SEINFELD (SERIES, THE) - DVD review

The major extra for this season is 'Running with the Egg,' a two-part documentary that could be the best yet of the Seinfeld bonus features.

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James
Plath

After winning an Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy for Season 4 and sprinting from #25 in the Nielsen final standings to #3 at the end of Season 5, comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his ensemble cast finally became the #1-watched show in America during it's 6th season. It was a long time coming for a show that was almost cancelled its first disappointing season. Now, it's regarded as one of the top television situation comedies of all time. And if you watch this season, you'll see that for a show about nothing, co-creators Seinfeld and Larry David really manage to cram each 22.5-minute episode with an amazing number of elements and plot strands that somehow come together into a cohesive whole.

That's the genius of "Seinfeld," and this season provides a number of complicated and cleverly layered episodes, and probably some of the most convoluted shows of the entire nine-year run. You can almost picture the writers juggling balls, bananas, knives, and flaming torches, then trying to figure out how to gracefully catch them in the end. "Seinfeld" took the standard sitcom three-plot weave and added a fourth main plotline for each episode, and that alone guarantees its place in any developmental history of television comedies.

Fans will remember "The Holdout," when the cast demanded more money. But the fact of the matter is that it takes the talents and the chemistry of Seinfeld and his ensemble cast to make the material work. Jason Alexander couldn't be more hapless as perennial loser and best friend George Costanza, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Jerry's former girlfriend and current gal pal is the yin to his yin, and Michael Richards is the wild-eyed and wilder-haired Cosmo Kramer, a neighbor with a dangerous amount of flair. The scripts really challenge the cast and audiences, the way a New York Times crossword puzzle appeals. Sometimes you can fill in all the blanks. Other times, you draw a blank. For the most part this season, the episodes are hits, not misses. Here's the rundown:

1) "The Chaperone"—A funny opener in which Kramer ends up playing chaperone when Jerry dates Miss Rhode Island, and ends up becoming her coach. Meanwhile, Elaine lands on her feet, sort of, as a personal assistant of a top executive who has her doing things like buying socks for him. And George takes matters into his own hands when he thinks polyester is too '70s for the Yankees.

2) "The Big Salad"—As Elaine tries to find her boss's favorite mechanical pencil, George and his girlfriend's good deed sours when George demands the credit. Meanwhile, Jerry can't stomach his new girlfriend once he knows she dated Newman, and Kramer plays golf with an ex-jock and ends up helping him evade police in a Bronco after a golf tee points in his direction after a dry cleaner turns up dead.

3) "The Pledge Drive"—In a strange episode, Elaine's boss starts a fad by eating a Snickers bar with his knife and fork, George is obsessed that a waitress keeps giving him the finger, Jerry ends up causing his grandma distress when he finally cashes years-old checks, and Jerry gets stiffed when George's paranoia over getting "the finger" derails his attempt to bring a Yankee superstar to work the PBS pledge drive.

4) "The Chinese Woman"—Jerry's latest date comes courtesy of crossed phone wires, as Kramer goes to a fertility clinic, Elaine ruins her friend's romance with a "long talker," and George's parents separate.

5) "The Couch"—In this funny episode, Elaine gets the hots for a mover until she learns he's pro-life. George fakes his way through a book club by forcing himself on a family to watch "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with them on TV. And Poppie gets the ultimate revenge for Elaine's clearing his restaurant because of her abortion stance by peeing on Jerry's brand-new couch.

6) "The Gymnast"—This laugh-out-loud episode finds Kramer with a kidney stone, and George caught eating an éclair from his girlfriends' parents' trash. Meanwhile, Elaine has to fill in for her boss when he gets obsessed trying to find the image in a stare-enough-and-you-can-see-it 3-D painting.

7) "The Soup"—No, this isn't the "No soup for you" episode. A man Elaine met in England turns out to be a real chowder-head, while Kramer is on a fresh-food kick after passing his stone, George tries to date a waitress from Monk's, and Jerry accepts a suit from another comic on the condition he that he treat him to a meal . . . with strings attached.

8) "The Mom & Pop Store"—This is the one where George buys a car because a fast-talking salesman tells him it belonged to actor Jon Voight (who cameos), while Kramer's attempts to save a shoe-repair business mess up Jerry, and Elaine's boss is as deflated as the float he wins a chance of attending in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

9) "The Secretary"—Elaine is convinced that a dress store has trick mirrors and tries to buy a dress from them by doing an end-around. Kramer gets Uma Thurman's phone number but ends up selling his expensive suit and hiding in a women's clothing store changing stall while Jerry brings him clothes, and George does the right thing by hiring an unattractive secretary . . . then gets turned on by her anyway.

10) "The Race"—In this blacklist episode, Elaine is on the don't deliver list from a Chinese restaurant, while her boyfriend turns out to be a Communist. Meanwhile, George responds to a personal ad in a Communist newspaper, and Kramer ends up playing Santa with "Red" overtones.

11) "The Switch"—When Elaine loans her boss's tennis racquet trying to land that elusive Doubleday publishing job, she has to figure out how to get it back. Jerry dates a woman who never laughs, and wants to "switch" her for her easily amused roommate. George has a big idea about how to accomplish that switch, and it involves a threesome. Very funny episode.

12) "The Label Maker"—A gift Elaine gave a mutual friend comes back to Jerry as a gift in return for Superbowl tickets Jerry can't use because he's in a wedding party. Meanwhile, George convinces his girlfriend to get her male roommate to move out, Kramer and Newman play a serious game of Risk, and Jerry gets his come-uppance as the tickets return to the roost.

13) "The Scofflaw"—Jon Lovitz stars as a mutual friend who's had chemo and George is miffed because he's the only one that wasn't told. So he confides to George, the blabber, that he was only faking the cancer to take advantage of Jerry. But the episode takes its title from a chronic parking ticket violator. Funniest moment? Kramer calls a litterbug a "pig" while standing next to a cop who's ticketing a car. But George's new toupee gets a lot of laughs too.

14-15) "Highlights of a Hundred"—I'm not big on clip shows, and these two shows offer highlights from the first 99 episodes. Frankly, I'd rather see a new one.

16) "The Beard"—Freshly toupeed George gets rankled when Kramer sets him up with a woman who turns out to be bald. Kramer ends up posing in police line-ups for $50 a pop. And Jerry has to take a lie-detector test when the cop he starts dating doesn't believe him when he says he doesn't watch Melrose Place. Meanwhile, Elaine tries to convert a gay man.

17) "The Kiss Hello"—Elaine's friend is a therapist who insists on kissing people "Hello," while Jerry hears a story about money Uncle Leo supposedly was to give his sister, and how his father wants to collect the money plus interest. Kramer puts up tenant pictures in the lobby, which encourages Jerry to give those hello kisses, while the therapist ends up leaving everyone holding the bag and goes on a ski trip with Elaine. Funny, but muddled.

18) "The Doorman"—Jerry tries to be nice, and gets on a doorman's bad side and finally figures out what to do with that soiled couch of his. George and Kramer freak when they see George's father shirtless . . . with breasts. And Kramer develops a new male undergarment, the "bro."

19) "The Jimmy"—Mel Torme guests in this funny episode which has Kramer appearing at the Able Mentally Challenged Adults benefit and leaving Torme and others thinking he's the poster child. Elaine tries to meet someone at the gym, the guys meet a man called Jimmy who talks about himself in the third person, and Jerry thinks his dentist and hygienist have been up to hanky panky while he's out cold in the chair . . . with Penthouse in the waiting room.

20) "The Doodle"—Isn't it romantic? Jerry doesn't think so. Not pecans that were in his girlfriend's mouth before his. Kramer has a peach fetish going, while Elaine has an interview at the same hotel where Jerry's parents stay, and loses an unpublished manuscript she was supposed to read. Kramer loses his sense of taste, George gets confused when he finds a doodle his girlfriend drew of him, and Jerry gets fleas from Newman. One of the more convoluted episodes.

21) "The Fusilli Jerry"—One of my favorite episodes finds Estelle getting an eye job, Frank needing an ass job, Kramer getting a proctologist's vanity plates ("ASSMAN") by mistake but making the best of it, and Jerry having it out with his mechanic who, he finds out from Elaine, stole his bedroom "move." Some very funny moments.

22) "The Diplomat's Club"—Elaine is going to quit working for Mr. Pitt, but finds out she's going to be in his will . . . and becomes a suspect when he Ods on his meds. George puts his foot in his mouth and has to prove to his boss that he's not a racist, and ends up trying to find anyone who's black to pose as his friend. Kramer meets a rich Texan who starts him gambling again, and it's Newman to the rescue. And Jerry starts off to meet a super model at an airport club, but his assistant, Katie clogs the runway.

23) "The Face Painter"—The subject is toilet paper, and George is in love. Elaine's boyfriend's rowdy behavior at a hockey game upsets Jerry, while Kramer gets upset that Jerry didn't give the necessary thank-you for those hockey tickets. And a zoo demands an apology when a banana peel throwing contest between Kramer and a monkey puts the primate in a blue funk.

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: Sony press releases say that Jerry Seinfeld personally approved the extras, but if you watch the bonus features you'll get the mixed message that it was all about the writing, and that Seinfeld often just said, "Yeah, yeah" when it came to other details. Which is why, if you have great expectations for the "Sein-imation" animated sequences that appear on this DVD (for "Kramer vs. The Monkey," "Seinfeld Noir," and "The Big Race") you might be disappointed. The segments are far shorter than the average cartoon short, and drawn in a rough, pencil Thurberesque style that probably befits an intelligent show about New Yorkers. It's a curiosity, at best.

The major extra for this season is "Running with the Egg," a two-part documentary that could be the best yet of the "Seinfeld" bonus features. Seinfeld compares the hectic race to produce each episode to "running with an egg," and this feature shows how each episode progresses from idea to outline to script, then table reads, rewrites, rehearsals, more rewrites, and finally production. But they hold nothing back. There are nifty segments which reveal some of the casts' nifty rituals, and great footage of table reads where you get a sense of the show's loose-but-brutal-and-exacting approach to humor. There's enough talking heads' explanations and behind-the-scenes footage to satisfy most fans' curiosity.

As with Season Five, there are also Inside looks at a number of episodes (including my favorite), and deleted scenes, with all sorts of commentary options. And there are commentaries on selected episodes that, again, as with Season Five, were taped in one sitting. That's not all bad, because you get the mood shifts in the cast. First they're polite and a bit unsure of what to say, then they grow in confidence and start to feed off of each other, and by the time they get around to watching the Season Six episodes they start to get a little of the swagger and audacity that audiences identify with their characters. Example? At one point, laughing at the sheer unbelievability of a scene's premise, Louis-Dreyfus blurts out, "This is SO asinine! I don't believe it." There are plenty of reveals, too. Another example? Alexander grumbles that the cast of "Will & Grace" got cars for the 100th episode, and, asked if he considered going with a beard in the show, says, "Jerry thinks beards are not funny." Enough said.

Bottom Line: Though "Seinfeld" finished at the top of the Nielson's this year, as it would once again it's ninth and final year, Season Six isn't the best . . . or the worst. It's scripts are more daringly cluttered with disparate elements, as if the writers were needing to up the ante and challenge themselves to tie more and zanier plot threads together somehow in a 22-minute episode. And for the most part, they succeed . . . in laugh-out-loud fashion.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
9
Film Value
8