Last week Chris and Dan have a debate for all you kids of the 90s: which sitcom reigns supreme, Friends vs. Seinfeld. Since the debates you see are only a small slice of the discussions and decisions that make up an entire episode. With that in mind, we’re allowing Chris and Kyle and Dan the chance to bring a bit more context in a new(ish) follow-up feature, No Right Explanation. Enjoy!
Chris: In a surprise twist that no one really saw as a surprise, Dan decided to throw in a debate that was, for all intents and purposes, purely a troll on all our loyal fans (fan?). Best Sitcom Ever? What a topic! What an episode! What a- what, Dan already picked Seinfeld? Damn! Guess I’ll have to go with something a bit 90’s-friendly.
An uphill battle, even when fought with Friends, is an uphill battle. Dan had far too much to steamroll me with, and for some reason he held his tongue and allowed me to bumble my way through my points like Ross bumbling his way through a marriage ceremony. Strangely, he did not decide to really dive into the two aspects that Seinfeld has over most other sitcoms: Breadth of memorable characters and permeation of pop culture.
Few other TV shows have introduced characters so readily and so intelligently as Seinfeld, with the only major exception being The Simpsons. Why then did Dan fail to just spew half a dozen Seinfeld regulars (Newman, David Putty, Jerry’s Parents, Uncle Leo, J. Peterman) and then ask me to bring up all of Friends‘ most amazing supporting characters (Ugly Naked Guy…uh…Bruce Willis…)? Springing that on me could very well have resulted in an avalanche of points in his favor, but no, I was able to ski briskly through the snowy hills of 90’s sitcoms un ‘lanched.
A closer argument would have been how much pop culture has soaked up each show. Seinfeld, no contest, has introduced probably around 50 new words to the world’s lexicon such as Low Talker, Jimmy Legs, Man Hands, Anti-dentite, Yada yada yada- Motherf#cking Yada yada yada! How did Dan fail to yada yada yada over my points? Seinfeld added a word to the dictionary; Friends added a farcical example of a typical New York waitress’ apartment and lifestyle.
This is just plain difficult to look at as I’m pained by my display of crapulence. It was very clear on a rewatch that I was holding the Idiot Ball this week, but Dan didn’t seem to decide it was right to throw me to the ground and laugh at my poor life choices. I suppose that means our friendship will last after all, but my reputation has been rather tarnished. Screw it, I’m changing my answer to All In The Family. At least then commenters will assume I’m just a bigot instead of a stone-cold dimwit.
Ah, who am I kidding? I can’t stay mad at Friends. They were there for me, and I’ll be there for them too!
Kyle: Well, since I didn’t debate for this episode or do the point assigning, I’ll give some points I thought both fellows missed. Let’s start with Chris.
Chris does his best to defend Friends, which many people consider junk food television. One bit that he could have brought up: Friends pulled in a lot of special guests and cameos that were big names (or soon to be). And on top of that, it gave certain actors the chance to just go silly and be a sitcom actor, regardless of their image. Bruce Willis sang a falsetto “Love Machine,” Tom Selleck finally acknowledged the power of his mustache, Charlton Heston walked in on another guy in the shower…these people would never get to have this much fun and show us their sense of humor if not for this show.
Another point that Chris neglected was the comfort associated with Friends. The title was no accident, nor was the theme song “I’ll Be There For You.” This is a show that, for the better part of a decade was an institution of television. You didn’t even need to watch it every week, but you knew it would be there, and nothing big would ever change. Like meatloaf, it’s comforting because it never deviates. You can zone out completely when watching it, if that’s what you need.
As far as Dan’s argument for Seinfeld, there were a few things that I would have mentioned as well. For instance, this show did not require the usual relationship crap. While Friends had to keep people on a string of “Who will Aniston end up with” and “When are they getting married,” the show about nothing remained a show about nothing. There was no need for event episodes.
As a matter of fact, each episode of Seinfeld could stand alone, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Friends had so many double episodes, hanging storylines, and a parade of clip-shows. I swear, that show had a clip-show midway through every season.
But in the end, I stand by my ruling. How I Met Your Mother is the perfect blend of camaraderie from Friends, in-jokes and language permeating our vernacular like Seinfeld, and a dash of Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segel on top. You just can’t go wrong.
Dan: So, a lot of people brought up other sitcoms such as Married with Children and Fraiser to show that there are some classics that didn’t get any love. Let me assure you that those two shows on either side of the “Classy” spectrum are in my favorite list, and there are just countless others that share the honor. But in the end, with a large portion of my family being East Coast (of USA) Jews, I found Seinfeld to be not only an oddly accurate view of my family tree, but also jokes tailor-made for me. Some people have criticized NRA, saying “It’s just like me and my friends arguing over a beer, why would I watch someone else do it?” Well, Seinfeld is just like me and my family having issues, so it already had a certain comfort to it out of the gate
On to points, first point going to my dumb joke argument. I mean really, referencing other more beloved shows (Mr. Bean, anyone?) doesn’t make you just as good. If you are going to write a good joke, it has to be relatable, and catchy enough that you can tell it to others without ruining it. I dare you, any of you, to go to someone and tell them that Joey got a turkey stuck on his head, and have them laugh. Now tell them that there was a guy who made great soup, but was so strict that he is known as the Soup Nazi. That will get you a giggle at least.
Second point goes to Chris, for mentioning the one thing Friends did have going for it; Friendship. The whole love thing between the characters, the friendship that they had, it mattered. Episodes where Ross and Rachel get together were special events and people tuned in to watch them. When Jerry and Elaine got together, it was more a set up to a joke on how selfish those two were, and how badly things were going to go. No one rooted for Jerry and Elaine to end up together, but I’m pretty sure Ross and Rachel ending up together was a cornerstone of television ratings for a period. You only get that when people love your characters.
Third point-o-rino goes to me, for the éclair argument. This harkens back to my first paragraph, where the jokes that Seinfeld used were so much more intelligently set up and executed than Friends. Like the god from Futurama said, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” Jokes in Seinfeld were slowly built up, and converged perfectly in the end for a freeze frame of laughter. Did anyone notice our freeze frame at the end of the episode? Yep, now you know what we did there.
Chris defends the over-the-top characters with the sitcom universe defense, which I agreed with. You may think that some of the characters and situations are so dumb or over-the-top that they would never exist in real life, and Chris is right; They wouldn’t. Sitcom universe allows Al Bundy to exist for years, even though the common joke is that he never eats due to extreme poverty.
I grabbed a point for mentioning that Seinfeld had an army of memorable supporting characters, while Friends was almost barren by comparison. Back in the day, Sitcoms were a platform for stunt casting and celebrity special guests. Friends tried this a bit with Bruce Willis, but never really succeeded the way Seinfeld did.
Special note on my chugging, yes my glass was filled to the top. I happen to be really, really, really good at chugging. You can’t beat me. You can’t. Think you can? You can’t. But, I did miscount the number of friends in Friends, so it’s a wash.
Kyle comes in and tells us what’s what, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles.