Five Ways Fish in the Dark is Like Seinfeld, and Some Ways It Isn’t

Jonathan Zeller


[Update, 4/2/2015: GET! OUT! Jason Alexander, whose George Costanza was the Larry David surrogate in Seinfeld, is set to take over the lead Fish in the Dark role on June 9. Prepare for the Summer of George on Broadway.]

We at were lucky enough to see Fish in the Dark, Larry David's Broadway debut, and wanted to share some important observations. Yes, the show—which stars David alongside the likes of Rosie Perez and Rita Wilson—is funny. But there are plenty of reviews to tell you that (or to argue the opposite). We're more interested in answering the most burning philosophical question of our time: what if Seinfeld were on Broadway today? (A tip of the hat to the earnest, tech-obsessed @SeinfeldToday and the absurd, wonderful, often-NSFW @Seinfeld2000 for so thoroughly investigating the TV version of this query).

Good news: we can say with confidence that if Seinfeld were on Broadway, it would be Fish in the Dark. The comedy is the closest you'll get to a new, 90-minute Seinfeld episode live onstage. The parody accounts above would be delighted: the play even makes reference to Skype, Google and Yelp.

When Larry David's work is so consistent in its tone and outlook, why would we say that Fish in the Dark has more in common with Seinfeld than, say, Curb Your Enthusiasm? After all, the play is set in Los Angeles and features Larry David delivering a dutiful, self-aware recitation of Curb's “pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty good” catchphrase.

For one thing, stage productions innately share certain qualities with classic three-camera sitcoms: their casts perform to a live audience, and the action is somewhat limited by the sets (though the people who made Seinfeld, especially later, did have access to as many exteriors as they could want). That, combined with Larry David's personality, starts Fish in the Dark out with a decidedly Seinfeld-ian feel.

But there are many more compelling reasons Fish in the Dark is like the New Yorkiest show of all time. We lay them out below:

Hey! If you don’t want spoilers, stop reading now.

1. Lloyd Braun is involved.
George's Seinfeld nemesis Lloyd Braun is named for a real person—Larry David's friend and former lawyer. A story from the real Lloyd Braun's life inspired Larry David to write Fish in the Dark.

2. It’s cynical.
David’s point of view is unsentimental, and everyone in Fish in the Dark is selfish and petty.

With the family patriarch, Sidney (Jerry Adler), on his deathbed, Norman Drexel (David) and his brother, Arthur (Ben Shenkman), argue over who’s on the receiving end of their father’s affectionate but ambiguous farewell. But as soon as the subject turns to taking care of Gloria (Jayne Houdyshell), their mother, the characters reverse course and do all they can to deflect responsibility.

More pettiness: Relatives jockey over time visiting in the hospital room—one uncle, Stewie (Lewis Stadlen), is convinced others are trying to one-up him or muscle him out. Norman can’t stand that his niece Jessica (Rachel Resheff) is the hit of the funeral with her moving eulogy, and sets out to prove her father wrote it for her. Another relative tries to use Sidney’s death to pilfer a Rolex. Gloria holds a grudge against Norman’s wife, Brenda (Rita Wilson), because she never wore a scarf Gloria gave her as a gift.

At one point, Norman asks his longtime housekeeper, Fabiana (Rosie Perez): “Will you do me a favor?” She doesn’t feel the need to be overly polite in her response: “If it’s not a big one.”

3. The characters are familiar.
Early in the play, dedicated Seinfeld fans may notice a character with an eerie resemblance to Marlene—George's ex who Jerry dates in “The Ex-Girlfriend,” unable to resist his physical attraction despite her personality deficiencies.

When a relative tries to con Norman out of his inherited Rolex, there are echoes of Uncle Leo’s desire for Jerry’s watch (“The Watch”) and his theft of horse-track winnings from Jerry’s mother (“The Kiss Hello”). The high-strung Gloria can be a dead ringer for Estelle Costanza. Harry occasionally sounds like Morty Seinfeld when he gets agitated. And, sometimes—in translating his more film-oriented Curb Your Enthusiasm performance style to the stage—Larry David’s exaggerated delivery and broad gestures evoke memories of Jerry's sitcom persona.

4. It’s obsessed with minutiae.
Even as Norman and company face mortality, they sweat the small stuff. Norman finds the time to confront Fabiana about mispronouncing his name and to argue with his wife over whether “walk the talk” is a phrase. More conflict springs up over whether or not to tip a doctor—not that many rational people have heard of this custom. Characters debate who is an appropriate hospital guest and what’s a respectful tone of voice there. Norman’s overinvolved dental-hygiene routine causes marital strife—and, by the way, has much in common with Elaine’s care for her own pearly whites (“The Chicken Roaster”). And, with an ambulance on the way for his mother, Norman has the presence of mind to call off a food delivery and the energy to object to the restaurant’s refusal to cancel the charge.

5. Everything happens for a reason (plot-wise, that is).
Philosophically, Larry David’s work often comes off as nihilist—but you can count on every little detail mattering when the resolution comes around. As such: that relative who manages to con his way into a new Rolex? He pays when hoodlums beat him up and steal it. Norman’s quest for revenge on the young man who tricked him into tipping a doctor feels foolish when he discovers some doctors do expect tips. And after it seems Gloria has been on the receiving end of a con by Norman, Fabiana and her son Diego (Jake Cannavale), she turns out to have used their plan for her own twisted benefit.

What if Seinfeld were on Broadway today? It is, friends. It is.


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