James Plath's picture

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)--was that they 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.


Forget what you've heard. "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.

"Seinfeld" was named the number one TV show of all time by TV Guide, and the much-lauded brainchild of comedian Jerry Seinfeld and writer Larry David now goes into TV history, where a pedestal has been waiting. While "Seinfeld" didn't dominate its decade the way "I Love Lucy" did the Fifties or "The Dick Van Dyke Show" did the Sixties, the show still finished first or second in the Nielsen's from 1994 through 1998.

Like "Frasier," the biggest challenger for sitcom dominance in the Nineties, "Seinfeld" started strong, finished strong, and managed to be consistently funny every year in-between. Except for a two-part "clip" show (I hate those) and a two-part finale that went just a little too off the deep end for some fans, the final season of "Seinfeld" is a brilliant send-off for the beloved series.

George has some of his funniest moments this season, including a scam where he pretends to be handicapped so he can get a job, and then struggles to hang on after the boss catches him running down the street while carrying a 200-pound wheelchair. Eventually George finds work at a place so full of incompetents that, like water, he finally seems to have sought his own level. Elaine, meanwhile, has some testy (and funny) moments with her on-again/off-again boyfriend, David Puddy (Patrick Warburton), and Kramer is as eccentric as ever, even going so far as to dumpster-dive for Merv Griffin cast-offs. The glue that holds this mess together is Seinfeld, who continues to glean his "comic stylings" from his eccentric friends and their daily escapades.

Except for those four clip and finale episodes, the rest fall squarely in the 8-out-of-10 range. Here's a rundown:

1) "The Butter Shave"--Kramer virtually bastes himself with butter thinking it's giving him softer skin, while George fakes being handicapped to land a job. Gordon Jump guest stars.

2) "The Voice"-Jerry imagines his girlfriend's belly button can talk and he likes imitating the voice. Play Now tries to get rid of faker George, who refuses to quit. Gordon Jump guest stars.

3) "The Serenity Now"-George's father shouts "SERENITY NOW" to control his blood pressure, while Elaine becomes the bell of the bar mitzvah and gets invited to a bunch more, all because the young man of the hour planted a big one on her.

4) "The Blood"-Kramer stores his blood in Jerry's freezer, Jerry's parents hire a trainer to get him in shape, Elaine has to babysit a friend's kid, and George discovers the power of combining food and sex. Lloyd Bridges guest stars.

5) "The Junk Mail"-Kramer offers to swap Anthony Quinn's t-shirt for a van, and Elaine meets the man of her dreams but keeps Puddy on reserve. Meanwhile, Kramer gets so fed up with junk mail that he cancels all his mail.

6) "The Merv Griffin Show"-Kramer finds the set of Merv's talk show in a dumpster and sets the set up in his apartment. Jerry dates a woman who collects toys, and George's girlfriend forces him to take care of a squirrel he hit with his car.

7) "The Slicer"-Elaine's neighbor leaves the country . . . and his alarm clock on. Meanwhile Kramer discovers new uses for his meat slicer, and George goes to work for Kruger Industrial Smoothing.

8) "The Betrayal." This is the "backwards" episode where Elaine goes to an Indian wedding with Jerry and George, where those two learn how to pry secrets out of Elaine using schnapps, and Kramer and his friend wish each other to drop dead.

9) "The Apology"-While George is after an apology from Jason Hanke, Jerry learns the difference between good and bad naked, Kramer installs a disposal in his shower, Elaine deals with a germophobic co-worker, and James Spader guest stars.

10) "The Strike"-George invents the "Human Fund," Kramer goes back to work at H&H Bagels after a 12-year strike, and Jerry dates a "two-face."

11) "The Dealership"-Jerry decides to buy a new car from Elaine's boyfriend, George accuses his mechanic of stealing a candy bar, and Puddy's insistence on high-fives puts Elaine off.

12) "The Reverse Peephole"-Puddy puts Elaine off with his "man fur," while Jerry and George have wallet problems and Kramer installs a reverse peephole.

13) "The Cartoon"-Elaine draws a cartoon for The New Yorker, George dates a woman who reminds him of Jerry, Kramer takes a vow of silence, and Jerry feuds with Sally Weaver over her one-woman show. Kathy Griffin guest stars.

14) "The Strongbox"-Kramer gets a strongbox for his valuables, George's girlfriend won't break up with him, Elaine dates a homeless man, and Jerry gets suspicious of a neighbor.

15) "The Wizard"-Jerry gets his father an electronic organizer, Elaine thinks her boyfriend is black, Kramer retires to Florida, and George lies to Susan's parents about buying a house in the Hamptons.

16) "The Burning"-Now it turns out that Puddy is religious. Jerry, meanwhile, is driven nuts by his girlfriend and George picks up the slack for his boss. But the funniest thread? Kramer and Mickey perform disease symptoms for med students.

17) "The Bookstore"-Jerry sees Uncle Leo shoplifting, George gets in trouble for taking a book into the bathroom, Elaine gets drunk at an office party and makes out with a co-worker, and Kramer and Newman start a rickshaw business.

18) "The Frogger"-George becomes obsessed with the Frogger video game machine, while Kramer grabs caution tape from a police station and Jerry dates a "sentence finisher."

19) "The Maid"-Jerry dates his made, George gets a nickname, and Elaine gets burned over a new area code.

20) "The Puerto Rican Day"-The four friends get stuck in traffic during New York's Puerto Rican Day parade. Mario Joyner guest stars.

21-22) "The Chronicle"--Jerry looks at clips of the past nine seasons.

23-24) "The Finale"-En route to Paris, the gang's plane has to make an emergency landing in a small New England town and they witness a mugging. And they're arrested for doing nothing to stop the victim. Jackie Chiles defends them at their trial, with a ton of character witnesses forming another look back.

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.

Right from the beginning Sony did "Seinfeld" right, with great packaging (four single-sided discs in clear-plastic keep cases with a double cardboard slipcase) and great bonus features. This season provides more of the same.

Highlights: "The Last Lap," which has the cast and crew reminiscing about the final days of production, and "Scenes from The Roundtable" (excerpts from a conversation with the four actors and Larry David some nine years after the show ended).

I've always liked the trivia track and Sein-imation cartoons, and there are three of the latter here. The gimmick this disc is "The Betrayal: Back-to-Front," a re-edited version in which the story starts at the end and works backwards (which is actually the normal way--the episode aired had a non-standard narrative structure).

As with other "Seinfeld" sets there's a fairly substantial blooper reel, and nine of the episodes have "Inside Look" brief featurettes that give you a little background. There are also deleted scenes from 15 episodes, including the finale. All of them are pretty short and insignificant except the cut footage from the ending, which runs 15 minutes long and has some nice moments.

Finally, the "Yada, Yada, Yada" commentary tracks give us writers David Mandel, Alec Berg, and Jeff Schaffer ("The Voice," "The Maid"), writer Steve Koren ("The Serenity Now"), Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander, director Andy Ackerman and writer Bruce Eric Kaplan ("The Merv Griffin Show") on one of the better commentaries, writers Brian Henry, Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin ("The Slicer"), writers David Mandel and Peter Mehlman ("The Betrayal"), Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander, Patrick Warburton, and Andy Ackerman ("The Dealership," "The Strongbox"), Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander, Warburton, and writer Spike Feresten ("The Reverse Peephole"), writers Steve Koren and David Mandel ("The Puerto Rican Day"), and writer Dan O'Keefe and Andy Ackerman are joined by the man himself, Jerry Seinfeld ("The Strike").

Bottom Line:
What a way to go out! Over nine years, "Seinfeld" squeezed every last drop of nothingness out of life and made us all laugh at the characters'--and our--idiosyncracies. Though it didn't an Emmy for any of the five categories in which it was nominated, this last season is as strong as any of them.


Film Value