Friday, 17 September 2010


It's one of the most successful sitcoms of all time and was the number one show in America for a huge amount of time. But after finally sitting down through all 9 seasons and watching each episode after another, how does it 'stand up'? (Jerry being a stand-up - get it?)

I have a funny relationship with Seinfeld. Not literally. But because whenever it was on in the past, I hated the cheesy studio laughter, the over-acting, just the ... Americaness of it all. Whenever it was on, I would try to watch it but Jerry's smug face, the way they dressed, Kramer's idiotic physical humour, it all just bugged me. So why return to it?

The reason why is because I'm such a huge Curb Your Enthusiasm fan, and because this is what Larry David is known for, and because the last season I just watched was about doing a reunion episode, I thought I would give it a go. It's hard to sum up the huge amounts of episodes in one article, but I just could not be naffed to write a review after each season seeing as there is no real arc to each one. They just kind of hop on from one to the other.

The original idea of the sitcom was showing Jerry's stand-up and how he gets his jokes from his everyday life. Simple and safe. But then it goes all wacky as it gets a bit post-modern as Jerry's character gets asked to do his own show. Then the stand up kind of takes a backseat as the sitcom element progresses. You soon see Jerry not as the Jerry Seinfeld in interviews etc. but as a caricature of himself, and it's a bit strange. However, that aside, it really does work and about 80-90% of the episodes are funnier than whats on TV right now and since ... ever. There are some dips in quality and some jokes get a bit far fetched as they occasionally lose the 'realism' and go for all out ridiculous but that's what makes it fun. All the characters progress, apart from Jerry really, which is strange but then even though it's Seinfeld on the box, it's Seinfeld's face all over the place, I'd argue the entire sitcom is really about George.

What makes the show really work is George, loosely based on Larry David himself, and his OTT outbursts, his general behaviour, his selfishness, his self-deprecating character is something completely unique and that I haven't seen before or since. Apart from Curb. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong and even though you hate the little shit, there's part of you that empathises with him and his everyday struggles through life. He's not just a counterbalance for Jerry, he's a monster in his own right and is the real star of the show played exquisitely by Jason Alexander.

Elaine I could give or take, she was a good blokey girl that was still effeminate but was a serious bitch sometimes and, to be honest, was a bit of a slut as well. Her dress sense and hairstyles were pretty bad, but got better towards the end yet she was just something to keep the female audience members happy. She worked well, but often I couldn't stand her.

Kramer, played by Michael Richards (who since the 'nigger' remark seems to be slightly downbeat all the time - maybe he was always like that - maybe he's just troubled?) is a character that evolves the most during the 9 years of the series. He starts off as a bumbling hairy weird neighbour, to a slightly retarded goofball, to a wise almost Zen-like lover of life. At first I couldn't stand his stupid falls, ridiculous Three Stooges-like behaviour but he soon develops into a character that people love like they love a big dog. After a while, and after some semi-serious Kramer storylines, I found him both repetitive, almost tiring to watch and just a way to keep the energy up.

The other characters are played wonderfully and it has a complete set of celebrities who you will recognise from all kinds of shows, but my favourite auxiliary character is a close tie between Jerry Stiller as George's dad and Wayne Knight as Newman - both of which could carry a series by themselves. Everyone knows Jerry Stiller as Ben Stiller's father and it's no wonder his kid became the king of modern comedy, Jerry Stiller has got to be an absolute master at comedy and it shows. Newman is different in that, not only is he the fat guy, but he is genuinely the greatest B character in a sitcom. Every time he turns up you know you're going to get comedy gold and it's just a shame the series didn't continue for that alone. It's also the same for character Putty, better known as Joe from Family Guy these days - if you think Joe is funny, check him out in this.

Each episode is written masterfully with the wit and humour that can only come from Larry David and Seinfeld himself. Jerry might not be the most likeable character, in fact he's a watered down, more socially acceptable version of George really, but his holier than thou demeanour and the fact that he's also a bit of a cock just can't seem to tarnish the straight-cut, good guy, 'aw shucks' character that he seems to embellish so well. It's in fact what makes the show work, it's like Jerry is in on the joke with the audience, he knows it's all one big laugh and you can laugh with him, by being somewhat unprofessional he is instead bringing the audience onto the set with him. It's what is known as talent and the annoying thing about it is, is that he's just so fucking funny. All the jokes are ridiculously funny and I found myself almost crying at some stages - it really cracked me up.

However, I do have some issues with it. Funnily enough, it's the same problems I came into it with. Sometimes it can be really cheesy, and yet even though it deals with some controversial issues in a distasteful manner that you'd never think would be allowed on mainstream TV, it does occasionally feel like a forced sitcom. However, that could be because it has been going since 1989. It all can feel just a little bit too American and some jokes are a bit too easy, like the Kramer ones. Some episodes I also found quite boring and even though the highs were high, sometimes the lows were pretty low.

Overall, this is a must-see series that will outshine a lot of sitcoms out there and to believe that some of the material wound up to be prime-time mainstream TV is outrageous. I've a feeling some of that stuff would never get a prime-time airing now and especially over here. However, even though the jokes still ring true and are still fresh, the series can sometimes feel dated. It's a piece of work that continues to get better as it progresses but fails on the final episode. A strange reminiscence of all the characters in a weird court case that feels so forced, unnatural and awkward, that it ruins the whole experience and leaves the audience with a sour taste in its mouth. It's a disappointing end to such an incredible series that started as a cult and went mainstream with a huge 70 million people tuning in to the finale. Think about that, 70 million. However, I have to admit that, as a series, I like Curb Your Enthusiasm better - it's like all the George bits without the other distractions; therefore, even though it's great, it's not perfect.

Rating: 8/10

1 comment:

  1. You're sitting 3m away, but i'd rather do this via the web.

    What you say about Jerry is spot on, they purposefully (somehow) designed him to be a kind of likeable winner, who got to make the obvious jokes whilst still keeping his popularity. He is able to make an existence off of pure sarcasm, and even though he is often the victim of the various nutters each week, be always ends up even-Stevens. If you see him in real life you definitely get the sense he's just playing a version of himself, must help.

    George, what can you say?! He's a joy to watch, every rant, every lie, every selfish instinct and every excuse are something unique. Apparently Jason Alexander had problems in believing anyone would behave in the way George was written, until Larry David explained that a lot of the situations had happened in his real life, and he'd behaved exactly as he'd written for George. Since the character is based loosely on Larry he becomes a kind of driving force for the show, full of injustice & rage at every single facet of his life.

    Of the four main characters Elaine was my least favourite, but she still added a lot, I think. Unlike the majority of other female characters in shows like that, she's far more selfish & devious, and in a way she shares those traits with the others. It almost feels like the characters are in that tight foursome because of their shared neurosis in life, not because they actually like each-other. Maybe with the exception of Kramer, but the other 3 are completely self absorbed, and that kind of indifference to others makes the show.

    Good mention on the non regular stars, they're easily as important as the main four. Newman is great for all the same reasons as George, viewers simply shouldn't like him, but yet his unrestrained selfish attitude steals the show, 'hello Jerry', and that maniacal laugh?

    Jerry Stiller and Estelle Harris (Ms Potato head from Toy Story) are priceless as the Costanzas. It's a pure dysfunctional family, and not that I'm a psychologist, these two could well explain Georges' many, many issues. Estelles' screeching voice, and Franks' kind of brow beaten idiocy are high points. The whole 'serenity now' mantra is something I'll never forget.

    Beyond that, Larry Davids' cameos as the caped lawyer & George Steinbrenner are great, as are any number of characters like the Soup Nazi, J Peterman, Jackie Chiles and my favourite, Elaines' boss, Mr Pitt.

    You're right that at times it's a little too Americana, but the humour is more than enough to make up for it. There are sadly not enough prime time comedy shows would have a main character happy about having accidentally killed their long-loathed fiancé. Another episode that is hard to believe made it to air is 'the contest', about a challenge of abstinence between the main characters. The episode relies on some excellent performances to progress, as the script avoids all mention of the more x-rated words that you'd think would have to be used in those situations. Amazing.

    Love it.