Weirdly callous Seinfeld: uniquely 1990s?

What a treat: one of my favourite journalists/writers interviewing one of my comedy heroes – Oliver Burkeman and Jerry Seinfeld, in The Guardian today. Especially incisive is this, on Seinfeld’s inherent amorality:

A competing theory for Seinfeld’s low profile since 1998 is that his comedy belongs squarely to the 90s – an era of economic plenty, before 9/11, before widespread anxiety about climate change, when the bottomless self-absorption of Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer felt excusable. Rewatching the show today is a curious experience. The haircuts are terrible, obviously. But the much-hyped focus on “nothing” – on overblown conflicts with doormen, restaurateurs and so on – feels familiar: it’s central to many of the shows that count Seinfeld as a major influence, from Arrested Development to The Office to Curb Your Enthusiasm. (The latter’s success fuelled yet another theory about Seinfeld’s post-90s career: that Larry David had been the genius behind the sitcom all along.) What stands out, in those old Seinfelds, is the weird callousness: a total lack of concern with anyone other than the central foursome, unmatched even by Larry David’s character in Curb, or David Brent, or the South Park kids. When George’s fiancee dies, poisoned by the glue in the cheap wedding invitations he’d insisted on buying, his pure relief is certainly funny, and in keeping with the famous motto of the show’s writers: “No hugging, no learning.” But it’s also more pathologically egocentric than anything you’d encounter, in a comedic context, on TV today.


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