The Seinfeld 180
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld made a quiet debut in his namesake sitcom on July 5, 1989. This pilot became the first episode of a nine-season phenomenon that redefined situation comedies. Episode 2 aired on May 31, 1990, almost a year after the pilot. The nucleus cast included Jerry, his best friend George, his quirky philosopher neighbor Kramer, and his on-friendly-terms ex-girlfriend Elaine. The quartet complemented each other perfectly, filling in gaps to form one well-rounded entity in line with Jungian archetypes.
Episodes would begin with an everyday situation that quickly escaladed into chaos. One episode began with George and Kramer picking up Jerry and Elaine at the airport, and ended with George being terrorized by a convict, Elaine experiencing a flight from hell, Kramer fleeing security by running down a runway alongside an airplane, and Jerry scoring a date with a Calvin Klein model. The show’s ingenuity led the characters along seemingly unrelated paths, but by the closing scene, the four storylines culminated back into one. Viewers felt a sense of wonderment at how the action could diverge and then re-converge within a 22-minute episode (sans commercials). As the series grew and matured, its characters and storylines were so neat and clean, audiences felt pleasant satiety after each show.
In the classic episode The Contest, the foursome make a bet at the beginning of the show to see who can go the longest without “self-gratification.” The contest came about after George’s mother catches him in the act. Each character soon embarks on a separate storyline. George visits his mother in the hospital, Elaine meets John F. Kennedy Jr. at her gym, Jerry begins dating a virgin, and Kramer discovers a female nudist living in the building across the street. The separate stories build tension for each character in different ways, as each is trying to win the $450 dollar pot. (Elaine had to contribute an extra $50 as handicap for a woman’s supposed advantage.) By the end of the show all four lost the bet due to differing circumstances, but each character was rewarded by finally enjoying a tensionless and restful night’s sleep in the closing shots.
In its 180 episodes, Seinfeld tackled topics untouched by other sitcoms: racism, ageism, homosexuality, immaturity, physical handicaps, and obesity, just for starters. Episodes weren’t based on lessons learned or characters growing into better people. The Seinfeld four stayed the same: single, unaffected, non-committed, and naively optimistic. Each character quested for a perfect mate and perfect future but enjoyed the ride too much to grow up. The only thing that could stop them was being locked in jail – which is exactly where Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine ended up in the final episode.