Seinfeld: A Cultural History

Rowman & Littlefield. Jun. 2020. 232p. ISBN 9781538126875. $35. TV
Seinfeld’s (1989–98) history is well documented. After a panned pilot, NBC was willing to order only four episodes for the show’s first season. But the series finale brought in 76 million viewers and Super Bowl–size advertising rates. Along the way, the show changed the landscape of American television and added phrases such as “sponge-worthy” and “close talker” to the English lexicon. Arras (communications & media studies, State Univ. of New York Cortland; The Lonely Nineties) covers this ground but takes a fresh approach, demonstrating how Seinfeld reflects the culture of its time and analyzing how well it holds up today. Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer each say something about facets of 1990s American experience: delayed adulthood, yuppiedom, and relationship and career dissatisfaction. The author also points out the American experiences the show missed in its focus on (mostly male) white urban heterosexuals. Although he thoughtfully critiques the show, Arras demonstrates his enthusiasm for the subject, and his personal ranking of all 168 episodes is a fan’s labor of love.
VERDICT Lively writing, extensive research, and thoughtful analysis combine to make Arras’s book a must for those interested in taking a deeper dive into a show about nothing.

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