Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 19, 2004)
While the TV on DVD genre exploded over the last few years, one of the more prominent holdouts came from Seinfeld. Arguably the biggest series of the Nineties - and some folks’ choice as the greatest TV show ever - for years signs indicated we’d not get Seinfeld on DVD until some distant point in the future. The story went that the program still made so much in syndication that there was no reason to undercut those profits with DVD sales.
Obviously minds changed, for Seinfeld has finally emerged on DVD. Two separate sets come out the same day. This one includes Season Three, while the other package presents Seasons One and Two.
These shows will be discussed in their production order, which is the way in which they appear on the DVDs. This creates some broadcast inconsistencies; for example, Season Two’s “The Stranded” didn’t actually air until Season Three. The plot synopses come from http://www.tvtome.com – thanks to them for their good work.
The Note: “Physical therapy proves painful for Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) when his small talk with his therapist leads to a misunderstanding. Jerry uses his dentist friend Roy to write a note so that insurance will cover therapy for George (Jason Alexander) and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). George's paranoia about homosexuality comes into play when he gets a massage from a man. Kramer (Michael Richards) thinks he sees Joe DiMaggio in Dinky Donuts. The notes may cause Roy to lose his license in an insurance fraud investigation.”
“Note” starts Season Three on a terrific note. All three of the stories prosper, with a particular emphasis on George’s fears of homosexuality. The bit in which Raymond massages him offers an absolutely stellar routine, largely due to Alexander’s hilarious turn. Don’t forget the DiMaggio subplot, another fine runner. It’s a great way to open the year.
Continuity footnote: Season Two ended with a romantic reunion between Jerry and Elaine. Happily, no remnant of that remains here - they don’t even make a loose reference to it. I’m glad, for the show works much better with them apart.
The Truth: “George's relationship with a former IRS worker may ease Jerry's tax audit worries - until she becomes his former girlfriend. She wants to know why, so he tells her the truth. This was after he gave her Jerry's tax records. Elaine sees far too much of Kramer because he's dating her roommate. In return he saw far too much of her - in fact all of her. George tries to get Jerry's tax records back, but he finds she’s gone into a depression clinic.”
Pretentious Patrice rings true to me, as I once also dated an accountant with a rather grandiose sense of herself and her environment. She’s a great character and she allows George’s side of things to again act as a highlight. Kramer’s parts with girlfriend Tina tend to rely on too much shtick, but then again, I’ve always like Siobhan Fallon’s take on her role. “Truth” isn’t quite as good as “Note”, but it’s a solid program.
The Dog: “Jerry watches an unruly dog for a fellow airline passenger who's sick in a hospital somewhere in Chicago. Jerry can't leave his apartment, so that leaves George and Elaine alone together. They find they have little to say to each other without their conversational third Jerry, so they talk about him. Kramer tries breaking up with his girlfriend. Jerry can't locate the dog’s owner, who was released from the hospital, some time ago.”
As usual, the best parts of the show are the ones that connect with everyday experience. We’ve all been in situations like the one that confronts George and Elaine; without the “glue” of Jerry, they find things amusingly awkward. It’s also hilarious to see Jerry and Elaine confront Farfel the dog, and Kramer’s breakup/makeup is also terrific. The episode doesn’t flow especially well, but it’s very funny.
The Library: “The library asks Jerry about a book he checked out in 1971 and never returned, so Jerry looks up an old girlfriend for his defense against a library cop. George thinks the homeless man he sees outside the library is a former gym high school gym teacher that he got fired. Kramer has his eye on a librarian. Elaine worries about her career when her boss hates the recommendations she made.”
A stellar guest turn highlights “Library”. Philip Baker Hall’s ultra-deadpan work makes his short sequences as the library cop memorable. In addition, Cynthia Szigeti‘s quick spot as the shrill adult Sherry Becker creates an indelible impression. The Elaine story seems a bit disconnected, though it ties in at the end.
The Pen: “Elaine regrets accompanying Jerry on a trip to Florida to visit his parents. There are temperature control problems in the condo, a back breaking sofa bed, a slight overdose of muscle relaxants and the disposition of a pen that writes upside down.”
“The Pen” presents some unusual dimensions. For one, it’s the first episode set outside of New York. In addition, it doesn’t feature the Kramer or George characters, so only half of the regular cast appears. Despite - or perhaps due to - these irregularities, it’s a solid program. I love Jerry’s math to convince Elaine how little time they’ll spend with his folks. It’s fun to see the interactions with his parents, and the other Florida oldsters offer funny moments.
The Parking Garage: “Everyone separates to try to find the car in a huge parking garage. Jerry needs the use of a bathroom so he finds a place to go and gets busted. Elaine tries to get help from people passing by. George joins Jerry in getting busted. Kramer forgets where he put down the air conditioner he was carrying and causes George to be late for his parent's 47th anniversary.”
Ala Season Two’s “The Chinese Restaurant”, this program uses one commonplace setting for its comedy, and I think it works even better than its famed predecessor. How you can beat a show in which Jerry claims to have “uromysitisis” and to possess a public urination pass? You can’t, and “Garage” flies.
The Café: “Jerry tries helping the owner of a small restaurant attract customers by giving him a suggestion. George must take an IQ test for his latest girlfriend, so Elaine helps him in "a caper" where she takes the test for him. Kramer tries to keep his mother's ex-boyfriend's jacket, because it helps him meet women; however the ex-boyfriend comes looking for it.”
A great recurring character pops up here via Babu, the victim of Jerry’s attempts to be helpful. He’s a typically broad personality who doesn’t make a lot of sense - Jerry’s idea to change to Pakistani cuisine is pretty logical - but that’s part of the charm. The main characters of Seinfeld had plenty of their own issues, but they often became tried by those even less rational than they. The episode fares well.
The Tape: “George is excited about a new potential baldness cure that was discovered in China. While listening to a tape of his previous night’s show, Jerry hears the voice of a mysterious woman who talks dirty into his tape recorder and everyone becomes excited by the voice. Elaine shines in an entirely new light for George when he is let in on her secret: she's the voice. He is later driven crazy when she plays around with him while goofing around in front of Kramer's new video recorder. George tries the baldness cure. Kramer searches for the jacket.”
Another reason Seinfeld was so great: its treatment of George’s crush on Elaine. Most shows would make this serious and fodder for a Special Moment. However, here it gets played for perverse laughs, which makes it valuable. George leads this show in many ways, as his attempts to grow hair also succeed.
The Nose Job: “Jerry's brain and penis play chess against one another to decide whether he should keep dating a vacuous model with whom the sex is great but not anything else. George is dating a woman with a big nose; Kramer tells her the truth and she gets a nose job. However, there is a complication. Kramer gets Elaine to help him retrieve the jacket.”
After eight straight solid shows, Season Three finally falters with “Nose”. For one, I never cared for Tawny Kitaen, and I genuinely dislike the lame “chess match”. Richards gets some funny moments in his guise as “Professor van Nostrand”, but otherwise I don’t care much for this episode.
The Alternate Side: “Jerry's car is stolen and the criminal picks up his car phone. George decides to take a fill-in job moving cars from one side of the street to the other; this turns into a disaster for local traffic flow. Kramer gets a chance to do a line in a Woody Allen film: ‘These pretzels are making me thirsty.’ Elaine gets tired of her 66-year-old boyfriend and when she is about to break up with him, he has a stroke.”
Although “Side” rebounds from “Nose Job”, it doesn’t totally return to top form. On one hand, we have the wonderful variations on “These pretzels are making me thirsty” along with George’s pathetic attempts to act as a car parker. On the other hand, the moments with Elaine’s boyfriend are tacky. It’s a decent episode but not a great one.
The Red Dot: “Jerry is the unwitting cause of Elaine's boyfriend falling off the wagon. Elaine gets George a job, so he buys her a gift: an $85 cashmere sweater. The sweater has a little red dot on it, which is why is comes with a low price. Elaine gives it back, so then George gives it to the cleaning woman to keep her quiet about them having sex on his desk. George gets fired.”
While some guest actors buoy episodes, here one brings down the show a little. Bridget Sienna’s turn as Evie the Panamanian cleaning woman smacks of too much Marilyn Monroe and too little real personality. In addition, the whole plot thread about Dick the alcoholic doesn’t work; the choice to integrate him into Jerry’s standup audience fails too. The through-line about the titular dot has its moments, but not enough to elevate this show.
The Suicide: “Elaine needs to fast before an x-ray, so she tries stuffing herself three days before the test. After his neighbor Martin tries to commit suicide, Jerry is hit on by his girlfriend, Gina, while at the hospital. A psychic warns George to cancel his vacation to the Cayman Islands, but never can tell George why. Jerry becomes worried when Martin’s friend Newman sees him with Gina. Elaine starts hallucinating from hunger. Everything hinges on a Drake's coffee cake.”
A major supporting character finally appears in this show with the onscreen debut of Newman (Wayne Knight). He only shows up briefly, but it’s good to finally see him. I like the dynamic between Jerry and Gina, as he so relentlessly plays the part of the mouse. Elaine’s fast-inspired hallucination also is amusing. It’s not a great episode, but it does well.
The Subway: “Everyone has an uncommon experience while going their separate ways on the subway. George meets a beautiful woman who distracts him from his intended destination, a job interview. Jerry falls asleep and then wakes up across from a fat naked man and winds up chatting with him. Elaine's train stops in the middle of a tunnel on her way to be best man at a lesbian wedding. Kramer overhears a hot tip on a horse on his way to pay $600 in traffic violations.”
On the positive side, “Subway” enjoys a clever and unusual structure in the way it splits up all four of the leads for their own little stories. On the negative side, none of the four tales really takes off and goes anywhere. They’re moderately amusing, though George’s discussion of his mother’s resemblance to Shirley Booth stands out as a highlight.
The Pez Dispenser: “Kramer joins the ‘Polar Bear Club.’ Jerry gets one of Kramer's Pez dispensers which makes Elaine laugh during a piano recital by George's girlfriend, and that puts their relationship in jeopardy. Kramer has an idea for cologne that smells like the beach and suggests that George make a preemptive breakup with his girlfriend that will give him the ‘upper hand.’ The Pez dispenser has a remarkable effect during a drug confrontation.”
After a few decent but unexceptional episodes, we alight on a real classic. George’s relationship with Noel offers lots of great material, and the bits connected to the titular device also amuse. It’s a solid show.
The Boyfriend, Parts 1 and 2: “Jerry meets Keith Hernandez and wants to make a good impression. Meanwhile, George is out of time on his unemployment benefits and he works harder than ever on his scheme to get a 13 week extension. He tells the unemployment office he was really close on Vandelay Industries, a company that makes latex products and whose main office is Jerry's apartment. Kramer and Newman hate Hernandez because they were allegedly spit on by him; however, Jerry supports the ‘second-spitter theory.’ Keith asks Jerry about Elaine's status. Keith makes a date with her and breaks a date with Jerry.”
Wow - Seinfeld’s first double-length show! And it’s a winner. With its ingenious spoof of JFK and its amusing exploration of male relationships, it proves both insightful and hilarious. Add to that George’s pathetic attempts to continue his unemployment benefits and “Friend” is a strong show despite some weak acting from Hernandez.
The Fix-Up: “After selling each other on the idea, Jerry and Elaine set up George and Elaine's friend on a blind date and then await the results. They promise to keep each other updated with 'full disclosure,' though that doesn't happen. There also may be a problem with a defective condom.”
Not as solid as “Boyfriend”, we nonetheless get a good show via “Fix-Up”. Maggie Jakobson doesn’t bring as much annoying personality to Cynthia as she does the shrill Janice on Friends - where she uses the last name “Wheeler” - but she adds spark to what could have been an anonymous role. The show tosses out enough cleverness to make it a good one.
The Limo: “On a whim, Jerry and George take a limo from a passenger that Jerry knows never made it on the plane. While taking the limo they call Elaine & Kramer to join them for an event at Madison Square Garden, but it isn't the type of event they were hoping for.”
Occasionally Seinfeld risked becoming a little too outrageous for its own good, as some of its ideas stretched the boundaries between incisive impropriety and simple bad taste. “Limo” runs that risk with its involvement of neo-Nazi, but happily, it avoids the potential pitfalls. It’s quirky and funny.
The Good Samaritan: “Jerry tracks down a hit-and-run driver but then he wants to date her. After dating her he finds out she ran into another woman he's always wanted to date. George has an affair with Elaine's friend. Kramer has violent reactions to Mary Hart's voice.”
The characters of Seinfeld always engaged in convenient morals, and that theme comes through here. Jerry and George vary their ethics based on what they can get out of things, all to humorous effect. Jerry’s car-bashing girlfriend goes over the top, but it’s still a pretty good program.
The Letter: “Kramer poses for a painting that an elderly couple loves. George feels obligated to buy something when he accompanies Jerry to his new girlfriend's art studio. Elaine wears an Orioles baseball cap in the owner's box at Yankee Stadium and refuses to remove it. Jerry finds out his new girlfriend is a plagiarist after he hears the words she wrote in a letter on television. Elaine gets a chance to return to Yankee Stadium.”
“Letter” has its moments but fails to coalesce overall. The moments that revolve around the titular missive work best, though Catherine Keener seems miscast as Jerry’s jealous girlfriend. She’s a good actor but doesn’t connect with the series’ tone.
The Parking Space: “Kramer tells Jerry about something his friend Mike said about Jerry being a ‘phony.’ After borrowing Jerry's car, Elaine comes up with a wild story because the car is now making a strange clanking noise. George gets into a confrontation with Mike about a parking space in front of Jerry's apartment. Everyone one the street debates about parking etiquette.”
Like the best Seinfeld episodes, “Space” derives its humor from a commonplace situation spread to extremes. We see the eternal battle over pride and what’s right and wrong in the fight over the space. Add to that bits like Louis-Dreyfus’ terrific run on her elaborate story and “Space” fares nicely.
The Keys: “Kramer invades Jerry's life too much, so Jerry revokes his spare key privileges. Realizing that he has broken the ‘covenant of the keys gives Kramer the realization he is now free to come out of the shadows. Kramer takes off for California to follow his acting dream. Jerry gave his spare keys to Elaine, then when he needs them, he goes with George to Elaine's (who has her keys) to search for his spare set. What they find is Elaine's show-biz project. Kramer finds adventure as he journeys across the country to LA.”
“Keys” stands as distinctive for at least two reasons. For one, it’s the first episode to center on Kramer; even when he’s not onscreen, the action revolves around his decisions. In addition, it’s the series’ first “cliffhanger”. Okay, it doesn’t exactly end with a nail-biter, but its events lead directly to the episodes that launch Season Four. As always, the show depicts basic relationship politics with insight and humor, as we look at the issues related to loaning your friends your spare keys. All that and a cool bit to end the program!
While Seasons One and Two suffered from some moderately low spots, Season Three comes across as significantly more consistent. Of course, some episodes work better than others, but even the worst ones still offer a lot of cleverness and humor. It’s a terrific set of shows.