Chapter 3: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

THAT is the context leading us to Paul writing in chapter 4, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  If there is a reason I do not love Ramon, it is because I have completely taken for granted the way God loves me. These two things are absolutely connected.

Sometimes I think about the people I love in my life. Do I love my wife?  Absolutely. Do I love people of other races? I think I do. Do I love people with different political and  worldviews than me?  I certainly try.

Do I love Ramon?

I have never been able to answer this question the way I know God wants me to. And no matter how often I preach it, it never gets easier.

It will not get easier until I completely grasp Romans 15:7. Everything about being humble and bearing with each other and being of one mind and voice hinges on knowing how much I am loved and accepted. It truly is the source of everything I do.  The New Testament says to forgive others because Christ forgave you.  It says to lay down your life for others because Christ laid down his life for you.  It says to accept the Ramons because Jesus accepted you, at your most annoying, your most sinful.

So I ask my REO readers today to think about the Ramons in your life. Do you love them? Or, like me, do you often avoid them? I encourage all of us today to let the truth of Romans 15 and Ephesians 4 help us answer that question.

Because, unlike on Seinfeld, it is not funny at all to treat Ramon the way Jerry did.

 




An Essay About Nothing: Seinfeld As Filtered By Christianity

Elaine: Well I guess a certain someone changed their mind about whether a certain someone is qualified to babysit.
Jerry: Is this about me?
Elaine: No.
Jerry: Well then I’ve pretty much lost interest.

 

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY?  NO SUCH THING.” 

Today the Seinfeld series finale is old enough to vote!  18 years ago on May 14th the New York Four stood on trial for not being good Samaritans and, in the words of the judge, for “callous indifference and utter disregard for everything that is good and decent” in society.  So what better way to celebrate than talking about that callous indifference!  To be upfront, this is not an essay about how great a show Seinfeld is or how it impacted my life or why it is my favorite show ever.  If you are interested in that, you can go here or here.

Instead, I want to dissect it in a way that I am certain Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David never envisioned and probably would rather I not.  But I’m doing it.  While probably unintentional, Seinfeld was very philosophical.  You cannot truly have a ‘show about nothing.’  In trying to make a show about the most inane parts of life[1. “the excruciating minutia of every single daily event,” like the look a teller may give you at the bank drive thru] you are essentially saying that “life is about nothing.”  Intentional or not, that is philosophy.  Even if it is guised heavily by the funniest dialogue and greatest character development in TV sitcom history.

When I watched Seinfeld during its original run (and it’s still surreal to me that I can remember the commercial previews for episodes like when Kramer’s first name is revealed–when they were brand new) I watched it because it was funny.  And I’m sure millions still see it as a funny show.  Nothing more, nothing less.  But as I moved on to Bible College the semester after the show went off the air, I began to notice that a lot of what I studied–from Nietzsche to Ecclesiastes–reminded me of Seinfeld.

“AND YOU AND I KILLED HIM”

I do not think I’m reading too much into the show to say that to the characters, God was dead.  At least in the sense that they lived like He had nothing to do with their lives and especially their morality.  God was irrelevant.  At times, he was a punchline[2. When George thinks he is going to die after getting on with NBC, he tells his therapist “I knew God would never let me be successful.”  She says, “I thought you didn’t believe in God” and George replies “I do when it comes to the bad stuff.].  As a result, an anti-Christian worldview was implicit and explicit in the show.  The characters were completely selfish, completely self-consumed.  Nothing mattered other than getting what they wanted.  It was utterly perpendicular to loving your neighbor as yourself.  Like Paul wrote, citing Isaiah, if the resurrection isn’t true then ‘let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die'[3. 1 Corinthians 15:32; Isaiah 22:13].  Seinfeld was the quintessential “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” show.  It’s like the characters listened to Paul, just that they went the opposite way that Paul desired.

     The characters were completely selfish, completely self-consumed.  Nothing mattered other than getting what they wanted.  It was utterly perpendicular to loving your neighbor as yourself.  Like Paul wrote, citing Isaiah, if the resurrection isn’t true then ‘let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’  Seinfeld was the quintessential “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” show.  

Believe it or not, this makes me appreciate the show on a different level.  The reason is because it took that philosophy to its logical end.  While it portrayed an anti-Christian worldview, it did not glorify it.  It certainly didn’t preach.  You had four main characters, mostly unattractive[4. I suppose Julia Louis-Dreyfus can be considered attractive but not like Jennifer Aniston or Courtney Cox, in my opinion.], mostly with moderate amounts of success at their careers.  They all lose relationships because they are selfish.  They all lose jobs or gigs because they are selfish.  They all (spoiler!) go to jail in the finale for being selfish[5. This isn’t the place to defend the finale but I know it gets bashed a lot and maybe one day I will defend it. But sending them to jail was genius. It was perfect. It was absolutely the best way to end it to me. And in light of what I’m writing right now, the fact it was “The Good Samaritan Law” that got them in trouble in the first place, is the cherry on the sundae.].  There was no cheesy music and lesson learned at the end of each episode.  It blew up the TGIF sitcom formula and changed TV in ways that is still producing fruit in 2016[6. One of which is having antiheroes as sitcom leads.  Some of the most popular sitcoms of this century (The Office, Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, etc.) feature central characters that are not people of integrity, at least most of the time.  Michael Scott is a far cry from Michael Seaver.].

“A DEEP, DARK CHASM…” 

Beyond how much their selfishness messed up their lives, I now appreciate the honesty in how they confess their lives are unfulfilled as a result:

We’re all unhappy, do we have to be fat, too?” (Elaine, complaining about too many cake celebrations at work)

“My world suddenly has meaning!” (Kramer, finding out Pam liked him)

“So you began to ask yourself if maybe there is more to life?  Let me tell you something: There isn’t.” (Kramer, explaining to Jerry why marriage is a bad idea)

“Something’s missin’.  There’s a void, Jerry, there’s a void.” (George, on not finding a woman)

As a Christian I think this is how it should be.  That is the message of Ecclesiastes. But the huge difference between Seinfeld and Solomon is that Seinfeld, because it is fiction, aims to make it funny instead of depressing.  Make no mistake, this is all played for laughs.  Unlike a show like “Friends,” there are no serious moments, especially in romantic relationships.  No sappy break ups or wedding proposals, no Emmy votes for “best kiss,” no audience cheering because she ‘got off the plane.’  Only Jerry going out with a woman several times without remembering her name, Kramer getting thrown in the Hudson river (in a sack!) at the end of a date, and George dating his cousin because his parents (whom he dislikes) are ignoring him.

     …there are no serious moments, especially in romantic relationships.  No sappy break ups or wedding proposals, no Emmy votes for “best kiss,” no audience cheering because she ‘got off the plane.’  Only Jerry going out with a woman several times without remembering her name, Kramer getting thrown in the Hudson river (in a sack!) at the end of a date, and George dating his cousin because his parents (whom he dislikes) are ignoring him.

“EVERYTHING WITH YOU HAS TO BE SO JOKEY.” “I’M A COMEDIAN.” 

And of course, this extended to all areas.  Everything was funny: racism, cancer, Hell.  Nothing was off limits.  This is what happens when God is dead and becomes an irrelevant punchline.  But what fascinates me is how this contrasts to and intersects with real life.  Over Thanksgiving weekend in 2006, Michael Richards (Kramer) became the center of an ugly controversy when he hurled ethnic slurs at two guys heckling him at a comedy club in LA.  It was a terrible news story.  A few days after this happened, Jerry was on David Letterman and he asked Dave if he could beam Richards into the show via satellite so that Richards could apologize.  It was too soon after the event in my opinion.  And it did not go over well.  Mainly for one reason that I will remember til the day I die: When Richards appeared on the big screen with the saddest look on his face and began to try to explain how sorry he was, the studio audience began to laugh.  Why?  I’m not positive, but maybe because this was ‘Kramer’ they were seeing.  They could not look at him and not find him funny.  He wasn’t a real man with a real problem; he was entertainment.

That wasn’t all.  When the audience laughed, Jerry commented “It isn’t funny.” That struck me like a lightening bolt.  Here was a man who for nine years, over 180 episodes of sitcom gold, gave us permission to laugh.  At everything.  And now in real life, the laughter didn’t stop.

THE BAD BOYS OF POSTMODERN TV (DR. HOLLEY WOULD BE PROUD)

Other shows like the Simpsons, Family Guy and Southpark, took the “God is irrelevant and therefore a joke and so everything is funny” to new levels.  And I have to wonder if that doesn’t effect culture in a potent way.  I remember working with a group of middle schoolers in inner city Chicago a few years ago and they often talked about these shows as their favorites.  One time we took the kids to see a play about Anne Frank. In the play they very appropriately but still very realistically tried to portray what happened to her.  And one of the students in our group, as Anne Frank was about to be abused, shouted out a vulgarity and many of the students in our group started laughing.  The teachers I was with were horrified.  Sometimes I wonder if this didn’t happen because they were reacting as if it were an episode of Family Guy.  I’m sure apologists for Seinfeld or any of these shows would say, “It’s just TV.”  But the examples of both Richards and these middle school students proves that life not only imitates art, the lines are easily blurred when philosophy is involved.

     I want to laugh at Jerry’s “If this isn’t about me, I’ve pretty much lost interest” because it’s so absurdly honest.  But I don’t want to live it.

As far as Seinfeld, this doesn’t make me want to quit watching the show.  It just makes me want to filter it correctly.  Several years ago I was watching an episode where George says he thought his life was worse because his parents stayed together.  And of course the audience laughs.  And a friend of mine whose parents did divorce was sitting right there and said, “You have no idea how not funny that is.”  That’s kind of the takeaway I’ve come to on this topic.  I still would go crazy if I ever met Jerry or Jason Alexander or JLD or Michael Richards.  My wife and I will still go through the whole series this summer (3rd time for her, too many to count for me).  But there will be about four episodes we don’t watch because they are too crass.  And we won’t find all of it funny.  We will read and study the Bible daily and live God’s will (imperfectly) when not watching TV so that it serves a good purpose.

I realize this has been heavier than a typical Seinfeld article, so I vow that the next one will be on something like the greatness of George Constanza and a lot funnier.  But this does matter to me.  I want to laugh at Jerry’s “If this isn’t about me, I’ve pretty much lost interest” because it’s so absurdly honest.  But I don’t want to live it.  Life is very much about something.  Something important and bigger than myself.  Jesus is alive and God is relevant.  And so I live in an opposite way as the New York Four.  And as a result I have kept jobs, have a good, non-prison marriage and it’s very unlikely I’ll ever be going to trial for breaking any laws based on the Bible.   :)

 

 

 

 




“Happy Festivus, Georgy!”: How Seinfeld continues to be a cultural force 17 years after its end

FOR THE REST OF US!!!!

It’s December 23rd today and I know what that means. No, it does not simply mean that tomorrow is Christmas Eve or that the next day is Christmas. No, to me and mine, today is something different, quite unlike Christmas and not nearly as significant. Yet it still has meaning and I could not escape it if I wanted to.

I’ve been awake for only a few hours and I have already been wished a “Happy Festivus” by text, Facebook message, or in person six times. Many others are waiting for me to wish it to them. This happens every single year. Every year a made up holiday that was a plot point of a singular Seinfeld episode 18 years ago, invented by a loose cannon secondary character, interrupts the Christmas songs, cuts through the peaceful Christmas vacation time with family and causes dozens of people in my life to ‘celebrate’ with odd things like unadorned poles, wrestling and telling each other bluntly exactly what you find wrong with them. (For the record, nearly all of this is done in jest. Nearly all.)

IF IT WERE ONLY DECEMBER 23rd THAT I EXPERIENCED THIS…

What is even crazier is that the other 364 days of the year are similar in bringing Seinfeld references into the excruciating minutia of every single daily event. Every time my friend Josh Crowe and I have a silly disagreement, one of us quotes Frank Costanza: “You sayin’, you want a piece of me?” When my brother Ashley and I text, things like “Eric the Clown” come up constantly. Every time I have to stop suddenly at a traffic light I hold up my arm to brace my wife’s sudden jerk forward, I say “Everybody knows….” and then she adds “I stop short.”

     Every year a made up holiday that was a plot point of a singular Seinfeld episode 18 years ago, invented by a loose cannon secondary character, interrupts the Christmas songs, cuts through the peaceful Christmas vacation time with family and causes dozens of people in my life to ‘celebrate’ with odd things like unadorned poles, wrestling and telling each other bluntly exactly what you find wrong with them.

[Kayla is a fairly new fan. She actually watched all 180 episodes of Seinfeld twice, just so she could understand my random comments in everyday life. I don’t quote Seinfeld on purpose most of the time; it just comes out because its vernacular is so ingrained in me lo these many years later. I can go months without seeing an episode and it will still be at the forefront of my brain. She got this early on. And being the excellent wife she is, she allowed Seinfeld references all over our wedding day festivities in both subtle and overt ways, from the best men being “pretty good men” to marching out to a string quartet version of Good Riddance to having “WORLDS COLLIDE” in big letters behind us as we sat at our reception. To pay her back, I am also a recent and big Harry Potter fan, and quoted it in my vows.]

I’M PRETTY SURE EVERYONE WATCHED SEINFELD

The Seinfeld references don’t stop with quotes either. Plot points make their way into our daily actions and norms. My church is a clear example. My pastor bought me 3 feet of Twix bars this year for Christmas, just so he could say, “They were all Twix!” when he gave it to me. My church gives out a “Cosmo Kramer” urban scholarship to summer interns most years and part of their contract states they must be willing to go by the name ‘Darin’ all summer and they have to watch the episode that explains why.  In 2007 my brother Ashley told me that someone should preach a sermon on “Dealing with the Ramon’s in your life” – a direct reference to an episode where Jerry finds a guy so annoying, he tells him they can’t be friends or hang out any more. Ashley told me that he has those people in his life and used a Seinfeld episode to communicate that clearly and succinctly.

This kind of long term influence is everywhere in society today. You can find it in multiple places in the mainstream. When longtime Yankee owner George Steinbrenner died a few years ago, the Chicago Tribune did a full page article on his life…and a half page on his presence in Seinfeld even though he himself never appeared on the show but was instead portrayed by co-creator Larry David.  A few years ago my brother Tracy sent me an article over email about a prisoner in California who requested a specialized diet and lost. In his appeal to a court, he cited “Festivus” as the holiday he celebrates. The judge acquiesced, awarding him the necessary “Festivus” diet. Every month–and sometimes every week–I see something on ESPN, the local news, or even religious blogs that references the show.

It goes on and on. And while there is no doubt that Seinfeld is my favorite show, there is also no doubt that its influence is far bigger than my small little world. But for those of you blessed enough to be in mine, I say, “Happy Festivus!” And if you have any grievances to air about this article–or me in general, today is the the day. And Festivus is never over until Tracy pins me. But seriously (although this is all serious), enjoy today whether you celebrate this inane holiday or not.  Merry Christmas!  Enjoy the site!