It’s the biggest TV sitcom debate of the last 20 years, and somehow there are still heated fans on both sides: Seinfeld or Friends?
While Friends has an enduring legacy that continues to see waves of renewed popularity every few years—even decades after it came to an end—Seinfeld was a different animal altogether.
Seinfeld was the biggest TV show of the early 1990s, and it re-invented the idea of what a sitcom could be. Here are several real reasons why Seinfeld was actually better than Friends.
1. Seinfeld Had Self-Contained Episodes
Whereas Friends focused on season-long arcs that would build toward eventful finales (like Ross getting married to Emily or Phoebe giving birth to triplets), Seinfeld had a different approach.
Seinfeld pioneered a more episodic style. Sure, it might have had season-long running gags and it might have made callbacks to prior events on the show, but it focused on brand new storylines every week.
It’s this approach that makes Seinfeld so easy to rewatch now. You can hop into any given episode and you can watch it without knowing what transpired in previous episodes. Every episode provides a self-contained story that doesn’t get lost in a greater narrative.
2. Seinfeld Had Larry David
In all of TV history, there has never been a better head writer for a comedy series than the great Larry David. Seinfeld might bear Jerry’s last name, but it was David’s contribution that made the series special.
His style of bringing back tiny diegetic moments or throwaway lines to mean something? That gave Seinfeld episodes a tight comedic strength that no other comedic show has ever matched.
This was made apparent when Larry David left Seinfeld after season 7, resulting in an intangible shift in the show’s feel. It was made even more apparent when Larry David came back with his own Curb Your Enthusiasm, where his brilliance is on full display.
3. Seinfeld Had Incredible Actors
I don’t deny that the cast of Friends were perfect for their roles. Over their 10-season run, they truly made their characters their own, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else who could’ve taken their spots.
And while Seinfeld was anchored on Jerry Seinfeld, who’s more of a comedian than an esteemed actor, the rest of the Seinfeld cast were pound-for-pound better actors than the Friends bunch. (Aside from perhaps David Schwimmer, who is astoundingly good.)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the greatest comedic actresses of all time and has hauled in more awards than can be counted. Jason Alexander’s career on stage has been phenomenal, even going so far as to win a Tony Award. And Michael Richards was doing quite well until his infamous incident at the Comedy Club.
4. Seinfeld Mastered Observational Comedy
Seinfeld’s team of writers was brilliant at picking out small moments in life that drive you crazy and exaggerating them to great ends. It was observational comedy in a way that wasn’t done before on TV.
Other TV sitcoms up until this point always focused on the character relationships and dynamics, using their interactions to find the drama and stir up tension.
Seinfeld went in a different direction and simply assumed that the foursome’s friendship was unbreakable, always approaching plots with the notion that it was them against the outside world.
Cheers, Taxi, Friends, and most other TV sitcoms to this day concentrate on the inter-group dynamics of the cast. Seinfeld looks outward and pits the cast against the little annoyances of everyday life.
5. Kramer Is a Legendary Character
Friends gave us many wonderful characters, including wacky favorites like Phoebe Buffay and Chandler Bing. But no character on Friends can stand up to the unique brilliance of Cosmo Kramer.
Michael Richards’ comic creation was the most bamboozling and laughable aspect of Seinfeld, in that he was an undeniably lucky idiot who would believe anything. His clumsiness and misguided antics were so affable that he became impossible not to love.
In fact, the studio had to stop live audiences from applauding Kramer’s entrances to scenes when they were filming because it was distracting the rhythms of the other actors!
6. Seinfeld Nailed the Meta Aspect
One of the unique aspects of Seinfeld that sets it apart from most TV shows—not just Friends—is the fact that it’s a meta show. The premise centers on the life of a fictitious comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who in the series writes a show called Jerry, in which he plays himself.
Every character in the series was based on or inspired by a real person in Jerry Seinfeld’s life: George Costanza was based on Larry David; Cosmo Kramer was modeled after an ex-neighbor; Elaine Benes is a real ex-girlfriend of Jerry’s. The show as a whole had several meta layers that instantly makes it stand out from other TV sitcoms.
And to take it further, Curb Your Enthusiasm hosted an in-show Seinfeld reunion in which the meta Larry David and the meta Jerry Seinfeld bring back the show for a special, where the fictional versions of themselves play themselves playing their characters… Yeah.
7. Seinfeld Launched Guest Stars’ Careers
Many pre-famous actresses appeared on Seinfeld, stepping in to fill the running gag of being one of Jerry’s girlfriends-of-the-week. These appearances helped launch them into stardom.
The list of actresses who appeared on Seinfeld before they were famous is staggering, and includes the likes of Anna Gunn, Debra Messing, Jane Leeves, Amanda Peet, Catherine Keener, Teri Hatcher, Lori Loughlin, and even Friends’ own Courtney Cox.
The show also introduced us to Bryan Cranston, who’d later play Walter White as the greatest drug kingpin in TV history.
Of course, Friends had its fair share of notable guest stars—including standouts like Brad Pitt, Alec Baldwin, and Ben Stiller—but many of them were already famous before coming on the show.
8. Friends Stood on Seinfeld’s Shoulders
Seinfeld debuted in 1989 while Friends debuted in 1994. If you spot any similarities between the two shows—particularly with regard to certain plot points and premises—it’s because Friends learned a lot from Seinfeld and built off of it.
Home base is an apartment unit? The neighbors live across the hall? The second main location is a coffee shop? It all takes place in New York City? A gang of friends where one is quite kooky? You can spot all kinds of things, and the more you find, the more you see that Seinfeld influenced Friends quite a bit.
Friends deserves credit for its success, and it’s certainly not a clone of Seinfeld or any other TV show. Friends did a lot of things right, and fans are right to love it. But without Seinfeld, who knows if Friends would have been able to do as well as it did?