Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 16, 2005)
Although it took quite a while to get any Seinfeld episodes on DVD, the folks behind the series seem to be making up for lost time. About six months after the initial packages, here comes Season Four.
These shows will be discussed in their production order, which is the way in which they appear on the DVDs. The plot synopses come from the DVD’s packaging. They’re short, but at least they avoid spoilers.
The Trip, Part 1: “When Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) is booked to appear on The Tonight Show, he takes George (Jason Alexander) with him to Los Angeles to search for Kramer (Michael Richards). George and Jerry are unaware that Kramer is in trouble as a victim of mistaken identity.”
For my thoughts on this show, head to the next discussion.
The Trip, Part 2: “Jerry and George discover that Kramer is suspected as the serial killer known as ‘The Smog Strangler’”.
Season Four starts on an unusual note with “The Trip”. For the first time since the pilot episode, Julia Louis-Dreyfus fails to appear; she was off due to pregnancy. In addition, the whole Kramer plot almost feels like a spin-off program, as it looks at Kramer in an atypical manner outside of the standard element. The show works well despite the different circumstances and provides a lot of laughs
The Pitch/The Ticket (one-hour episode): “NBC executives approach Jerry to write a sitcom pilot. George joins him in the venture and pitches a show about ‘nothing’. Crazy Joe Davola (Peter Crombie) stalks Jerry and Kramer. Newman (Wayne Knight) uses Kramer as a witness to get out of a speeding ticket.”
Folks have referred to Seinfeld as a series about “nothing” for years, and I think this is the episode that led to that moniker. The show becomes rather self-referential, which could turn cute, but that never happens. Instead, it balances those elements neatly, and the oddball Kramer subplot is also terrific. The only negative comes from the continued absence of Louis-Dreyfus; Elaine pops up in a couple of short inserts, but she plays no real role in the show.
The Wallet: “Jerry has to explain to his parents why he isn’t wearing the watch they game him, which he threw in the trash. Morty (Barney Martin) thinks his wallet was stolen at the doctor’s office. George negotiates his way out of the NBC pilot deal.”
Cocky George is funny George, though probably not as funny as insecure and panicked George. We get him in both modes in this good program. It’s also fun to see Jerry’s parents again along with the ever-reliable Uncle Leo. Louis-Dreyfus finally returns as well, at least for the show’s second half.
The Watch: “Jerry tries to buy his watch back from Uncle Leo (Len Lesser) to appease his parents. Meanwhile, George pleads with the NBC executives to reconsider their pilot deal. Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) enlists Kramer in a plan to break up with Dr. Reston (Stephen McHattie).”
Geez, this season’s lousy with two-part episodes! First “The Trip”, then the extended “Pitch/Ticket”, and now the twofer of “The Wallet” and “The Watch”. Unsurprisingly, this is another good show. It includes one of my favorite lines: when George tells Susan he can’t be insulted, he claims “You can call me ‘baldy’! You can pour soup on my head!” Although I maintain a full head of hair - and really would rather not have anyone dump broth on my noggin - I use this line frequently.
The Bubble Boy: “Jerry agrees to visit a bubble boy on the way to a cabin in the woods. But Jerry and Elaine get lost and George winds up fighting the bubble boy. Meanwhile, Kramer appears at the cabin and wreaks havoc.”
Another classic episode, one that brought the concept of “The Moops” to the public consciousness. Seinfeld handled outrageous ideas like a Bubble Boy and made them work while the show avoided becoming silly or inane. The Bubble Boy’s great because he contrasts with the usual portrayal of such impaired characters. Normally he’d be likable and endearing, but Donald the Bubble Boy is about the least pleasant character one can imagine. The show also connects with situations we’ve all experienced. I remember when I dated a woman with an annoying laugh almost as bad as Naomi’s, so this program hit home.
The Cheever Letters: “Jerry offends Elaine’s assistant (Lisa Malkiewicz) with the ‘panty remark’. Kramer makes a new contact for his Cuban cigars. A box of letters from John Cheever is all that remains after the Ross cabin burns down.”
When I see this episode’s title, I always think I don’t care for it. There’s something about the program’s title theme that disagrees with me. However, I neglect to recall its many hilarious moments. From the reveal of the cabin’s status to Jerry’s dirty talk to Grace Zabriskie’s inspired performance as Susan’s mom, it’s a strong show, no matter how I recall it.
The Opera: “Elaine realizes that her boyfriend Joey is actually Crazy Joe Davola. She, Jerry, George and Kramer have to endure a night at the opera with a bunch of clowns.”
Frankly, I think it’s a stretch that Elaine ever dated Joe Davola in the first place; their meeting a few episodes back pushed credulity. His presence brings a darker than usual tone to “The Opera”, and it doesn’t quite work. The show certainly has the requisite number of funny moments, but it doesn’t totally coalesce into something terrific. It becomes a good episode that doesn’t soar.
The Virgin: “Jerry discovers the girl he’s dating (Jane Leeves) is a virgin. Kramer’s constant interruptions make it difficult for Jerry and George to write their pilot. When they go to pitch it to the network, George’s kiss costs Susan (Heidi Swedberg) her job at NBC.”
Here we establish that George is clearly the most self-centered man in the world. When Ping the delivery boy gets hit by a car, George worries solely about the status of his food. When Susan gets fired, he delights in the concept that he’ll get to breakup with her. “The Virgin” goes with an unusual concept via the Marla story, but it never goes nutty, and the material about the NBC show moves things along well.
The Contest: “In this classic Emmy award-winning episode, Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer enter a contest to see who is ‘master of your domain’.”
Of all the series’ catchphrases, “master of your domain” must be one of the five most popular ones. “Contest” certainly goes with a risqué concept, but it makes it fly. The show plays with various bents and becomes genuinely memorable.
The Airport: “Jerry and Elaine experience the differences between first class and coach while George and Kramer scramble between airports trying to meet their flight.”
Since my best friend works as a flight attendant, “The Airport” remains dear to my heart. I’ve often accused him of being just as rude as the Jm J. Bullock character here. I also love the radical discrepancy between first class and coach. It’s dated now since cutbacks have dumbed down first class big time – there’s no way a flight from St. Louis to NYC would be so lavish - but it’s still hilarious.
The Pick: “Jerry tries to convince his girlfriend (Jennifer Campbell) that he ‘did not pick’ while Elaine suffers the fallout of sending a nipple-exposing Christmas card. Kramer becomes a Calvin Klein model.”
Given my own up and down romantic life, George’s pining for the departed Susan creates one of the moments with which I most identify. It’s easy to glorify bad relationships when you’re on your own, and the show plays this concept for great laughs. The titular “pick” bit’s not that great, but the program has many other good parts, many related to Elaine’s nipple. I also dig the callback to Kramer’s old fragrance idea.
The Visa: “Babu Bhatt (Brian George) returns and Jerry’s attempts to help his immigrant friend get him deported. Elaine unsuccessfully tries to get George’s girlfriend to help her with her lawsuit.”
I must admit that Babu always bothered me because he’s so unappreciative. Despite his inherent selfishness, Jerry tries to help him, but Babu always holds his mistakes against him. Yeah, it’s funny, but it still kind of bugs me. On the other hand, I love the radically out of character Jerry who tries to suppress his inherent funniness.
The Movie: “Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer keep missing each other when they try to meet at the movies. Jerry’s delay is compounded by annoying comedian Pat Buckles (Barry Diamond).”
While enjoyable, “The Movie” gives me a sense of déjà vu. Buckles is an awful lot like the annoying friend of Jerry’s Kevin Pollak played in Season One’s “Male-Unbonding”, and the whole theme of frustration seems like a twist on “The Chinese Restaurant”. Despite the moderate lack of originality, “Movie” is funny and remains consistently enjoyable.
The Outing: “Jerry and George are mistakenly outed by a reporter (Paula Marshall). They try to squash the rumor that they are gay: ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’”.
Another episode that offers arguably the series’ most enduring catchphrase, “Outing” has a ton of fun with its subject. Like “The Contest”, it dances around a sensitive subject and does so splendidly. It sticks with just enough reality to connect with us but it spins things in an endearingly wacky manner to become a classic.
Note that despite the show’s high quality, it may be the one with the most inconsistencies. What happened to Sharon’s boyfriend? Why does the phone repair guy come to Kramer’s at night? How’d George get into Jerry’s building unannounced? Why would they put a young man in the same hospital room as an elderly lady?
The Shoes: “Jerry and George lose their TV pilot after sneaking a peek at the NBC executive’s (Bob Balaban) daughter’s (Denise Richards) cleavage. Elaine thinks everyone’s obsessed with her Botticelli shoes.”
An episode with a decent array of good gags, “Shoes” loses points for toilet humor. It plays Russell’s vomiting too much, and that seems tacky for this series. It never really coalesces overall, though some funny bits appear. I most like the bizarreness of Elaine’s irritation related to her shoes, as that theme subtly illustrates the disconnect between men and women.
The Old Man: “Jerry, George and Elaine volunteer to spend time with senior citizens. Jerry loses his, George’s fires him, and Elaine can’t even stand to look at hers.”
How can one not find humor from a show in which three essentially selfish people try to behave in a selfless manner? Plenty of amusement results, a lot of it from Bill Erwin’s terrific guest performance as crotchety old Sid. Add to that the site of George with his bald head dipped in oil and a closing hint at the future of George and Jerry and we have another strong show.
Inconsistency alert: am I the only one who doesn’t think Sid would have the Stones’ Emotional Rescue in his collection?
The Implant: “Jerry enlists Elaine to find out if his girlfriend’s breasts (Teri Hatcher) are real. George loses another girlfriend after getting caught ‘double-dipping’.”
I once dated a woman whose personals headline read “they’re real, and they’re spectacular”. (They were, and they were, though she was no Teri Hatcher.) That’s the show’s big catchphrase, though the “double-dip” competes with it. All of these make this a very funny episode.
The Handicap Spot: “On their way to buy a big screen TV for ‘The Drake’, George parks his father’s car in a handicap spot. An angry mob trashes the car and George must face the wrath of his father. We meet Frank Costanza (John Randolph) for the first time.”
”Spot” follows “The Contest” and “The Outing” in its approach to potentially controversial subject matter. Seinfeld was never particularly politically correct, and it pushes those limits with its view of the handicapped. Most of the potentially offensive material shows up at the wheelchair shop, but the program so clearly veers into parody territory that it’s hard to imagine it bothered many people.
Bizarre casting coincidence note: here we see John Randolph in his one and only appearance as George’s father Frank. Jerry Stiller soon replaced him. The coincidence? Jerry’s father Morty was originally played by Phil Bruns and then replaced by Barney Martin. It’s weird that the actors initially cast as the fathers of these two primary characters both got the boot.
The Junior Mint: “Jerry doesn’t know his girlfriend’s (Susan Walters) name but learns it rhymes with a female body part. Kramer drops a Junior Mint into the surgical cavity of Elaine’s boyfriend (Sherman Howard) during an operation.”
I’d love to know if Junior Mint sales skyrocketed after this show aired - they had to benefit from the free publicity. That element does lend the episode a quirky flavor that makes it work. I never liked the casting of Sherman, though. Elaine goes so nuts for his physical appearance, but this seems odd since a) Roy’s still kind of tubby, and b) Sherman’s not a very attractive man. He’s not a handsome man who looked bad just because he was fat; he was pretty ordinary under the best of circumstances.
The Smelly Car: “A smelly valet stinks up Jerry’s car and anyone who comes in contact with it. George discovers he drove Susan to lesbianism.”
What’s with the string of ugly boyfriends forced on Elaine? Carl’s so unattractive that he makes Roy look like Brad Pitt. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but I don’t think someone as superficial as Elaine would go for these unappealing guys. I do like the thread in which Susan goes gay, and the main “smelly car” plot is terrific.
The Pilot, Parts 1 and 2: “Jerry and George’s pilot is finally a go. NBC President Russell Dalrymple becomes obsessed with Elaine. Kramer suffers intestinal maladies.”
Seinfeld may be called a series about nothing, but it still went with an overall story arc for Season Four. That involved Jerry’s pursuit of a TV series, and it all culminates in the double-length “Pilot”. The show brings things to a close wonderfully, especially when we see the slightly-altered universe of Jerry, the proposed series. “Pilot” caps a great year on a positive note.
Seinfeld transformed from cult status to smash hit in Season Four. Some of that came from its shift to a better time slot, but the insanely high quality of the year’s episodes sure didn’t hurt. Even the worst Season Four programs were good, and the great ones really excelled. This is absolute prime material.