So. Expanding on a comment I made in my own Seinfeld post:
…Friends takes the sort of "engine" of Seinfeld but replaces the neuroses with quirks. Different people can be a "Chandler" or a "Monica" type or whatever, but EVERYBODY is a "George" on their worst day.Okay, first let me say I’m not going to hate on Friends, exactly. I watched it the same as anybody when it was on, when I was about in middle school and early high school, which I think is probably a prime Friends-viewing age. The group dynamic in Friends is based around everyone playing a role:
Rachel = The Popular One
Monica = The Uptight One
Phoebe = The Kinda Hippie One
Ross = The Square but Loveable One
Chandler = The Funny One
Joey = The Ladies Man
So the idea here is that you can match everyone in your circle of friends to one of these roles, right? Quite deliberate on the part of the showrunners, I’m sure. Figuring everybody knows “a Phoebe” and “a Joey” and the rest. It’s the same thing that happens with Sex and the City.
But just like Sex and the City, you also assign yourself a role, but because it’s hard to be objective about yourself like that, you latch on to a sort of an aspirational figure. That’s why I think Friends goes over well for high schoolers - because you’re still forming your identity (with all the messy dreadfulness that entails) and this show presents you with some basic options (plus, they’re cool adults who live in a cool apartment in a cool city, which adds to the aspirational aspect of it). Certainly I thought I’d like to be a Chandler. Perhaps...I might even be a Chandler?
But I got older and I found I might also be…what, bits of Ross? A Monica to boot? Of course in reality if I'm anything, I'm a mixture of a couple of them plus a bunch of other things that aren't there in any of the characters, and so if I didn’t correspond to one of the Friends gang 1:1, everybody else I knew probably didn’t either. *
Which brings me back round to Seinfeld.
I don’t think Seinfeld is as dependant on character types as Friends. Can you really call someone “a George” or “an Elaine”? Who’s Kramer in real life? (Except for, I guess, the real Kenny Kramer the character is based on.) They’re all distinctive personalities, and yet I don’t think you’re supposed to identify with one to the exclusion of others. We’re supposed to be all of them, right? In a single episode, I can identify with Jerry’s superficiality, George’s insecurity, Elaine’s frustration, and maybe even Kramer’s self-assured (but perhaps ill-deserved) contentment.
But these aren’t aspirational figures. Nobody really wants to be George, we just sort of are, at our worst. Oh, maybe being Jerry seems a pretty sweet deal on the surface for his confidence, success and prowess (I love that the AV Club describes him as “a sexual Jedi”) but of course, Jerry is also that part of you that’s kind of a creep sometimes.
So today I don’t watch Friends. I do fondly remember some funny jokes in it (well, I stopped watching somewhere before the last couple seasons, so I guess it could’ve gone downhill in that department for all I know), some fine crowd-manipulating (in the good way) character bits. But it’s not something I can really invest myself in anymore. I don’t really need what it used to do for me (if, indeed, it ever did; this all seems right to me, but it's possible this is me seeing something in hindsight that was never there to begin with).
Friends is a brochure for personalities and social roles you might enjoy, but Seinfeld is an unforgiving mirror into the personality you already possess. Friends is advertisement and Seinfeld is analysis, and self-analysis is something I think you always need.
Also: um, it’s funny too!
(* - Well, of course I'm using a bit of dramatic license to make a point, here; it's not as though I had some sort of epiphany on my 16th birthday and decided never to watch Friends again. But by the time the end of high school came around I'd lost interest in the show, so I maintain this was a reaction I was having on some level, maybe not conscious, and definitely not as self-aware and introspective as I make it out to be here.)