Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Simon & Schuster (2016), Hardcover, 320 pages
I can’t truthfully say that I was an obsessive fan of Seinfeld. It took me a quite a while to start watching the show, my initial impressions weren’t good, and my frequently expressed opinion regarding the program to those who kept telling me how good it was were generally short and sharp However, like most of the TV programs I have watched in my life and come to enjoy, there was a breakthrough episode. I don’t even know its proper title, but it was the one where Jerry and Elaine are on the same flight, and for some reason Jerry ends up in first class, while Elaine is stuck in cattle class. It plays the very familiar trope of class envy, playing on something that everyone who has flown on a plane in economy class, and that includes me, feels when they walk through those comfortable, quiet first or business class sections, en route to the crowded, noisy confines of cattle class, “Why them and not me?”Seinfeld takes these feelings we have all had and articulates them eloquently and hilariously. And that I discovered while watching that episode, is what Seinfeld was all about, not a show about nothing, but a show that articulated the mute anger, frustration, envy, confusion and anxiety of modern urban life and made it very funny at the same time as it struck a nerve in everyone who had every experienced something akin to the many awkward social situations the show captured so well. This book is an excellent companion to the series, covering the show’s background, the story of how Seinfeld and Larry David came to sell the series to NBC, in pretty much the same way as was depicted in the fictional show “Jerry” which Serinfeld and George tried to sell in a hilarious mirror-image self-reference. The book further goes on to describe how each of the main cast members was chosen, how each of the numerous writers, a continuous rollover of them, each mining their own life experiences for storylines, came and went from the show. Also featured are the bit-part actors, who may only have appeared in one episode, but have become cult figures because of it, for example the eponymous Soup Nazi, who has parlayed his cult status into a profitable business catering to Seinfeld obssessives. The book is an absolute mine of Seinfeld trivia (The most frequently appearing character other than the main four is the unobtrusive cashier in the cafe; both George and Jerry’s fathers were played by different actors in their first appearances; Elaine was heavily pregnant during several episodes and was shown bundled up in voluminous clothes or concealed under blankets to hide the fact; the woman who appeared only on the poster for Rochelle Rochelle has become a cult figure). After the show’s less than stellar finale, Armstrong goes on to show how the fans refused to let it die, creating a world that she dubs “Seinfeldia”, part-reality, part fantasy, where the show has come to be more than the sum of its parts. This is a fascinating book, even if you don’t particularly like the show, but are interested in how modern TV is created, some of it not very edifying, to tell the truth, this is a must read.