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What's the Deal with Time Passing?

It's been 15 years since "Seinfeld," everyone's favorite non-show, ended. Is anything aging worse than Jerry's jeans?
Ben Richmond
Κείμενο Ben Richmond
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fifteen years since the last new episode aired (and disappointed) a nation, the main characters of “Seinfeld” are back on the walls of the New York subways. At the Nostrand stop, the 90s live right alongside the “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” the faces of Jerry and Elaine covered with choice quotes from oft-quoted dialogue. But Pix 11 isn’t wasting its time letting us know when an old show is airing, if it’s “Seinfeld.”

Even if three-fourths of its cast hasn’t had a really successful project since the Clinton administration—and one of them wanders the Earth, a ghostly cautionary tale on hate speech—their dated hairstyles and countless contributions to the lexicon remain as known and adorned as the Drake himself. (Love the Drake!) “Seinfeld” was a hit in its own time, by every metric. It was a ratings monster and a critical darling, something that fans of “Community” or “Parks and Recreation” only dream of. It was openly New York and Jewish, and still its sixth and ninth seasons topped the Nielsen ratings. From 1994 and 1998, “Seinfeld” finished at least in the top two. And yet the form that "Seinfeld" used to dominate Thursday nights throughout the 90s, just like the network which dubbed it “Must See TV,” is but a shell of its former self, the embers of an afterglow. A lot has been written about the demise of the sitcom and how reality television has come to bury the old, what with its expensive scripts and actors. And if you look at the ratings, that seems to be the case. The Nielsen ratings for regularly-scheduled, primetime shows in 2012 are topped by Sunday Night football, followed by both nights of “American Idol,” and Sunday Night football’s pregame show. After both nights of “Dancing With the Stars” you finally get to the first scripted show, and even then it’s only “NCIS.” Contrast that with the world that “Seinfeld” left back in ‘98, where the only top-rated, non-scripted TV shows were Monday Night Football and “60 Minutes.” Even the sitcoms we have today are of a different ilk. Formally, “Seinfeld” is a boilerplate, multicam sitcom. While the nomenclature refers the way the show is filmed—using techniques pioneered by Desi Arnaz on “I Love Lucy"—the multicam sitcom is associated with other tired TV tropes like the laugh track. In the 21st Century, the multicam is pretty unfashionable.

I think we really got somethin'

The 2000s saw the rise of the single-camera sitcom—“Arrested Development,” “30 Rock,” “Modern Family,” you name it. Single-camera sitcoms like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” which employ tropes like “the talking head” aside, borrow more heavily from reality television than from the “Lucy”-“Seinfeld” continuum--and none of them have the laugh track. It’s only fair to admit that “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two And A Half Men” are the two, top-rated contemporary sitcoms and they are both multicam and they both use laugh tracks. They are also both reviled. Call it the pernicious influence of the hipster if you must, but we live in an era in which being critically successful and acclaimed by the critics--professional or otherwise--seems impossible. ‘Twas not so, in the days of Seinfeld.

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