Seinfeld: Making it Happen (Or, Well, The Opposite)

George Costanza has always been my favorite Seinfeld character. The George-centric episodes have consistently been my favorite, I recognize Festivus each year, and once had the infamous “Believe it or not, George isn’t at home…” tune as my ringtone (though it probably would’ve worked better as my outgoing message). In other words, it was inevitable that my first Seinfeld post would revolve heavily around him.

Still, I have to briefly touch upon Seinfeld itself first. There are a few key points that usually come up when discussing or analyzing the series. First, there’s the fact that the sitcom has found its way into the American lexicon in a way that, arguably, no other one has. Then, there’s the discussion of how Seinfeld has come to be nicknamed “the show about nothing” (though Jerry himself would say it’s more about “how a comedian gets his material”, while the idea of it being about “nothing” is just a joke). Of course, let’s also not forget the series’ infamous “no hugging, no learning” rule (aka no positive growth for the primary four characters).

Aside from this, I find it fascinating how, for all the show’s relatability in so much as it frequently tackles everyday occurrences, no one ever seems to want to admit to actually identifying with the characters themselves. With Friends, the conversation is very much people debating whether they are “a Phoebe” or “a Chandler”, but no one’s ever really claiming (or longing) to be “an Elaine” or “a Kramer.”

In many ways, this makes sense. After all, Seinfeld is a darker, more cynical sitcom than most others. The entire series finale was even focused on the simple fact that the years had done nothing but make Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer even more selfish than they originally were.

Sitcom Study: Seinfeld’s “The Opposite” (5×21)
Relevant Episode Information: George convinces himself that his bad luck will turn around if he does the exact opposite of his normal instincts; it works. Meanwhile, Jerry realizes that everything always balances out perfectly for him.

 

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I’m a big fan of “fate versus free will” debates and, in many ways, “The Opposite” is a good case study on how and when one can win out over the other. While certain events are ultimately out of anyone’s control, I do tend to believe in the importance of hard work and perseverance (especially in striving to achieve personal goals). I believe in “making it happen”, to the best of one’s abilities, and that there’s no such thing as being “too busy.” I frequently remind myself that if a hobby, goal, or friendship is really important, I will make time.

Similarly, if I find myself in a rut, I reflect on the choices I’ve recently made and consider what I can do differently to be more productive. While I’ve never worried that “every decision…in my entire life has been wrong”, as George does during the beginning of “The Opposite”, I can appreciate and agree with the basic philosophy behind his realization that he needs to do something different in order to move his life forward. George’s life was not going the way he had hoped, so he ultimately had two choices: deal with it or make a change.

By the episode’s conclusion, George has landed a date, moved out of his parents’ house, and started a new job with the New York Yankees. On the other hand, there’s Jerry. As previously mentioned, it’s during “The Opposite” that he finally realizes what’s obvious to anyone who watches Seinfeld; everything always seems to work out for him:

Jerry: “… like yesterday I lost a job, and then I got another one, and then I missed a TV show, and later on they re-ran it. And then today I missed a train, went outside and caught a bus. It never fails! I always even out!”

We all probably know a few people like Jerry, individuals who seem to have good fortune regardless of the amount of effort they put into something. This can inevitably be infuriating but, when all is said and done, it should never discourage anyone from achieving his or her own goals (something I must frequently remind myself). In George’s case, since this is still Seinfeld after all, his growth does not last beyond this episode.

Though, if anything, the fact that this is only temporary can serve as a warning against becoming complacent or eager for the easy way (as George tends to do in nearly every other episode). In other words, don’t be a George. Also, try not to be discouraged by someone who’s a Jerry.

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3 of the Most Underrated Sitcoms

With so many sitcoms over the decades, it makes sense that some have received more attention than others. Star power, timing, hype, and legitimately well-written content are just a few of the many reasons why some sitcoms have repeatedly received high ratings and critical praise—and I’m definitely a fan of many such shows. It makes me happy that Frasier has retained its “sitcom with the most Emmy wins” crown, but lately I’ve found myself revisiting some sitcoms (old and current) which, for whatever reason, have never received such accolades but are nonetheless high in quality. Onto the list…

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1. Malcolm in the Middle

Over the last few weeks, I’ve rewatched this show (twice actually) and could kick myself for not remembering how great it was beforehand. I’ll admit that, with Bryan Cranston’s incredible performance as Walter White in Breaking Bad still fresh in my mind, I let myself forget he has equally incredible comedic chops (not to mention his stellar dance moves) as Hal. The criminally underrated Jane Kaczmarek shines as Lois (who’s also, arguably, the true protagonist of the series, despite the title). Despite the fear she inspires from her sons, Lois also has an unshakeable sense of justice, which stems from the fact that she tends to always be right (making it all the more entertaining the one time she’s wrong—well, more like the one time she’s made to believe she’s wrong).

Hal and Lois’ sons, including the show’s narrator Malcolm (played by Frankie Muniz, who was definitely my first celebrity crush) are undeniably troublemakers, but arguably only make trouble to cope with the fact that they are all outsiders in some way. The show also makes a point of giving each son a remarkable talent/gift all his own. For instance, Reese (Justin Berfield) is an amazing chef, while Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan) is a skilled pianist.
Malcolm in the Middle never glosses over important issues such as a family struggling to make ends meet or bulling. It even briefly touches on the dangers of alcohol and the importance of not taking advantage of someone. When an intoxicated girl asks Malcolm to have sex with her, he declines and makes sure any remaining alcohol is gone. He later worries about what kind of “man” he is for not going through with it but, in a pivotal moment, Francis (the oldest brother, played by Christopher Masterson) tells him how important it was that he did not take advantage of her.
When watches the show, it comes off as a cohesive whole, with no weak seasons and very few weak episodes (unlike even Frasier and Friends, which both definitely had some). The writers never fully allow the characters to catch a break but, when a character does grow, the progression is subtle and earned. Notably, Francis evolves from the biggest troublemaker in the family to the most responsible and grounded (not to mention he inherits Lois’ sense of justice—another subtle yet fitting touch).
2. The King of Queens

If “Adam Sandler movies” or Paul Blart: Mall Cop are what come to mind when you think of Kevin James, we need to talk. Actually, we can skip the talk. Just promise me you’ll turn on TV Land, TBS, or one of the other many networks to frequently air King of Queens reruns and enjoy Kevin James at his peak in terms of physical comedy and wit (though I’m intrigued to see what’s ahead for Kevin Can Wait, especially with Leah Remini on board as a series regular).

Though frequently (and unfairly) lumped in with other sitcoms to have the “Ugly Guy, Hot Wife” trope, King of Queens deserves better because it, in fact, is better. First of all, it deals with this trope in a unique way. On King of Queens, it is the husband (James’ Doug Heffernan) who is generally the “good guy”, calmer, better with kids, and the moral compass when the wife (Remini’s Carrie) goes astray. On many sitcoms, this is typically the opposite.

Doug, of course, is not without flaws and is not above pulling his own schemes, but the couple often schemes together; when they don’t, one can often bring the other to his or her side within the episode. Despite any perceived difference in looks, Doug and Carrie always make sense as a couple because they’re equals and comparable in several key ways: neither is particularly book smart or career-minded (generally maintaining a “work to live” philosophy, with living together as their priority), both can be selfish at times (though it’s nothing the other can’t balance out), and both know how to laugh and have fun with each other. Oh, and they even have their own song (aptly called “Doug and Carrie”).

Though James and Remini are the show’s anchors, King of Queens boasts an impressive supporting cast, notably Jerry Stiller as Carrie’s annoying, quirky father Arthur who moves into their basement, Patton Oswalt as lovable “nerd” Spence Olchin, and Victor Williams as Doug’s best friend Deacon Palmer.

Definitely do yourself a favor and give this underrated classic a (re)watch. Plus, if you’re a fan of crossovers, expect to see Everybody Loves Raymond characters pop up as guest stars throughout the show’s nine seasons.
3. The Middle

This current ABC comedy stable is helmed by Patricia Heaton (aka Debra Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond) and Neil Flynn (aka the Janitor on Scrubs), delivers solid ratings, is heading into its ninth season this fall, and…has only been nominated for ONE Emmy thus far for its entire run?! That’s crazy!
As much as I love sitcoms (obviously), I’ll be honest: The Middle is the only current sitcom on broadcast that I consistently watch on a weekly basis. It’s consistent and well-rounded (unlike Modern Family, especially in recent years), relatable and touching (unlike The Big Bang Theory), and doesn’t rely on the same tired plot points and jokes (unlike The Goldbergs). Also, unlike many sitcoms, its child actors are in no way a weakness; they’re in fact a strength and each one consistently delivers great performances.

Heaton’s character, Heck family matriarch Frankie, is also perhaps the furthest thing from Debra. Well, actually, I like to think of Frankie as Debra if the latter finally gave up, moved far away from the other Barones, and decided to be lazier once removed from Marie’s constant visits.

 

Which sitcoms do you think are underrated? Please let me know in the comments!

One of the Best Decisions Friends Made

        Friends has consistently been one of my favorite sitcoms for well over a decade. Even if I go a few weeks without watching it (which has happened at least once or twice, I think), I still know each episode by heart and reference scenes on a daily basis.

But if you’ve read this blog before, you already know I’m a Friends fan. You also know that I have some relatively unpopular opinions about the series, including the fact that I’m not a fan of Ross and Rachel as a couple (but love the similar on again/off again Sam and Diane on Cheers) and consider Monica my favorite female character.

This post is about an aspect of the show that, while probably not as unpopular as the others, is nonetheless one that is often debated by fans: Should Joey and Phoebe have gotten together (however briefly) or were the creators right to keep them as just friends?

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Sitcom Study: The Friends creators were not only right to keep Joey and Phoebe just friends, but this was also one of their best and most important decisions.

For those of you who are fans of the Joey/Phoebe pairing, I can imagine at least a couple counterarguments you’re probably thinking right now:

  1. But Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow had such amazing chemistry!!

I agree. I’d also argue that one of the reasons Friends was successful in the first place is because ALL main cast members had amazing chemistry and so ANY combinations among the six worked well.

  1. Joey and Phoebe always had such sweet moments.

True. Still, I stand by the fact that all six characters had sweet moments with the others. Plus, if Joey fell for Phoebe, you’d have all six partnered off with each other (and no Paul Rudd). This would have been too unrealistic, even for a show with infamously unrealistic apartments.

Joey and Phoebe undoubtedly love each other, but this does not mean that this is a romantic love. I strongly believe in the notion that there are different types of love and that one is not necessarily more important than another. Many still believe that even if two people insist they are “just friends”, they will eventually fall for each other (or will harbor feelings until the “time is right” like The Office’s Jim and Pam).

This line of thinking is deeply problematic. Namely, it implies that a friendship’s only value is to serve as a stepping-stone for a romantic relationship. It also suggests that, if you do have romantic feelings for a friend, the best thing to do is keep this to yourself and wait for the stars to align. Let me get on my soapbox for just a second: do not ever wait for the stars to align. I believe everything happens for a reason and people can come into your life at the most unexpected times. Still, if someone truly wants to be with you, excuses such as “too busy” or “maybe it’s the wrong time” won’t matter in at least trying to make a relationship work.

The Joey/Phoebe relationship is perfect just the way it is; it serves as a reminder that the love between friends is beautiful in and of itself and should not be seen as merely the means to an end. Actually, in a way, I guess Friends did partner off all the main characters: the on-again/off-again couple (Ross and Rachel), the friends who do fall in love and get married (Monica and Chandler), and the pair who loves each other deeply as friends and share a special bond (Joey and Phoebe).

Remembering Mary Tyler Moore

January 25th started out as a pretty standard day, great even. Then, I overheard the following at work: “Mary Tyler Moore just died.” I froze. Nooooo. I had known of Mary’s health problems, but I struggled with accepting the fact that the woman I had always viewed as a strong, resilient fighter was really gone.

The real life Mary was always an excellent role model—she was a lifelong animal rights activist and worked intimately with the JDRF to raise awareness of type 1 diabetes (a condition Mary herself had). Still, like countless others, it was through her two most iconic television roles that I came to “know” her: Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. 

In addition to the fact that each sitcom features iconic performances from Mary, both are essential viewing for anyone even slightly interested in comedy writing and strong female sitcom characters. Laura was charming, intelligent, quick-witted, just as funny as Dick Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie, and one heck of a dancer. Also, thanks to Mary’s influence, Laura revolutionized the way women dressed on television by donning her now iconic capris pants.

What is also worth noting about The Dick Van Dyke Show is how loving and mutually respectful the marriage between Rob and Laura was. Unlike many later sitcoms, where one half of the couple is “in charge” while the other half is often portrayed as a submissive buffoon, thus resulting in a somewhat repetitive cycle of “good cop vs bad cop”, Rob and Laura were true equals. They joked together, danced together, and when they argued neither of them ever came off as controlling or condescending. From episode to episode, the two alternated who was the “straight-man”, giving Van Dyke and Moore equal chance to play the fool.

A few years later (1970 to be exact) on her eponymous sitcom, Mary Tyler Moore continued to break ground as a woman whom was not a wife or mother—she was just Mary Richards. Career-driven, independent and funny, she was more than capable of helming her own story as the protagonist.

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In the pilot episode “Love Is All Around” (the same name as the series’ iconic theme song by Sonny Curtis), a newly single thirty-year-old Mary relocates her life to Minneapolis. She settles into a new apartment and quickly makes new friends (notably Valerie Harper’s quick-witted Rhoda Morgenstern). Then, in one of the most memorable scenes of the series, she interviews for a job at WJM-TV with Ed Asner’s gruff yet lovable news director Lou Grant:

Lou: “What religion are you?”

Mary: “Mr. Grant, I don’t quite know how to tell you this, but you’re not allowed to ask that when someone’s applying for a job. It’s against the law.”

It’s a quick exchange, not nearly as iconic as the line anyone probably thinks of when remembering this pilot (referring to, of course, Lou’s “You know what, you’ve got spunk…I hate spunk!”), but it establishes something even more important about Mary’s character. Yes, of course Mary’s spunky; despite Asner’s excellent comic timing and delivery, the audience hardly needs reminding of such an obvious fact—especially when the aforementioned exchange between Mary and Lou so perfectly highlights Mary’s willingness to speak her mind, no matter whom she’s addressing or what the issue at hand may be. As the scene continues, Mary confirms that she will indeed be what the television landscape (and real life) is always in need of: an outspoken, confident woman who is willing and ready to fight for what she wants and knows she deserves. As Lou hired Mary as his Associate Producer, so too did countless women watching choose Mary as someone they not only wished to emulate as countless still saw her in themselves.

Decades later, this legacy continues. Thank you, Mary; thank you for your smile, individuality, independence, and spunk.

Thank you for paving the way.

Where You Lead, I Will Follow—“You May Go First”

With the highly anticipated Gilmore Girls revival premiering on Netflix this November 25th (aka the only time I ever have, and likely ever will, actually look forward to Black Friday), it seems like the perfect time to be a fan of Stars Hollow’s fast-talking mother-daughter duo, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore.

I’ve only been a part of the show’s fandom for about a year—I watched the entire series straight through last fall and I am currently doing a rewatch—but if there is something to be said about longtime Gilmore Girls fans it is their strong loyalty to series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s vision, along with their strong desire to see that vision fully realized. Palladino was famously not a part of the original series run’s final season (generally considered the weakest of the seven seasons) due to contract disputes, thus fans have eagerly longed for a chance to see Gilmore Girls end in a way reflective of Palladino’s original plan—including those infamous final four words.

As November continues to draw closer and my own excitement continues to grow, I can’t resist dedicating a post to one of my favorite aspects of the series. Sure, there are aspects of the show I dislike (*cough* DEAN FORRESTER * cough*) and certain things I personally hope do not resurface in the revival, but the very fact that there is even a revival at all is reason enough to celebrate. This post is dedicated to embracing this very positivity—this post is for the masterpiece that is Emily Gilmore.

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Sitcom Study: Gilmore Girls’ “Forgiveness and Stuff” (1×10)*

Relevant Episode Information: Richard’s unexpected heart attack impacts the entire Gilmore family, culminating in a particularly heartfelt moment.

As loyal as Gilmore Girls fan are, there are many things that seem eternally up for debate. For instance, while Rory’s intellectual and professional development from a Chilton student to a Yale graduate is fascinating to watch, there is nonetheless the lingering interest in Rory’s love life, particularly considering whether Jess or Logan was ultimately the better match (Someone Somewhere: But what about De–? Me: Yep, the only two options to debate). There are also debates considering Lane’s story arc, who was really “right” or “wrong” during Luke and Lorelai’s breakup, Rory’s decisions later in the series and more.

But one thing that has never been up for debate—and really never should be—is how captivating Emily is as a character. Considering the fact that the show’s protagonist/Emily’s own daughter Lorelai nearly constantly paints Emily as a meddling nuisance at best and a diabolical Shakespearean villain at worst, it can often be difficult for the audience to not take Lorelai’s words at face value and instead attempt to see things from Emily’s perspective. Of course, Lorelai’s comments do not come out of nowhere. Emily can be meddling, judgmental and uncompromising; then again, so can Lorelai—a fact which goes a long way in making sense of their seemingly unending battle of wits.

When all is said and done, however, most of Emily’s actions, even—if not especially—the ones which anger Lorelai most stem from one simple motivating factor: she lost Lorelai once, shortly after the latter gave birth to Rory, and she cannot bear the thought of losing her again. Besides, despite her tough and perfectly composed exterior, Emily is passionate, loving and beautifully vulnerable. There are few episodes of the series that better showcase this than season one’s “Forgiveness and Stuff.”

The episode shakes the entire Gilmore clan to its core, as beloved family patriarch Richard—Emily’s husband, and thus Lorelai’s father and Rory’s grandfather—suffers an unexpected heart attack. Feeling completely out of her element by the lack of control she is able to have over her husband’s condition, Emily has a meltdown that, in a rare moment of sincere civility between the two, Lorelai helps alleviate. In an equally rare moment of vulnerability, Emily shares the following tender moment with her husband when she is finally allowed to see him:

Richard: “Emily, listen to me: if I die—”

Emily: “No!”

Richard: “Emily…”

Emily: “Richard Gilmore, there may be many things happening in this hospital tonight,      but your dying is not one of them.”

Richard: “But…”

Emily: “No! I did not sign on to your dying. And it is not going to happen. Not tonight,    not for a very long time. In fact, I demand to go first. Do I make myself clear?”

Richard: “Yes, Emily. You may go first.”

 

As much as I love television (hence this blog), I’m not one to easily cry during emotional TV moments, so there’s something to be said about the fact that this scene gets me each time. Maybe it’s Kelly Bishop’s acting, maybe it’s the way the scene is written, maybe it’s the fact that such a vulnerable moment so early on in the series adds yet another level of intrigue to an already fascinating character, setting the stage for Emily’s continued complexity as the show progresses (but, of course, it’s probably all three).

What makes this scene even more poignant in these last few months before the revival premieres is how it will inevitably circle back to haunt Emily. Edward Hermann, the actor who masterfully portrayed Richard, has tragically passed away since the original series finale; thus, Emily has been denied her wish to go first and will appear in the revival as a woman adjusting to life without her beloved husband and best friend. Maybe we will see the bond between Emily and Lorelai deepen as never before. Maybe Emily will discover a new passion or hidden talent. Maybe we will see another heartfelt moment, perhaps one where Emily bemoans how it “was supposed to be her” (though no Gilmore Girls fan would, ideally, have wished to see either gone). In any case, I’m sure she has a few surprises up her sleeve; I cannot wait to watch her journey continue to unfold.