Series: Advent Calendar 2016: Holiday TV Episodes
Season 9 Episode 10
Originally broadcast December 18, 1997
You probably could have guessed that this episode would come up at some point on the list. Seinfeld is one of the most iconic shows to ever grace the tube, and this episode is one of the more famous ones. You've got "serenity now," "high talker," "shrinkage," "no soup for you," and many more references to a show from 20 years ago that you are still likely to hear today. but perhaps most iconic of them all is from right here in this very episode - the winter holiday known as Festivus.
What is the show?
I've made this joke already on the list, but you have definitely been in a cave if you haven't heard of Seinfeld by now. Based on the observational comedy of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, Seinfeld is very famously a "show about nothing" which served as a social commentary and caricature of society through its seven season run. Seinfeld mostly plays himself, while David is represented by high-functioning psychopath George Costanza. They hang out with Jerry's ex-girlfriend Elaine, and his across-the-hall neighbor Kramer, who is usually raiding Jerry's fridge. While on paper the show is about nothing, it's really about four kind of awful people clawing their way through life, and making light of absolutely everything as they go along.
The characters basically embody one of my favorite sayings - "don't take life too seriously, you'll never get out alive." Nobody ever learns a lesson, nobody ever really wins, and the series literally ends exactly how it began. That's not the point, though. The point is that life will always go on with or without us, so we might as well have a bit of fun while we're here. We can't exactly deny the appeal of that, can we?
Watching Seinfeld is incredibly fascinating as a time capsule of what life was like in the mid 90's. Sure, it's glorified and fictionalized to some degree, but the show succeeds at capturing the essence of the mundane. It happens to be from a pretty cynical viewpoint, perhaps, but there's nothing less valid about that, and that's what gives Seinfeld its unique edge. We see life pre-cellphone and pre-internet, which is getting increasingly hard to fathom these days. It might not seem like society has changed much in the last 20 years, but very few episodes of Seinfeld would be the same if the characters all had iPhones in their pockets and Facebook accounts. However, I wouldn't mind seeing the episode where George accidentally likes a three year old picture of an ex, and the hijinks that ensue as he tries to hide the evidence.
Of course, Seinfeld was great even when it was current, and that's because it follows what I'm now dubbing my One Big Rule - it's actually a good show. Quite a few people would call it the best, in fact. Since it has no robots or aliens, I just can't bring myself to be one of those people, but I will openly acknowledge its greatness.
There's this thing called the "uncanny valley" when people talk about a representation of a real-world thing. We are so programmed to recognize ourselves and things familiar to us that we can instinctually detect when something is fake. Basically, the more realistic a simulation becomes, the less we actually connect with it - it becomes creepy and unsettling. It's why a lot of very detailed CG characters look "off" to us. However, there's a sweet spot where something can simply be a loose representation - a cartoon or caricature, for example - and we can totally accept it. Compare the human characters in the first Toy Story movie to a much later Pixar movie like The Incredibles - the more "cartoony" ones actually feel more "human" to us. The point of all this is that Seinfeld is great because it perfectly threaded that needle. Where something like The Office is right inside that uncomfortable, off-putting valley and Friends is perhaps a bit too far-fetched to be believable, Seinfeld hits the sweet spot. It's just realistic enough that you can accept it as the "real world," and it's just wacky enough to not make you uncomfortable. It's deeply relatable, it's snarky and irreverent while not being just evil and overly narcissistic, and it's satisfying to the end.
What is the episode?
Seinfeld had a few episodes set during the holiday season over the years, but like most things that weren't cereal or Superman, Jerry and the gang never really cared that much. It wasn't until the show's final season that things became unhinged just enough to allow something as wacky as "The Strike" to slip through. There are moments when you can tell that the cast and crew is getting just a tad out of control. They're having fun, though, and as I've said before when the cast is having fun, so will we.
We do get a pretty solid Seinfeld episode here. George gets tangled up in a web of lies to cover up a pretty awful thing he did just to save a few bucks. Jerry gets tangled up in a relationship with a woman who he clearly doesn't care about at all. Elaine gets tangled up in the consequences of her own stubbornness. Kramer does some crazy stuff. It all culminates in the reveal of Festivus, a holiday made up by George's father, revolving around some not actually terrible (but deeply traumatizing to poor George) traditions. It's a classic, and proof that the show was putting out solid hits even into its final year.
Brian Cranston makes an appearance, long before he became a dysfunctional father and long, long before he broke bad. Also, also, George's boss is played by the guy who showed up in the first couple seasons of Malcolm in the Middle as the head of the Military Academy. We also see Kevin McDonald, from Kids in the Hall fame, playing his usual type-cast "awkward party guest" role.
Where can you watch it?
Seinfeld is a pretty big win for Hulu, as it's only available to stream there. Of course, it's also on DVD.
Of all the shows on my list, Seinfeld is probably the biggest. No other show is as big of a phenomenon as Seinfeld, and I don't think any other show will have the staying power. Okay, so there's probably one show, but we aren't there yet. The point is that Seinfeld is at least on the podium. It probably accidentally locked someone in a closet in order to claim that spot on the podium, but there it stands.
Meanwhile, it's nice to see some non-traditional holidays represented on the list. There's more to see about Jewish people from New York, as well . . .