Last week, rumors of a pending Seinfeld reunion sent fans of the hit 1990s sitcom into a frenzy. What, exactly, were Jerry and Jason Alexander (who played George Costanza) filming on the streets of New York—in costume? When asked about it, Seinfeld played coy.
The results were revealed last night during the (otherwise less-than-riveting) Superbowl. The Seinfeld alums had worked their 90s characters into a mini-episode of Seinfeld’s brilliant web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”:
The spot has its moments. For one, you’ve got to love the car choice; Jerry ferries George around New York in a 1976 AMC Pacer. As Seinfeld snarks, “It doesn’t work; it looks ridiculous; and [it] falls apart—which makes it the perfect vehicle for my guest today: Mr. George Costanza.” Another pleasant surprise? Wayne Knight cameos as Jerry’s arch-nemesis, Newman. His wheezy cackle still makes me giggle.
But this mini-reunion has its problems, too. First, it’s too short. As a series, Seinfeld specialized in comedic payoffs. It took its time, establishing the plot threads, then entangling them hilariously at each episode’s climax. The Superbowl segment doesn’t have space to work this way. The closest we get to a “payoff” is the lame recurrence of a mumble gag established just two minutes earlier.
Another problem with the bit? George Costanza. Oh, he’s still the same neurotic kvetch. Actually, that’s the problem: George hasn’t changed at all. He sports the same wire-rimmed glasses, the same frumpy red jacket—even the same-colored hair (likely dyed). But the self-obsession that made George funny back then makes him unpleasant now. He’s less “charmingly crabby” and more “crotchety crank.” If anything, George seems more cynical and selfish than his younger self. Only now, it’s harder to overlook.
Listen: I’m not ungrateful; I’m glad Seinfeld & Friends shot this piece. We got a whimsical, nostalgic reminder of TV’s best-ever sitcom.
But the brief reunion shows why Seinfeld should never be renewed. Sure, society has generated plenty of script material in the intervening years. No doubt Jerry and the gang would have plenty to say about today’s “excruciating minutiae”: smartphone etiquette, Skype faux-paus, Netflix binges, and “reality” TV.
But would audiences want to hear them complain? The quirks that made these characters funny as thirty-somethings would make them unbearable as fifty-year-olds. Kramer’s wacky antics as a young man were lovably eccentric; they’d seem borderline creepy for a senior citizen. Elaine’s sarcastic narcissism was cute back then; from a middle-aged woman, it would likely grate.
As it turns out, the show’s original finale got it right: it’s probably for the best that these characters were “removed from society.”