That perfect 'Seinfeld' episode about cable companies

Michael Richards as Kramer on "Seinfeld"

Even though I got it, I never really got the "Seinfeld" Plaza Cable gag fully until I moved to New York City.

In my first apartment, I remember that even getting the cable installed and trying to start to pay the cable guy real money every month felt like an epic right of passage. That 1996 episode of television -- airing a decade before I even came to the city -- became, like so many "Seinfeld" depictions, a chrystalized experience in an ever-changing city. Watching it now nearly ten more years later, it remains pitch perfect. Just watch this and tell me you can't relate. I dare you. 


The weird 4-hour appointments, the long hold times on the phone, the grumpy dude in the van -- it's all there. Kramer as the everyman is exactly as he should be: Incredulous at a seemingly arbitrary and faceless organization, righteous in his indignation, and happy to "stick it to the man," even when the man is of course a real person with real feelings.

It is actually really elegant how the roles are flipped. The cable guy becomes the powerless person waiting around as his blood is brought slowly to boil. Kramer is what we percieve the cable company to be: Snickering behind a peephole and messing with us while taking advantage because there's really not much we can do about it.

This has been an interesting week for media and cable companies. Rupert Murdoch's $80 billion bid for Time Warner is almost just a rumble behind the awkward sound of that customer service call between an Engagdget editor and a Comcast customer service agent. In a veritable monster mix of smash hits, it's the latest and greatest viral example proving the cable company is pretty much the worst at dealing with its customers.

Comcast is currently on a full court press for its unprecedented merger with Time Warner Cable -- Which, by the way, just sent me the most rediculous letter congratulating me on my newly-reduced-but-still-more-than-I've-been-paying rate. And at the same time from Reddit to The New Yorker, the company is also this week's modern stand-in for Seinfeld's Plaza Cable. 

The fact that the jokes are still relevant is what's really disturbing. In "Seinfeld," the cable guy apologizes through the door, and Kramer, moved, rolls back the deadbolt. They hug. What could be better? A truce between customer and company, a promise to do better, and a regonition of the humanity and hardships on both sides.

I think I prefer the TV show to real life. "Seinfeld," at least, has a happy ending.

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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