"But I don't wanna be a pirate," Jerry Seinfeld whines in the infamous "Puffy Shirt" episode, after he's backed into a frilly corner and has to wear it on the Today show because he couldn't understand the "low talker" girlfriend of Kramer's.
One of the things that made Seinfeld such a water-cooler topic of conversation the day after a show aired was that the stand-up comic and his three friends—zany neighbor Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), hapless George Costanza (Jason Alexander), and irrepressible Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)—didn't just find comedy in all the "nothing" situations that the average person encounters every day. They gave them names, like the "low talkers," the "close talkers," the "double dippers," the "masters of their domain," or the guys who were or were not "sponge worthy." And in the process, they outed everyone right there on national television: all the people who pee in showers, who fake orgasms, who misplace condoms, who habitually masturbate, who secretly pick their noses in public, or who tell little white lies or change themselves to accommodate the people they're dating. As viewers recognized behaviors in the Seinfeld crowd that mirrored their own most private moments, it made those things seem more normal . . . or else made them think that maybe everyone's just a little bit crazy.
Though "Seinfeld" couldn't repeat as Emmy winner for Outstanding Comedy Series—"Frasier" won top honors—Richards won again for Outstanding Supporting Actor. Looking back, it's as if he were born to play the manic and slightly neurotic Kramer. For 498 minutes, his antics, and Jerry's, and Elaine's, and George's endearing and absorbing enough to give the show its first #1 finish in the Nielsen ratings.
This seasons highlights include eight episodes featuring George's bickering parents (Jerry Stiller and Estelle Harris), along with a handful of episodes featuring Newman. Some of the classics? "The Mango," "The Puffy Shirt," "The Bris," "The Hamptons," and "The Cigar Store Indian." Here's a rundown on the 22 episodes:
1) "The Mango"—This one felt like the companion to "The Contest" from the previous season, because of its frank sexual nature. Kramer gets banned from the local fruit market, while Jerry, noticing how absolutely orgasmic women seem to react over food, is startled to learn from Elaine that she faked orgasms with him all the time when they were dating. And now he wants another chance.
2) "The Glasses"—When George loses his glasses at a health club, he has to walk around wearing his prescription swim goggles ("Okay, Aqua-Boy") and rely on Kramer to get him a discount on new glasses. Meanwhile, Elaine is bitten by a strange dog, while Jerry buys a new air conditioner through Kramer. And as always, the plot strands all somehow interconnect.
3) "The Puffy Shirt"—What would prompt Jerry to appear on the Today Show wearing a frilly pirate shirt? Apparently promising Kramer's low-talking girlfriend he would, when he should have just said, "What? Huh? Could you repeat that?" Bryant Gumbel guests.
4) "The Sniffing Accountant"—All that sniffs is not necessarily "blow." As Jerry, Kramer, and Newman (Wayne Knight) stake out Jerry's accountant to see if he's a drug addict, George decides his new career will be selling bras in this very funny episode.
5) "The Bris"—In classic and very funny episode, godparents Jerry and Elaine attend a bris performed by the shakiest mohel in the West. Kramer, meanwhile, is convinced he's seen a pigman at the hospital. And George? It's all about the parking space, baby.
6) "The Lip Reader"—Another funny episode finds Kramer as an unlikely ball boy at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, while George tries to get Jerry's deaf girlfriend to read lips as a kind of party game. Marlee Matlin guests.
7) "The Non-Fat Yogurt"—Jerry and Elaine's quest to find out if their favorite yogurt is non-fat ends up causing quite a stir in the middle of election season. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani guests. Also in this episode, George comes unglued (what else is new?) when Elaine dates his boyhood nemesis.
8) "The Barber"—To be (butchered) or not to be (butchered), that is the question. As Jerry agonizes over leaving his less-than-competent barber, Elaine drafts Kramer to put himself on the charity bachelor auction block.
9) "The Masseuse"—So why is it that Jerry's masseuse girlfriend won't take care of his massage needs. Naturally, he obsesses about it, while Elaine ends up dating someone everyone thinks is a mass murderer.
10) "The Cigar Store Indian"—If you hate political correctness, you'll love this episode where Jerry keeps offending Elaine's Native American friend whom he finds attractive. Meanwhile, Kramer convinces Elaine's boss that his coffee table book idea is commercially correct. Al Roker plays himself.
11) "The Conversation"—George goes so far as to convert to the Latvian Orthodox religion for his latest love interest, while Jerry becomes alarmed when he spies a peek inside his girlfriend's medicine cabinet and seeks the help of Elaine's podiatrist.
12) "The Stall"—An unforgettable episode has Elaine obsessing over a woman's refusal to pass toilet paper to her under a public restroom stall, while George gets chummy with Elaine's "mimbo" boyfriend and Kramer has Jerry all but convinced the woman he's dating is a phone sex operator. And Elaine's boyfriend tries to introduce the guys to rock-climbing, with disastrous results.
13) "The Marine Biologist"—In this funny episode, Jerry tells an old classmate of George's that he's a successful marine biologist and George has a whale of a time, while Kramer tries golfing on the beach and Elaine's should have called "fore" when her electronic organizer flies out of the limo in which she's riding.
14) "The Dinner Party"—On the way to a dinner party Elaine and Jerry buy a hairy babka. Meanwhile, George's jacket and a $100 bill pose a problem when he and Kramer look for a bottle of wine at the liquor store.
15) "The Pie"—Jerry gets bent out of shape when his girlfriend won't share a piece of pie, while Kramer gets an itch, George buys a noisy suit, and Elaine sees her image on a mannequin and wants answers.
16) "The Stand-In"—Hired as a stand-in on a soap opera, he convinces his "little person" friend to use lifts, which doesn't sit well with the other little people. Meanwhile, George and his girlfriend face-off over who's going to be the one to call it quits.
17) "The Wife"—Jerry goes along with it when his girlfriend needs him to pretend to be her husband so she can get a dry-cleaning discount, but comes back to haunt him when it all gets back to his family. Meanwhile, George is peeing in public showers, and just might get turned in. Courtney Cox guests.
18) "The Fire"—George tries to own up to his feelings after he panics during an apartment fire, Kramer dates a co-worker of Elaine's who drives her crazy and heckles Jerry at his show, and Jerry decides to get his revenge by heckling her at her workplace.
19-20) "The Raincoats"—It's a tale of two sets of parents as the Seinfelds and Costanzas experience life's little setbacks and coincidences, while Jerry and his girlfriend seek time to themselves at a movie . . . where Newman happens to be. Judge Reinhold guests.
21) "The Hamptons"—This is the funny "ugly baby" episode, in which George's girl goes topless at the Hamptons and everyone sees her chest before he does, Jerry's girlfriend catches George naked in all his tiny glory ("It was shrinkage!"), and Kramer scores a lobster trap.
22) "The Opposite"—George comes to the realization that his instincts and rationalizations are making him one of life's losers, and decides to do the opposite from now on—something that works so well he even gets a dream job with the Yankees. Meanwhile, Elaine's luck runs sour after buying a bad box of Jujyfruits, and Kramer appears on the Kathie and Regis show to plug his coffee table book.
Video: Remastered in High Definition, the 1.33:1 video really looks sharp, even stretched to fit a 16x9 widescreen television screen. The colors are vibrant and there isn't much in the way of bleed or pulsation. What more can I say? It looks great.
Audio: The sound quality is almost as good, with English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and what appears to be French Mono, though it's tough to tell much of a reduction in quality. Subtitles are in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Extras: As with the other sets, this one is packed with all sorts of bells and whistles on four discs in four clear, slim keep-cases that fit into a cardboard sleeve and box. There's a color bi-fold insert that lists the episodes and credits (surprising, not the air-dates and guest stars), but for descriptions of the episodes you have to look at the backs of the keep-cases. There are roughly 13 hours of bonus materials, which, of course, counts the commentaries. But boy, the Seinfeld people know how to do extras right. There's so much that it'll take a while just to describe it all, much less comment:
Disc 1 has a short feature on the character of George, with talking-head appearances by the stars, executive producer Larry David, studio honchos, and the casting director. But the "Inside Looks" on four episodes are like mini-features themselves, with the same format but focusing on each episode rather than a character. All of them are entertaining and informative, and even the real Kramer (Kenny Kramer) appears to tell how Larry David was actually barred from Joe's for squeezing the fruit. Fans will like the three deleted scenes on this disc as well. Again, as with previous releases, you can watch episodes with trivia pop-ups that are quirky and in the spirit of the show. Promos and TV spots are strictly for diehards and historians, but the commentaries are pretty decent.
Included on this disc are commentaries for "The Mango" (Richards, Alexander, and Louis-Dreyfus) and "The Glasses" (writers Tom Gammill and Max Pross), and it's clear from this commentary and others that the three co-stars spent a marathon session recording comments for commentaries for a number of seasons. Sometimes the energy sags, and by comparison the writers seem to come up with more insights. But both are still above average.
Disc 2 offers a clip of Seinfeld doing an extended stand-up routine on "Master of His Domain," as well as a deleted scene for "The Non-Fat Yogurt" and Inside Looks for three episodes, including that one and "The Lip Reader" and "The Barber." Co-producer Peter Mehlman teams with writer Carol Leifer for a commentary on "The Lip Reader" and with Gammill and Pross on "The Masseuse," while the three co-stars offer the commentary for "The Non-Fat Yogurt."
Disc 3 features four deleted scenes, though fans ought to know that all of the deleted scenes are really unused takes, rather than scenes completely foreign to each script. Inside looks and deleted scenes are provided for "The Conversion," "The Stall," "The Marine Biologist," and "The Pie," with director Tom Cherones and his production designer handling a visual-oriented commentary for "The Marine Biologist" and Gammill and Pross offering the commentary for "The Pie."
Disc 4 has a blooper reel that's really quite entertaining (Richards: "How 'bout that Dinkus," as Louis-Dreyfus crumples to the floor). Deleted scenes are included for "The Fire," "The Raincoats," and "The Opposite," while Inside Looks are provided for those plus "The Hamptons." Mehlman and Leifer offer the commentary for "The Hamptons," and finally, for fans who've been wondering when the star was going to make an appearance, Seinfeld appears with David to comment on the last episode of the season, "The Opposite."
As I said, it's clear that the stars were getting a bit weary and loopy recording so many of these things ("What show is this?" Alexander asks, at one point), but even so, the commentaries are still worthwhile.
Bottom Line:Remastered in High Definition and commercial-free, "Seinfeld" Season Five, with its trivial and intimate-secrets humor, qualifies as one of life's guilty pleasures.