Three of the most popular 90s sit-coms are Frasier, Seinfeld and Friends. I have previously written individual posts about the shows (see here, here, here, and here). In this post, I will consider some of the similarities and differences between the shows.
All three shows are NBC sit-coms that were part of the original Thursday night lineup, Must See TV. And all three shows are popular to this day, though my own personal preference is, as I said in a previous post, Seinfeld > Frasier >> Friends.
In the table below, I compare the three shows on different dimensions, namely their geographical location (in the show), number of episodes, main character, number of characters, the primary connection between the characters, the gender composition of the main cast, the nature of the character development, the main comedic device, whether a character moves in in the first episode, and each shows relation to spin-off shows.
|Location||Seattle||New York||New York|
|Main character||Frasier Crane||Jerry Seinfeld||N/A|
|Gender composition||3 men, 2 women||3 men, 1 woman||3 men, 3 women|
|Relocation in pilot||Yes||No||Yes|
Both Seinfeld and Friends take place in New York, whereas Frasier takes place in Seattle. Friends, however, could have taken place in any city, and there is nothing inherently New York’ish about the show. Noah Smith made the correct comment about Friends, in relation to the criticism that you find very little diversity in the main cast, that “they could have just said it was based in North Chicago and the whiteness would have been realistic.”
You have almost 100 more episodes of Frasier than Seinfeld. Initially, I thought this was ironic as I believe the final season of Seinfeld is not that good, but maybe it is more symptomatic for the lower number of episodes? It was on its way down and I am happy that we don’t have a 10th season. Using the code by Georgios Karamanis, I created an overview of the ratings of the individual IMDb ratings of Seinfeld episodes from the different seasons:
I really don’t agree that season 1 is below average, and I believe that the final season is overrated. Maybe I am not the typical fan of Seinfeld? I mean, The Soup Nazi is a great episode, but it is not among the best episodes of the show.
Seinfeld and Frasier both have a main character, Jerry Seinfeld and Fraser Crane, respectively. Friends, on the other hand, focuses a lot more on the group with no single character being the main character. Whereas the focus is on the friends in Friends, the focus is on the family in Frasier. For Seinfeld, while it is a group of friends, one can definitely make the argument that they are not friends as in Friends.
While you see people getting married and getting kids in Frasier and Friends, there is nothing like that to be found in Seinfeld. There is no learning, and accordingly, no character development (‘No hugging, no learning‘). In a lot of ways, this makes Seinfeld a better sit-com as you do not need to be aware of where we are in the show in order to appreciate all jokes throughout an episode.
The primary comedic device in Frasier is juxtaposition, with the elitist attitudes and behaviour by Frasier and Niles meeting the working class reality of their dad, Martin, and the housekeeper Daphne. This is funny to this day. A lot of the humour in Friends, on the other hand, is a bunch of stereotypes that have not stood the test of time (from stereotypes about being overweight to stereotypes about sexuality). Accordingly, a lot of the humour in Friends is, to say the least, cringe. The observational comedy in Seinfeld is what makes the show a truly 90s sit-com. Sure, you cannot relate to a lot of the observations in 2022, but maybe it is even the lack of relatability I like about Seinfeld. It was a different time back then.
A lot of sit-coms begin with one character moving in. The relocation storyline is an easy way to begin a show, i.e., to make sure that people have a new beginning (you see this in The King of Queens, The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Odd Couple, etc.). In Frasier, Frasier’s dad is moving in. In Friends, Rachel is moving in. In Seinfeld, nobody is moving in. This is yet another reason why I like Seinfeld.
Frasier was a spin-off from Cheers, and Friends had a spin-off in Joey. Joey was not popular, especially because the writing was bad, but also because the character was only funny in connection to the rest of the group of friends. In a lot of ways How I Met Your Mother seems like the better successor (also in a bad way). Seinfeld, on the other hand, did not have anything before or after. The closest you come to Seinfeld is Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. The seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm with the Seinfeld reunion storyline is amazing and provides a much better ending to Seinfeld than Seinfeld did. We would also not have seen shows like The Big Bang Theory without any of the three shows. The first seasons of The Big Bang Theory are more similar to Frasier in tone and humour, whereas the later seasons are similar to Friends (which is one of the many problems with the show).
I did not watch Frasier, Seinfeld or Friends when they aired, and I don’t want to feel nostalgic about the 90s (do read Chuck Klosterman’s book The Nineties though), but there is something amazing about how you had great episodes such as Mixed Doubles (Frasier), The One with the Football (Friends), and The Abstinence (Seinfeld) all airing in the same week (week 47 in 1996). Again, it was a different time back then.
The average IMDb rating of the episodes of Friends is 8.42. This is better than Frasier (8.02) and Seinfeld (8.26). That is a mystery to me. Again, if you have not watched any of the shows, I would recommend beginning with Seinfeld and then watching Frasier. If you still feel like watching a 90s sit-com, then give Friends a try. Or rewatch Seinfeld.