Seinfeld famously revolves around the title character’s comedic exploits, but does Jerry take a backseat to his cohort, George Costanza, on his own show? Seinfeld featured comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his misfit friends: George, Elaine, and Kramer. However, Jerry was often outshined by the show’s parade of crazy characters and perhaps none more so than George.
Usually, a show tracks the lead character’s life from A to B with many peaks and valleys in between, but on Seinfeld, the character that went through the most ups and downs was not Jerry, but George. While Jerry did have his fair share of problems on the show, none of them were as memorable or thematic as George’s. There are many great reasons why George stands out more as the main character of Seinfeld.
While Morty and Helen Seinfeld featured in great episodes, some of the funniest moments and storylines during the series run belong to George’s crazy and explosive parents, Frank and Estelle Costanza.
Jerry visited his parents in Florida, on occasion, or they would visit him in New York, but the Costanzas were always close, which made life worse for George. Their proximity, their volatility, and their odd behavior loomed like a dark cloud over George, while Jerry basked in the “buffer zone” between himself and his folks.
Jerry never really had any career issues during the show’s run. He was already a successful stand-up comedian from the start and never needed a day job to help pay for his one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. He seems content in life, never complaining and never wanting more.
However, George struggled in his career and bounced from job to job. Viewers sympathized with him because of this. They related to him and wished he’d succeed, despite his knack for ruining his opportunities. George’s workplace incidents made for great conflict and comedy – something Jerry’s successful stand-up career rarely did.
Over the years, Jerry dated 38 women on the show, while George dated 47. George was the only one between the two of them to tell a woman he loved her. Jerry’s relationships were one-offs while George’s relationship with, and later engagement to, Susan Ross was a season-length arc.
In the episode “The Engagement,” Jerry and George make a pact to make changes – George and Susan get engaged, but Jerry breaks up with his girlfriend instead. Jerry finally gets engaged at the season’s close, but it’s merely a parody of George’s engagement. Jerry’s betrothal is quickly broken off in the following episode and the series ends without Jerry ever having a serious relationship or even a desire for one.
George, at least, tried to mature in multiple episodes, unlike set-in-his-ways Jerry. In “The Opposite,” George vows to better himself by doing the opposite of his wrong instincts. He’s able to date a beautiful woman, despite being unemployed, and gets a great job with the Yankees because of his new mentality.
In “The Engagement,” he stops ending relationships for petty reasons, and while watching lovers kiss on a pier, remembers Susan fondly and brazenly proposes to her. Jerry, however, makes no effort to change for the better and as the show became more self-aware in later seasons, some would argue Jerry embraced his behavior and devolved into an even more selfish person.
Jerry had the least thematic storylines out of the four characters, with George being the only one with any long-standing arcs. Besides career and love life, George dealt with Susan’s death and the ensuing aftermath, living with his parents, and trying to make money. George’s environments were constantly at odds with his personality, making for compelling television.
These storylines stretched for many episodes and, sometimes, entire seasons. They dealt with struggle, death, deception, unhappiness, insecurity, and doubt, all through a comedic lens. Jerry had no arcs during the series and remained blissfully, and unapologetically, stagnant throughout.
George stands out more than Jerry, thanks in part to the actor playing him. Jason Alexander was already an established actor by the time the show began. He was the show’s most notable star and arguably its strongest performer. Jerry was a comedian, and besides a brief role on the show Benson, had little acting experience, despite being the show’s lead.
Jerry’s strengths were utilized and the show exhibited what he did best in his wisecracking and observational standup act. However, this ultimately makes Jerry a one-note character. Jason Alexander, who always lost the Emmy to Michael Richards, was given much richer material to sink his teeth into because, as a real actor, had the skills to handle it.
George had such a big presence on Seinfeld quite simply because he’s based on Larry David, the show’s creator. He wrote many of the show’s classic episodes, like “The Contest” and “The Revenge,” based on his own experiences.
After initially envisioning George as a Woody Allen-type, Jason Alexander modeled his performance on David. Larry David also createdCurb Your Enthusiasm, a “spiritual successor” to Seinfeld and the closest viewers have to a “George” spinoff.
Every great story follows an archetype called “The Hero’s Journey.” A protagonist’s journey is fraught with peril and treachery on the path to victory. Jerry’s character has no such journey. Noticeably, everything works out for him. He’s an “even-steven,” as Kramer observes. Jerry’s aware of this and lives with a sense of security and confidence everything will be alright.
George, however, always struggles. Viewers invest in struggling characters, rooting for them to succeed and to find happiness. Normally, this would be the lead, but in this case, the lead always gets what he wants and this doesn’t inspire investment in an audience.
George, Elaine, and Kramer had many wacky misadventures. So, why are the supporting character’s lives more exciting than the lead’s? Perhaps this is because as a comedian, Jerry Seinfeld is an observer. Being a standup comedian is all about finding comedy in real-world situations, so who better to mine material from than your crazy friends?
Since the show was often interspersed with standup routines inspired by storylines on the show, Jerry’s purpose may actually be to take a backseat and observe. In that way, Jerry’s a researcher, shining his spotlight on his crazy friends, the subjects.
George believes the universe is against him and that God will never let him be successful. George wants success and love, but always feels it’s not him standing in the way, but others. Being a narcissist, he sees himself as the main character of his own story.
George’s selfishness and temper ultimately cause his problems. He can’t help but ruin situations and is never satisfied. George feels he’s never wrong, and a victim fighting indignity thrown at him by the world. While all four characters tend to share this worldview, none so blatantly do more than George. He’s the main character of Seinfeld because he wants to be.