Thursday, July 22, 2010

Seinfeld vs. Friends vs. Frasier

30 Rock and The Office may be critical darlings, but are they Must-See TV material? They got nothing on the powerhouses that are Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier. Just sayin'.

When you're an unemployed recent high school graduate, like myself, you will most likely be spending your weekday nights watching syndicated reruns of Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier on your local FOX affiliate, instead of partying it up with booze and blowing your parents' money off at the local cineplex. Right? Yes, absolutely! Nineties sitcoms are so in!

Moving on from socially acceptable norms, I want to talk about what I've been doing to occupy all the free time I have. I've been doing mostly nothing but mindlessly watching television and filling out applications for minimum wage employment. The former is much more enjoyable and a better topic for discussion.

So every night from 9pm to 11pm, I watch Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier, in that order. It is arguably the most amazing two hours of comedy on television right now. In a way, it's almost like a time capsule that brings the golden age of NBC's Must-See TV to 2010. Unfortunately, this comparison would be much more clever if Seinfeld, Friends, and Frasier ever aired on the same Thursday night (only Friends and Frasier did).

I'm just living in the past and I'm not ashamed of it!

It is only natural to compare these shows. In my world where nothing is ever fair, there is always a clear-cut winner.

For anyone following my Twitter, they know I love the f--- out of Seinfeld. So there's already no competition. But I'll try to keep the discussion alive the best I can.

Greatest show ever...if you're part of the Baby Boomer Generation or Generation X. Or you're just part of it in spirit.

Seinfeld is one of the most original, unique, inventive sitcoms I've ever seen. In the last twelve years since it has gone off the air, no other show has had such a spectacular cultural impact or an eye so keen for clever social commentary. It relies on no reliable formula. It's completely unconventional. The characters are all bursts of wondrous comedic creativity and so brilliantly played by Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, and Jason Alexander (ROBBED SO BADLY FOR AN EMMY). It's so witty, so quotable, and almost always hysterical.

Not only do I tune into Seinfeld at 9pm, but also at 7:30pm, and sometimes at 11pm, where they rerun the episode that aired at 9pm. There are some episodes that are so funny that they demand to be seen twice in one day.

It hasn't always been like this, though. I used to find Seinfeld loud and obnoxious, unfunny and unamusing, and generally tasteless. But, for some absurd reason, I would always tell my fellow friends that I preferred Seinfeld over Friends. I think that was the rebel inside of me at work, trying desperately to be different. But truthfully, as much as I enjoyed Friends, I've always found it overrated--more on that later.

I sympathized with Seinfeld, though, even though it's a show with complete and utter cultural relevance and is one of the most successful television sitcoms ever made. But I sympathized with it because my dear ol' Generation Y just didn't get it. I, for one, wished I did.

That was just fate at work, of course, because after my numerous declarations of a preference for Seinfeld over Friends, I actually began to enjoy some of the episodes that I would often catch while channel-surfing. (I guess this is a prime example of becoming what you say you are.) I remember thinking that "The Handicap Spot" and "The Bizzaro Jerry" are absolutely hilarious and brilliant. The episodes that truly got me hooked were "The Fusilli Jerry," "The Pitch," and "The Engagement." There was no turning back after seeing those episodes. The structure is brilliant--everything just ties together in the end, in the most unique, unpredictable way possible.

Seinfeld is notorious for being a self-labeled "show about nothing." And in a way, yes, George Costanza knew what he was talking about. But in the finale, George sums up the show perfectly by telling the NBC executives, "I really don't think so-called relationship humor is what this show is all about." And surprisingly, George is once again correct. While Friends is about marriages, divorces, hook-ups, break-ups, pregnancies, babies, and other genuinely emotional life events, Seinfeld is about muffin tops, pudding skins, soup, man-hands, puffy shirts, big salads, and ultimately, itself.

In Seinfeld's most thoughtful seventh season where George--the jackass, the loser, the Average Joe--gets engaged to a relatively decent woman, yet he spends the rest of the season trying to get out of the engagement so he could pursue other women. The show takes the entire relationship formula and throws it out the window.

But that is the core of Seinfeld: it's about selfish, miserable people whose plans often get destroyed by karma. That's why Jerry and Elaine were never meant to be, though they were perfect for each other (I'm not the only fan who thinks this, right?). But the characters are incredibly human and surprisingly warm (at times) to those in their inner circle.

Jerry Seinfeld said it best: "There's a great warmth beneath the surface of these characters. Just the fact that we forgive each other shows you that."

Those are all the qualities that made Seinfeld click with me, and perhaps the 76 million people that watched the finale (and the many that hated it). The show addressed things that are universal and often made it one giant inside joke for the fans that tuned in week after week (and oh how I wished I could have experienced that).

However, it's also a beautifully nihilistic reflection of the minituae. While some believed the show epitomized New York, it's a fine representation of misery, frustration, and disappointment from any part of the world. And there's the absurd humor ready to be dissected from it all.

There will never be another show like Seinfeld. Some people believe Curb Your Enthusiasm is the present-day Seinfeld and it's definitely comparable, being the brainchild of Seinfeld co-creator, Larry David, but it's a little too formulaic to be "better" than Seinfeld.

Seinfeld is inimitable. And I even liked the finale.

Greatest show ever if you're a fifteen year old girl. Just kidding!

Speaking of imitation, I believe that every generation needs their own Friends. I mean this is as a compliment. I believe that every decade or so, Friends should be remade. So while How I Met Your Mother is technically Friends, its unoriginal premise is not offensive because every generation needs a Friends! (But honestly, I can't care for How I Met Your Mother because I've already seen most of the last ten seasons of Friends. Does anyone else feel that way too? Or do you think How I Met Your Mother's quirks, wits, and Neil Patrick Harris make up for the fact that it's basically a pseudo Friends rip-off?)

I have a love-hate relationship with Friends, as you might have guessed. Friends is the first sitcom I fell in love with. My mom used to watch it in syndication and on Thursday nights on NBC. I would watch it with her and I thought it was relatively funny and cool because when you're ten, funny and cool pretty much makes a show gold.

Unlike Seinfeld, Friends is a certified "relationships show." The show often hinges on whether or not Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) get together in the end or when will the whole group find out about Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica's (Courteney Cox) secret relationship, etc. It's a show that centers its whole existence on the idea of life's great emotional events.

But that's exactly why it's popular. That's why it's still many of my friends' favorite show ever. I get it!

Watching Friends as an eighteen-year-old, it's like watching the show with a brand new pair of eyes. I notice the infantile humor, the unacknowledged, uncalculated, accidental emotional immaturity of the characters (Seinfeld's characters can be immature, but Friends' characters are just plain stupid sometimes), the unbelievably moronic tendencies of its male characters (I know girls like it when they feel dominant towards the opposite sex, but do you really like guys who just don't have a clue?), and the emotional manipulation. Friends feels like a chick flick exclusively made for fifteen year old girls.

Yet I feel incredible warmth when I hear the iconic "I'll Be There For You" theme song and see the cast frolicking in the fountain. I feel completely nostalgic whenever I watch an episode because here is a show I used to love--it's like visiting an old friend.

I saw "The One Hundredth" the other day and there was that moment in the end where Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) looks at her triplets and tells them how much she wishes she could see them everyday. And while I may hate Friends for its blindly cartoonish, immature antics, there are certainly some very sweet moments that just hits all the right notes.

I remember watching the finale live back in 2004. It is one of the most crowd-pleasing television finales I've seen. While the Seinfeld finale remains controversial to this day, the Friends finale left its fans with just the right amount of smiles and tears. I knew twelve-year-old me choked up at the sight of the empty apartment. At the time, I already spent the past three seasons watching Friends every Thursday night at 8pm. I actually feel chills just thinking about the last scenes of Friends.

Call it emotional manipulation or pulling of the heartstrings or whatever you want, but Friends has a damn good finale, which makes watching the reruns more satisfying because I know everything will turn out alright.

But then again, there's Joey, starring Matt LeBlanc. Which I find underrated, but still relatively lame.

Some say that there are two different types of people in the world: Those who prefer Friends and those who prefer Seinfeld. But I wonder if there is a certain type that prefers Frasier, or is Frasier the one show that unites all...?

Greatest show ever if you're a senior citizen. Or if you appreciate wisdom. Or both.

I just started watching Frasier a month ago, so I'm not a Frasier Expert yet.

Up until recently, I thought Frasier was a show made exclusively for old intellectuals who read Proust, Shakespeare, and Joyce on a daily basis. I've never seen an entire episode and every time it came on, I just switched the channel immediately. Well, I recently decided to give it a try and thought it was just hilarious. So lesson learned: Never judge a book by its cover.

While the so-called warmth in Friends can feel shallow and superficial at times, the writing in Frasier is so crisp, so clever, so witty, so touching that no wonder it's one of the most awarded sitcoms of all-time. While the humor is intellectual, it's not inaccessible to the ordinary person.

The sibling rivalry between Frasier and Niles Crane is often hysterical and they are even more hysterical when they have to work together. I was watching "The Show Must Go Off" the other day and the chemistry between Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce (who, along with Michael Richards, stole all of Jason Alexander's Emmys, but who can blame him?) is unbelievable. Not only do they have an uncanny resemblance, they really are convincing as brothers. And, of course, David Jacobi is excellent as an ex-Shakespearean theater actor turned sour.

The on-and-off relationship between Niles and physical therapist Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves) really is the sweetest thing. While Ross and Rachel may be the king and queen of the television on-and-off relationship of recent times, Niles and Daphne are so endearing, so sweet that Ross and Rachel can't even hold a candle to their relationship. Niles' nerdy longing for Daphne is funny and heartbreaking, wonderful and romantic.

The rest of the supporting cast--Peri Gilpin and John Mahoney--are a charming pleasure.

I can definitely see Frasier as a no-contest favorite in the future, but for now, I am just enjoying the journey of spending my weeknights with these wonderful, funny characters.

But right now, Seinfeld is the clear-cut winner. Its warmth is subtle. Its frustrations and comedy are blatant and endless. For a show that lets all romantic relationships slip through its fingers, it's a show I relate to and feel for the most. It's the show I feel the most affinity for. And I'm not even a lifelong New Yorker, though I was born there. That must be why.

So I direct this question to those who trespass: Seinfeld, Friends, or Frasier? And why?

25 comments:

  1. Friends. Because it's one of the few shows where I've watched every episode more than once. It's always funny and yet manages to get some key dramatic moments down and the cast is just exceptional (and because I may have a fifteen year old girl inside me. Sigh).

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  2. I really enjoyed your article. Frasier, Friends and Seinfeld are by far my favorite shows. Ever. But in my opinion they don't compete with each other. I love all of them in a different way:

    Frasier is the greatest show ever. It is so clever written and had the most impact on me.

    Friends is the best sitcom ever because in my opinion they never lost quality. Every episode of seasons 10 is just as funny as an episode from season four or seven.

    Seinfeld is the most original show I have ever seen. Its amazing how everything comes together in the end and its so funny. But sometimes, not very often, it is a bit silly.

    I really miss those shows. You are lucky, you are American. But here in Germany, many people don't know these shows (well, Friends was very successful here) he and, while there are on TV, they are not very often on tv. Not like everyday and they are dubbed.

    Thank God I have the DVD's and the Internet.

    But I also want to say that I LOVE 30 Rock. It is the best show RIGHT NOW on TV and right now, in my personal ranking, right behind these 3 shows. Well, it is fighting with Cheers, which was also a great show.

    30 Rock is really cool and Tina Fey? Most amazing women ever lived.

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  3. Hey man, this is a wonderful post! I love that you're spending time watching these. And it really isn't wasted time; I mean, seriously, what in the world could be better for you as a writer or filmmaker or HUMAN, that watching these shows?

    Seinfield I don't love. But I do love Curb Your Enthusiasm.

    Friends; I think everyone at some point loves friends, becomes friends with friends, revists them a lot- and then eventually outgrows them. There's some great comedy, but, ultimately, it's all about...

    FRASIER: Which is an absolute masterpiece of a TV show. Sure, you could talk about it being intellectual, but the funny thing is these intellectual characters who are often so inept and ridiculous.

    I truly recommend getting that minimum wage job and then as soon as you get paid go and buy the first four seasons of Frasier on DVD.

    There is no better comedy that that.

    Absolutely hilarious, outrageously clever; perfect perfect perfect, sitcom-wise.

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    1. Is being such an ignorant buffoon fun?

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    2. You made bro?

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  4. I'm in agreement with Kid on a lot of things. I think "Frasier" is the best sitcom I've ever seen; I've probably watched each episode at least two or three times. And I also think Larry David's work on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is much stronger than "Seinfeld," although the overlap in his comedic style is evident.

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  5. @Andrew - I know your love for Friends. It's a pretty re-watchable and fun show, but it doesn't move me. (And yes, Seinfeld moves me. I'm just weird.)

    @Anonymous - I'm so glad Frasier, Friends, and Seinfeld are your favorite shows. I find 30 Rock amusing, but probably not as amusing as I find Cheers. Cheers is a good show, but not nearly as fantastic as its spin-off, Frasier. And I must admit, one of the good things about living in the U.S. is the steady supply of old sitcoms on TV.

    @Kid - Frasier is definitely growing on me. Season three and season nine, I believe, airs every night on a local station of mine. Good for me, because I don't mind watching sitcoms out of order. It's a very funny, warm, clever, witty, and all-around wonderful show. The cast is wonderful, especially David Hyde Pierce.

    @Kid/Danny - I've seen several episodes of Curb and while it's a good show, I still love Seinfeld. I relate to Curb (A LOT), but I love how Seinfeld is more inventive and less formulaic. Curb is in documentary style, so it's more grounded in reality, but Seinfeld is a sitcom and it can go anywhere--and it did go a lot of places. While some think Seinfeld was never able to push the envelop and Curb does, well, I've never had a moment in life where I wished Seinfeld could've gone further. It's perfect the way it is.

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    1. Cheers>Frasier

      Cheers didn't went downhill after Season 4 like Frasier did

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  6. Great post. I still have to watch Frasier and judging by the almost universal approval here it is probably a must watch show. But I'll be shocked if Frasier is better than Seinfeld. Beyond it's groundbreaking features, of which almost every modern day sitcom show has taken a leaf from, starting from the very friends you speak of here, it featured some of the best acting ever displayed on TV. This is not just from the main cast but almost down to your average guest star who was featured on the show. Think of Len Lesser, Jerry Stiller, John O'Hurley, Estelle Harris, and of course Wayne Knight to mention but a few. Then think of Phil Baker Hall and Stephen Tobolowsky. Great great performances. The Writing matched the acting every step of the way and the abundance of creative moments, great narrative techniques gives the show a very cinematic feel. Finally the production isn't as celebrated but Seinfeld just looks great. Great sets and a lot of innovative TV.

    Friends I have watched and it does have a great idea or two once in a while. It is entertaining but To me it's not funny at all. The humour is very punch-line driven and the delivery is not first rate. I think that apart from Mathew Perry, the other actors don't have whwt it takes to make the lines work as humour.
    I'd never put that show in the same ball park as Seinfeld. It is very popular around the world though, that cannot be denied.

    I'll try and catch up with frasier though. I know that Jane Leeves was in that infamous episode of Seinfeld known as the contest.

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  7. As someone who grew up watching 2 out of 3 (and owns the complete series of those 2 on DVD) I agree on most of your sentiments.

    Seinfeld was the most creative show of it's time, no contest.

    However, Frasier is the best written and best acted show. And most touching. I know you said you don't mind watching them out of order, but you really are doing yourself a disservice when it comes to Frasier. The show really gels well chronologically, especially with regards to Niles. Season 9 drags a bit, especially at the start, but it regains momentum in 10 and 11.

    I couldn't get into Friends. I found the characters cookie cutter, and annoying.

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  8. Frasier by a very wide margin. Seinfeld's sarcasm and irony are funny but difficult for me to love. There is as you say real warmth in it but it is reflective of our zeitgeist that our friendships are so shallow. That is perhaps the reason why many people could relate to it. The same goes for Friends. Both Seinfeld and Friends have the casual NYC relationship theme to them. It makes me long for something better.

    Frasier though is superb. Although the Crane brothers are pretentious social climbers, their closest friends and relatives are simple people. This comic tension brings the brothers down to their actually lovable and simple core. The writing on Frasier, the repartees, the situations and the gentle poke in the ribs at snobbery, moral ambiguity and the relationship between ageing fathers and young sons is just so appropriate.

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  9. I have watched all 9 seasons of Seinfeld, and currently I am watching FRIENDS season 4. Not watched Frasier yet.

    From my experience, Seinfeld is the clear winner. All the characters in Seinfeld are very strong and unique, while FRIENDS is good only as a group, only Chandler and Phoebe seem a little distinct.

    And the quality of humor provided in Seinfeld is just a level above FRIENDS. People may not like Seinfeld, as many find it very difficult to understand the punchlines in the first place.

    But if you are looking for genuine critical comedy, Seinfeld it is, don't look any further.

    I won't say anything about Frasier as I have not watched it yet, but I will start watching it as soon as I finish FRIENDS.

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  10. Frasier had an humor very white and easy. is so straight.
    Seinfeld had ironic, with characters very differents, a humor most intelligent that fraiser, and friends had a good humor but is very superficial. I think seinfeld wins but the inteligent people only see and understand that, gourgeus Seinfeld.

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  11. All three shows have their good points as shows. But as far as comedy, Seinfeld is so far superior to the other two that it is truly a shame to make any comparison. It is just much, much funnier.

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  12. I grew up watching Seinfeld and Friends. The good part of Seinfeld is that you take notice and find humor in different parts of the show than when you watch it when it was new. As for Friends, it's more "catchy" but you find the same things humorous as you did before. Both shows are entertaining. I just started watching Frasier and surprisingly, this is the best show sitcom I've seen to this day. The greatest part of the show is the balance of personalities in the household and the clever lines each character uses when put in the same room with each other.

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  13. I've got all three on DVD. Seinfeld is the one I find funniest, but Frasier is the one I watch most often (doesn't generate as many laughs, but it's more warm and comforting). I like Friends too, but it's more something I fall back on when I've exhausted the other two. Although I do like some of the more recent comedies, I agree these three (along with 90s-era Simpsons episodes) were in a whole different league.

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  14. Its very true to create a relationship with friends through different taste. Friends are all when they would very helpful.
    happy relationship. thanks

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  15. What a great post! I loved Seinfeld and Frasier. I did watch Friends but I never really liked it, for many of the reasons you mention in your article. The puerile humor was too much, and yes, the romantic thing drove me crazy. Also, the way they wrote the characters to be so dim - all things you've mentioned in your post here. Dead on, you are.

    Anyway, you're a talented writer and your posts are thorough and well-thought. Maybe you'll get a job but keep blogging. Here's another 90s show: Beverly Hills 90210. Just kidding, lol. I never liked that one, either, but everyone I know was going crazy for it! I did like Charmed a bit, but for most of the 90s and early 00s, I stopped paying for cable. There was nothing good to watch, lol! Aside from Frasier and Seinfeld, I'd given up.

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  16. Having owned and watched all three I have to say that Frasier is the best by quite a bit, although Seinfeld does come relatively close. Friends is by far the worst and unless you are a teenager is almost unbearable to watch
    The reason Frasier is so good is because of the intelligent/witty writing and jokes that were on the show and also because of the genuine, heart-warming stories that featured in the series. The show dealt with real emotions and issues in a clever way, blending them with lots of intelligent jokes (that weren't just about sex; I'm looking at you 'Friends') that gave a sense of class and dignity to the show.
    Seinfeld was also excellent, had a large amount of "lough-out-loud" jokes and a cast of likeable character and is definitely second on my list of favourite shows (behind Frasier).
    Frasier is just a clear winner because of the sheer amount of jokes on the show, the meaningful storylines and the amount of replay value (I've watched the whole series about four times through and it never gets boring).
    Frasier = 11/10
    Seinfeld = 10/10
    Friends = 6/10
    Friends =

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    1. Seinfeld>Frasier
      Cheers>Frasier too
      Frasier went downhill after season 4...how can people not see this?
      They totally started to butcher the characters in Season 4
      And the forced romance of Niles and Daphne and the annoying "Frasier lost his Job" and "Frasier still doesn't have a girlfriend" dilemmas every episode got old fast
      It became unbearable to watch

      God I wish Frasier would have maintained it's season 1-4 quality from season 5 onwards...but it didn't

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    2. "Beware of Greeks" in Season 5 to me is the worst episode in Frasier's run. Something about that ep seems really off - it might be the fact that it is the one and only time we meet Martin's brother. But if you stopped watching after season 4, you're missing out on a lot of excellent episodes.

      While Seinfeld's best episodes are better than Frasier's best, Frasier was a helluva lot more consistent from start to finish - how on earth Seinfeld made it past the pilot episode is beyond me.

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  17. "Frasier" hands down. "Seinfeld" was smug crap masquerading as a comedy. It took, for example, a premise of conflating the "magic bullet" theory from the Kennedy Assassination and changing the bullet to "spit." The set-up was obvious from the coloring the the flash-back footage and was "Comedy Death" from then on. "Friends" was the comedic equivalent of a screen-saver. Frasier was, and is, a CLASSIC.

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  18. Frasier; Intelligent and witty.

    Seinfeld: Funny and crazy.

    Friends: Infantile with poor scripts.

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  20. From top to bottom, Frasier was the best of the three. Best written and best acted. Seinfeld is second here. While Seinfeld's best episodes blows Frasier's best episodes out of the water, throughout its entire run, Frasier was much more consistent.


    As for Friends, I never got into the show - I tried, but from the handful of episodes I saw, all I got was poor acting, cheap laughs and unlikeable one dimensional characters. With the exception of its young and sexy cast I don't understand the appeal.

    Frasier wasn't the ratings juggernaut that Seinfeld or Friends were but it was the critics darling and won more awards during its run compared to the other two.

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