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Dudley’s World: My Summer with ‘Seinfeld’

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Dudley’s World is a Vague Visages column by Jordan Brooks.

On June 24th of this year, casual Seinfeld fans finally got an answer to their decade-long prayers: all of Seinfeld, in one place, available instantly. Paying nearly a million dollars per episode, Hulu “rescued” the sitcom from spotty local comedy networks where the series languished in syndication, and the streaming giant became the de facto savior to a massive audience clamoring for alternatives to DVD box sets.

Having subscribed to Hulu mainly for access to their Criterion Collection library, I was delighted to see my monthly fee pay off in an even bigger way. During my formative years, Seinfeld dominated the cultural zeitgeist in a way that was impossible for me to comprehend, given my age-related removal from any sort of zeitgeist (along with my growing infatuation with LEGO). Although I was only made consciously aware of the program’s existence around the sixth season, by the series finale, I was about as big a fan as any ten-year-old could profess to be. After a decade’s worth of reruns, highlights and retrospectives, my working knowledge of Seinfeld qualified me for any number of 90s sitcom debates that college life was prepared to throw at me. (As it turns out, there were not as many as I thought there would be.) Casually (forcefully) slipping “I’ve seen every episode” into conversations whenever the topic was somehow introduced, I finally became accountable for my (misguided) arrogance after moving in with one of my best friends, a hardcore Seinfeld fan. This guy had every box set offered on the American consumer market and would plow through seasons on a weekly basis. He could rattle off episode titles, plot lines and the running-gags that intersected them. I quickly stopped thinking that I had seen everything Seinfeld had to offer and reconsidered whether I even knew what Jerry Seinfeld looked like.

The news that Seinfeld would debut on Hulu became a challenge to put my college-aged exaggerations to the test and finally experience the series in the way it was made to be viewed — in order, from beginning to end. While hardly a profound statement to make about a television show, Seinfeld does seem to be an outlier in terms of viewership. One could never just begin watching in the middle of The Sopranos or Mad Men, but because Seinfeld is a comedy, each episode has a broad comedic appeal that exists outside of the framework of the series. Almost everyone has become familiar (or at least knows about) dialogue from Seinfeld’s titanic episodes (“The Contest,” “The Parking Garage,” “The Puffy Shirt,” “The Soup Nazi”), and yet so few have seen the whole series, much less in order. Outside of a small minority (who either watched it live, hunted through TV Guide to catch it in syndication, or ponied up cash for the DVD box sets), most fans watched the series the same way I did; when nothing better was available, Seinfeld was definitely airing somewhere. Despite jarring changes from one season to the next, the subtleties of the series were possible to pick up on, as was the origin of many of the more blatant inside jokes (it still took me years of devotion to figure out where Newman came from and why Jerry hated him so much). In doing a front-to-back revisit, I could at long last bring order to the chaos in my head.

Almost immediately into my “Summer with Seinfeld” I was struck by how much the series had, unknowingly, informed my life. Burrowed deeply into my subconsciousness were pearls of wisdom from George Costanza and Morty Seinfeld, idiosyncrasies gleaned from Kramer and Jerry, and a general understanding of the world from everyone involved. Unintentionally mirroring Seinfeld and co-creator Larry David’s matter-of-fact take on life, I slowly began to realize that I had picked up far more than a few deadpan insults and a neurotic ability to nitpick. The series’ overly-observational nature, owing in large part to Jerry’s stand-up comedy, was sound reasoning that asking banal questions about EVERYTHING was just something that adults did (and these were adults that had stylish, affordable, apartments in New York). By the time I was 11 years old, I had ditched the rad Ninja Turtles wallet (squished piece of bubblegum and all) to be in step with a fictional adult’s distaste for Velcro à la Morty. When I entered adolescence, I already knew everything that I needed to know about dating and relationships, courtesy of George’s constant failures and Jerry’s continual successes. “The Deal” taught me that when a friend ends a relationship with someone, your own relationship with that person should be equally concluded. From “The Cafe,” I learned about elaborate self-inflating fabrications à la Costanza (like getting a friend to take an IQ test for you), and why, if you don’t have a Kramer in your life, you can totally get away with them. Imaginary modes of behavior and personal mores had been somehow implanted on my psyche from this unlikely place and without any awareness (at the time). “The Greatest Generation” looked up to tough-guy idols like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood; “Boomers” hoped to be as cool as John Travolta, Robert Redford or Jack Nicholson (Donald Sutherland if you had a cool dad), yet I was somehow relegated to become a sarcastic cereal-eater with a penchant for self loathing.

Seinfeld

Perceiving Seinfeld as a singular, cohesive piece of work, I could draw connections between my adoration for the show and other self-reflexive series like Arrested Development and Archer. (What Seinfeld did with George’s Cuban cigars, Arrested Development did with blue paint.) I discovered the foundation for my sense of humor and couldn’t believe how easy it was to just get on a plane (“The Airport”). Last summer, I briefly relived my formative years in a way that that was unanticipated and revelatory, so even if you aren’t a fan of Seinfeld, or even sitcoms from the 1990s, I urge you to revisit stories from your childhood. Whether it’s a series of books, comics or films (or something else), take the time to look at something you used to love with a fresh pair of eyes. You might be surprised as to how much of your inner self you find along the way.

Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.

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