What's the deal with Seinfeld?
Maybe we should add “Seinfeldia” to the lexicon, joining “yada yada,” “sponge-worthy” and “Festivus.”
In Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s view, espoused in the book of the same name, it’s not just a play on the title of the NBC sitcom that ran from 1989 to 1998 and starred comedian Jerry Seinfeld and featured four friends dedicated to zero personal growth. It’s an imaginary place, still thriving thanks to obsessive fans and enduring memes. And Seinfeldia (the book, that is) is the essential travel guide.
Armstrong is on familiar turf here: She also wrote Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, about “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and spent a decade on the staff of Entertainment Weekly. It’s a safe bet that she had a blast writing Seinfeldia, revisiting its origins, debriefing its writers (still shell-shocked from dealing with famously punctilious co-creator Larry David) and catching up with former cast members and network executives.
She’s at her best with tales from the writers, eager to dish about their turn at bat. Encouraged to mine their daily lives for stories, they came up with plotlines about dates gone wrong, shenanigans at the zoo and transgressions of the all-important “social contract.” But eventually the mines are emptied and it comes down to, as one writer once said, “sitting in an office in Studio City.”
And how did “the show about nothing” change everything? In Armstrong’s view, just look at shows like “The Office,” with its awkward humor, or “The Wire,” with its narrative complexity—both “Seinfeld” staples. But perhaps there’s nothing new under the sun: We learn that Michael Richards, who played “hipster doofus” Kramer, gleaned acting tips from watching Gale Storm in the 1950s sitcom “My Little Margie.”
This article was originally published in the July 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.