This is the second of two Seinfeld pieces run by Pop-Break to commemorate the critically acclaimed series’ 25th Anniversary! To see the first post where we discussed our favorite moments, please go here!
This is honestly not an easy question to answer. Sitcoms have existed since the early days of entertainment and there is an unbelievable amount of them that are legitimately great. If you were to ask fifty people what they believed was the greatest sitcom ever, you could easily get fifty different answers. I Love Lucy especially would be an instant pick for many but then you also have to consider The Brady Bunch, Cheers, The Cosby Show, M*A*S*H, Three’s Company, and Golden Girls, to name a distant few. Outside live action you have animated greats like The Simpsons, Beavis & Butt-Head, and even South Park. Despite how devout and widely accepted certain claims are, there really is no factual answer for the absolute best sitcom. It all boils down to a person’s opinion on the show’s merits and how it changed television as a whole.
It really goes without saying that Seinfeld is a top contender for this title. Many acclaimed publications, including TV Guide, have at one point declared that this show is the best of the best. What does some the staff of Pop-Break believe?
Luke Kalamar: Yes
Seinfeld wasn’t the most groundbreaking program. Any boundaries it could have had were broken down years ago by the likes of the equally amazing programs that preceded it. I Love Lucy, The Cosby Show, M*A*S*H, and The Brady Bunch all destroyed cultural barriers in brilliant ways. In fact, by being a show about nothing, Seinfeld proved that it had no agenda for existing. It was simply a representation of the lives of four reprehensible New Yorkers and the inconveniences they inadvertently bestowed on society. So in terms of cultural significance, Seinfeld is definitely not the greatest sitcom in history. Yet when you look at it from all angles, including humor, longevity, structure, writing, and content, there really is no contest in my mind: Seinfeld is easily the finest comedic program to ever exist on television.
What makes Seinfeld superior in my mind is how it has persevered in a time when people are quick to abandon anything. Entertainment that isn’t deemed “current” is left in the dust for the hundreds of other options available. This alone makes the fact that Jerry Seinfeld is the richest actor in the business all the more surprising. 16 years after his show ended, repeated syndication deals have given him a networth of over $800 million. Not only do people still watch his show, they still watch it enough for networks to throw ridiculous sacks of cash at his feet. During the sitcom golden years, television was a hot commodity that set itself up as a homeowners dominant source of entertainment. Now that we have video game consoles and internet streaming services, basic television is practically an afterthought. Yet Seinfeld survives because it is beyond hilarious, and to me that’s a sign of sitcom supremacy.
Fun fact: I watched Seinfeld so much, it put me into a sitcom dry spell. I refused to watch anything new because nothing could come close. Did that cause me to miss several years of big shows like The Office and How I Met Your Mother? Yes, but no regrets.
Dan Cohen: Yes
It doesn’t matter what time of day. Morning. Afternoon. Night. Whatever. If Seinfeld is on, I’m watching it. I’ve watched an unhealthy amount of Seinfeld in my lifetime. I even own Seinfeld Scene-It for crying out loud. Is Seinfeld the greatest sitcom of all time? Yes, and by far. As big a movie fan as I am, this is the topic I actually get most defensive about. The only argument you could make is maybe The Simpsons in its heyday, but due to that show’s legacy continuously getting ripped to shreds every year it remains on the air, Seinfeld is now the definitive pick.
I could take up this entire article listing out the reasons why Seinfeld is the greatest of all time. First of all, the reruns will be on till the end of time. Seriously, how many channels is this show on? When you come home from work or school, not only is the show guaranteed to be on the air somewhere, but the odds of it being on multiple stations is a safe bet. There are episodes I’ve probably watched twenty times, and I still laugh out loud. The replay value is the biggest reason why Seinfeld is unbeatable.
Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer are all perfectly written characters, in addition to a plethora of incredible supporting characters. I bet I could name fifty to sixty hilarious side characters that have made their way onto Seinfeld without breaking a sweat. Seinfeld is so good that it actually ruined television for me. There have been a few comedies I’ve enjoyed since Seinfeld ended, including Community, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and South Park to its credit still packs it in, but nothing will ever be Seinfeld. With an encyclopedia of quotable one-liners and iconic comedic moments, Seinfeld is television perfected. I feel blessed that it came on during my lifetime.
Bill Bodkin: Yes
It’s funny that a “show about nothing” could be considered one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.
Yet, Seinfeld just might be the “GOAT.” When you think about the show and compare it to the heavyweights of the sitcom world (All in the Family, Cheers,M*A*S*H, etc.) Seinfeld ended on a creative high. There wasn’t any shark jumping, new extraneous characters, or a feeling of exhaustion as if the show was stretching itself thin in order to maintain its “spot.”
No, Seinfeld ended…and it ended in its own way. Not a happy ending, but a logical one that people talk about decades later.
Seinfeld also has a wonderful sense of timelessness. Despite being decades old, the jokes still resonate with audiences of all ages. The Soup Nazi, Kenny Bania, Uncle Leo, Yada Yada Yada, Shrinkage, George Steinbrenner…all classics that anyone of any age can enjoy. Dive back into a Mary Tyler Moore Show or M*A*S*H and you might find yourself scratching your head at the topical jokes.
And the characters — Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, George…perfect. All of them, perfect. Crazy, neurotic, unscrupulous and completely messed up, but you still love them. You know these people, you might BE these people…but none of them are so outlandish that you can’t relate to them.
The only show that one could say is legit competition to Seinfeld in terms of classic characters, timeless comedy and cultural “moments” is I Love Lucy. But, gun to my head, I’ll say Seinfeld is the best sitcom of all-time.
Allison Lips: No
Seinfeld is not even close to being the greatest sitcom of all time. I’m not going to say it’s overrated just because I never understood what was so great about it, which was only made worse once my college professors pointed out that the Chinese restaurant episode had been more or less done by Jack Benny. For me, Seinfeld isn’t the greatest sitcom of all time simply because I don’t get why people find it great.
While I am hesitant to crown a sitcom as the greatest because of the natural tendency to name either something really old or supercurrent, I would like to submit I Love Lucy for consideration. Unlike Seinfeld, which screams 90s to me, I Love Lucy held up so well that you can easily forget it basically created the rerun and that, by the standards of the day, Lucy and Ricky were TV’s first mixed race couple. Even now, over 50 years after the last episode debuted, the comedy is still funny. There’s a reason I Love Lucy has been airing somewhere in the world at all times for the past 50 years.
Lauren Stern: No
I’m not going to deny that Seinfeld was a memorable television program, but to deem it the best sitcom of all time is a little bit of an exaggeration. Sure the show is still making tons of money, but so do a lot of older programs. That’s what syndication is all about!
In fact, I’m not sure if I can choose a single sitcom that really stands out above the rest. I wouldn’t even choose Friends, my personal favorite. As stated above, it’s very hard to answer this question because while sitcoms have different plots and themes, they generally have the same formula.
For these reasons, it bothers me that this column is mostly unanimous. I love it that there are so many people passionate about this show, but to single it out as some prime piece of art is really unfair to some of the many great shows before, during, and after that time.
Matt Haviland: Abstain
Seinfeld is easily one of the most iconic sitcoms of our time (and perhaps all time, because we can say that without looking back more than sixty-five years or so). But the greatest? Hm. Since Jerry Seinfeld has been practicing Transcendental Meditation since 1972, one can postulate that Seinfeld is not only about appreciating the small things in the sitcom sense, but that it’s really, deeply a show about nothing. There was no incident too small to become a huge Seinfeld moment people quote 25 years later. Calling Seinfeld the greatest anything seems sort of strange because it’s so effortlessly small. Then again, when I ate dinner at an old friend’s house last year, they asked if I liked Seinfeld. I said yes, of course, and they said, “Good, because if you said no, we would have had to ask you to leave.”
The most iconic moments of sitcoms are often the surprise heartbreaks and personal failures, but Seinfeld doesn’t have those. Emotions slide off of Seinfeld like water off a spinning umbrella. Even when characters die, we intuit—sort of miraculously—that nothing that happens will affect anyone. Nothing feels any more serious than how much Jerry likes Superman. Sitcoms often achieve great moments of poignancy, but Seinfeld manages to feel deeply true to life without getting bogged down. Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George? They’re not “good people” or “bad people,” but nothingness. Watch Seinfeld and the various emotions seem lighter. Stress disappears. It’s reasonably thought of as great, but a more applicable adjective seems to be “authentic.” Seinfeld is thoroughly, effortlessly authentic.