Classic '90s sitcom Seinfeld just landed on Netflix after a six-year run on Hulu. Given that the show was filmed years before HD was a thing, it was originally displayed in a 4:3 aspect ratio on TV (and the DVD sets that came years later). But on Netflix, the show has been cropped into a 16:9 widescreen format to fit on modern TVs. As noted by Rolling Stone, that means some visual gags have literally been erased.
— Brandon (spooky version) (@Thatoneguy64) October 1, 2021
Twitter users @boriskarkov and @Thatoneguy64 succinctly pointed out the problem with a specific episode called "The Pothole." In the episode, George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld are trying to find George's lost keys, which were dropped in a pothole that was then paved over. In a crop where George wildly yells at the pothole, the Netflix crop removes the pothole entirely. The 16:9 aspect ratio probably also cuts out some other gags in the series — or at the very least, it might be a jarring experience for people used to how the show originally looked.
Of course, this isn't a new problem. Crops of Seinfeld have been on cable TV for years, and Hulu also showed the series in 16:9, as well. Given Netflix's popularity, Seinfeld is getting lots of extra attention right now, and thus a bunch of new viewers are probably checking it out who might not have seen it on Hulu. A similar controversy happened in late 2019 when the entire run of The Simpsons hit Disney+. After plenty of complaints about missed visual gags, Disney eventually released the seasons that aired in 4:3 in their original aspect ratio. Hopefully Netflix will do the same thing with Seinfeld — but in the meantime, as with many classic shows, the most authentic way to watch them is probably on DVD.