Don't you believe it. "Seinfeld" was never a show about nothing. The more you watch these episodes, the clearer it becomes that every script was a complicated weave of petty annoyances and small situations that, tied together near the end, had the same cumulative substance as any narrative. While the episodes were similar to modern sitcoms that offered a three-strand plot weave, they may have seemed slighter because the scenes were so short that they felt like snippets, and they were augmented by equally short jazz-riff segues. Like the spotlight Seinfeld monologues that framed each one, the episodes had the feel of stand-up routines . . . but illustrated.
Take the most famous episode from Season Seven, "The Soup Nazi." The main thread involves Jerry and George's quest to get soup from a vendor who's famous for berating his customers if they don't do things a certain way: know your soup, keep the line moving, have your money ready, and step to the far left after you order. It's no talking, no dawdling, and no deviating from the rules, or it's No soup for you! But in that same episode, Jerry's friends are annoyed that his latest girlfriend insists on calling him "Schmoopie" (and he, her) in front of others, ad nauseum. Add Elaine's spontaneous purchase of an antique armoire that she can't move into her apartment because it's Sunday (and Kramer tries to guard it, unsuccessfully) and you have an cautionary tale about spontaneity. If you don't stick with the status quo, it's no soup, no armoire, and no Schmoopie for you!
If Season Four is the best that "Seinfeld" had to offer, the seventh season isn't far behind. In addition to one of the most notorious episodes ever, another classic has Elaine reevaluating her sexual standards after the sponge she uses for birth control goes off the market, leaving her with just 60 sponge. Is her latest date "spongeworthy?" It's the kind of thing that becomes a real mood-killer. Same with George, who can't use a condom because he fumbles too much, but is forced to because Susan uses the same sponge that Elaine hoarded. Then again, so does the woman Jerry starts dating . . . after getting her number from Kramer's AIDS Walk list.
Such is life in the "Seinfeld" world, where characters get their comeuppances not because of a major tragic flaw, but because of their own petty insistences and quirks. It was a milestone show when it aired, and "Seinfeld" continues to look better and better on DVD.
Here's a rundown on the 24 episodes, which are housed on four single-sided discs in four slim clear keep-cases and a double cardboard sleeve:
1) "The Engagement." After Jerry and George decide they're kids because they can't commit, George asks Susan to marry him, while Elaine enlists the aid of Kramer and Newman to silence a barking dog that's driving her crazy.
2) "The Postponement." Elaine wishes she were the one getting married, George gets cold feet, and Kramer gets hot coffee dumped in his lap at the theater.
3) "The Maestro." Elaine dates a friend of Kramer's who drives Jerry nuts by telling him there's nothing to rent in Tuscan, while Kramer goes to court against the coffee company.
4) "The Wink." A random incident like grapefruit squirting in George's eye leads to problems at his job with the Yankees.
5) "The Hot Tub." Krameer installs a hot tub in his living room, while Jerry tries to make sure Jean-Paul, who's in town for the marathon and staying with Elaine, gets up in time to race.
6) "The Soup Nazi." The famous "no soup for you" episode, based on a real New York eatery.
7) "The Secret Code." Couples keep secrets, but an ATM code? Meanwhile, Elaine is drawn to a man just because he doesn't remember meeting her, Jerry leaves George with Peterman, who makes him accompany him to see his dying mother, and Kramer gets a scanner to listen in on the local police and fire departments.
8) "The Pool Guy." A guy from Jerry's health club won't leave him alone, while Kramer doesn't mind getting bugged. Called by people thinking he's Moviefone, he soon offers his own service. Elaine, meanwhile, tries to get close to Susan.
9) "The Sponge." Everybody's using it, but the sponge is taken off the market, and it sets the stage for a three-way (make that three-pronged) sexual farce.
10) "The Gum." Jerry buys a lot of Chinese gum and wearing glasses, George's Jon Voight car catches on fire, and Kramer has a hand in it after he pitches in to revitalize the Alex Theatre.
11) "The Rye." In another classic episode, George's parents meet Susan's parents, with disastrous results, while Kramer's horse creates an even bigger disaster, and George tries to sneak in the marbled rye that his parents brought . . . then took away from the dinner.
12) "The Caddy." Kramer gets legal advice from his caddy, George is thought dead after his car is found in the Yankees' parking lot, and Elaine is stressed out by "the braless wonder."
13) "The Seven." George says he wants to name his first son Seven, but then the name is taken by Susan's cousin. Elaine buys a bike and gets injured by it while not even riding. Jerry's girlfriend wears the same dress every date.
14-15) "The Cadillac." Jerry's dad buys a Cadillac and it creates problems at the Florida condo. Meanwhile, Elaine sets George up with Marisa Tomei, and Kramer is at odds with the cable guy.
16) "The Shower Head." After testing positive for opium, Elaine is fired from Peterman's. George's parents feud with Jerry's parents, and adding insult to injury Jerry's building goes to low-flow shower heads.
17) "The Doll." Susan has a doll that looks exactly like George's mother. Susan's old roommate messes up Jerry's routine, and George's dad turns his childhood room into a pool room.
18) "The Friar's Club." Jerry wants to join, but thinks his chances dim after the blazer disappears. Elaine is bugged by a Peterman employee, and Kramer tries sleep habits that cause trouble with his mafia girlfriend. Rob Schneider guests.
19) "The Wig Master." Susan's Broadway friend is invited to stay with them, while George finds a cheap parking lot populated by cheap women. Kramer convinces the wig master to loan him the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
20) "The Calzone." George takes Steinbrenner to a calzone restaurant but gets banned after he's found with his hand in the tip jar. Kramer "bakes" his clothes, and Jerry annoys Elaine by pointing out that her current boyfriend never technically ever asked her out.
21-22) "The Bottle Deposit." Elaine bids on JFK's golf clubs for Peterman, but the clubs turn up missing after Jerry's mechanic steals his car with the clubs in the back. Kramer and Newman try to make millions on a Michigan bottle deposit scheme. Brad Garrett guests.
23) "The Wait Out." George's offhand remark breaks up a married couple, while Kramer gets stuck in a pair of jeans. Debra Messing and Cary Elwes guest.
24) "The Invitations." George goes cheap on wedding invitations, with surprising consequences. Jerry has his life saved, and he proposes to her. Kramer argues with his bank. Janeane Garofalo guests.
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? The episodes look better than ever.
The sound quality is almost as good, with English and French Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and subtitles in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. No complaints here.
Seinfeld seems more in evidence here than in previous releases, turning up on three commentaries and a number of short features. Alexander and Louis-Dreyfus appear on one, and various writers and director Andy Ackerman fill out the rest of the commentaries, nine in all (#6-10, 16-18, 20). Predictably, there's some overlapping between the episodes that have commentaries and short features on "The Engagement," "The Maestro," "The Soup Nazi," "The Secret Code," "The Pool Guy," "The Gum," "The Rye," "The Caddy," "The Cadillac," "The Friar's Club," "The Wig Master," "The Calzone," "The Bottle Deposit," and "The Invitations." In such cases, I actually preferred the short features. Maybe I'm in the minority, because commentaries are so standard, but I'd rather have the information in compressed form.
Included here is an excellent short feature on co-creator "Larry David's Farewell," along with ones on "Queen of the Castle: The Elaine Benes Story" and "Where's Larry?: Seinfeld's Secret Guest Star," and a fact track for all 24 episodes that's great to watch with commentary. I've never been much of a fan of the "Sein-Imation" segments, which take the audio from episode scenes and match it to rough drawings for crude animation, but if you like them you should know that two are included.
These episodes of "Seinfeld" earned 11 Emmy nominations, and while only Louis-Dreyfus won for Outstanding Supporting Actress, it was a strong season. And the bonus features and picture quality make it better than ever.