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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Book Review: Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (audio)


Like all of America, I loved Seinfeld in the 1990s. When I considered moving to New York City to be an editor, I thought of Elaine Benes, and if she could get by in the city, surely I could too. I have thought it odd though that afterward, while I will catch a rerun from time to time and enjoy it, it's not a show I seek out or have rewatched dozens of times, like other sitcoms from the era. I rarely say, "Oooh, a Seinfeld is on!" They both seem really of their time and also without much plot or throughline to hang on to. I watch old episodes of Friends to see if there's any clues in early seasons about Monica and Chandler getting together, things like that. But famously, the Seinfeld characters did not grow or learn, so there's no payoff in the end. Maybe that's why the final episode was such an epic flop. I did make my little brother watch it with me, live, even though he was way too young (12) to understand or care.

But I still have nostalgia for it. When I do run across the reruns, I certainly watch them. And I think, man this show really was funny! Even though I then don't seek them out going forward. The last one I caught was one of my all time favorites with George pretending to be a marine biologist and finding a beached whale which has had its blowhole obstructed by a Titlest golf ball that Kramer had been hitting into the ocean to practice his drives. It was one where all the plots came together beautifully and seamlessly in an unexpected way with a huge payoff.

But how did the show happen? How was NBC persuaded to make a show about nothing? How did this seminal 90s sitcom come to be, maintain quality for so long, and go out on top (barring the last episode)? What was the inspiration? How did the grumpy and angry Larry David stay so involved for so long? How were the actors to work with? Were they like their characters or not? How did they fare after the show? This fun book gets into all of that and more. I kept calling people (I was listening to this while driving) to tell them fun trivia. For example the actors who played Jerry's parents had fascinating back stories: the dad used to be a real cop and got his start in show business as Jackie Gleason's body double, and the mom used to date James Dean! If you're a fan of the show, this book is a delight.

I downloaded this book on Overdrive via my library.

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