Jerry Seinfeld’s modern TV comedy cool look at a bygone era

Jerry Seinfeld’s modern TV comedy cool look at a bygone era

“Seinfeld” premiered 35 years ago on NBC, became one of the most popular sitcoms of all time and made Jerry Seinfeld and creator Larry David insanely rich. In promoting his directorial debut “Unfrosted,” Seinfeld has lamented the current state of TV comedy, in a way that identifies some modern challenges while ignoring the complexities of how times have changed.

Seinfeld made the remark to the New Yorker while making the rounds (he joked about the extent of the promotional tour on “Saturday Night Live”) to support the film, which looks back at the creation of the Pop-Tart in the 1960s. Yet the comic’s view of where comedy goes wrong has an inescapable “Old man yelling at a cloud” quality, not because the observation is wrong at all but because of everything they overlook in oversimplifying and romanticizing the past.

“It used to be that you’d come home at the end of the day, most people would say, ‘Oh, ‘Cheers’ is on. Oh, ‘M*A*S*H’ is on. Oh, ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ is on. ‘All in ‘Family’ is on,'” Seinfeld told The New Yorker. “You just expect, there’s going to be some funny stuff we can watch on TV tonight. Well, guess what – where is it? This is the result of the extreme left and P.C. nonsense, and people who worry too much about offending others. Now they’re going to watch stand-up comics because we’re not being watched by anyone.”

There’s a lot to unpack, starting with picking the four best sitcoms ever, easily skipping over all the lame sitcoms that existed during those years. Likewise, people looking for something to watch when the show airs only get three broadcast networks and a handful of channels, before Fox, cable and premium TV, more or less Netflix, streaming and various international imports.

Yes, heightened sensitivities among various constituencies – or “PC crap,” if Seinfeld prefers – have complicated the comedian’s job. But one aspect of Seinfeld’s past that was desirable was that people could be offended with little fear of consequences or retaliation because, where would they go? When the menu consists of ABC, NBC and CBS, it’s not like they have many options or alternatives.

The mass-appeal comedy that Seinfeld cites is certainly a great show, but it has given way to a wide variety of series aimed at narrower tastes, spread across multiple outlets. The result is fewer traditional multi-camera sitcoms but more single-camera shows, including hit shows “Abbott Elementary,” “Ghosts” and “Young Sheldon,” the latter of which (spun off of “The Big Bang Theory”) will end its seven-season run next month. this.

That won’t even scratch the surface of cable and streaming comedies, animated shows, international series now reaching US shores and popular series labeled “comedy” that aren’t actually comedies at all, like “The Bear” and “Barry.”

Even taking Seinfeld’s argument at face value, “All in the Family” is the only show he mentions that might regularly clash with the comedic criticism he objects to. For stand-up comics, there’s been an explosion of opportunities to get their material in front of audiences he couldn’t have imagined when he broke the set on “The Tonight Show,” including a flurry of specials that spilled over as part of the “Netflix is a Joke” festival.

Indeed, there is a long tradition of talent lamenting how badly things have gone since their heyday. Having recently turned 70, Seinfeld and the rest of the baby-boom generation have seen TV change in ways unrecognizable from when he cut his professional teeth.

While it may not be “All in the Family” or “Mary Tyler Moore,” there’s still something funny to watch for a wider variety of tastes, including those with the fortitude to sit through “Unfrosted.” All it takes is knowing where to look, and maybe, opening your eyes.

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