You probably know it as Myanmar, but it'll always be Burma to Appellate Judge Dan Mancini.
Our reviews of Seinfeld: Seasons One And Two (published May 18th, 2005), Seinfeld: Season Three (published June 8th, 2005), Seinfeld: Season Four (published August 22nd, 2005), Seinfeld: Season Five (published February 15th, 2006), Seinfeld: Season Six (published February 15th, 2006), Seinfeld: Season Seven (published November 13th, 2006), and Seinfeld: The Complete Series (published November 6th, 2007) are also available.
"George, George, this is a little too much for me—escaped convicts, fugitive sex…I've got a cockfight to focus on."—Jerry Seinfeld, "The Little Jerry"
Seinfeld co-creator and head writer Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm) always had a love/loath relationship with the show. The supplements contained in the first six volumes of the series on DVD reveal David as a man terrified and bewildered by his own success. He was embittered when the show's pilot—a mid-season replacement in 1989—was just successful enough that NBC ordered four more episodes. It's not that he wanted a larger order; writing the pilot had so exhausted him he couldn't imagine going through the process four more times.
When the show's abbreviated first season garnered a small but loyal fanbase and much critical acclaim, encouraging NBC to order a 12-episode second season, David was distraught. How could he continue to shoulder the stress of writing and producing a weekly sitcom? It was killing him. Things soon got worse: NBC ordered a full 23-episode third season.
When, during its fourth season, the network moved Seinfeld to the prime slot on Thursday night after Cheers in order to test its viability as NBC's new Must-See TV anchor, David was outraged: How could they treat his show like Cheers' "little brother?" Beginning with the fifth or sixth season, David began proclaiming he was leaving the show. His threats to leave became such a mainstay of the Seinfeld season wraps, everyone involved with the show assumed he was all talk and no action. Then, at the end of Season Seven, he actually quit, leaving everyone wondering if the show could survive without him.
It did, of course, and Seinfeld: Season Eight brings us the first batch of post-David episodes of the series. So, how do they measure up?
Facts of the Case
In case you spent the '90s in a monastery or as a biodome guinea pig or something, Seinfeld chronicles the off-kilter life of a semi-fictional version of stand-up comic Jerry Seinfeld. Thirtysomething, single, and living in New York City, Jerry mostly hangs out with his three loser friends: George Costanza (Jason Alexander, Pretty Woman), a short, stocky, balding, New York Yankees front office executive whose fiancée was killed by poisonous glue on their wedding invitations; Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Drefus, Saturday Night Live), a copywriter for the J. Peterman catalog who dated Jerry once upon a time before the series' first season; and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards, Fridays), Jerry's hipster-doofus neighbor across the hall. The quartet hangs out at Jerry's apartment or Monk's Diner, analyzing the minutiae of their lives and landing themselves in bizarre, socially awkward situations.
Volume Seven of Seinfeld on DVD contains all 22 episodes of the eighth season, spread across four discs:
In the larger context of Seinfeld's entire run, the eighth season finds the show in decline—but only in the larger context of the series' entire run. Compared to just about any other situation comedy in the history of television, the 22 episodes here are precociously inventive and hysterically funny. It's not quite the same show it was under the watchful comedic eye of Larry David, but it's still damned good television.
One can most feel David's absence in the first two episodes of the season. "The Foundation" and "The Soul Mate" resurrect Delores (AKA "Mulva") from Season Four's "The Junior Mint"; a librarian love interest for Kramer (a la "The Library" in Season Three); and the Long Island mother of the nauseatingly ugly baby in Season Five's "The Hamptons." It's as if the writers were desperate to create a connection to the show's past, either to reassure the audience or themselves of Seinfeld's continued viability. But even these weaker episodes are funnier than most TV, offering absurdity like Elaine's urban sombrero (which she puts on the cover of the J. Peterman catalog when Peterman disappears to Burma, leaving her in charge of the company); Kramer dominating a karate class full of nine-year-olds; and George screaming "Khan!" at the top of his lungs because the second Star Trek movie is indirectly responsible for destroying his idyllic bachelor life of lying around in his boxers, eating blocks of cheese the size of his own head.
Season Eight begins to swing into full gear with "Bizarro Jerry," an episode that finds Elaine invited into the company of a friendly, altruistic, book-loving, Bolshoi Ballet-going trio of friends who are the exact opposites of Jerry, George, and Kramer; Jerry dating a beautiful woman who, unfortunately, has man-hands; Kramer busting his white-collared hump at Brandt/Leland, even though he's not actually an employee; and George passing a photo of Man-Hands as his dead fiancée Susan in order to penetrate the Forbidden City of beautiful women. From "Bizarro Jerry" on, the episodes get better and better for the most part, though there are a few clunker episodes like "The Fatigues." Its dual plotlines—one in which Elaine unfairly promotes a fatigue-wearing J. Peterman mailroom worker because she's afraid to fire him, and the other in which Frank Costanza is haunted by Korean War memories of spoiled meat and vomiting soldiers when Kramer convinces him to take up cooking again so he can help with a Jewish singles event the very Gentile doofus has organized—come off as contrived. While Larry David was a master of throwing together disparate plotlines and making them resolve in clever ways by an episode's finale, the two strands of "The Fatigues" appear specifically designed to pay each other off. This has the odd effect of making each plotline less absurd and more predictable than it should be. And we're talking about an episode in which a 70-year-old Jerry Stiller plays Frank Costanza as a young man in the Korean War—it ought to be delightfully absurd.
While its comedy is definitely broader and sillier than during David's tenure, Season Eight is still packed with classic Seinfeld jokes and storylines. In "Little Kicks" we learn that watching Elaine dance arhythmically is, in the words of George, "like watching a full-body dry heave." "The Checks" finds Kramer housing a group of Japanese tourists in a massive chest of drawers given to him by Elaine's furniture salesman boyfriend (who's also obsessed with the Eagles' "Desperado"). In "The Chicken Roaster," the neon glare of a Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant sign across the street so discombobulates Kramer's rods and cones that he mistakes tomato juice for milk; when he and Jerry switch apartments to alleviate his suffering, they take on each other's personality traits. Other episodes find Jerry and Kramer training a rooster named Little Jerry Seinfeld to cockfight, while George dates an inmate in a women's prison in the hopes of having fugitive sex when she escapes; Kramer getting on the bad side of a street gang enamored with the eighth president of the United States; Jerry accidentally breaking the thumbs of a bookie who owes him money; Elaine being castigated by society for having the gall to hate The English Patient; Jerry having a weight-lifting contest with 80-year-old Izzy Mandelbaum (Lloyd Bridges, Airplane!); and Kramer and rotund mail carrier Newman feuding over who will host a big millennial New Year's Eve party even though it's only 1997. Add to that classic Seinfeldian contributions to the popular culture like the "yada yada yada" as a conversation ellipsis meant to ease social discomfort or hide painful truths, the term "anti-dentite" to describe anyone who thinks dentistry a lesser form of medicine, the acknowledgement that the tops of muffins are the only part worth eating, and an entire episode centered around the etiquette of telephone speed-dial hierarchies, and what you've got is some outstanding television comedy. And I didn't even mention hack comic Kenny Bania's (Steve Hytner, Eurotrip) ridiculous obsession with Ovaltine, George becoming a genius when his girlfriend's mononucleosis forces him to use the majority of his brain for something other than thinking about sex, Bob Odenkirk's (Mr. Show) hilarious turn as Elaine's not-quite-a-doctor boyfriend, or the glorious return of Kramer's Johnny Cochran-like lawyer Jackie Chiles (Phil Morris, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) in the K-man's disfigurement suit against a tobacco company after he manages to do a lifetime of smoking in just 72 hours.
As with the six previous volumes of Seinfeld on DVD, the episodes of Season Eight have been remastered in high-definition and look phenomenal. The full screen image is significantly sharper than on broadcast television. Colors are bold and fully saturated, and blacks are rock solid. The image is gloriously free of damage or decay.
Audio is presented in a fine Dolby Stereo mix that delivers clear dialogue. It's an improvement over the mixes for Seasons Five and Six, which sound slightly off to my ears. French and Spanish dubs are also offered in case you're a guy who's been abstaining from sex and have accidentally picked up a foreign language by listening to your maid (if you're a woman who's been abstaining from sex, you're better off picking up a Full House season boxed set or something; Seinfeld's humor will fly right over your head). The episodes are subtitled in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
As with the previous volumes of Seinfeld, Season Eight is loaded with supplements. Each episode comes with "Notes About Nothing," text-based commentaries that offer loads of trivia about the productions. Thirteen of the episodes also have audio commentaries. Most of them are by the episodes' writers, though Jerry Seinfeld, Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and director Andy Ackerman contribute to a handful of tracks (Michael Richards is notably absent, this being the first set assembled after his racist rant during a stand-up performance).
Video extras include deleted scenes as well as "Inside Looks" (brief featurettes) specific to some of the episodes. There's also a 23-minute documentary about Jerry Seinfeld. Its title—"Jerry Seinfeld, Submarine Captain"—refers to his absolute devotion to the show during its nine-season run. There are two "Sein-Imations" (stick-figure animations based on dialogue from the show) called "The Del Boca Vista Express" and "Pinky Toe's Wild Ride," and a lengthy blooper reel. Because Seinfeld dropped the stand-up segments at the beginning and end of each episode in order to lighten his own production load during the Davidless Season Eight, there are no "Master of His Domain" unused stand-up segments as on previous season sets.
Nearly a decade after it left the airwaves, Seinfeld remains the funniest network television sitcom ever. Period. (Don't argue. Don't send hate mail.) Season Eight isn't the apex of the series (that would be Season Four), but it's a heck of a lot funnier than most of what passes for comedy on network television.
Try Seinfeld: Season Eight. It's gold! Gold!
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• Yada, Yada, Yada (Audio Commentaries)
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