Monday, July 11, 2022


Here's a FQ that became an entire post.  It's from...

George Tramountanas.

I notice when you talk about your favorite sitcoms, you don't mention Seinfeld much. Maybe you've discussed this before and I've somehow forgotten, but how would you classify this type of sitcom? I mean, it definitely had its funny bits, but the characters weren't people you could care about (at least, I never did). Plus, they never seemed to grow as characters, which I suppose was the big joke of their last episode. On Cheers, you somehow made a character like Norm someone that didn't change at his core, but we did care about him. How would you explain the difference?

Disclaimer:  This is just one person's opinion.

I admired SEINFELD and at times found it laugh-out-loud funny, which very few sitcoms even come close to achieving.  

But I also found it inconsistent.   Some episodes felt forced with a lot of scenes just treading water.  

The characters didn’t grow as you said, which was very much by design.  But the problem there is that after awhile they cease to surprise you.   Once you know how they’ll react in any given situation they stop being interesting (in my opinion).

They were also basically unlikable.  But I’ll be honest, I liked that about the show.  It was refreshing that characters were created to be funny and that often means exploiting flaws.   Characters who are all sweet and sensible are murder for comedy writers.  So kudos on that front.

But this choice comes at a price.  It’s hard to care for someone you don’t particularly like. You feel less bad about their misfortunes. In some cases you're even happy.  Ideally, the viewer is invested in the series and what happens to its characters. They want them to succeed not say "Screw you, ya had it coming." Without that in a sitcom you’re pretty much only as good as your next joke.  SEINFELD was able to get away with that to a large extent because many of the jokes were truly great (and it's incredibly hard to write great jokes, especially week after week). 

To sum up, I liked SEINFELD very much.  Watched it religiously during its first run.  It was truly a delightful change from other sitcoms.  And I applaud any situation comedy that strives primarily to make the audience laugh as loud and much as possible.  But it’s not one of my all-time favorite beloved sitcoms. I ultimately need to care.  I don't get any joy out of "Screw you, ya had it coming."

What are your thoughts?


Mike Barer said...

I found that in the HBO series Veep. Every character was terrible, but I found myself always rooting for them. I think there is a certain type of "magic" in that.

whynot said...

I've said this before in these comments that your shows, particularly Cheers, were exactly the same way. Maybe you don't see it because you were too close to it. Who the heck was likeable on Cheers, except maybe Woody? Every single character on that show was written as sarcastic, obnoxious, and just plain mean - especially by the time it ended. I don't care about someone as nasty as Carla or Norm. They never "grew", and every episode was the same: characters simply repeating that Rebecca was a tramp, Diane was a snob, Lilith was uptight, and Cliff was stupid. What fun.

slgc said...

I loved how the story arc of Season 5 played out. Jerry's parents getting thrown out of Del Boca Vista because George took back the marble rye was inspired.

And living on the Upper West Side during most of the show's run, I felt like the characters could have been living down the hall from me. Most of the outside shots were from the neighborhood (and now that Roosevelt Hospital has been replaced by a newer building, Seinfeld reruns are the only place where I can show my son where he was born).

But the show lost its magic when Larry David left - it just ceased to be funny those last two seasons (for the most part - there were a couple of exceptions).

FWIW, I never understood how anybody outside of New York ever got into the show. Who except for a New Yorker could understand the concept of a lesser babka?

Charles H Bryan said...

I enjoyed Seinfeld a lot when it was first on (less so the post Larry David seasons), and maybe during its early syndication, but I have little desire to watch it now. Perhaps oddly, although it's uneven, I can almost always rewatch Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Anonymous said...

Just a partial list of classic characters that could be considered "unlikeable" but were funny:
Ralph Kramden, Alan Brady, Ted Baxter, Felix Unger, Dick Solomon, Elliot Carlin, Mr. Haney, Mr. Drysdale.
I'm sure there are many more.
It's complicated.

Matt said...

I loved Seinfeld. I didn’t find the characters unlikable, but they were definitely neurotic, narcissistic and sarcastic. But I don’t know how the show could have existed otherwise. It definitely took on topics (and jokes) that nobody else would (master of my domain). Cheers is my favorite sitcom of all time, but Seinfeld is a close second.

slgc said...

"It definitely took on topics (and jokes) that nobody else would (master of my domain)."

As Matt said, the show did take on some taboo subjects. And it did so brilliantly.

I have said for years that Sex and the City could not have existed but for Seinfeld. What Seinfeld did with euphemisms opened the door for more explicit talk about sex (yes, Sex and the City wasn't a network show, but Seinfeld primed audiences for further exploration of sexual topics).

Max said...

This post, and the notion of character conflict and tension, reminds me of an excellent documentary that I just watched, about the first few seasons of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, called CHAOS ON THE BRIDGE. The thrust of the documentary was that in its first two seasons, the show was trying to adhere to a dictum that Gene Roddenberry issued, stating that there would be no conflict between the characters: that humanity had supposedly evolved beyond petty squabbles. It's no wonder that with little exception, the episodes from the first season are consistently flat, and that you don't really get a sense of who the characters ARE. By the second season, the shows had improved somewhat, though they still were "off" a little but. As one of the writers said, the basis of story is CONFLICT, and if you're being told to avoid conflict, then you need to find different ways to tell the stories. In that second season, they seem to have found those "different ways." By season three, Roddenberry's dictum had been tossed out the window, and the show really took off creatively. But those first two seasons just "never felt right," and it was because of that "dictum."

On a totally other note, Ken, in that documentary Denise Crosby complained that in those first seasons the budget was so low that there wasn't even food out for the cast and crew, and she said "I used to sneak over to the CHEERS set and steal food." Do you or anyone remember Denise Crosby raiding the CHEERS food cache?

Max said...

Another comment: this also reminded me obliquely of why, in M*A*S*H, Charles was such a superior character to Frank, at least as far as sitcom characters go. One could only hate Frank so much; there was something about Charles from the beginning that made him sympathetic, and of course as the series progressed we learned things about him that made us, indeed, care about him.

ventucky said...

I would list Seinfeld, It's Always Sunny, Veep, and Arrested Development as the 4 funniest sitcoms ever. Not a lot of warm fuzzy folks in any of them. I guess I would add Succession. It presents as a drama, but is as funny in many ways as the other 4, again, known for having no likable characters.

Unknown said...

Thank you for putting words as to why I never. Watched Seinfeld after the first couple of attempts: I did / could not care less for the characters! To this day I have friends who cannot believe I never watched the show, they proclaim it as the “best show, ever!”

I could never be invested in that bunch of “over-entitled” characters. Never was / Never will be.

Cheers had me at the first episode. I cared about Sam, Norm, Coach and the rest of the characters. Exactly the same as with Taxi, MASH, Barney Miller and some of those other ensemble cast shows. They were entertaining and I enjoy the stories and story lines.

Ted. said...

I actually take issue with the idea that the main "Seinfeld" characters were bad people. They were basically okay people whose human flaws were exaggerated for comic effect, and who were more open about them than most sitcom protagonists. (That still seems better than a bunch of characters whom you're supposed to think of as cool and nice -- say, the characters on "Friends" -- but who each seems kind of awful when you look back on them after watching the whole series.) "Seinfeld" was based on a type of self-deprecating humor that's fallen out of favor, because today we turn self-criticism into actual criticism. And we call the characters "unlikeable," when they're really just honest about who they are.

Mark said...

Mark said,

I agree to an extent.

The Honeymooners had one flawed character in Ralph. But even he always knew his own flaws
by the end of the show.

In Cheers, the characters were flawed but there was always one character that you’d latch onto
as your favorite. Every guy wanted to be Sam. And I was for that 30 minutes every week, even
though I could never be him in real life.

To me, the fact that Seinfeld was predictable is what made it so popular. Kramer was a friend to
everyone except in real life. We all have friends like the Jerry, George, Elaine and Ringo.

Cheers has held up better because it was a little older crowd. Maybe by about a decade.

I grew into people of Cheers age, which helped me keep interest.

Last note: My wife sleeps with the TV on. Friends gives me a headache as it’s too rapid
and intense for late night as I go in and out of sleep. Can’t watch Frazier overnight as
my dog barks when it hears the doorbell.

Random thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. I watch Seinfeld again and again only when I want to laugh.

Todd Everett said...

I didn’t get Seinfeld at all until I read an interview with somebody - maybe Larry David - who explained that none of the characters were supposed to be particularly likable. That and “The Contest,” and the whole thing fell into place for me, and I became a big fan.

Rob D said...

I don’t care if characters are likeable or unlikeable, as long as it isn’t extreme. (I can't stand shows like Full House and the like; too syrupy sweet and therefore utterly bland. I tried but did not like Succession, which is allegedly a comedy but the characters aren't just unlikeable but loathsome).

I love Seinfeld. The characters are unlikable and I would not want to be around them in real life, but not so horrible that I love seeing their misfortunes week after week. I also find some of their self-loathing to be endearing. Their self-awareness about their self-sabotaging is endearing to me. Also the characters are often telling each other not to do something because it will blow up in their faces; they do seem to care about each other to a certain degree.

Michael said...

It never did much for me, but I have to say what I admired: The final episode. At the end, they made your point: These are not really pleasant people, and they didn't evolve. And it took guts, I thought, for Seinfeld and company to do that instead of showing them happy at the end.

Admittedly, it would have been better if Jerry had awakened in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Even in spite of how unlikable they were, the characters were still very much endearing not only because of their flaws, but because they all had their quirks, eccentricities, and neuroses that still made them relatable in someways . . . case in point, as I grew older, I came to really identify with and relate to George Costanza, because my life was a lot like his: my parents very much bickered much like Frank and Estelle did - not usually in front of me, mind you, but their firestorm sessions could still be heard in other rooms. At the same time though, I would also say that this is also why I identify with and relate to both Raymond and Robert Barone, because while my dad was a lot like Frank in terms of his could be a really arrogant old fart, my mom was very much like Marie in that she could be a smotherer, and was never afraid to dish out the PDA. So yeah, you ever see that meme float around social media from time to time that says "Describe Yourself in 3 Fictional Characters"? Invariable, George is always one of mine (along with Radar O'Reilly and Felix Unger).

I will say this though: while the characters of SEINFELD were unlikable, they also, unfortunately, sort of set the stage and the standard for sitcom characters who came after them . . . as Ken has mentioned on this very blog a time or too in the past, networks feel that the more unlikable and jerky characters are, the more believable and relatable they are, and as such, so many TV characters in the past couple of decades or so have been just that: unlikable jerks and douchebags . . . the major difference is whereas the SEINFELD characters were still appealing because of their quirks and eccentricities, most other TV characters lack this quality, and are just straight-up jerkasses for the sake of being jerkasses for laughs . . . it has been an awfully long time since a TV show has had any sort of characters that you feel a gravitation towards because of how off-putting they can be. I'm not saying that all characters have to be flawless goody-two-shoes, but I feel that an ensemble should have at least one sympathetic character with depth to them, but you don't get that a lot anymore . . . and if you ask me, we can really use such characters again - especially in this day and age where we live in a society where a particular political party has taken concepts such as Toxic Masculinity, Toxic Patriotism, and other toxicities to the max, and essentially push this notion that we have to treat each other like shit in order to show the world how tough and resilient we are, because otherwise, showing kindness and empathy somehow makes us a bunch of weak pussies that everyone will walk all over.

But, I digress. Next to M*A*S*H, SEINFELD is definitely a show I usually cannot go a day without watching, but I very much prefer the later seasons, where the pacing and storytelling improved greatly, and the production values increased tremendously to the point that we actually saw more of the story as it unfolded, as opposed to how much earlier seasons were like slow-paced stage plays where a lot of what happened in an episode occurred off-camera because they didn't have the sort of sets that they did in later seasons . . . Babu being dragged out of his apartment calling for Jerry's help? Newman threatening to jump off the roof? The dog that won't stop barking in Jerry's bedroom? We never actually saw any of this, but in later seasons, we would have because of how much the production values improved.

Vote Blue said...

Michael7/11/2022 8:35 AM
“Admittedly, it would have been better if Jerry had awakened in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette.”

As he advances into his nineties, this is the daily nightmare of Bob Newhart.

Buttermilk Sky said...

SEINFELD never tried to be likeable. Its motto, if I recall, was "No hugs, no lessons." These characters were never going to grow. But isn't being unlikeable essential to many great sitcoms? Who were we supposed to root for on FAWLTY TOWERS, Manuel? Do you want to spend quality time with anybody from THE OFFICE (either version)? SEINFELD always knew its characters would end up badly, and prison is just a slight exaggeration.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

It's been a while since I listened to commentaries on the Seinfeld DVDs but I recall a number of interviews with writers and writing teams. It seems once writers were greenlit to write an episode they were given a lot of input on the shows and served as de facto producers on their episodes (I'm not sure if this continued after Larry David left the show). Also striking was how often something from their own New York lives was the basis of a story arc (the soup Nazi is a famous one, also the Jon Voight car). So even the extreme characters were often grounded in reality. I rarely found the characters unlikable, they had charm and chutzpah and acted out transgressions that many of us repress.

A comment above says, "Their self-awareness about their self-sabotaging is endearing to me." This is a nice insight, I agree it's part of the appeal.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

I do think the Finale episodes were flawed. The premise that the foursome would witness a robbery of a frightened, blubbering guy and laugh at him instead of helping just doesn't seem true to their natures. Kramer always seemed tuned in to the underdog, and they all seemed to have some kind of moral compass that drew a line at mean-spiritedness even as they mocked other characters.

I also found it disturbing how passive and abashed they were during the trial. They had been such fiery, sputtering, and anarchic characters, it just seemed to deflate them so much. I think Larry David may have had something in his mind thematically about growing up or the end of an era, but even after watching a few times it seems inscrutable.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

If you have HBO Max maybe try streaming Mike & Molly or New Adventures of Old Christine. The laugh tracks aren't too intrusive and there are lots of quieter scenes, plus no commercial breaks. I have rowdy neighbors who "party" all night (and all day too) and I need to drown them out so TV helps me sleep. 30 Rock is a good one also to listen to while dozing though I'm not sure why.

Ted. said...

Re Spike's comment above: I agree that the finale was poorly thought-out, and provided a faulty summing-up of the show as a whole. During the trial the characters were accused of various bad actions, based on incidents that had taken place over the course of the series. But in most cases, these weren't situations in which they had done the wrong thing intentionally. They were situations in which they had tried to do the right thing but failed, or did something that others misunderstood, or made common errors in judgment. Those events weren't proof that these characters were bad people, even though they were presented that way. (Meanwhile, the main incident they were on trial for -- in which they observed something bad happening and laughed -- seemed like a way for Larry David to censure us, the audience, for enjoying the show in the first place.)

Jon B. said...

Seinfeld has always been a favorite of mine since its first run. As a non-writer, I was amazed how in each episode they could juggle three separate story lines and then wind them up together in the end. Brilliant.

Pamela Atherton said...

Not a fan. Couldn't get into the show. Everyone was too neurotic and insecure and that seemed to be what the "humor" was based on.

Neil Ross said...

I was in the voice-over game when "Seinfeld" came along and it completely changed the commercial reads. The producers told us to read the copy like one of the Seinfeld characters. As they explained it, the characters in "Seinfeld" all had this ironic detachment. They stood to one side and observed life and felt far too hip to actually participate. To them, pretty much everything was a joke. This read, the producers felt, would be a way to win over the Gen X population. We old school guys had a tough time doing it. We had been trained to exude sincerity. Now, even though the copy really didn't change much, we were supposed to communicate a subtext which went roughly like this. "I'm just reading this. I don't believe a word of it, and I'm pretty sure you don't either. What a bore." As I said, most of us had trouble delivering this read and a whole new group of talents emerged. One guy who was unbelievably successful during this period sounded to me like he had gobbled a handful of quaaludes just before his sessions. This read lasted for a few years and then fell out of favor with the changing zeitgeist, but it put an end to a lot of careers. Then the celebrities came along and finished off the rest.

ScarletNumber said...


I don't think Norm was particularly nasty. He mostly kept to himself and drank his beer.

George Tramountanas said...

Wahoo! Ken answered one of my questions! Another check off the bucket list! (I'm a simple man.)

Thanks Ken!

Anonymous said...

We have been rewatching MY NAME IS EARL and we’re wondering about your thoughts on the show. In many ways it’s one of the most unique comedies I’ve ever seen with themes that network television wouldn’t touch today with a 10 foot pole: criminal behavior, interracial marriage, infidelity, gay/redneck relations, every kind of disability and of course karma. But it treats all these subjects with comedy and a lot of heart. They always end doing the right thing and everyone gets along in the end. I remember when I saw it originally I thought this is gonna open up a lot of people‘s minds. Boy was I wrong.

maxdebryn said...

I liked the early seasons of SEINFELD. The later series became too loud, and absurd for me. I was pleased when they acknowledged their debt to Abbott and Costello in the '94 special Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld. I always thought that SEINFELD also owed a debt to the goofy banter between the guys in DINER.

-bee said...

I was always lukewarm about Seinfeld - I thought it was very well done, mostly 'truthful', and very funny at times, , but it made me uncomfortable in that I feel it was so popular because for a lot of people it validates their own self-contentedness and selfishness.

As with a lot of selfish people, the one trait that is valued is 'loyalty' - these people did care a lot about each other but that was about it (actually, "Friends" is a lot like that too).

The final episode of the series kind of tries makes up for what went before by somewhat acknowledging the main character's self-contentedness comes at a price which they are too blinded by their petty obsessions to comprehend - and that is probably why a lot of hard core fans didn't like it.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I loved "Seinfeld" first run and for much of its time in syndication. Although, I'm a little burned out on it now.

Even thought I'm a fan I have to admit that it's not the greatest sitcom, but season four (including the season three finale) is one of the best single seasons of all time. It's right up there with Lucy goes to Hollywood. Most of the most memorable episodes were in that season. "The Outing" ("Not that there's anything wrong with that!") "The Bubble Boy," "The Contest," The Junior Mint" (Mulva?) etc. The pilot arch seemed kind of contrived, yet it worked in the long run.

And one thing that everyone seems to be overlooking is that while the characters themselves weren't particularly likeable they loved each other. Jerry and George had been friends since Jr. high. Kramer drove everyone crazy, yet they still cared about him. And Elaine is the kind of female friend that every group wished it had. It always seemed to be the world vs the gang. It was their bond that generated the comedy. And the relationships is what what good sitcoms are made of.


P.S. Many of the above comments reminded me of why I never really liked "Taxi." I didn't find the characters likeable especially Latka and Bobby. I really didn't care about them. And Louis was supposed to be the character you "love to hate," but I just hated him.

Caleb Martin said...

There are lots of ensemble comedies I like where each of the main characters is individually unlikeable or even reprehensible, but the ensemble chemistry is just so engaging that you can like the charm of the whole without rooting for any individual part.

I loved the early seasons of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" after they added Danny DeVito, for instance.

"VEEP" is another favorite, though they took a few more steps than "Sunny" to humanize the characters. Not many, though.

David Mandel, a "Seinfeld" alum, did an incredibly skilled job taking over "VEEP" from the original showrunner and bringing it in for a consistently funny landing. Under pressure, every deeply flawed character drilled deeper into their core flaws, and as a result, each one of them got exactly the comeuppance they deserved, more or less.

To me, the final season of "VEEP" is as consistently shocking and appalling and hilarious as some of Mel Brooks's earlier films. Certainly more so than some of his later films.

Caleb Martin said...

Piggybacking on the above Seinfeld finale discussion: I rewatched the finale recently, and 90% of it felt like Larry David wrote it as a single-camera comedy, which he was clearly itching to do around that time.

The concept of those four characters being put on trial for all their social transgressions was brilliant. The execution of presenting it as a sequence of vignettes in front of a live multi-camera audience flopped hard. The end result was muted and disjointed and unsatisfying.

Also, given that the concept of this episode was essentially a series recap, it was deadly for NBC to program a clip show series recap right before it.

powers said...

And leave us not forget Louie De Palma on Taxi. Now that was one nasty character, hilarious, but nasty.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I would say that Season 8 was SEINFELD's best season, if only because that was the only season of the entire run that I find did not have a single weak episode; all of the others have at least one, or maybe even a couple, but that season has not one that I can find.

As for the finale being written more like a single-camera show, I find that the later seasons of SEINFELD feel like a multi-cam's attempt at a single-cam show: there are so many elaborated staged and blocked scenes that they never would have been able to accomplish in earlier seasons when the show really was more like a straightforward stage play. Case in point, that amusing chase scene between Jerry and Newman throughout all of the hallways, stairways, elevator, etc.; you'd never seen a sequence like that in an earlier episode, let alone most traditional multi-cam shows. Not to mention those exterior scenes that were filmed on their New York Street, or that park set that they constructed . . . even on a show like EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, you can tell outdoor/exterior scenes were shot on a soundstage.

Roderick Allmanson said...

As for characters being able to grow in order to surprise you, I think the Seinfeld comedic tension came from knowing the horrible choice George would make, but not believing until the last moment that he'd actually do it. And they'd keep pushing that every time and he'd just let you down. Maybe it says something more about the audience that they would identify with the characters and be cheering for them to succeed each week than keeping them at arm's distance

Spike de Beauvoir said...

Louie on Taxi crossed a line when he would only agree to end the strike if Elaine would "date" him, and she submitted for the sake of the cause. That hit a sour note for me and relegated Louie to an unlikable scumbag. Really kneecapped Elaine's character too. As far as I recall that promise was never undone.

There probably aren't many characters as unlikable as Becker. But I love that show and it's consistently funny (at least till Terry Farrell leaves). I think it's gratifying to see a doctor not godlike, rich, and smug but struggling with ego and money problems and suffering like the rest of us. But the writers also made him compassionate, caring about his patients, and self-aware of his failings which made him likable. I like Ted Danson as Becker much more than as Sam and he really showed depth as that character.

Brian said...

I thought the characters were likable in the first few seasons. Their flaws were human flaws, the kind of flaws that all of us have.

Somewhere along the line, the show started to change. At the end of Season 7, Jerry, George and Elaine react to Susan's death with total indifference; I don't think the Season 1 versions of those characters would have reacted the same way.

There were great episodes in every season, but to my mind, the show became cruder, more farcical, and louder in the later seasons. (Jason Alexander, for instance, seemed to go from channeling Alvy Singer in the early years to channeling Ralph Kramden in the later ones.)

Still a great show, though.

Kirk said...

I found the characters likable. Their self-centeredness isn't obvious at first but something that sneaks up on you as the seasons go by. When Jerry steals bread or Elaine tries to kidnap a dog or George panics during a fire, you kind of makes allowances for it. You really don't know how bad the four really can be until George's fiancée dies (a badness their trying very hard to hide.) THAT should have been the final episode.

And I agree about the carjacking in what was the final episode not making sense. Watching a violent crime take place mere feet from where you're standing would have been a SCARY thing no matter how selfish they were. Not helping rings true, but not the laughing. If anything, they would have gotten the hell out of there.

I think Larry David just was trying to top the George's Fiancé Dies episode and couldn't. The point had already been made.

Joyce Melton said...

I didn't find the Seinfield characters that unlikable, but then, I watched the show to see the work of four of the finest sitcom actors to ever work in television, with occasional brilliant guest stars. That was plenty.

David Arnott said...

maxdebryn said...
I liked the early seasons of SEINFELD. The later series became too loud, and absurd for me

Yes, this always bothered me. To put it more specifically... IMO, Seinfeld was at its most brilliant (in addition to also being funny) when it adhered to its often self-repeated log line: it's a show about NOTHING. In other words, a show about the dumb little things in life that we can all relate to: trying to find your car, waiting for a phone call, dumb bets with your friends, etc.

Once the show became crazy popular, though, it shifted into a show about the IMPOSSBLE: dropping a Junior Mint into a live operation, hitting a golf ball into a whale's spout, etc. And since these episodes did well - some are beloved - why wouldn't they keep doing that?

I watched every single episode of this show when it was on. It was kinda like The Simpsons in that even the "bad" episodes had laughs - often really good ones. But the show sort of became a parody of itself, and, again, IMO, lost that thing that made it both funny and SUBLIME.

JS said...

One thing Seinfeld did right was the supporting characters. Jerry and George's parent's, Newman, I haven't seen any show that uses supporting actors like Seinfeld. The show hasn't aged well, but certain bits are very funny. I woke up in the middle of the night last week and watched Newman and Kramer do the banker bit. That was funny,

Laurent said...

For myself, I loved "Seinfeld" during the first couple of seasons. That was "must see TV" for me. Each successive season became weaker and less compelling. I wasn't close to being a regular viewer by the broadcast of the infamous series finale.

The first seasons were the "show about nothing". We saw an excellent cast of actors performing A-List stand-up comedy routines. Where the fun comes from a common experience a LOT of people have shared, and then "Here's what happened to me." or "Don't you wish you'd done this when it happened?

A prime example would be "The Chinese Restaurant" in season2. We've all waited with hungry impatience for a table at a busy restaurant. The episode ran with the possibilities to a fargin' hilarious touchdown.

Then the stories became more convoluted with bizarre situations. The characters went from plausible oddballs to complete loons. (Kramer went from the nut next door to a psychotic clown). There were still some golden belly laughs to be had, but they became unreliable and infrequent.

Michael said...

Max made a couple of comments that I just have to mention.

Re: ST:TNG, a friend of mine knew a writer for the show who was on set one day and met Patrick Stewart. Stewart said (you have to imagine that magnificent set of pipes), "Which of our episodes have you written?" When informed, Stewart said, "Excellent. I hope you are writing others." Yes, he replied. Stewart said, "Good. Remember: The Captain needs more shooting and more sex," and walked away. You want actors to be as you want them to be; that's Patrick Stewart.

Re: Frank vs. Charles. I agree. But a couple of other things were in play. As time went on, Frank went from being capable to incompetent, and thus hard to find sympathy for. A couple of episodes gave us the chance to see things about Frank: When it's his birthday,
Larry Linville's scene with the yoyo was so perfectly done, and then when he goes off the deep end over Margaret's engagement and tells his mother on the phone that he had a friend "who only pretended to like me. You know, like dad." Those were telling, and built sympathy, but not likability.

Charles was a brilliant surgeon who was a fish out of water, but adapted and in some ways fit in. You could still respect him in a way you couldn't respect Frank.

As for others, Ralph Kramden is very likable. He wants to get ahead in life. And for all of the yelling, he always ends up admitting his love for Alice. As for his dealings with Norton, well, Ed could get to anybody.

Gary said...

Many of the later SEINFELD episodes are fun because we knew the characters so well, the writers could really push the envelope. Some examples are Kramer deciding to "retire" to Florida, Jerry trying to have emotions like regular people, Elaine discovering the Bizarro friends, Jerry beginning to turn into Kramer after living in his apartment, and Kramer hiring an intern. All were hilarious.

John said...

Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, and who knows how many others became billionaires or near-billionaires from the show thanks to its continued popularity. Heaven knows ratings and profits are not necessarily indicators of quality, but they do make it clear that lots of people love the show and have been rewatching the episodes over and over for thirty years.

"Seinfeld" made an impression. When I read Lisa Edelstein's name in this blog a few weeks ago, I thought "risotto!" (That's showbiz?)

It never occurred to me that the characters were bad people, just comically self-absorbed and immature.

When I watch, which is not so often these days, Seinfeld still makes me laugh and I still love it.

Call Me Mike said...

I think the Seinfeld characters being unlikable is a little overblown. Yes, they're selfish and neurotic, but there's also many instances of them helping each other and their many friends.

Although, it usually comes back to bite them. Kramer giving Elaine the beeping pocket organizer for example. Also Jerry buying a wooden Indian for Elaine, Jerry telling jokes to his sick friend until he literally dies laughing, etc.

Their hearts are in the right place. Their brains are... somewhere else.

Brandon in Virginia said...

Seinfeld is one of the few shows I enjoyed where the characters weren't exactly good people. And the other commenters explain why it worked for me. At times there was a method to their madness, and you actually rooted for them despite their terrible actions at times.

I agree the final two or three seasons didn't have the same feel. Larry David left around that time and the show definitely missed his influence. The plots got wackier and more outlandish. That said, the Chicken Roaster episode from season 8 is one of my favorite.

Edward said...

*Friday Question*

"Maude" was the #4 rated show for the 1975-76 season. The 1976-77 season ratings indicate the show was not even in the Top 30. Since you were at CBS/Fox at the time, do you recall if was there any talk as to what happened to the ratings falling off a cliff?

Dave Lennon said...

I actually cared about the characters. They reminded me of the "intellectual New York" personalities from the Woody Allen movies I grew up with. Elaine in particular was like a blend of Diane Keaton and Judy Davis (from Woody's 90's period). So there was some nostalgic affection there.

Jay Moriarty said...

Re Seinfeld, what Ted said. Re likability and its role in relation to sitcom characcters, I'd be curious to hear what you, Ken, and readers think about Married With Children, a series which ran for eleven seasons and birthed a fourth network.

AaronW said...

There is an interesting change that I noticed between Jerry and George within the evolution of the show. The early episodes began with Jerry being the crazy one and George being the more sensible grownup. This changed over time and these characteristics changed between them. I prefer the later episodes.

chuckcd said...

It is one of my favorites. Unlike any other "sitcom". I did miss the stand up that used to precede the episodes.

Dave H said...

I love the show. I have laughed out loud at episodes I have watched dozens of times. It still holds up where a lot old shows don't. It still airs here at least 3 or 4 times a day.

Philly Cinephile said...

I didn't care about the characters, but I absolutely related to them, particularly their tendency to dissect what Elaine called the "excruciating minutiae" of everyday life. The girlfriend who always wore the same dress, the low talker, the high talker, the woman who didn't swing her arms when she walked, and other assorted weird and/or annoying coworkers -- these are the kinds of things that I'm always noticing and obsessing over.

ScarletNumber said...


M*A*S*H was indeed a Fox production, but Maude was independently produced by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin and was taped at CBS at first, then Metromedia. This was before Fox bought Metromedia, so the two shows were unrelated besides both airing on CBS.

memocartoonist said...

I wasn't much of a long term fan but I did dip into the middle seasons (from around the 'puffy shirt' era to the 'death by envelope' era) and enjoyed them immensely... but I found the series repetitive and ultimately, for me, there was no 'there' there... as they say, not everything is for everyone.

I agree with the person above who mentioned that Charles on MASH is a much better antagonist for the show than Frank was - Frank was unfortunately one dimensional where Charles was allowed to have layers. I think it's also significant that Frank is supposed to be a bad doctor where Charles was definitely at the top of his game - I think it's not as easy to root for a character who is putting his patients in jeopardy. As far as character development goes, the absolute best was Margaret's overall arc "we didn't think you'd accept" "well you were wrong" was, for me as a very young viewer, a turning point in how I viewed her character.