Thursday, January 3, 2008

Friends and Seinfeld [FNS]

Of course they both are relatively old and well past the public space of discussions.But what the heck- they merit a mention even today.
No two sitcoms in recent past have hijacked the pop-culture space as much as Friends and Seinfeld.
I don't see any harm in saluting entities which till a few years back became part of every day American and to some extent European and Asian urban middle class lives.

I wonder what really ticked for both? How was "Friends" equally popular in the same demography of NYC as it was in Mumbai's? Check Orkut forums to see how Indians flood the "Friends" forums/groups. They literally dominate the forums.

Same with Seinfeld. Four unhinged, unidimensional characters, often crass and outrageous people connecting with world wide audience. Something strange about it, you'd think?There are only a few shows that had such a reach. Lucy show comes to mind, in terms of universal appeal. But i cannot think of many. The universal appeal of both these shows make them unique.

I have seen several reruns of both. I don't miss an opportunity to see George's stupid antics and Chandler's wisecracks. These names - Ross, Elane, Krammer, Phoebe...all became part of us at some point. You would meet them every day after work. Sometimes on weekends on DVRs. Their antics just clicked.

Friends was smooth. Also it was consistent (except towards the last season). It started getting a grip, i feel somewhere around 3rd Season. Confidence was showing on its characters as they started becoming more and more popular. Clearly they were improvising more and it showed. Seinfeld had patches of brilliance. It was not consistent. Larry David going off and coming back might have made the difference.

But yet both clicked at some levels.Both became sitcom classics. I thought Friends picked up great topics to connect. It was sleek in marketing itself. Seinfeld was more upfront and in-your-face. If Friends picked topics like all guys stranded owing to someone forgetting to pick the keys of the apartment, Seinfeld chose loosing car in the parking lot. So universal, so very connect able topics. These things can happen in Mumbai and London as it can happen in Beijing and Tokyo as much as it can happen in NYC.

To click, a sitcom should connect to the audience. To connect it should have humour that is easy,quick, digestible and at the same time contemporary. Very few jokes transcend age and demography. It's safe to say that lot of us won't find "Three's Company" and "Who's the Boss" funny today. But they were big hits in late 70s and early 80s. Same is true for FNS. Both won't be funny in 2010. Or they already are not?

I somehow feel Friends and Seinfeld humour is still catchy and even contemporary. But i woudn't bet on it. My latest favourite is "The Office"- i find it refreshingly different.But F-S did transcend age, race, Geographical regions as well. And therein lied their success.

Friends had a certain group dynamics which very few shows had. It was about six people in exact same age group. It is safe to assume that the audience for Friends was primarily an age group of -10 to +10 years of the Friends characters age group. So lets say 20 to 40. Now this is pretty much the most targeted age group for any sitcom.
The topics in Friends like - Ross's multiple divorces, Chandler's coming of age after many failures in relationship, Monica's affair with a man of her father's age, Ross and Rachael's off and on relation etc was relate able. The age group of 20-40 could be easily be appealed by such stuff. And it was a marketing master stroke of Friends to have brought in such topics.

Seinfeld on the other hand used humour to sweeten sometimes the dark side of human nature. Like people making politically correct noises about an ugly baby, or taking a death causally (After George's fiancee' dies they all go for a coffee, instead of mourning), etc

Seinfeld was not that sleek and appealing to lets say a very sensitive hamptons slash suburban crowd. But Friends was. Seinfeld though struck a chord with what i would call the humorists. People who can find humour in darker shades.

Seinfeld was very New Yorkish and very Jewish. Friends was New Yorkish alright, but also very urbane and soft.

I have already compared the two unintentionally, though i shouldn't have. I loved them both, and i may say equally. They were awesome.

We all need humour don't we? Humour is the positive side of life. It makes you forget and sometimes forgive. Humour can be addictive and infectious at the same time.
FNS, were additive and infectious.

I still feel that the vacuum post Friends/Seinfeld is hard to fill. TBS still runs reruns of these every day, and TBS people are not fools. They know people are still hooked to those jokes. There's still a very loyal audience for both, even after years of them going off air. These two raised the bar many times over. We are talking of 50-60 million watchers. NOt sure any from the current crop commands that kind of following.

As a tribute to two of my favourite shows here's a partial list of quotes that cracked me up -

1] "Joey, for one last time, it's not named after every individual"

2] "So exactly how many cameras were there on you?"

3] "I am speechless. I am without speech"

4] "I am still a cool guy. I am still neat"

5] "I invented the Its-not-you-its-me-routine"

6] "It was not a pick. It was a scratch"

7] "That was one magic spit"

8] "Can you sense anything now?"

1 comment:

Rathchakra said...

Totally agree with the Friends and Seinfeld phenomenon. The writers are the ones who elevate sitcoms and when it comes to it - Seinfeld is far far ahead of friends. Friends is a funny soap whereas Seinfeld is about your selfish self beamed on TV. I disagree that Seinfeld was less popular in the suburbia, its ranked as the Funniest show on american television ever - topping such classics as Cheers, Simpsons and of course Friends. It was as popular in NYC, SFO as it was in Kansas or Alabama. Anyway, both are timeless - although I think Seinfeld has more durability than Friends.