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Some thoughts on an American art form as "Seinfeld" enters the rerun pantheon.

By Tom Danehy

MAY 18, 1998:  WHEN SEINFELD AIRS tonight, tens of millions of people will be tuned in, hoping their hardest that it will be uproariously funny and somehow transcendent. They'll want it to be brilliant, a clear point of time in their lives. I wouldn't count on it.

This hasn't been a good year for the show. It's limped along with too many writers trying too hard to come up with the Next Big Line which will become part of the American vernacular. Well, there was no "shrinkage" this year, no "double dip," no "Mulva." In fact there was probably only one show this entire season which stands out at all, that being the one where Kramer recreates the Merv Griffin set in his apartment and George has an agreement with the pigeons. Much of the rest has been pretty lame, at least by Seinfeld standards.

That's probably the problem right there: The show built up some pretty high standards. Trying too hard to live up to one's own high standards can lead to disappointing results. Last week's episode about Puerto Rico Day (with 10 writers getting credit) may have been the worst episode in the show's history. It was almost painfully unfunny. Maybe they saved it for next-to-last to make tonight's farewell seem hilarious by comparison. I sure hope so.

I've been watching since the first season. In fact, I saw the first episode when it originally aired, qualifying me for charter membership in the People Who Watch Way Too Much TV Hall of Fame. (I don't want to sound self-congratulatory. It was in July, so it was either that or a baseball game. Not that hard to choose.)

It captured me with its quirkiness and I soon became a devotee. I've always liked it, but it's not the greatest. Frasier has been a better comedy series since Day One. Plus, the upstart Just Shoot Me zoomed past Seinfeld this year.

Still, it's probably in my Top 10 of all time, but not the Top Five, which are:

  1. The Mary Tyler Moore Show

  2. The Dick Van Dyke Show

  3. Newhart (The Innkeeper)

  4. The Bob Newhart Show (The Shrink)

  5. All In the Family
The brilliance of these shows was instantaneous, unmistakable, and with the exception of the later years of All In The Family, unwavering. I like Seinfeld, but it can't hang with those shows.

I take television seriously. That's a statement which will probably prompt some super-secret government organization to open a file on me. I think there have been some great shows over the years. Heck, even though most of the stuff that's on at any given time is horrible, every season there are gems. Look at the dramas on this year alone: Law & Order, NYPD Blue, The X-Files, The Practice, Homicide, ER and Brooklyn South.

Even tofu snobs driving VW buses with "Kill Your Television" bumper stickers would have to admit that there's some good stuff in there. I get the feeling these people probably secretly watch Dharma and Greg and think it's a documentary.

I read the other day that there are over 200 Seinfeld Web sites on the Internet, including a couple dozen devoted strictly to tonight's episode. If that doesn't chill you, say "Hi" to John Wayne for me, because you passed over a long time ago.

TWO HUNDRED SEINFELD WEB SITES! I didn't know there were that many thirtysomething single guys living at home with their moms in the entire country.

I've never been in a "chat room" and I hope I never have reason to enter that realm. I agree with sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury on this matter. The "promise" of the Internet being a boon to communication is a joke. So far all it's been is a marketplace for celebrity soft porn, a frustratingly slow half-encyclopedia and a dumping ground for the "thoughts" of anonymous people.

People aren't communicating on the Net; they're spewing. They're saying things they'd never dare say in public, lest they be subjected to the stares of fear and derision of those unfortunate enough to be close enough to hear the words.

It's all very pathetic. I'll bet there were a couple dozen dweebs trying to make an electronic date with that gorilla that went on-line last week.

The Electronic Algonquin Round Table, it ain't.

Back when M*A*S*H had its final episode, the National Enquirer got hold of the final script and leaked every last highlight of the show weeks before it aired. To their credit, the show's producers shrugged and didn't deny anything. They apologized for letting it happen and they asked people to tune in anyway, which they did in record numbers.

(When Dallas had its "Who Shot J.R?" episode, they filmed several different endings and the producers decided which one to show at the very last minute.)

Having learned from those lessons, the producers of Seinfeld have been extremely tight-lipped about the script. That hasn't stopped the nerd hordes from weighing in with the opinions as to its content. Most of the ideas are pretty weak. Jerry and Elaine get married. They all move to L.A. because Jerry gets a TV show. Kramer gets a haircut. George, having seen that Internet episode of The X-Files where the people entered the Net electronically, jumps out of computer screens and accosts the dorks, screaming, "At least I'm man enough to live in New York!"

Actually, if I were doing it, I'd have it not be the last episode. I'd have Kramer look into the camera and say, "Hey, we're having too much fun and making too much money for this to be the end. We're coming back next year. Suckers!"

But if it were really the last episode, I'd have Jerry wake up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette and say, "Wow, did I have the weirdest dream..."


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