Movies and TV
Seinfeld Was Geek TV Before Geek TV Was Cool

Marshall Lemon | 23 Oct 2014 10:00
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But even compared to today's programming, Seinfeld's respect for geeks and geek interests is hard to match. The nearest example is probably The Big Bang Theory with its surprisingly accurate pop culture and gaming references (not to mention honest-to-God love of hard science). But the characters themselves? They're still incredibly stereotypical: Sheldon and his friends are based on classic Revenge of the Nerds parody personalities, each so immersed in their hobbies that they struggle with basic social skills. Seinfeld never stooped to that level: Jerry and George were both huge geeks, but still well-rounded characters who can carry conversations on a variety of topics. And any personality quirks they did embody (George in particular) were presented as universal human foibles, not the inevitable failings of comic book fans.

Even in our golden age of geek television, most shows still can't grasp that subtle point. Writers and producers cater to our hobbies more than ever before, but geeks themselves are rarely portrayed in a balanced light. Even shows that portray us positively imply these hobbies are the only aspect of our personalities. But that's just flipping an insulting stereotype to a positive one, making geeks the wittiest and most capable people in the room; think Felicia Day's "Charlie" from Supernatural.

And when that isn't happening, creators still get parts of the hobby wrong. Video games in particular are constantly misrepresented on television, where you apparently need multiple players to get through a single-player game. Even Breaking Bad, one of the best-written critically acclaimed shows in recent memory, decided to portray Rage as a rail shooter instead of needing a controller. I get that Vince Gilligan was using artistic license to make a point, but come on. Video games have taken enough of a beating on the "descent into mindless violence" metaphor already.

But when Seinfeld took on video games in "The Frogger"? We have an accurate representation of how arcade games were played. Minor mechanical details of how the machine worked were kept intact (specifically that unplugging the machine might delete the high scores). Even the game mechanics are faithfully recreated as George dodges cars while crossing the street. These minor details make the episode more believable and relatable, while showing a love and appreciation for the medium. It even still manages to make an artistic point: that George can't preserve the cherished moments of his childhood. And Seinfeld didn't need to change anything about Frogger to do that.

Few shows have cared about their geeky source material to be that faithful to both the hobbies and enthusiasts who loved them. Seinfeld will be long-remembered as one of the best sitcoms to appear on television, but it deserves credit for understanding how to write a geek show long before anybody else caught on. It's a lesson today's creators would do well to learn from.


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