• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #162: George Costanza

Let's get down on our knees and thank God that we knew him and had access to his dementia.

Seinfeld is rightly considered one of the best sitcoms of all time. The writing is razor-sharp, topical, unforgiving and hilarious. The cast is all put to their highest and best use, all of them narcissistic hedonists, post-modern urban grifters each blessed with a limitless supply of quirks, neuroses, and lovingly cultivated world views that bear little resemblance to reality. Jerry was of course the center of gravity, the relatively sane comic-cum-straight man, Elaine the acid-tongued muse/fury, and Kramer the kinetic incarnation of next-level weird. But George...

Ah, George. I hardly know where to begin. I had considered just listing his thick portfolio of quotables here in lieu of a profile, but there's so much more to say about a man-child who simply cannot make himself engage with the universe in any kind of adult, pro-social manner. George is really two creatures, and a couple of his famous lines come to mind: "Worlds are colliding!" and "A George divided against himself cannot stand!" His entire character - not a narrative, not an arc, as he neither grows nor changes during the entire series - is the conflict between his rapacious desire and sense of entitlement from his world, and his deep awareness that he deserves little or nothing. His life is spent with one half trying to win out over the other. At times the loser is fully ascendant, and George is sulky, self-pitying, pathetic. But the best moments are when the fiery George emerges, when despite his vast experience with disappointment he dares to believe that it's finally his inning.

Of course, it never really is. There's no summer of George. It's a perpetual late winter, with streets of muddy slush and slate-gray skies, with just enough glimpses of sunlight to tease at warm days that will never come. If it's true that it's not a lie if you believe it, George's problem is that he never truly believes the lies he tells himself. At day's end he's still a short, chubby, bald man with domineering parents and spotty job prospects and very little to offer anyone. That he ever gets out of sweatpants at all is a mystery. And that's George - despite it all, despite inhabiting a universe that despises him, he manages to get up each day and try again to believe his own lies. It's a little sad, a little inspiring, and a lot funny.

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