"Seinfeld" is about nothing, so they say. But I've been too busy doing nothing myself to watch a TV show about others doing it. Er, that is, not doing it.
In truth, of course, as our TV critic Scott Pierce has written many times, "Seinfeld" isn't really about nothing. It's meant to be about the humdrum trivial things that somehow fill up our lives.We, as an audience, are intended to identify with Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer as they go through these day-to-day events, and how they deal with these situations should make us laugh.
But I don't laugh much at "Seinfeld." I find the characters self-centered and obnoxious. They aren't people I want to spend my TV time with. So I don't.
Having said this, I realize I'm in the minority. In fact, I've only watched one complete episode of "Seinfeld" - the rest is channel-surfing and bailing out early. And even that has been out of obligation, an effort to figure out what it is everyone else sees that I'm missing.
No luck. I just don't get it.
Among its defenders, however, are my own grown children, in particular my son Matthew - who lives on his own and frequently finds himself in dating situations that all too often parallel Jerry's.
"In one show," Matt says, "Jerry's dating this girl and he forgets her name. And after three dates he doesn't want to ask her what her name is, so he keeps dating her to try and figure it out."
Believe it or not, Matt had a similar real-life experience. So it's easy to see how he might identify with aspects of the show.
But the difference for me is that Matt makes me laugh. "Seinfeld" doesn't.
What's more, the "big" episodes - that is, the ratings-grabbing "event" shows - are most unappealing. When George's girlfriend died in the May '96 season-ender, he and Jerry and Elaine and Kramer could barely stifle their glee at her untimely death. (George was engaged to her but trying to find a way to get out of it.)
One show had Elaine writing down a wrong phone number for a pesky admirer, then remembering she wrote it on a coupon for a free sandwich, so she tries to get it back. Another was all about masturbation. And in the program described above - the one about Jerry forgetting his date's name - he remembers that it rhymes with a female body part, which leads to an extremely vulgar punchline.
These are incredibly self-centered, selfish people. And Matt agrees, but adds that he knows people like this foursome. I'm thinking he should get a new circle of friends.
Anyway, "Seinfeld" ends next week, and everyone in the country seems to be obsessed with it - or so the media would have you think. Have you noticed all those "Seinfeld" magazine covers on the newsstands? And the "Seinfeld" special-edition mags? There's even a weekly "Seinfeld Watch" newspaper column being syndicated each week. And a bunch of Web sites.
But in the some eight years it's been on, I've been unable to discover its appeal.
Of course, this isn't the only TV show I don't understand:
- "The Jerry Springer Show." (Maybe I just have a problem with shows about "Jerrys." If ever there was the TV version of a freak show, this is it.)
- "Diagnosis Murder." (No Jerry here, it's the other Van Dyke. How does a doctor who conducts murder investigations each week find time for his medical practice?)
- "3rd Rock from the Sun." (Talk about your one-joke shows! And the joke is always about sex.)
- "Walker, Texas Ranger." (Isn't this just a reworking of those old "Billy Jack" movies - lots of talk about peace and getting along together, and then problems are solved by beating somebody up.)
- "The Nanny." (A little of Fran Drescher goes a long way. I'm usually outta there by the first horse-laugh.)
- "Nash Bridges." (The writing is like Don Johnson's performance - smug and dumb. It's time to give Cheech Marin his own show.)
The difference, of course, is that none of these shows will evoke anywhere near the emotional reaction "Seinfeld" is getting.
But for me, the emotional reaction is the same for all of them.