Category Archives: Brilliance

Notes on Nothing: 25 Years of SeinLanguage

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Seinfeld, as the genre-redefining sitcom first graced our television screens as The Seinfeld Chronicles, with very little fanfare, on July 5, 1989. It went from an afterthought, a summer run-off and near footnote, to a comedic juggernaut that indelibly altered the television landscape. Since I noticed many websites and bloggers and critics providing their valuable insight and analysis, I thought I’d throw in my two cents as well. Because if there’s anything the internet needs, it’s more of the same.

First, if not for Seinfeld it might have taken me another couple of years to understand masturbation, or least be aware of its existence. It’s no exaggeration to say that one of my initial brushes with self-pleasure came courtesy of “The Contest,” the landmark episode that somehow danced around jerking off for 22-minutes but never explicitly said it. Later, I’d come to realize what a masterful performance it was, what a majestic ballet to say so much without every saying it. It was truly bit of brilliant lingual gymnastics (and even later I’d realize that they maybe applied their cunning linguists to cunnilingus, but that was far behind my realm of understanding at that time (and possibly at this time)). Even if I didn’t fully comprehend what they were discussing, it was an eye-opening experience to just barely grasp that these people were talking about what seemed like the most adult of activities, at 9pm, on NBC, when I was sitting in my bedroom eating ice cream (I was lucky enough to have a television of my own from a very young age, which allowed me to probably watch a lot of TV that I shouldn’t have (see: Silk Stalkings)). I was used to Full Houseto Growing Pains, to Saved by the Bell, where the epic romance between Zack and Kelly seemed as important and real as anything could ever be. This is was a different kind of show, with a different kind of language, with a different agenda. Again, I didn’t quite process that at the time – I couldn’t – but I knew it was nothing like the shows I was accustomed to (TGIF, The Disney Afternoon, for the most part). It gave me a view into the adult world, and in many ways it was as formative in my education as Health class and freshman year and my one summer at sleep-away camp. To me, at eleven-years-old, the people on Seinfeld were grown-ups doing grown-up things. Not just masturbating, but sitting in a diner drinking coffee, going to the movies, seeing the baby, arguing over whether or not soup is a meal, dating a different gorgeous woman every week, hanging out with Keith Hernandez, just popping-in at your friend’s Upper West Side apartment. But also masturbating.

<!–more– More Nothing: Jews, Jewiness & Keith Hernandez…>

Secondly, Seinfeld was perhaps the first time I recognized Jewiness on TV, especially Jewiness that was camouflaged as something less overtly Semitic and thus more palatable for the general audience (there was, of course, CBS’s Brooklyn Bridge, a favorite of my father’s, but that was hit-you-over-the-head Jewish, and was more like historical fiction. Also, I think I imagined the Seavers  from Growing Pains as Jewish somehow, for some reason, despite the frequency of Christmas-themed episodes, Alan Thicke’s hair, and, later, Kirk Cameron’s big-time, overwhelming Jesus-ness).  Even as a child I identified with the characters of Seinfeld on a cultural level; their conversations, their cadences, their backgrounds, their outlooks, they just felt natural and familiar, and at the same time it was Jewiness without the Jewish grandmother or the random yiddish phrases or the Shabbat candles or, really, all the guilt. It wasn’t arguing about how long to cook the brisket or who has better matzoh ball soup or why aren’t you a doctor like your brother, it was sitting in a coffee shop arguing about buttons, about sex, about nothing. It wasn’t the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was the New York Mets. It was the modern Jewish experience stripped of all the traditions and customs and weight and distilled down into Jerry Seinfeld’s nasally voice, upturned nostrils and early-90s mullet. And, perhaps more significantly, it wasn’t until years later that I realized, as many others did, that “Costanza” was not a Jewish name, because to me, and to everyone, George Costanza was a Jew, through and through. Yes, growing up on Long Island, the Jewish-American experience felt very similar to the Italian-American experience – I often felt like an honorary Italian – but there was no mistaking George as anything other than a bundle of Hebrew neuroses.  In retrospect, knowing that George was based on Larry David, this seems obvious, but we didn’t know that then, and it was just another way that Seinfeld accomplished something real and spectacular.

Finally, Keith Hernandez is my favorite baseball player of all-time, a fact that was certainly bolstered by his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” However, even though I was a huge fan of Mex (as his friends call him. His friends and me) following the Mets ’86 World Championship, displaying a Hernandez 8×10 on my bedroom wall and a Starting Lineup figurine on my shelf, I wonder now if Hernandez is my favorite player because of his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” And, taking that a step further, I wonder if Seinfeld became my favorite show specifically because of Hernandez’s memorable turn in “The Boyfriend Parts, 1&2.” Hernandez, now a Mets broadcaster (and prone to his share of off-the-cuff gaffes), is left-handed and played 1st base, while I, currently unemployed, am right-handed and played the bench, so there’s not much in common that would inspire me to choose Keith as my favorite player, making his appearance with Jerry and Elaine more important than any of his baseball accomplishments. Or, perhaps, was it just my favorite show continuing to provide moments that bolstered its position as my favorite show? Whatever the reason, it was truly an intersection of the Venn diagram of things that I love. Add in JFK assassination conspiracy theories – something I was weirdly into as a kid – then you had, maybe, the perfect episode of television for twelve-year-old Seth, and another example of why Seinfeld seemed to speak to me so clearly.

Looking back, I think that as a child I imagined that I would turn out like Jerry one day; a neurotic Jew living in his Manhattan apartment surrounded by his vapid friends. I also imagined that I would turn out like Danny Tanner, a clean freak raising three kids in the suburbs with the help of my weirdo aspiring stand-up comedian friend who lives in the basement and it’s not at all creepy, but when you’re young and have never really left Long Island those two futures aren’t mutually exclusive. Obviously, my adult life has not turned out like either of those two, because 1) they’re fictional and 2) I can’t afford to live in Manhattan or the Bay area. But, certainly, living in Brooklyn and remaining an uppity, thin, neat, single Jew, I hedge much closer to the Seinfeld side of the spectrum. And I do wonder how much is nature and how much is nurture. The show, no doubt, shaped my life, but I think it was also created, and shaped, for me and people like me. Which is why you can turn on TBS and find any episode of Seinfeld and, laugh track be damned, it’s still brilliant.

It doesn’t take a doctorate in media studies to assert that Seinfeld forever changed, redefined, television. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. But the way it gave new meaning, and a lasting meaning, to things like Junior Mints and the Mackinaw peaches and Bosco, and then introduced phrases into our lexicon like “close talker” and “puffy shirt” and “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” is something that perhaps can only be rivaled by The Simpsons.* Over two decades later you can throw out an off-hand quote from Seinfeld and someone will immediately get the reference. The series didn’t just make a contribution to the television, it contributed to our vocabulary, it contributed to our culture. In nothing, they found everything.

*Interesting to note that when I went to sleep-away Jew camp for the first and only time in 1997 I recorded audio from two shows onto cassette and listened to them on my Walkman before bed, my surrogate for an actual television. Repeatedly listening to those poor quality recordings done on my Sony sports radio probably got me through that summer. One of those shows, of course, was Seinfeld, and the other, naturally, The Simpsons (specifically, this one). 
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Filed under Brilliance, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Matt Christopher Books, Nostalgia Corner, Seinlanguage, Wake Up, SF!, Woody Allen, Bar Mitzvahs & Bagels

Don’t Cry Because It’s Over, Smile Because It Happdeaned: Five (and Maybe More) Seasons of ‘Community’ and the Truly Jumping the Snark

Community Finale Lately I’ve noticed a disturbing trend about myself: I don’t get as excited about things as I used to. Perhaps it’s a merely function of getting older – I just hit the big 3-0 six months ago, after all – or, maybe, all the years of crushing cynicism and relentless snark has finally caught up to me. Passion, perhaps, is the provenance of the young and the unencumbered, and I’m no longer either of the two. For example, it would have shocked the ten-years-younger version of myself, maybe even the 2009 model, to learn that it took me, a devoted Wes Anderson-ophile, two months to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, especially after making a pilgrimage to see The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic during their respective opening weekends, and attending a screening of The Darjeeling Limited by myself because I just couldn’t wait any longer, even if that meant sitting alone in a small theater on a Tuesday afternoon. Likewise, I’ve yet to see X-Men: Days of Future Past, and that’s already been out for a whole week and is possibly the X-Men movie that I’ve been praying for these last fourteen years. There are spoilers abound and I run the very real risk of having the movie ruined before I get around to seeing it. It’s a danger I’m well aware of, and one, for some reason, I’m at peace with. Perhaps most egregiously – and this something I’m very much ashamed to admit on this blog – I’ve yet to watch last week’s Survivor finale. Yes, I was out-of-town for two weeks, but I’ve been back for four days already. Really, what good excuse could I possibly have for not immediately marathoning the last three episodes, including the two hour-finale and post-show live cast reunion? Heresy, is it not? Not only am I liable to inadvertently stumble upon the final result at any turn, removing any drama upon viewing, but shouldn’t this be tearing me up inside? It’s Survivor, the subject I’ve perhaps  committed more space to on this blog than any other, and, yet, I’ll get to it when I get it to it. Urgency, shockingly, I do not feel. It’s not apathy or indifference – that would be truly alarming – but, rather, caring a bit less, being more patient. It’s an odd, peculiar, somewhat concerning notion to not experience the same sense of pressure, immediacy, and life-or-death importance about these shows and films and bands that I always did. Am I depressed? Should I look into Lexapro? But the change is also freeing in a way. There is a flipside to caring a little less. It means that it doesn’t hurt so much when something you love is taken away from you.

More: Graduate Psychology 101

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Filed under Better Late Than Never, Brilliance, Count Bleh, Discos and Dragons, Greendale Human, Must See TV, Team Zissou, Tribal Council, Winterfallen

Jimmy Fallon Has No Mercy

Jimmy Fallon and Late Night were already on a roll last week, thanks in large part to New York Mets ace/budding fashionista Matt Harvey and ripped RIPD star Ryan Reynolds, but they saved the best for last, and in doing so perhaps experienced their finest hour yet. In a flight of fancy that could only have been ripped directly from the pages of our diary, Fallon did the impossible , reuniting the legendary [and fictional] rock band Jesse & the Rippers, fronted by heartthrob and dedicated uncle, Jesse Cochran Katsopolis. They said it couldn’t be done, mostly because the band never actually existed, but Late Night has demonstrated time and time again that they have no interest in getting bogged down with details and logic and whether or not something is quote-unquote real. That’s for Leno to do.

And in proving once again that there’s an undeniable and insatiable appetite for everything we love and hold dear and want to keep only for ourselves 90s nostalgia, the performance, a blistering mega-mix of their greatest hits, was an instant sensation, showing once and for all that Jesse & his Rippers were indeed ahead of their time and only through the benefit of reflection and the passing of decades has their genius been truly appreciated. Would we want to see J & the R mount full-scale reunion with a never-ending world tour and a hit new record? Of course. But if Jesse never dons his leather vest again or lifts his guitar strap over his shoulder or raises a fine-toothed comb to feather his hairt, we’ll forever have “Forever.”

And not only did they did pull off a miracle with this one TGIF night only performance, they topped it off with Mrs. Jesse & the Rippers herself, Becky Donaldson. Talk about get out of my dreams and into my car!

And bonus points for reviving the ghost of 21 Jump Street‘s Captain Jenkno to play guitar (or is that Boober Fraggle?).

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Filed under Brilliance, Freak Out Control, Jump Streets Ahead, Muppet Mondays, Muppets, Nostalgia Corner, Talkies, TGIF, Wake Up, SF!

Branch Closing – A Farewell to ‘The Office’

We very clearly remember the moment that we fell for The Office, the NBC stalwart that closes up shop at Dunder Mifflin tonight after nine mostly great seasons. It was the fall of 2005, when The Office was starting to find its legs after a rocky and uneven six episode first season, and we in our first autumn post-college, back at our parents’, and for the first time since we were four-years-old not attending school. We were at our best friend and future roommate’s house, hanging out, maybe barbecuing, maybe drinking a few beers, maybe watching the first season of Lost on DVD, which dominated much of our time (and thoughts) during that period. We knew about the The Office, another blatant attempt to import a UK hit stateside, but missed its brief run earlier that year, as was the case with the aforementioned Lost, as the only shows we watched religiously during our final year of college (and last few months before true adulthood) were The Simpsons and Survivor. We did, however, recall reading that it was an imperfect translation of the original, and the Steve Carell-led vehicle – who was then best known as the other Steve from The Daily Show –  was not likely to resurrect NBC Thursday night Must See TV, let alone make it past Season 2. So with the middling reviews in mind, and the fact that we were unfamiliar with the original Ricky Gervais version, we didn’t go out of our way to watch the show. But that night changed everything.

More: But that was just the beginning…

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Filed under Across the pond, Back to the Past, Brilliance, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Freak Out Control, Good Humor, Is That Still On?, LOST, Must Flee TV, Must See TV

‘Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs Favorites 2 Legit 2 Quit’ Finale – Apt Pupil

Survivor Caramoan Final 4When Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit 2 Quit began just three months ago we bemoaned the ubiquity of loud, boisterous, attention-grabbing personalities like Shamar, Brandon Hantz and Former Federal Agent(?) Fillip. It felt like a season plotted by casting – and by casting just a few controversial, polarizing figures, stunt casting essentially – than a season anchored by appealing, charismatic, engaging characters who we would want to root for, and a season that might rely on shock value and stock reality show antics than good stories, solid gameplay and jaw-dropping twists. Well, we are happy to say that we were wrong. While the pre-merge game was dominated by those big names and big bodies, and while some of our favorite players were eliminated earlier than we would have preferred, after the merge Survivor: Caramoan has delivered great Tribal Council after great Tribal Council, offering some landmark series moments. It was like viewing a Sandra Bullock film back to back to back. Blind Side after Blind Side after Blind Side. And it’s left us with five somewhat unlikely players, none of whom are physically dominant or socially controlling or remarkably devious. Just five players who’ve managed to get to the end, through considerable disadvantages and obstacles, each carving a somewhat different path. It wasn’t what we foresaw for Caramoan, but we’re not complaining.

Cochran, for sure, is the front-runner, having played a smart, strategic, clean game. But Dawn has been right there with Cochran, and she’s made stronger personal bonds, which could play in her favor. Don’t discount Sherri though, who took an entry-level position with Stealth ‘R’ Us when the fans’ alliance fell apart, came in everyday on time, punched her card, worked hard, and is one of the few employees still with the company. Then there’s Eddie, who’s been on the outs from day one, has been to nearly every Tribal Council and was always at risk of going home, and who has made no enemies. Finally, you have Erik, who’s ruffled very few feathers, managed to flip and flop without seeming untrustworthy, and has an excellent chance to sweep the remaining challenges. Really, out of these five, you could make a case that all of them can win the million and it’s going to be interesting…

Oh, wait, Erik’s down…

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Filed under Brilliance, Century 21 Reality, It's gross., Tribal Council, We'll Get It In Post

‘Survivor: Caramoan’ – Mutiny Aboard the S.R.Us. Fillifore

Stealth R UsOn the last Survivor: Caramaon – Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit 2 Quit we were privy to one of the greatest, most unexpected Tribal Councils of all-time, with confusion going into the vote causing to Malcolm flip his vote to Reynold and then subsequently persuade Reynold to gift his own Immunity to Malcolm. That series of events we knew would be hard to beat, even to approximate. To think so, to hope so, would be reckless and negligent, and truly unfair to the institution known as Survivor. 

But this show is predicated on surprising you. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, there might just be another shocking, breathtaking turn of events right around the corner.

First, these kids are creepy. An unwelcome visit from Kid Sister and My Buddy. Can’t tell if they’re expressing joy or crying for help, like Hasidic children on a school bus.

Enil Edam Flag

Continue: Dawn’s a damsel in distress…

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Filed under Analysis, Brilliance, Century 21 Reality, Freak Out Control, Tribal Council, What? Too fabulous?

In Memoriam: Jane Henson, Lover, Dreamer

Yesterday the Jim Henson Company announced the passing of Jane Henson, widow of Jim Henson and, perhaps more importantly, his longtime professional partner. We vividly recall as a third grader reading a biography of Jim Henson, a slim paperback with a green cover (naturally aimed at young readers, and being captivated by black-and-white photos of a fresh-faced, clean-shaven Jim Henson. At his side in many of these photos was another young puppeteer by the name of Jane Nebel, and it wasn’t long before the two began dating in addition to collaborating professionally. We still remember finding these photos particularly striking, something classic and timeless about their look, and something special in the way they turned their passion for their work into passion for each other. 

jane & Jim Henson

Jane worked with Jim on many commercials and helped him produce the local Washington, DC program Sam and Friends, which featured a very young, embryonic Kermit the Frog. Through their early work Jane assisted Jim in the creation of the Muppets, becoming a key architect in their development. Eventually Jim and Jane married and gave birth to five young Hensons, and Jane focused more on raising the brood while Jim found other professional partners like Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson, lovers and dreamers who shared the unique Henson vision. While Jane’s contribution could no longer tangibly be seen on-screen, her influence is undeniable and impact unquestionable. And even though she and Jim separated in 1986 she remained an important part of the Henson family, and continued to carry on the Henson spirit after Jim’s untimely death in 1993.

We always found it moving and significant he called her to his side when he fell ill, and she was with him in his last hours. It showed to us, even at ten-years-old, that Jane and Jim were bound by something other than romantic love for each other, perhaps something even greater than that. In that moment, and in her commitment to the Jim Henson Legacy, both literally and figuratively, she showed that whether or not they were in love she and Jim were eternally bound by a shared vision and a desire to bring good into the world. It wasn’t really Jim’s legacy that Jane had been working to preserve and promote all these years. It was their legacy.

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Filed under Brilliance, In Memoriam, Muppets