I think both are good, in different ways.
I grew up with Seinfeld and Friends, they are two of my favourite sitcoms of all time.
Thing is both shows are good at different things. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each:
- It’s an all time situational comedy. The story writing in the best episodes are all time great and memorable. It takes everyday situations and makes them hilarious. Only with a great script can you take normal things that people do everyday and turn them into laugh out loud comedy. Larry David’s talent for making these potentially monotonous everyday situations into humorous situations is amazing.
- George and Kramer steal the show. George in particular. Most of Seinfeld’s comedy actually start from these two characters. Kramer is more a slapstick character who’s comedy comes from all the crazy schemes he has, while George is funny in every situation he gets involved in. These two characters carry the bulk of the comedy in the show.
- the minor characters are amazing and many episodes actually revolve around them. Newman, J Peterman, Frank Costanza, David Puddy, Uncle Leo, George’s Boss, and one time characters like the Soup Nazi are all memorable. These characters actually steal the show sometimes over the main cast, that’s how good they are. In Friends, minor characters do not have this central importance to a show’s plot.
- Seinfeld also has this dark humor, irony and satire on some episodes which Friends does not have. Case in point being – the death of George’s fiancee Susan being the prime example.
- Seinfeld’s great episodes are all time great – but their lesser episodes often fall flat. The problem comes from Jerry and Elaine. These two characters are very reactionary. Unlike George and Kramer they don’t create comedy very well by themselves. Put Jerry and Elaine in a room together their scenes are fine but they are not overly laugh out loud funny like if you put any of the Friend’s cast into a room together or George/Kramer into a room together. And that’s why the minor characters sometimes get a much bigger role. Because Jerry and Elaine need the minor characters to start the comedic situations before they then react to it and make it funny. But if the show’s writing falls flat, Jerry and Elaine are not good enough comedians to create the comedy themselves. They are characters that are there to enhance the comedy – but not so good at the comedy creation.
- Lack of versatility. Seinfeld is a show that’s mostly about situational comedy, that’s it. Friends on the other hand, not only has situational comedy but has more variety and do not necessarily need a situation to happen to be funny. The wordplay and sarcasm and wit on Friends is not often seen on Seinfeld, which relies on the bizarre situations created and on slapstick humor more. Also Friends has drama – something that Seinfeld definitely lacks.
- All time cast of great actors who can make any line funny due to their exceptional timing and delivery. All 6 – Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, and Phoebe can all deliver laugh out loud lines and the interplay between them is incredible. This is something that is sometimes lacking in Seinfeld. In Seinfeld what would happen is George/Kramer creates a comedic situation and Jerry/Elaine would react to it and that’s it. In Friends, all six characters are capable of creating their comedy at any point in time, without needing any kind of situation to be there to react to, and each character feeds off of the energy of the other characters and they bounce off of each other to enhance the comedy. In Seinfeld – due in part to the smaller main cast – you don’t get as many bounces and often times you need the minor characters like Newman to be in the scenario to have additional bounces. With Friends, it’s not necessary due to the size of the cast and the talent of each. Also it could be noted that the Friends cast all had such naturally good chemistry with each other whereas with Seinfeld there was (anecdotally) a little bit of ego going on behind the scenes with fighting for lines and screen time.
- Due to the strength of the main cast, Friend’s ‘bad’ episodes are often still very funny, so I find that while Seinfeld’s good episodes peak a little bit higher than Friend’s good episodes, Friend’s is the most consistently good show from beginning to end, whereas Seinfeld’s lesser episodes definitely fall more flat.
- It’s a more globally popular show, because easier to get into for international viewers, and a more versatile comedy. Like I said, Seinfeld relies on the specific situations their characters create which has somewhat more niche appeal outside of America, and Seinfeld’s characters are usually exaggerated caricatures whereas Friends is more grounded in realism and the people they meet are more realistic and therefore more relatable to a wider audience. This I feel is the core reason behind why Friends is just internationally more popular than Seinfeld is.
- Also, the fact that Friends has character development – every Friends character (except for maybe Ross) ended the series dramatically more mature or different than when they started out. With Seinfeld? All 4 characters are the exactly the same as when they started out. And that’s exactly why the finale for Seinfeld is so polarizing. When they go to jail, Jerry and George have the exact same conversation they have in the first episode, echoing the fact that none of their characters have ever evolved at all. They are 4 people who are not exactly likeable and who spent 9 seasons taking advantage of people around them and that’s what the finale is showing. With Friends, we get a conclusion that is a natural evolution of their 10 seasons together. Note: This isn’t necessarily a con for Seinfeld I know it was the creators intent not to have these characters ‘learn’ anything and that’s why the finale was like that. But it is something Friends has that Seinfeld doesn’t.
- The minor characters are not as prominent as in Seinfeld. Gunther for example, is the definition of a minor character. He has a few funny lines to say each episode, and that’s about it. He adds to the comedic talent of the core six characters, but nothing more. Seinfeld on other hand, will have episodes that revolve entirely around the minor characters like Newman and Frank Costanza. They don’t get just a few funny lines. Some plots directly involve them. You don’t get that so much in Friends. The minor characters in Friends never overshadow the main cast. They are there to supplant the main cast and that’s it. In Seinfeld, the minor characters sometimes do overshadow the main cast and create the comedic situations which the main cast then reacts to. Of course this is also not necessarily a con, as some people like that the main cast of Friends are so strong that they don’t need to have minor characters steal the thunder.