TV Education: Seinfeld

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Many of the narrative elements of Seinfeld do not fit normal television conventions. Unlike most TV shows, the plotlines of Seinfeld often have no goal or resolution. They follow an entirely different trajectory. Greg M. Smith’s explains this Seinfeld phenomenon in his article “Plotting a Show about Nothing,” and his examples can be found in the episode “Outing.”  I would also argue that a couple elements of the episode go against his template as well.

There are three semi plotlines in “Outing”: the NYU journalist who reports that Jerry and George are gay, Jerry’s birthday, and George’s relationship with Allison. There is also a bit about Elaine not wanting to take off her coat, but I would say that is too sparse to be a plotline, even for Seinfeld. The first plotline, the report of George and Jerry as gay, seems to follow Smith’s first type of plotline, “when a character does a seemingly simple action on a whim and then has to live with the disastrous series of circumstances which result from this innocent choice” (84). Elaine jokes that the two are gay in the coffee shop and by going along with the joke, Jerry unwittingly makes the reporter think he’s gay. He spends the episode combating this in various ways.

304115The two other plotlines collide with this one. The reporter goes forward with the story after Jerry uses his new birthday present from Kramer (a two-line phone) and jokes once more that he “fooled her” only to have her hear this new confession. Similarly, at the end of the episode, once Jerry has convinced the reporter that he’s not gay, George wishes to use the outing to break up with his girlfriend Allison, vaguely following Smith’s example of the characters trying to reverse the outcome once they achieve their goal.

However, I would argue that “Outing” is unusual even for Seinfeld because each character does not have his or her own plotline. All of the plotlines in the episode revolve around the outing of Jerry and George as gay. Elaine and Kramer are not given side actions of their own. Kramer’s action consists of giving Jerry the two-way phone, which frustrates Elaine because that’s what she wanted to get him. This petty competition between friends is also often a part of Seinfeld, even if it never adds up to any plot. That’s the show about nothing.

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