Did Seinfeld Lie to Us?
April 23, 2013
(The shortened opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. Let's talk about the show Louie. (the title card for this video tries to slide in, but the NC pushes it away) Yeah, I know what the title card says; I wanna start off by talking about Louie!
(Cut to a montage of footage of Louie starring Louis C.K.)
NC (vo): For those who don't know, Louie is an FX show centered around the fictionalized adventures of the comedian Louis C.K. It's gotten praised from both audiences and critics. And while the jokes and characters are funny, that's not what I intend to focus on. I intend to focus on the stories. Or rather, lack thereof. Oh, there's stuff that happens. One episode, for example, can consist of Louie going off to see his daughter, visiting his psychiatrist, going on a date, and a lot of times... that's it. There's funny jokes and such that occur, but it's rarely bound to a three-act structure, and half the time, there's not really a focus in the episode. It's just random funny stuff that happens in Louis C.K.'s life. Some are even declaring it the real show about nothing.
NC: But how can that be when Seinfeld is the definitive show about nothing?
(Cut to footage of Seinfeld)
NC (vo): Because... that's what it is, right? A show about nothing? Everyone says it is. Even the series itself seems to endlessly praise itself for it.
George Costanza: It's about nothing! Everybody's doing something; we'll do nothing!
Jerry Seinfeld: I think you may have something here.
NC (vo): I remember when I was younger, everybody was telling me to see it for that exact reason, that it was a show about nothing, a show that was finally telling stories different, not being bound to a three-act structure and focusing on a small series of problems like all those other shows do. That sounds revolutionary, actually. Just a slice of unpredictable life where anything can happen. Wow! I can't wait to see how TV is pushing the envelope. But when I would watch an episode, I didn't see a show about nothing. Because every episode had a dilemma that needed to be solved: a toothbrush in the toilet, oozing a car, waiting to get into a Chinese restaurant. These were all problems that had to be resolved before the episode was over. This was something; it was just small things. And even then, they weren't all small things. Getting into a fight with Raquel Welch? That seems pretty big. Getting the Merv Griffin set tricking an animal expert to be on, only to have your best friend be attacked by one of his animals? That seems pretty big. A ménage à trois? This is a little thing? It doesn't look like it to George! And the problem was always either wrapped up or had the other problems from the various storylines somehow all come together, resulting in a beginning, a middle and an end.
(Cut to Louie)
NC (vo): With Louie, a story could begin or end anywhere. That's how much it didn't tie into anything. Sometimes the story would have a longer focus than usual, but it was still unpredictable on where it was gonna go next, how long if it was going to be there, and when it was going to end, if it was even going to end as opposed to just stop.
(Cut back to Seinfeld)
NC (vo): And don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with three-act structures or good storytelling, but when a show proclaims itself about nothing, yet it constantly acts like it is about something, I have to ask myself...
NC: (smacks his hand on table; then dramatically) DID SEINFELD LIE TO US?!
NC (vo): It all sounds that way, even when they claim themselves as "mad geniuses" for their idea! Does the idea really sound like the show we're watching?
Russell Dalrymple: What kind of stories?
George: Oh, no, no stories.
Russell: No stories? So, what is it?
George: What did you do today?
Russell: I got up and came to work.
George: There's a show! That's a show.
NC (vo): Okay, when have you ever seen an episode like that? The closest I can think is maybe the pilot, which really was just a day in Jerry's life. There was no focus at all. But as you all know, the majority of stories always had a beginning, middle and end, at least one dilemma, and eventually a resolution. Hell, at the time, I was saying that...
(Cut to footage of The Cosby Show)
NC (vo): ...The Cosby Show was more a show about nothing. Oh, sure, it had storylines half the time, but the other half could be just him at a birthday party, and that's it; a small family get-together, and that's it. There was no problem to be solved or conflict to be had – again, half the time.
(Cut back to Seinfeld)
NC (vo): But that's more often than Seinfeld did, where there was always a conflict or problem that had to be addressed.
NC: Now, before you pelt me with cereal boxes that have no copyright labels, let me make something perfectly clear: I love Seinfeld.
NC (vo): I still see it as some of the best writing on TV, ever. The characters are timeless, the situations hilarious, and the way the stories did so often tie together I think makes it a masterwork of comedy. I'm just asking the question, is it really about nothing? Because I don't see any evidence that states that it is.
NC: So, if it's not about nothing, what can I declare it about?
NC (vo): I mean, okay, we know it's a stand-up and his friends, but what's a more fitting description on the focus of the stories? Well, maybe it's a show about how little things can turn into big things, a show about how middle-class America obsesses over little problems as opposed to big problems...
(Cut to a black screen, where the following phrase appears: "A show about how a comedian gets his material.")
NC (vo): ...or a show about how a comedian gets his material.
NC: Well, wait a minute! Right there, that's the perfect sum-up! Yeah, because he always does the stand-up in the show, right?
(Cut to the start of one episode, where Seinfeld does stand-up while his name appears in the credits)
NC (vo): And everything they talk about is something that a stand-up would talk about. That actually fits perfectly!
NC: Wow! What genius said that?
(Cut to Jerry Seinfeld doing an interview)
Seinfeld: We're gonna do a show about how a comedian gets his material.
NC: (sits there with stunned smile, then blinks eyes repeatedly) Well, isn't he off the beaten path, because clearly he's stating the show that it's about nothing!
NC (vo): I even remember they were saying that George was representing co-creator Larry David and the famous "this show is about nothing" speech, and that it pretty much went as they showed it on TV.
NC: So clearly Larry David thought that's what the show was about at the start, right?
(Cut to Larry David doing an interview)
David: It was going to be about how a comedian gets his material.
NC: (stunned smile) Or... maybe they discovered that (makes finger quotes) "show about nothing" sounded more marketable and funnier.
(Cut to more footage of Seinfeld)
NC (vo): I guess I can't blame them. If people said your stuff was a genius for reasons didn't think of, would you put up much of an argument? Probably not, you'd just go with the flow. Bottom line: when you really get down to it, it doesn't matter. Seinfeld is still a phenomenal comedy and one of the greatest shows ever written.
(Cut to a clip of Louie)
NC (vo): And it's not like other shows that really are about nothing don't get praised, either. Louie is still a big hit, and both shows coincidentally star stand-ups playing themselves.
(Cut back to Seinfeld)
NC (vo): Which is funny, when you think about it. Maybe the next show will be so much about nothing that it'll just be...
(Cut to a shot of Jim Gaffigan doing stand-up)
NC (vo): ...Jim Gaffigan walking around with a webcam.
(Cut to alternating snippets of Seinfeld and Louie)
NC (vo): Whatever you call it and however you see it, the important thing is just to laugh at it. And both series show no sign of them losing momentum there. Whether you think they're shows about nothing or shows about something, they're making you laugh, and I think that's all either of them hope to accomplish.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic; I remember it so you don't have to. (gets up from his chair and leaves)