“Seinfeld” is the Latest Beloved Series to Have Aspect Ratio Issues on Streaming

Does observational humor work in a widescreen format?

The cast of "Seinfeld."
The cast of "Seinfeld."
David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

For fans of observational comedy and slap bass, October 1 looked to be a milestone. Why? That’s when the beloved series Seinfeld became available to watch on the streaming service — also the home of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. That’s the good news. But soon after the series reached Netflix, a number of sharp-eyed viewers noted that something seemed a little off about certain episodes. Specifically, the aspect ratios had been altered — which, in some cases, ruined visual jokes.

In 2021, the default aspect ratio for television is 16:9. When Seinfeld‘s first few seasons were on the air, it was 4:3. There are a couple of ways to address this, each with their own benefits and flaws. Or, as Allegra Frank points out at Slate, “taking a show that was meant to be seen one way and rejiggering it to be seen a whole different way can be quite jarring.”

Seinfeld isn’t the only beloved comedy series that’s encountered this issue in recent years. In 2019, when The Simpsons arrived on Disney Plus, it was also remastered for a 16:9 aspect ratio — which also had the unintended effect of ruining some of the show’s visual jokes. Eventually, Disney Plus offered viewers a way to switch between the two aspect ratios.

The Slate article notes that Netflix hasn’t yet done so for Seinfeld — and neither did Hulu, the show’s previous streaming home. Whether or not they will is a question that looms large — perhaps almost as large as that of which beloved television comedy will be the next one to run afoul of overzealous remastering.

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