‘Seinfeldia’: Not quite a master of its domain

It works in the retelling, but in aiming higher, it suffers significan­t shrinkage

- James Endrst

The first question that comes to mind when considerin­g Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything is: Why now?

The short answer is, nearly 20 years after the finale of NBC’s Seinfeld aired on May 14, 1998, the TV comedy is still making oodles of money (an estimated $3 billionplu­s since going into syndicatio­n) and attracting new audiences around the world. Which explains why publishers were interested: There was more money to be made.

But that’s not exactly a compelling reason for readers who aren’t ardent fans.

There’s nothing breathtaki­ngly new here about Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander) or Kramer (Michael Richards), the quartet of Seinfeld characters whose particular­ly pronounced, often obsessive-compulsive and sometimes borderline personalit­ies defied the odds, altered the TV landscape and permeated pop culture as few others have. Having said that … Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, a TV columnist who spent a decade at Entertainm­ent Weekly, does an often charming job of deconstruc­ting the groundbrea­king creation of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. When the book succeeds, it’s in the retelling, with its greatest contributi­on found in the behind-the-scenes conversati­ons in the writers’ room.

But Armstrong ’s apparent need to justify the book’s title proves to be its weakest link. She opens Seinfeldia (Simon & Schuster, 270 pp., out of four) by explaining: “Almost from the beginning, Seinfeld has generated a special dimension of existence, somewhere between the show itself and real life, that I’ve come to call ‘Seinfeldia.’ ” It’s a place, she says, that carries on without its creators, fueled in large part by syndicated reruns and “a religious fan base bent on ritually resurrecti­ng the show’s touchstone moments via cocktail-party recitation­s.”

One could, of course, say the same thing about Star Trek, though there’s no arguing that ex- pressions like “yada yada yada” and “not that there’s anything wrong with that” are more common in everyday parlance than “Live long and prosper” and “Make it so.”

So Armstrong doubles down on the lives of people such as Kenny Kramer, one-time neighbor to Larry David who provided the inspiratio­n for Cosmo Kramer. The real Kramer, unlike the infamous real-life “Soup Nazi,” Ali “Al” Yeganeh, did his best to parlay his associatio­n with the show into a full-time business, complete with his own Seinfeld reality bus tour. “He would, in time,” Armstrong says, “become a symbol of that new dimension, the first person who could pass freely from real life into ‘Seinfeldia’ and back again.”

The heart of Armstrong ’s book and its most engaging quality is how it all came to be: the Seinfeld rules of the road that seemed to be without rules; the actors who left their indelible mark (Bryan Cranston as dentist Tim Whatley, Teri Hatcher as one of Jerry’s “spectacula­r” girlfriend­s) and the parade of moments about nothing that really turned out to be something.

 ?? GEORGE LANGE, NBC ?? Michael Richards (Kramer), Julia LouisDreyf­us (Elaine), Jason Alexander (George) and Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry) turned a humble sitcom idea into gold, Jerry — gold!
GEORGE LANGE, NBC Michael Richards (Kramer), Julia LouisDreyf­us (Elaine), Jason Alexander (George) and Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry) turned a humble sitcom idea into gold, Jerry — gold!
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 ?? A. JESSE JIRYU DAVIS ?? Author Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
A. JESSE JIRYU DAVIS Author Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

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