For its first two seasons—and then occasionally throughout—Seinfeld was panned by critics for being too lame, too self-indulgent, too racist, too homophobic, too yuppieish, and too liberal. The now-revered sitcom was even questioned by those who put it on the air: The show is "too New York, too Jewish," NBC TV executive Brandon Tartikoff once balked.
Here are 12 other criticisms heaped upon Seinfeld, both after it debuted on July 5, 1989, as The Seinfeld Chronicles, and at its end, when it was considered "master of its domain."
1. Irrelevant Mayonnaise
"But lacking much in the way of attitude, the show seems obsolete and irrelevant. What it boils down to is that Seinfeld, likable as he may be, is a mayonnaise clown in a world that requires a little horseradish."
— Matt Roush, USA Today
2. Eh, Not An Inspired Piece of Television
"This five-episode summer diversion, which NBC has been kicking around for at least half a season waiting for the 'right time' to unleash it on the viewing public, is not what could be termed an inspired piece of television. There's none of the self-referential surrealism of It's Garry Shandling's Show that the show's premise—a comedian playing 'himself'—suggests there will be. The revolutionary concept here consists of cutting a couple of times per episode to Jerry performing his act at a comedy club where, naturally, everybody laughs at all his jokes. Theoretically there's some sort of—I hesitate to use the word—'counterpoint' between the stand-up material and what loosely passes for the plot. Now, Jerry Seinfeld is funny—in sort of an upscale, Jewish George Carlin kind of a way—but he's not that funny. The stand-up situations obviously aren't real, so it sounds like he's working a room of laugh-track machines. It would have been better, but too daring for NBC, to have him delivering jokes to an empty room, or to the camera."
— Rick Marin, The Washington Times
3. Winner of Title "Worst Pilot Ever"
"In the history of pilot reports, Seinfeld has got to be one of the worst of all time. I have it next to my desk; it says 'overall evaluation: weak.’"
— Warren Littlefield, former NBC President of Entertainment
4. So Normcore
"...the more typical sitcom scenes of Jerry and his friends at common day locations were negatively received—as one viewer put it, 'You can't get too excited about going to the Laundromat.'"
— NBC Research Department Memo, via TV Guide
5. The Dreadful Future of Western Civilization
"Call me a hopeless Puritan, but I see, in this airwave invasion of sitcoms about young Manhattanites with no real family or work responsibilities and nothing to do but hang out and talk about it, an insidious message about the future of Western civilization."
— Elayne Rapping, The Progressive, via Seinfeld: Master of its Domain
6. Mere Kids Playing with Media
Seinfeld is the "equivalent of sophomoric talk radio."
7. Pretentious Wannabe Theatre
"They think they're doing Samuel Beckett instead of a sitcom."
— Roseanne Barr, comedian, quoted in David Wild's Seinfeld: The Totally Unauthorized Tribute.
8. Horrific, Tame, and Depressing
"Is horror too strong a word for what is, after all, only a depressingly insipid stand-up comic and his painfully tame sitcom? I don't know. […] These people are very depressed. Let me tell you, kids, being that depressed can be really scary. Thus the horror of Seinfeld. It leaves me that depressed. Not only depressed but lonely."
— Ron Rosenbaum, Esquire, via Seinfeld: Master of its Domain
9. Gleefully Nasty Toward Women and People of Color
"Why do I find myself becoming uneasy about the show? Increasingly, it seems, Seinfeld wants to be about something, and that something is either painfully obvious or awkwardly jarring. […] The show has never been terribly concerned with political correctness. Its depictions of minorities, from Babu the Pakistani who was eventually deported because of Jerry's carelessness to the Greek diner owner with an apparent yen for amply endowed waitresses, can be patronizing. And its attitudes toward women can become downright hostile, as the final episode illustrated with its portrait of a gleefully nasty female network executive."
— John J. O'Connor, New York Times
10. Reagan-Era America At Its Worst
"Seinfeld is the worst, last gasp of Reaganite, grasping, materialistic, narcissistic, banal self-absorption.''
— Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic, via Seinfeld: Master of its Domain
11. A Houseful of Completely Disconnected Yuppies
''Why don't the characters just move to penthouses on Fifth Avenue? How can they be playing smart Jewish people hanging out in a diner eating all the eggs they want for $3.99 when they are the most highly paid TV actors of the late 20th century? Why don't they just tie Jerry Seinfeld's compensation to how the Knicks do next year?''
— friend of NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd as quoted here.
12. A Cheez Doodle of Urban Fecklessness (Whatever That Means)
"The passing of Seinfeld, that Cheez Doodle of urban fecklessness, into cryogenic syndication inspires no tear in this cave. Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine never spoke for my New York, not on a Southern California soundstage, lean and mean in their terrarium, wearing prophylactic smirks to every penis joke."
— John Leonard, New York Magazine