I've been a bit slow on the draw recently, but I loved David Lipsky's essay comparing Seinfeld and The Simpsons in the semifinals of Vulture's bracket to determine TV's greatest sitcom of the past thirty years. Reading the essay was so nostalgic I immediately wanted to immerse myself in episode after episode of each series again. The Simpsons is the only one of the two still on air, but the sensibility of Seinfeld was so distinct that every tweet from the hilarious Twitter account Modern Seinfeld crystallizes in my brain with perfect clarity.
I'll let you click through to find out the winner, but one choice excerpt:
So what The Simpsons immediately offered was how the world looked to extremely intelligent people in whom high school had perhaps encouraged skepticism and unconfidence. The result is a chaos of noisy, less-intelligent people holding onto authority by bullying and jargon. Cops and doctors are incompetent; the bartender keeps caged pandas. No straight men; everyone is funny. It wasn’t so much an observational show as one written by ear. When Seinfeld does a parody movie title, it’s something like Sack Lunch or Agent Zero. You nod. Pretty good, yeah, that does sound like a movie. When The Simpsons does this, it’s so exact it stops you. A romantic comedy called Love Is Nice. Homer visits an experimental lab named the Screaming Monkey Medical Research Center. The show is so tight, these jokes come within 30 seconds of each other. The comedy of the particular dialect any job and worldview locks you into; it’s something that writing staff hears too. Lisa Simpson provides timely advice to an in-crisis TV producer. “That’s it, little girl,” he says. “You’ve saved Itchy and Scratchy!” A lawyer steps forward: “Please sign these papers indicating that you did not save Itchy and Scratchy.” Hideous space aliens, impersonating the presidential candidates, are unmasked before a startled crowd. “It's true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about it? It’s a two-party system: You have to vote for one of us.” Human crowd-member: “Well, I believe I’ll vote for a third-party candidate.” Alien: “Go ahead — throw your vote away.”
What Seinfeld and David heard with special fidelity were the surprising things their heads said. The inner world, not the outer. George to Jerry: “She just dislikes me so much, it’s irresistible. A woman who hates me this much comes along once in a lifetime.” Jerry to Elaine: “You’re attracted to him because he can’t remember anything about you.” Elaine: “But that’s so sick.” Jerry: “That’s God’s plan. He doesn’t really want anyone to get together.” Jerry meets a woman — she’s more or less a female him — he can finally love, and reports, “I just realized; I know what I've been looking for all these years. Myself. I've been waiting for me to come along, and now I’ve swept myself off my feet.” A few scenes later: “I realized what the problem is: I can’t be with someone like me. I hate myself.”