Best Sitcoms

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					       Seinfeld was the most popular prime-time show of the 1990’s; it drew viewers of

all ages and lifestyles (I remember my middle- and high school friends doing scenes from

the show on Friday mornings), and was the cornerstone of NBC’s ‘Must-See TV’ lineup

(providing strong lead-in numbers for new shows such as Friends and Mad About You).

TV critics often claim that the show, created by comedians Larry David and Jerry

Seinfeld, changed the face of prime-time television, taking the often misanthropic humor

of Cheers to its logical limit and requiring of its audience an unusually high level of

verbal literacy (for commercial television).1 I was a fan of the show, I still am; and while

I’m inclined to use unnecessary phrases like ‘best sitcom ever’ to describe Seinfeld, such

a superlative would miss the true point of the show: in a sense, it aimed to be the last

sitcom ever. With its final episode in 1998, David and Seinfeld brought to an end a

startling dramatic experiment, a sitcom that managed to push its dramatic form into the

‘postmodern’ and alter the unspoken pact between show and audience.

       As David Marc puts it in Comic Visions, the sitcom reached its ‘literate peak’ in

the 1960’s and 70’s, with shows like M*A*S*H and All in the Family rendering human

emotion and experience with a richer palette than had been previously attempted on

television.2 All in the Family had been the #1 program on television for five straight

years; Norman Lear’s creation took advantage of its medium’s qualities (audiovisual

complexity, the serial nature of TV shows, the domestic spaces in which it was shown) to

show real tragedy on the intimate scale to which television drama is uniquely suited. In

the 80’s, The Cosby Show was the undisputed champion of prime time; instead of Carroll

O’Connor’s bigoted Everyman, Bill Cosby gave us Cliff Huxtable, the least threatening

black man in television history. A doctor and a doting father, Cosby (for Cosby and Cliff
were inseparable, like most of the actor’s characters) never seemed to be acting; he and

the ensemble would simply take the stage for a half-hour and have a good time. The

overall feeling of Cosby was simple: people are good, and family works, so long as

everyone loves each other. Even Cliff’s one-liners were gentle, delivered in Cosby’s

warbling Jell-O salesman voice; forceful enough to deliver a fatherly lesson or two, they

were never so barbed as to cause pain.

       Seinfeld’s precursor, attitude-wise, was probably Cheers, NBC’s withering

antidote to Cosby during the 80’s and early 90’s. The ensemble repartee at Sam Malone’s

bar was based on the put-down; led by waitress Carla (played by Rhea Perlman), the

denizens of Cheers treated everyone who entered the bar as a potential whipping boy.

Moreover, the lead characters were constantly belittled by staff and customers alike:

Sam’s hair, Woody’s accent, Rebecca’s neuroses, Cliff’s banality. The show fed off the

wickedness of its characters’ wit. However, while jokes about spending too much time in

a bar were legion (as they’d have to be - the show spent all its time in a bar!), jokes about

alcoholism were curiously absent. George Wendt’s character, Norm, was probably the

most sober alcoholic in the history of drama; I don’t remember ever seeing him tipsy

(and Wendt played the character for laughs instead of tears, as he might have done).

       The layout of the set was well suited to the show’s ‘peanut gallery’ style of

comedy: Norm, Cliff, and the rest of the drinkers sat in a row on the right side of the

stage, with the main entrance directly opposite them (and Frasier, the disapproving Ivy

Leaguer, seated at the bar in front of the door). Anyone coming in the door was literally

targeted by the crowd; the old proprietor, Diane, would inspire a rapid litany of one-liners

when she returned, while Norm was greeted with a chorus of ‘Noooorm!’ Of course, such
open affection would need to be trumped with a witticism: ‘Hey Norm, what’s up?’ ‘My

nipples. It’s freezing out there.’ The line of drunks got to sit in for the audience during

the action; they were the Greek chorus, speaking the audience’s mind and commenting on

the narrative, always ironically.3

         But in the end, Cheers was a sentimental show. The heart of the narrative was

Sam’s quest for happiness; his fear of balding or settling down symbolized his constant

battle against ‘growing old’ (which meant growing up). The final episode was a nostalgic

one, and closed with Sam’s melancholy pronouncement: ‘We’re closed.’4 Characters got

married (Woody married his childhood sweetheart, as we knew he would) and moved on

(Frasier and ice-queen Lillith split up, and though he stayed on Thursday nights, he

headed for Seattle), and the constant character assassination took a backseat to nostalgia

and personal epiphany. What Cheers offered was a bunch of people ‘just like you and

me’: hanging around in a bar, making fun of the overprivileged, and eventually finding

happiness with a job, a family, and beer. And Norm dutifully went home to Vera every

night.

         Another of Seinfeld’s formal sources was standup comedy. Built around Jerry

Seinfeld’s ‘Did you ever notice...?’ style, episodes of Seinfeld were (for most of the

series’ run) framed with Seinfeld’s standup routine. Indeed, Jerry Seinfeld, comedian,

played ‘Jerry Seinfeld, comedian’ on the show. Seinfeld was not the first comedy show to

blend fact and fiction in this way; as far back as George & Gracie or Jack Benny,

comedians were playing variants of their ‘characters’ in dramatic settings, productively

violating Western dramatic precepts (insisting that audience not suspend their disbelief

about the actor/character line, for instance).5 But by the time Seinfeld came along, the
rules of the sitcom form had crystallized through decades of precedent. Seinfeld presented

itself as an utterly generic show - about nothing, a half-hour of premise - yet the show

constantly played with generic norms in more (and less) effective ways.

       If shows like Cheers and Cosby (and even All in the Family) gave their audiences

characters which could be loved, and who felt that love for each other, Seinfeld replaced

that fundamental love of humanity with...well, with dislike. Seinfeld’s attitude was more

Mel Brooks than Woody Allen, more P.T. Barnum than P.G. Wodehouse.

       And that is what makes the television audience’s love for the show so fascinating.



       It is worth taking a moment to outline the basic premise of Seinfeld, and mention

some of its major plot points. Jerry Seinfeld is a standup comic, well-off (but given to

bouncing the occasional check) and strangely successful with women (all four of the

show’s characters are unusually successful, sexually speaking). Jerry is a neat freak, and

his nitpicking style of comedy reflects his obsessive behavior. George Costanza (played

by Jason Alexander) is his high-school mate, a short, bald, deceitful little man whose

prodigious talent for deception (or constant ‘self-recreation’) covers up his fear of his

own insignificance. Both Jerry and George are Jewish; their parents are still married, but

George’s are completely insane (Jerry’s are merely annoying, the most ‘normal’

characters on the show).

       Their two ‘outsider’ friends, Kramer (played by multiple Emmy-winner Michael

Richards) and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), are of less certain parentage (their

background isn’t particularly relevant, as we never meet their families). Kramer is the

wacky neighbor, for whom everything seems to go right despite the catastrophes that
constantly befall the circle of friends. Elaine is beautiful, a bit obsessed with her hair, and

manages to date dozens of men whom she eventually alienates (they can never measure

up, not even seemingly-perfect Lloyd Braun, the son that the Costanzas wish they’d had).

       Each episode of the show followed a number of narrative threads, usually

centered around the arrival of some outside force into the circle of four friends. For all

the characters’ intelligence, the average plot would find some outsider getting the drop on

one of the Four (Marcelino cons Jerry into cockfighting in ‘The Little Jerry’; George’s

life is nearly ruined by Reilly’s insult, to which he can’t come up with a suitable retort, in

‘The Comeback’). Additionally, some lamentable character would usually wander into

the Gang’s life to be the butt of excruciatingly bad behavior, whether Marlee Matlin as

Jerry’s deaf girlfriend in ‘The Lip Reader’ or Tim Whatley, the lecherous dentist whose

waiting-room issues of Penthouse cause Jerry some concern. Often Kramer would be at

the center of some absurd plot, like smuggling Cubans into the country (not

cigars…actual Cubans) or opening his apartment as a smoking lounge (as in ‘The

Abstinence’). This ‘theatre of the absurd’ was often the most memorable part of the show

(Michael Richards’ physical comedy provided a much-needed counterpoint to George’s

wheedling, and Jerry and Elaine’s ‘high verbal’ antics, and Kramer was the most often-

imitated member of the cast among my friends), but these larger-than-life subplots were

usually the least significant part of each episode’s. It was the nonevents, the relationships

gone unmemorably awry or the family dinners turned into typical catastrophes, which

formed the center of each episode’s narrative.

       Seinfeld broke the formal rules of sitcoms constantly and gleefully. The show’s

storylines sometimes ran for an entire broadcast season (George’s ill-fated engagement
and the equally ill-fated ‘Jerry’ TV show each lasted a season); jokes were reiterated and

varied over the course of the entire series, with the final episode playing on fond audience

memories of past escapades while presenting an original story.6 At the same time, one of

the show’s premises was that no one learned anything: the only knowledge carried

forward from story to story traveled in the form of one-liners. Indeed, continuity was

often discarded for comic effect; in one episode Elaine was berated for her lowbrow taste

in cinema (preferring Sack Lunch to The English Patient)7, while in another she was

berated for being an art house film snob (and in the process striking up a telephone

relationship with a 15-year-old boy).8 Like other sitcoms, the show often took an attitude

of disbelief toward its past history, seemingly amazed at the lengths to which its

characters had gone in the past; to win an apartment from an Andrea Doria survivor (the

apartment would go to the man who’d suffered more), George simply recited what had

happened to him in past seasons, to the astonishment of his Tenants Association.9 At the

same time, George’s weekly moaning about his dating fortunes simply ignored the fact

that he dated a different woman nearly every week, most of them improbably beautiful.

Seinfeld’s past seemingly existed for the sole purpose of being cannibalized by the

writers.

           The show also took liberties with television drama’s normal practice of accretive

characterization. In a ‘typical’ sitcom, each utterance contributes to a character’s broad

image; at key moments, characters reveal more of themselves than they intend to (Sam

Malone’s final moments in the bar bring the continuity of the show to a close, tying off

the character - what comes next for him is ‘happily ever after’). But in climactic moments

on Seinfeld, characters simply did or said one more zany thing. One classic episode, ‘The
Race’, built toward a climactic confrontation between Jerry and his high school nemesis;

but the final moments offered no illumination.10 In traditional Seinfeld fashion, the plot

simply went from one oddity to another, with the Big Race not providing a punchline so

much as an entirely new joke (a mock-heroic visual sequence with music from Superman

playing on the soundtrack). The climax of that episode was tonal; rather than resolving

dramatic tension, the Race just escalated the episode’s hijinks, its multithreaded plot

growing hopelessly knotted and never coming untied.

       Jerry’s ‘victory’ in the Race (he cheats, just as in high school, and the show never

mentions it again) reveals no new character facets; it’s not clear whether he’s a fast

runner or not, he’ll never interact with his high school nemesis again, and his obsession

with Superman - a potentially fascinating quirk - never merited more than one-liners

during the run of the show (though ‘The Race’ is riddled with references to the

superhero).11 The same episode’s Communism subplots are similarly disposable (Elaine

gets ‘blacklisted’ from one Chinese restaurant; Kramer gets into Marxism. Neither plot is

mentioned again). The world is simply not changed by the events of ‘The Race’. There is

no dramatic weight to any occurrence in the show…yet Seinfeld counted on its audience

to keep up with constant references to the show’s internal mythology. The scope of past

events stood in contrast to the niggling concerns of the characters’ daily lives; the non-

events of an episode would lead to a seemingly monumental climax, while the historical

sum of those climaxes would appear to be zero (at least until the sudden about-face of the

final episode).

       The ‘situation comedy’ is exactly what its name suggests: a dramatic form in

which characters move each episode through comically tense situations, often stock
scenarios (and, being a comedy, the sitcom usually ends with people getting what they

deserve). Most sitcoms are reassuring in more or less subtle ways: Full House and My

Two Dads showed that men could raise kids just fine (so long as they acted in ‘wifely’

fashion once in a while), The Cosby Show (and Family Matters) showed that black

families in the 80’s could be as nonthreatening and domestic as any other TV characters,

I Love Lucy (and The Dick van Dyke Show) gave us examples of women choosing (or

accepting) domestication over experimentation week after week. The best shows

‘subvert’ comedic formulas by giving us characters that are more than the sum of their

experiences: Archie Bunker, Ralph Kramden, or Buffy Summers.12 These protagonists

grow in our eyes with each episode by both working within and moving beyond genre

rules, refusing to be bound even by a show’s premises.

       Seinfeld’s internal rules were simple: no hugging, no learning. And the characters

followed them to the letter, their final jail-cell conversation being a repeat of the show’s

first scene (about the second button on an oxford shirt, located in ‘no man’s land’). What

the show offered, then, was not the pleasure of watching people react to stock situations:

in the world of Seinfeld, for all the seemingly outlandish plots, nothing really happened.

A typical sitcom premise might read: ‘Mother in law comes to visit; hijinks ensue,

hugging at the end.’ Seinfeld synopses take multiple paragraphs, but the net effect of the

events within the shows is zero.

       The final episode and clip show reveal this emphasis clearly.13 While trotting out

a litany of well-known Seinfeld catchphrases - low talker, close talker, de-re-gifter,

double dipper, even virgin - the producers of the clip show choose not to show the

characters to whom these epithets apply. The fact is, in the world of Seinfeld the people
never really matter. The gallery of faces that appeared on the show contains not a single

fleshed-out character. David Putty, Crazy Joe DaVola, and the Soup Nazi were parodies;

but they were one-note parodies, present so that they might prop up the improbable

nonevents of the episodes in which they appeared. They were sitcom characters, nothing

more.

        But Seinfeld’s ensemble cast played a different role, a truly original one. Take

Frank Costanza, George’s father. He and his wife, Estelle, were at first a straightforward

sitcom couple writ extra-large: at the slightest provocation they’d burst into histrionics,

each line not yelled so much as projected, but still within reason, still recognizable as

parents. They talked about the past as any parent would (only with more than the usual

amount of gusto). But after a few seasons, Frank began to take the occasional central role,

partnering with Kramer in moneymaking schemes (such as the Bro/Mansierre episode, in

which they co-designed chest support for men) and even getting into a fistfight with

Elaine. His place in the show got more and more arbitrary; when it was revealed late in

the run of the series that he’d invented a holiday (‘Festivus for the rest of us’) complete

with Feats of Strength, it became clear that other sitcom fathers, for all their neuroses and

outsized troubles, would seem perfectly normal next to Frank. Jerry’s father, Morty

Seinfeld, underwent a similar transformation; in one episode he was the center of a

Watergate-like scandal in the Seinfelds’ Florida retirement community, in another he

destroyed a room at the Plaza in a weekend of decadent excess with his wife, brother, and

senile Nana. The Plaza incident had no consequences for the family, of course: it got

Elaine fired, and was simply never mentioned again (not even in the final summing-up

episode). The writers of the show passed over the moral lesson that would have ended a
similarly-themed Full House or Cosby episode; only real people learn lessons, the show

seemed to say. Not sitcom characters.

          George was similarly magnified over the show’s nine-year run. In the script to the

pilot, he was simply described as living life ‘at a higher intensity level than Jerry’.14 But

by the middle of the show’s run, he was a character whose every action was deceitful,

whose every dream was unfulfilled, and whose every endeavor turned rapidly into

tragedy. He dated a convict and tried to dump her when she got parole (needing to keep

‘relationship George’ and ‘lying George, the George you grew up with’ separate); he

accidentally killed his fiancée and suggested, upon hearing the news, that the gang go for

a cup of coffee (in the final episode he was charged with showing ‘restrained jubilation’

at the time). Beginning the show as the bald sidekick (a clueless foil for Jerry), he

evolved into a figure of almost mythic stature, whose life was not a series of events or

lessons so much as…well, a series of sitcom episodes. And the show didn’t seem to mind

the utter implausibility of his character; it was one of the basic building blocks of the

series.

          And yet, wasn’t the show praised for showing us ‘the way we really are’? When

Kramer dated Elaine’s overenthusiastic officemate, she showed up to Jerry’s standup

show and destroyed his concentration because of her excessive praise for the accuracy of

his ‘Did you ever notice...?’ routine. ‘Oh, that’s so true, that’s so true!’ she laughed

hysterically, and even though she was a source of discomfort and the object of ridicule

during the episode, she was saying exactly what the audience was expected to say (and

what the critics echoed throughout the show’s run). But the scene offered a glimpse into

the mind of Larry David, as well, with a clever joke at the expense of the show’s own
comedy. As soon as Jerry reached the punchline of his bit (men wonder what’s on the

other channels on TV, because men hunt while women nest), Kramer’s date lost

interest...and heckled him. In a show featuring a standup comic known for his cleverness,

the one thing the audience’s overenthusiastic surrogate wouldn’t tolerate was an attempt

to make a joke about things. If the ‘insult comedy’ of Cheers gave us everyday people

cracking wise at the expense of unfortunates, Seinfeld seemed to revel at times in an older

form: the freak show, in which bizarre and pathetic souls were made the butt of jokes

simply by daring to interact with the quick-witted cast of the show.

       This is reassuring in itself. If midgets, deaf people, Dominicans, the mentally

challenged, the elderly, and general managers of baseball teams are all losers, the show

seemed to ask, aren’t we lucky to be so normal, to be able to make such clever jokes

among ourselves? If the cast of Seinfeld stood in for us - if they were simply outsized

versions of the already outsized television rendition of the American Group of Friends -

then we were getting by, savoring improbable successes in life and work, having lots of

meaningless sex (imagine a prime-time sitcom promoting meaningless sex - a symbol of

how far the ‘consensus storytelling form’ of television had come by the 90’s), and

prospering at the expense of others. If there’s ever been a Young Republican television

show, it would seem (from this description) to have been Seinfeld: a half-hour every

week with a group of people uncomfortable with homosexuals, foreigners, Judaism, and

the poor.

       But Seinfeld was never meant to be reassuring. No episode makes the show’s

subversive intent as clear as the 75-minute finale, split between the show’s fantasy

version of New York15 and sleepy Latham, Massachusetts. The climactic episode, in
which the ‘New York Four’ are put on trial for violating a Good Samaritan law requiring

Latham’s citizens to help anyone in need (within reason), was lambasted by critics and

fans for being, of all things, not funny enough. But I see the final episode (for which

Larry David returned as writer, for the first time in a couple of years) as the show’s

clearest statement of its central themes, the moment at which the litany of horrors

perpetrated and observed by its characters is treated as horror. Of course the final

episode isn’t funny, though it has its share of one-liners in the style of the rest of the

show. It’s the first episode of Seinfeld that’s truly comedy (in the formal sense); the final

episode shows us a group of characters finally getting what they deserve.

        The muted laugh track of the series finale causes consternation for viewers,

partially because, for the first time, we really don’t know what’s coming. The

arbitrariness of the previous episodes at least gave the audience leave to let go of the

restraints of ‘realistic’ situation comedy; in ‘The Little Jerry’, the episode about the

consequences of bouncing checks, Elaine is asked how her life is going and responds

succinctly: ‘It’s 3am. I’m at a cockfight. What am I holding on to?’16 The matter-of-fact

observation passes without comment; in the world of Seinfeld, that sort of thing happens

all the time! But the plot of the final episode utterly violates the audience-producer

contract: the gang’s plane has mechanical trouble; they touch down, see a robbery, do

nothing, and are arrested; a trial takes place, and the expected verdict, the obvious

verdict, is delivered; and the New York Four are jailed for a year. No labyrinthine plot,

no overlapping narratives: just a single sequence of events, a half-dozen brief clips, and

the oddly (re)strained laughter of the studio audience. On a small scale, the formal

conventions of comedy are satisfied: it’s funny, and it ends with a kind of bizarre justice.
But on the large scale, Larry David’s script seems to be copping out in a sense, giving the

audience the last thing they want, violating both the internal principles of the show and

the tried-and-true formula of prime time sitcom narrative. At the last minute, Seinfeld

reveals its roots, abandoning the theatre of the absurd and acting like a sitcom about mere

(almost-)human beings. It’s not a cop-out: in a way, it’s the most natural conclusion to

the show. And what it says about humanity is what it’s been daring the audience to admit

all along, a thematization of the show’s long-running undercurrent: people aren’t really

that funny. People are sick.

       The final episode’s climactic shot recalls Sartre and his famous observation, ‘Hell

is other people.’ Indeed, the bulk of the show would seem to support that statement. But

the final shot is really saying something else, something far more disquieting. Our

onscreen surrogates, the characters we’ve adventured with for nine years, are revealed

finality in their fundamental humanity. Their punishment is not to have to deal with each

other, but to have to face themselves honesty, without the distraction of day-to-day

activity (we’re no longer allowed to lose ourselves in the day-to-day and pretend it’s

‘nothing’). Forget other people: Hell is you and me.

       There was a noticeable dip in the quality of the series late in its run; while there

were brilliant moments in the last season, the pace was slower, the jokes a bit more

strained. Without the narrative device of Jerry’s opening and closing monologues

(originally there were three standup sequences per episode, then two, then one; by the end

of the series the device was often abandoned altogether), the distance between the show’s

narratives and the ‘real world’ seemed lessened somehow. It is likely that the monologues

went away to make more room for the ensemble’s extraordinary comic interplay; it was
readily apparent that it wasn’t really Seinfeld’s show. But this decision had real narrative

impact as well. Jerry’s monologues created the feeling that the events of the show were a

companion to his comedy - indeed, an illustration of the points he made. By the end, in

fact, Seinfeld was in danger of becoming almost realistic comedy, and its implausibility

at times became a hindrance. But in retrospect, the real problem with the later seasons

was that the characters’ blithe treatment of their horrible world was lost. The show was

still funny, but the coldness that was at its heart early on began to disappear. This is part

of the reason that the final episode came as such a shock to viewers: it was the coldest

episode of the series in texture, the emptiness of Latham and the long silences between

lines standing in sharp contrast to the early years’ manic New York setting (Seinfeld’s

New York was a city in which literally everything happened; in one episode Jerry, in a

moment of pique, reached a crucial conclusion: ‘Everything, nothing. Same thing!’). At

the same time, it took place in the most ‘real’ setting of the show, an unexaggerated small

town in New England, a place somehow ‘warmer’ than the Big Apple. The effect is

intended, I think, to be a kind of retroactive coldness. Rather than providing a

counterpoint to what had come before, making an ironic comment on the show’s content,

the finale simply pointed out that the show had been the province of real bastards all

along.

         I would like to see the somewhat negative reaction to Seinfeld’s closing as partly a

shock of recognition; it warms my holier-than-thou heart to imagine viewers saying, ‘If

this is what we’re “really like”, as we’ve been saying all along, then we’re a rotten lot.’

But I know that when I saw the final episode, I hated it. It wasn’t funny enough. And

given Seinfeld’s embrace of characters whose arrogance and self-obsession were often
breathtaking, this disparity between audience reception and (what I see as) the show’s

intent probably struck Larry David and company as hilarious - and, like bubble boys and

midget couples, an unavoidable, somewhat disturbing fact of life.

1
  See http://www.ew.com/ew/seinfeld/sein-essay.html for a typical celebration of the show, published after
its eighth season. The episode-by-episode criticisms of the show are remarkably evenhanded; what is most
striking, however, is the amount of love that the reviewers seem to have for the characters. These are, after
all, arguably the worst people ever to appear on television. Seinfeld’s main effect would appear to be the
inauguration of an era of real mean-spiritedness on TV; but of course any such era would have been a long
time coming.
2
  Marc, David. Comic Visions. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989.
3
  The acerbic wit of Cheers was a class-based one; the locals mercilessly punished anyone unfortunate
enough to have an educated accent . In a show set in Boston (among the world's largest college student
population), this was a particularly savage treatment. This same wit went on to serve writers on Frasier,
which uses the same juxtaposition of 'high' and 'low' class to great comic effect - from the other side, with
highbrow Frasier Crane as the lead character. Rob Long's Conversations with My Agent offers an
illuminating peek into the minds of Cheers' verbal gunslingers.
4
  Then-president Bill Clinton had originally been slated to appear as the customer that Sam turned away; in
the end, someone else stood in. The final shot, if I remember correctly, was from the customer's point of
view, looking in at the bar through the door. One of the advantages of the bar as sitcom setting is that the
audience could realistically be there, and the final scene took advantage of that: the audience was privy to
an intimate moment, and Sam had no choice but to shut the door.
5
  Comic Visions, pg 19-23.
6
  In fairness, the final episode was preceded by a 45-minute clip show (entitled 'The Clip Show'), at least
partially to remind the viewer of the plot points that the final episode would call up.
7
  Seinfeld #151, ‘The English Patient’. Original air date: 13 March 1997.
8
  Seinfeld #147, ‘The Comeback’. Original air date: 30 January 1997.
9
  Seinfeld #144, ‘The Andrea Doria’. Original air date: 19 Dember 1996.
10
   Seinfeld #96, ‘The Race’. Original air date: 15 December 1994.
11
   Jerry's Superman fixation provides contrast with his extraordinary ordinariness; among the show's ironies
is the fact that the fantasy alter ego of comedian Jerry Seinfeld is comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The notion of
people pretending to be themselves is, I think, a key subtext to the show.
12
   Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn't a sitcom in the traditional sense, but it's probably television's funniest
melodrama, and the title character is as complex a protagonist as is found on prime time.
13
   Because of the two-hour clip show/final episode combination, they are considered episodes 179-180 of
the show. The finale aired on 14 May 1998.
14
   The Seinfeld Scripts: The First & Second Seasons. Episode #1, 'The Seinfeld Chronicles', pg 6.
15
   For instance: references to Broadway (the street and the Petulah Clark song) probably outnumbered
references to Harlem ten to one on Seinfeld. In a show that dared to present Puerto Rican Day as a giant
nuisance and little more, it is telling that the Gang of Four bring in Jackie Chiles (a parody of Johnny
Cochran, himself a sitcom version of a trial lawyer) to defend them in court in the final episode, and he
'plays the race card' to help the case of the all-white quartet. The show's great insight into race, typically,
offered a nonsolution: 'If you seek racial harmony, look to the cookie' (the black-and-white cookie).
16
   Seinfeld #145, ‘The Little Jerry’. Original air date: 9 January 1997.

				
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