Bizarro Jerry

What is to be the social condition of subjects existing within darkened relational space, who, like Trecartin’s avatars are immersed within a flattened vacuum? How might we relate or conceive of those who are like ourselves, yet with whom we will never meet, remaining only distantly aware and held at the arms-length of digital space. This example is from the world of sitcom, as one of the forms in which crossover and spinoff are most prevalent. The very situated-ness from which the humour of sitcom is derived (and which it shares with the ontic weirding of gothic fiction, which also encamps on the edge of the real) lends itself neatly to worlding and universing in the mind of the viewer. Seinfeld (1989-1998) is the sitcom in its meta-variant, building a multi-layered mesh of writers, actors and characters who leak into and out of screen, straddling fiction and reality.

Jerry Seinfeld plays a version of himself alongside a cast of characters based on his real-life acquaintances; co-writer Larry David becomes George Costanza, David’s neighbour Kenny Kramer becomes Cosmo Kramer. Season 4 of the show sees Jerry and George develop a sitcom pilot based on their lives, to be called ‘Jerry’, hiring actors who will take their place on screen (except Jerry, who will play himself). At the point where the series could have entered a loop retelling the story of its own production, the mise-en-abyme sitcom Jerry is cancelled, leaving Seinfeld to continue on an alternative, unaffected path. Whilst the motivating drive behind the seriesmay have been to make a ‘show about nothing,’[1] (itself an alienation to the TV viewer expecting compelling entertainment) in an attempt to get closer to lived experience, Seinfeld is not simply a sitcom ‘based on’ reality, but more akin to a spinoff from within reality, producing an alternate, mirror path with a common point of origin, leading somewhere very different. 

Seinfeld Season 8, Episode 3 ‘The Bizarro Jerry’, undertakes a further complication of the character/actor split. Sole female protagonist Elaine’s new boyfriend Kevin is set up as Jerry’s counterpart, with an equivalent cast of mirror friends (George equates to Gene, Kramer becomes Feldman, Jerry’s nemesis Newman becomes Vargus). Jerry, whose status as a fan of Superman comics is referenced throughout the series, compares Kevin to the character Bizarro, Superman’s mirror opposite:

ELAINE           Yeah! [Kevin] is a friend, Jerry. He is reliable. He is considerate. He’s like your, exact opposite.

JERRY               So he’s Bizarro Jerry!

ELAINE           [pause] Bizarro Jerry?

JERRY              Yeah. Like Bizarro Superman. Superman’s exact opposite, who lives in the backwards bizarro world. Up is Down. Down is Up. He says “Hello” when he leaves, “Good bye” when he arrives.

ELAINE           [pause] Shouldn’t he say “Bad bye”? Isn’t that the opposite of “Good bye”?

JERRY             No. It’s still a goodbye.[2]

Bizarro appears throughout the Superman comics canon, from his first full appearance in Action Comics No.254 (1959), eventually being granted a dedicated world within the DC Multiverse (Htrae – the opposite of Earth). Comic writer Alvin Schwartz conceived of the character as a mirror image that would allow Superman to build a ‘full dimensional personality’, inspired by C.G. Jung’s archetype of ‘the shadow’.[3] However in execution Bizarro becomes more of a bumbling Frankenstein’s monster-type character, his mirror world played for comedy effect rather than psychologically-charged shadow villainy. In the case of Seinfeld, it isn’t Kevin, but TV Jerry who is the Bizarro Jerry, with both the real (Earth-prime) Jerry and TV Jerry occupied by the same human being in fluctuating modes.

Cover of Action Comics No.254 (July, 1959) DC Comics, Image Source:

The multi-stratified characterisation of Seinfeld was continued in the follow-up series Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-) in which Larry David becomes the central character, living within the milieu of early-2000’s Los Angeles. Where Seinfeld was happy to play within the given preconditions of the sitcom form, Curb approaches fly-on-the-wall documentary in its staging and handheld camerawork. In contrast to the pseudo-gothic bacchanal of Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, Curb’s Los Angeles is a quotidian non-place, populated by strip malls, food courts, anonymous office buildings and identikit Spanish Colonial Revival mansions. David’s use of music taken from Brecht and Weill’s musical The Happy End (1929) as the theme for Curb is a nod to the Brechtian alienation that the show strives for, with Nicholas Mirzoeff commenting that the series’ ‘very title invites the audience not to enjoy the show’,[4] and that it was the creators aim that ‘the audience should not be made to identify with the characters but rather to feel alienated from them.’ Mirzoeff positions David’s approach as ‘contrary to the dominant Method school of acting in the US in which the actor attempts to perform as if she or he is really experiencing their character’s life and emotions’ citing examples of David ridiculing his cast’s desire to understand the motivations of their character.

Whilst Seinfeld attempted to produce a meta-variant of the sitcom that would be an alienating vacuum ‘about nothing’, it succeeded instead in creating a more immersive and complete world and inspiring even greater fan devotion. Both Seinfeld and Curb echo the actor/character meshes at play in the works of Trecartin, but perform the additional step of placing one foot out of the screen and into reality. In occupying the space of a Huyghe-type indifferent universe, the fan/witness is stripped of a portion of their subjectivity by its ambivalence – the part which they must give over to the work. Incorporated but ignored, one’s outline is dissolved, in a process akin to that undertaken by the Artaudian theatre of cruelty. The extra-anthropocentric interdependence of parts within the Huyghe universe is perhaps a sterile analogue to Haraway’s chthulucene of “rich multispecies assemblages”[5] that “entangle myriad temporalities and spatialities.” Whilst the tendency of postmodernism is one of admixture and deconstruction, it need not be one of paralysis and isolation, it may open up a space in which other forms can be glimpsed – rival fandoms and bizarro selves sensed in the peripheral vision umwelt of the shared universe, a shadow commons.

Still from Seinfeld, “The Bizarro Jerry.” Season 8, Episode 3. Directed by Andy Ackerman. Written by David Mandel. NBC, October 3, 1996. Image Source:

[1] Seinfeld. “The Pitch.” Season 4, Episode 3. Directed by Tom Cherones. Written by Larry David. NBC, September 16, 1992.

[2] Seinfeld. “The Bizarro Jerry.” Season 8, Episode 3. Directed by Andy Ackerman. Written by David Mandel. NBC, October 3, 1996.

[3] Mike Conroy, 500 Comicbook Villains (London: Collins & Brown, 2004), 244.

[4] Nicholas Mirzoeff, Seinfeld (London: BFI TV Classics, 2007), 86.

[5] Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin,” Environmental Humanities, volume 6 (2015): 160, 10.1215/22011919-3615934.

Author: danielseankelly

I'm a practicing artist. This blog is for me to channel my ideas into writing, through short form essays.

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