J.R.Donohue/Commentary/Seinfeld Jailed By Altruism Police
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Seinfeld Jailed By Altruism Police
Oh Its About Something, All Right!
05/18/98

     The final Seinfeld episode (The Jerry Seinfeld Show) was dead boring. No wonder: there is nothing more lethal to comedy entertainment than preaching.

     Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David made their success, whether they admit it or not, on the mightily absurd, the transcendentally silly and the shaking-our-heads-in-disbelief plot gyrations, all drawn within the constructed world of TV-Jerry's imagination. We suspended disbelief exactly because the show was about nothing; we did not need to judge or put the friends into a real-life context, secure that -- being so bizarre -- the writers surely meant the show for pure entertainment value. We relaxed and laughed for years.

     Lest we forget,in one of the numerous Godel-like phenomena that made the show fascinating,the plot for several weeks featured the brainstorming of a sitcom to be created by Jerry and George about 'a stand-up comic's' life, complete with takes on his work, apartment, parents, and his three twisted friends. So, Jerry Seinfeld, a stand-up comedian, was staring in a sitcom about a standup comedian creating a sitcom about a sitcom in which, one suspects, the characters would eventually hit on the idea of pitching the networks with the idea of a sitcom about a comedian's life! This was done with craft such that M.C. Escher would admire, no doubt.

     This made me mentally visit the original framework, that The Jerry Seinfeld show itself must always be thought of as a phantasmagoric translation of Jerry's inner "take" on reality. Now he was going one level deeper, and like a bad photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, there was to be absurd deterioration. The "casting" of the friends was hilarious. In a backwards-through-the-looking-glass touch, the guy who in "real reality" was the inspiration for Kramer got sucked into play, sort of halfway in and sticking out of the show. One was never quite sure if perhaps that guy was just an actor playing the part of "the original." Or, that if he became famous enough himself he would no longer be suitable as an original "nobody." Amazing stuff.

     At any rate, George and Jerry are sitting in the coffee shop discussing the theme and hook of the sitcom they are cooking up.

"What's it about?" asks George.

     "Nothing,"

     "Nothing?"

     "Nothing."

     After a moment George spreads out his hands in a typical way.

     "I think you may have something there!" he enthuses.

     But last night's final episode was weird. We expected the topper of all toppers in twisted ridiculousness. Instead we received a moral parable, played straight, apparently, which conveyed with heavy hand that all along the show was about something: one specific alleged vice: selfishness. From subtle and elegantly bizarre the series shifted at this last moment to flatly ponderous and controlling. In a direct insult, the ingrates Jerry and David were accusing their loyal audience of thick-headed moral apathy and petty self-indulgence, an attempted guilt trip. This was rude. We slam this slick betrayal back over the net to Jerry. We reject the insinuation that to redeem the show the audience must suddenly atone for its pleasure.

     This is not to mention that the subject of selfishness itself is a dead horse. No thank you, Jerry: if the friends are to be considered as literally self-absorbed dunderheads, no one needs your parable to reject them. If instead they are now to be taken as metaphor for the evil of self interest in contrast to sacrifice and living for others, then double no-thanks; go back to the ghetto of Hollywood with your fellow control-freak altruists.

     But consider this: is it possible that the motive in David's script was revenge for his long divorce from the show? Perhaps David lulled Jerry into accepting his concept until it was too late to change it, thereby achieving the masterful subterfuge of draining every ounce of humor, delight and fond farewell out of the show, all out of spite.

     I guess it must be also mentioned that perhaps the final episode itself was a complete put-on. But my enthusiasm for this interpretation is merely pro forma; I doubt it was satire. And even if I am wrong and it was a "fake-out," still shame on you. Even Victor Borge eventually had to play some Chopin straight.

     In any case, Jerry went out on a brutally un-funny note. On the Tonight Show Thursday Jerry stated that he was exhausted from having to be funny for nine years without letup. I would be too if it every second of the time the humor was bogus and my real intention behind the laughter was a misguided moral crusade that I was trying to make the world "get," but they never "get it." Wake up Jerry, it was about Nothing!






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