Seinfeld was great at pointing out the absurdity of technological developments, cultural obsessions, and emerging trends. It always had a way of inhabiting the moment in which it was produced; even the 2009 Seinfeld reunion episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm included repeated references to Bernie Madoff and had Elaine doing “the Blackberry head-down thing” when Jerry was trying to talk to her.
While this approach would arguably work in any era, many of the show’s most famous plotlines would be completely outdated and nonsensical if they took place today (can you imagine if we were still worrying about people ranking us on speed dial??). Here are 20 of the most outstanding ones.
1. Jerry and George try to steal an answering machine tape
“The Phone Message,” Season 2, Episode 4
George regrets a weird message he leaves on his girlfriend’s answering machine, so he and Jerry conspire to break into her apartment and steal the tape. These days, you’d just have to get your hands on the person’s cellphone, which would honestly probably be even harder than breaking into their apartment.
2. Again, an answering machine
“The Bubble Boy,” Season 4, Episode 7
In a later episode, Jerry plays his messages in front of his girlfriend Naomi, and George inadvertently rats out Jerry for having said that Naomi’s laugh sounds like “Elmer Fudd sitting on a juicer.” George rightly criticizes Jerry for playing his messages in front of someone, but the whole mess would have been totally avoided today sans answering machines.
3. Kramer turns into the Moviefone guy
“The Pool Guy,” Season 7, Episode 8
Jerry: “You’re looking up movies for people now?”
Kramer: “I got time.”
Kramer’s new phone number is only slightly different from the number for Moviefone, the ubiquitous call-in service that provided customers with movie times and theater locations -- so he takes on the job. Moviefone changed platforms in 2014, going solely digital. RIP Moviefone guy.
4. Everyone gets lost in a parking garage
“The Parking Garage,” Season 3, Episode 6
Okay, this might still happen to some people, but for the most part, with the advent of camera phones and countless apps designed to help, it really shouldn’t.
5. Jerry’s girlfriend ranks him on speed dial
“The Millennium,” Season 8, Episode 20
Jerry finds out that the woman he is dating is “ranking” him on speed dial. Cable providers resort to borderline extortion tactics to get us to add landlines these days, but by and large, we prefer our smartphones -- and speed dial’s cultural moment is over. In fact, if you have earbuds and a smartphone, Kramer’s prediction isn’t far from the truth.
6. Kramer and Newman obsess over Kenny Rogers Roasters
“The Chicken Roaster,” Season 8, Episode 8
At first, Kramer is dismayed when Kenny Rogers Roasters opens a location across the street from his apartment; the brightly lit chicken on the roof turns his whole apartment red. He tries to drive business away by flying a banner and screaming at customers from his window. Eventually, though, Kramer falls in love with the Roasters location, which has to close when Jerry accidentally spreads rat fur all over the food like confetti. Well, life imitated art in this case -- sort of. While the “wood still makes it good” in certain locations abroad, Kenny Rogers Roasters closed the doors of its last US location in 2011.
7. George needs to use a pay phone in a Chinese restaurant
“The Chinese Restaurant,” Season 2, Episode 6
George: “Does anyone ever display the slightest sensitivity over the problems of a fellow individual? No. No. A resounding no.”
How close do you have to stand to a pay phone to be considered next in line? While the four wait for a table at a Chinese restaurant, George repeatedly quarrels with other customers over use of a pay phone. He is trying to get in touch with his girlfriend Tatiana, and it’s important -- things have cooled since he gave her The Batman Excuse. These days, they probably would have been texting, and the Costanza/Cartwright confusion would have been avoided.
8. George needs a pay phone again
“The Boyfriend,” Season 3, Episodes 17 and 18
At the end of season three, George lies to Mrs. Sokol at the unemployment office, telling her he is close to a job with the made-up “Vandelay Industries,” and gives her Jerry’s number. He leaves the office and urgently needs to get in touch with Jerry so that Jerry can be in on the lie. In his haste, he throws a small child out of a phone booth. The kid comes back with a cop. Mobile phones, again, would’ve prevented the whole children-being-harmed thing.
9. Kramer is hours late picking up Jerry and Elaine in Long Island
“The Stranded,” Season 3, Episode 10
This one might actually still happen; it depends on your willingness to believe in Kramer’s ability to follow GPS directions, have a GPS, or have a smartphone directing him, especially since any of these might have blown out of his convertible like the written directions he was supposed to be following.
10. Woody Allen shoots a film in New York
“The Alternate Side,” Season 3, Episode 11
Woody Allen is shooting a film down the block, and Kramer gets a line in the movie: “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” This plotline is not impossible, just unlikely. While Woody Allen is famous for his many movies set in New York City, late-career Allen has tended to favor European locales.
11. Jerry and Elaine “fix up” George and another friend on a blind date
“The Fix Up,” Season 3, Episode 16
Do people still fix up friends, go on blind dates, etc.? “That’s one step away from personal ads,” George declares. Perhaps, but a plotline involving OkCupid or Tinder seems far more likely in 2015.
12. Jerry travels to LA to be a guest on The Tonight Show
“The Trip,” Season 4, Episodes 1 and 2
While in LA, Jerry and George hope to reunite with Kramer, who is trying to make it in show biz. It’s a nice coincidence that wouldn’t work today. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson filmed in LA, but The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon films at 30 Rock. Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel still film in California, but for The Tonight Show, Jerry would have stayed home in NYC, and he wouldn’t have been there to find Kramer and sing gleefully about a recent murder.
13. Kramer brings “Cubans” to the US to roll cigars
“The English Patient,” Season 8, Episode 17
Kramer and his former gambling partner Earl Haffler scheme to bring “real Cubans” into the country -- not the cigars themselves, but immigrants with the know-how to roll them. Diplomatic relations with Cuba have improved of late, and it’s legal to bring $100 worth of cigars back to the US. Depending on your taste, this can net you anywhere from three to more than 20 cigars. Not enough for a full-on scam, but enough to make them less of a commodity.
14. Anything involving George Steinbrenner
Some of the most enduring plotlines in Seinfeld stemmed from George working as assistant to the traveling secretary for the Yankees -- and from Larry David’s infamous Steinbrenner impression. George Steinbrenner retired after the 2007 season and died in 2010 -- and watching Costanza eat a calzone with Hal Steinbrenner seems a lot less captivating. Nothing against Hal -- it’s just hard to imagine him making incisive observations about, for example, eating bread-bowl soup: “There’s nothing more satisfying than looking down after lunch and seeing nothing but a table.”
15. Elaine falls in love with JFK Jr.
“The Contest,” Season 4, Episode 11
Elaine: “We’re walking, and talking, and he asked me my name, and I think I said Elaine, but I mean who the hell knows.”
Elaine becomes infatuated with John F. Kennedy Jr. after discovering he is in her aerobics class. Tragically, Kennedy died in a plane crash in 1999, so obviously this plotline would be impossible -- it’s also impossible to imagine a replacement celebrity for Kennedy, as the Kennedys are among the few royal families in the United States, and JFK Jr. is as close as we’ve come in a while to having a Prince William.
16. Elaine is forced to decide who is “sponge-worthy”
“The Sponge,” Season 7, Episode 9
The Today Sponge, Elaine’s favorite birth control method, goes off the market. She roams the Upper West Side to find whatever’s left and winds up with a case of them. Realizing she has a finite number of sponges, she has to thoroughly vet the man she is dating and decide if he is “sponge-worthy.” These days, sponge-worthiness is no longer a thing. The sponge went back on the market in 1998.
17. Elaine falls for a clerk at a video rental store
“The Comeback,” Season 8, Episode 13
Manager: “Vincent stopped making picks.”
Elaine: “Well, how am I gonna know what movies to see?”
Manager: “We have a wide variety of Gene picks.”
Elaine: “Gene's trash.”
Manager: “I'm Gene.”
She’s never met him, but Elaine falls in love with video rental store employee Vincent based on his choices for the “Employee Picks” shelf. Their relationship deepens over a series of telephone conversations, but it takes a tragic turn when Elaine rents another employee’s pick. (“I’m not even gonna rewind it,” a desperate Elaine intones when he calls to confront her.) Video rental stores, of course, are essentially dead, so Elaine would’ve avoided the embarrassment of discovering Vincent was a 15-year-old.
18. Frank Costanza selling computers from his garage
“The Serenity Now,” Season 9, Episode 3
Okay, so George’s father would probably still be willing to take on Apple and Microsoft and sell off-brand computers from his own garage -- but, I figure if you’ve been following this list and watching the clips, you deserve a dose of Frank Costanza.
19. Kramer has seizures when he hears Mary Hart on Good Morning America... or anything involving current events
“The Good Samaritan,” Season 3, Episode 20
This is one of many Seinfeld plots based on then-current events -- in 1991, it was reported that Mary Hart’s voice triggered seizures in an epileptic woman in Albany. While such headlines would obviously seem dated today, it’s fun to imagine what stories would appeal to the show’s writers today.
20. Any spoofs at all, for that matter
Seinfeld tended to absorb the culture that surrounded it, so many of its spoofs and references -- JFK, Thelma & Louise, Pulp Fiction, Schindler’s List, The English Patient (“How could you not love that movie?” “How about, it sucked?”) -- were current and would likely be replaced by contemporary pop culture phenomena like Ariana Grande licking donuts. Then again, the spoofs of Apocalypse Now, Singin’ in the Rain, and The Godfather suggest a penchant for classics, too.
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