Full disclosure: I love Seinfeld. I believe it is, hands down, the funniest sitcom ever to grace the airwaves. Not only that, but there will never be another one like it because in order to challenge the title, someone has to be willing to put a show on the air that centers around completely unlikable characters who learn nothing and refuse to grow over nine years.
That said, there are definitely some roadblocks in the series that could stop younger viewers from completely understanding (and hooting at) the understated and intricate humor. Since that would be such a shame, here are 15 references that would probably go right over the heads of people born after 1985.
#15. “He just happens to have the same name as one of the worst serial killers in the history of New York.” (The Masseuse)
Elaine dates a guy named Joel Rifkin, which gets awkward when he’s paged over a loudspeaker…because he has the same name as one of New York’s most notorious serial killers. Rifkin murdered and dismembered at least 17 people in 4 years.
#14. “There’s something about Mary Hart’s voice that’s giving you seizures. Just like, just like, just like that woman in Albany!” (The Good Samaritan)
Kramer suffered an attack while watching Entertainment Tonight, and Elaine figures out that Mary Hart’s voice is at fault – the anchor earned a mention in The New England Journal of Medicine after a neurologist determined the sound of her voice triggered seizures in one of his female patients.
#13. “Boutros Boutros-Ghali” (The Hamptons)
Jerry uses it as an alternative wolf whistle, but Boutros Boutros-Ghali was the Secretary-General of the UN from 1992-1996.
It has nothing to do with nudity or naked women or anything like that.
#12. “Would you take care of Farfel?”
“It’s his dog. We’re landing in Chicago to get him to a hospital, could you take his dog to New York?” (The Dog)
Jerry gets stuck watching a stranger’s (awful) dog, but the name comes from Nestle Quick’s 1960s advertising. Ventriloquist dummy Danny O’Day ended the commercial singing the company’s jingle, and then Farfel the dog chimed in with “Chawk-lit.”
The more you know.
#11. “Nobody beats me, because I’m the Wiz! I’m the Wiz!”
“That is the guy!”
“Elaine’s in love with the Wiz guy?” (The Junk Mail)
Elaine falls in love with the guy who plays “The Wiz,” a spokesperson for electronic’s chain “Nobody Beats the Wiz.”
They never actually had a mascot. If only.
#10. “If you’re not wearing Dockers, you’re just wearing pants.” (The Phone Message)
Jerry and his girlfriend disagree on whether a real commercial for cotton dockers that’s just “pants pants pants pants pants” is good marketing or completely stupid.
He’s not alone in thinking it was ridiculous – SNL also made fun of it the same year.
#9. “It’s not like a Sunny Van Bulow coma.” (The Suicide)
At the age of 4, Sunny Crawford von Bulow inherited around $100 million after her father’s death (he founded Columbia Gas & Electric). Once her marriage began to deteriorate, her husband allegedly tried to murder her by overdosing her insulin.
She remained in a coma for almost 30 years while he was charged with attempted murder.
In the episode, a fellow tenant is in a coma following a suicide attempt; Jerry takes up with his (ex-ish) girlfriend.
#8. “Yeah, ’71. That was my first year on the job. Bad year for libraries. Bad year for America. Hippies burning library cards, Abbie Hoffman telling everybody to steal books.” (The Library)
The Library Cop goes off about Abbie Hoffman, who wrote a book titled Steal This Book – a treatise on how to overthrow the government and defeat Big Business that looked a little too appealing sitting on shelves.
It also became a bestseller.
#7. “We went to their wedding. You should have heard him talking about Chappaquiddick—trying to blame the whole thing on bad directions.” (The Baby Shower)
Chappaquiddick is an island connected to Martha’s Vineyard, and the site of a party that preceded the near-death of Senator Ted Kennedy – and the actual death of his young female companion Mary Jo Kopechne.
The two were in a car that went off the Dike Bridge (Kennedy was driving).
#6. “I was watching the show with my son Donald. He’s got this rare immune deficiency in his blood. Damnedest thing. Doctors say he has to live in a plastic bubble. Can you imagine that? A bubble.” (The Bubble Boy)
The real-life Bubble Boy was David Vetter, a boy born with a severely compromised immune system. He was placed in a safe environment 20 seconds after he was born (his older brother passed away from the same condition at just 7 months) and spent the next 12 years of his life in similar environments.
A bone marrow transplant that was supposed to help or cure him ended up having the opposite effect – an undetected Epstein-Barr virus cost him his life.
#5. That line Bentsen gave Quayle. (The Phone Message)
It comes quick, but George describes his blank expression and failure to come up with a response as “how Quayle looked when Bentsen gave him that Kennedy line.”
It’s referring to a Vice Presidential debate between Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen, in which, after Quayle compared his experience to Kennedy’s, Bentsen replied “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
#4. “Wait, there is one way to find out. We set up a sting. You know like Abscam. Like Abscam Jerry.” (The Sniffing Accountant)
Jerry and George suspect their accountant might be pilfering cash to buy drugs. The reference is Abscam, a code name for a two-year FBI operation that unearthed political corruption that infiltrated the highest levels of American government.
You might have seen American Hustle, a dramatization of the sting.
#3. “Maybe the dingo ate your baby.” (The Stranded)
Elaine is bored at a party, but the reference isn’t actually funny at all. Most people know it from Meryl Streep screaming it in A Cry in the Dark, but the incident really happened – a two-month old Australian baby was allegedly snatched and killed by a wild dog while the family was camping.
Her mother cried out “A dingo has got my baby!” and despite her account, the mother was arrested for the baby’s murder.
The conviction was later overturned.
#2. “By Mennen!’” (The Chicken Roaster)
George uses the catching jingle for Mennen, comparing it to himself – at first it’s annoying, then it gets into your head and suddenly you’re humming it in the shower.
#1. “Besides, you had a summer ‘me’. Whitey Fisk, the guy who snuck you into Last Tango in Paris.”
“I made him up.”
“So you never saw Last Tango in Paris?”
“Too bad. It was erotic.” (The Junk Mail)
48-year-old Marlon Brando romanced 19-year-old Maria Schnieder in the X-rated movie, and ABC news anchor Harry Reasoner called the film “pornography disguised as art.”
Go and enjoy, newbies. As for me? It’s time for a rewatch.