Judge David Johnson is master of his domain.
Our reviews of 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), Seinfeld: Season Eight (published May 30th, 2007), and Seinfeld: The Complete Series (published November 6th, 2007) are also available.
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In 1990, then little-known comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David launched an unorthodox approach to the sitcom genre. Originally titled The Seinfeld Chronicles, the show was going to be a stand-in for Saturday Night Live one night. Eventually, the program was chopped into four separate episodes and played on the highly sought-after Thursday night time slot. Following some merely okay ratings but vigorous support from some NBC executives, Seinfeld was picked up for a thirteen-episode second season. Television history commenced.
Facts of the Case
The first volume of the Seinfeld DVD collection includes both Season One and Season Two, and the pilot, totaling 18 episodes:
Seinfeld is far and away the most compulsively rewatchable television show I have ever known. Strolling through channels, when I stumble upon an episode—any episode—on any of the multiple syndication outlets I immediately settle in for the half hour. It's just one of those shows that hits a pitch-perfect note for me, scratches that itch, fits like a new suit, and any other cliché you can drum up that means "I like it a lot."
Like any other show, it took Seinfeld some time before it really found its stride and developed the crazy stories and characters it would become legendary for. For that reason, the early seasons on this volume reflect the whole niche-finding process a burgeoning show must endure in its early years. However, the shows on these four discs do foreshadow the genius that is yet to arrive, and contain many fantastic moments themselves. Season One sets the table for the tasty appetizers that Season Two will bring, all as a preamble to the sumptuous feast of the subsequent seasons.
The characters are finding their footing as well. Although not yet as defined as they will later be (understandably), Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Kramer (Michael Richards), and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are not short on the chemistry. Jerry in these early shows is more the straight man, whose laughs derive from his jokes and his riffing on his friends; his supercilious, shallow ways are yet to fully reveal themselves. George's neuroses will later become the stuff of legend, but here he is more Jerry's foil than anything else. Julia Louis-Dreyfus infuses her Elaine with a hint of the sass we'll come to expect (though there is little mention of her, er, sociability). And the K-man himself is quirky but not the over-the-top eccentric he'll become (though his scene in "The Revenge" where he pours concrete into a washing machine to get back at the shady owner is vintage Michael Richards physical comedy).
Granted, I prefer the later episodes in the series, but even in its embryonic years Seinfeld is funnier that most any other sitcom currently on the air. It is obvious that Larry David is still finding his writing groove with these episodes, and won't start hitting it out of the park until the show adopts the branching-storyline-where-anything-goes format, but again, it's early, and it's still pretty good.
This set contains lots of interesting and pivotal moments in the Seinfeld mythology: We catch a glimpse of Philip Bruns as Morty Seinfeld in "The Stakeout." In the same episode, George unveils two ongoing trademarks: the ubiquitous Art Vandelay, who sometimes imports and exports, and George's obsession with being an architect. Larry David has a few cameos, one as the voice of a pre–Wayne Knight Newman and the other as a crazy actor in a B-movie in "The Heart Attack"; and we get a little exposition on the Jerry-Elaine dynamic (interestingly, the creators never expected to get a third season, so the final episode of the second, "The Deal," where Jerry and Elaine try to formulate options to have sex and stay friends, was meant as a series capper).
Plus, you'll get "The Pony Remark" episode in this set, one of my favorite episodes of the whole series. "Who leaves a country packed with ponies for a non-pony country?!" Classic.
The episodes have been remastered and they all look great. These are the episodes as they originally aired, not the syndicated versions, and the transfers (in the original full-frame aspect ratio) are sharp and clean. They certainly don't look 15 years old. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is full and effective enough for a sitcom.
Sony has unleashed this clamored-for DVD release loaded with stuff. First, the set looks great. The artwork featuring the actors is simple and eye-pleasing; each disc case sports a close-up of one of the quartet. The front end of these DVDs is very cool. Each disc sports a different Seinfeld locale as the start-up menu. Each disc also boasts its own crop of special features—and there are plenty of them. Episodes feature a brief "inside look" where folks associated with the episodes offer some back story about the plot and the filming process (you'd be surprised at how many of these stories are rooted in Larry David's real life). "Notes About Nothing" reveals even more about the inspiration for the shows through a special text track.
There are only a handful of audio commentaries, but what's here is cool. The highlights are listening to the cast's recollections. Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards record tracks that, while not really rich or loaded with anecdotes, are still a treat because, well, it's frickin' George and Elaine and Kramer! (By the way, Michael Richards is strikingly subdued in the tracks, with Jason Alexander shouldering most of the burden of keeping the conversation rolling.) Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld also do a commentary, and unfortunately they don't talk nearly enough, until the end of the episode when they run out of time. It is priceless, though, to hear them make fun of their own writing, pacing, and wardrobe. (Larry David: "Well, that was like a school play.")
The high point of the bonus materials is the hour-long documentary on how the show came to be. "How It Began" features interviews with all the primary movies and shakers, form NBC executives to Jerry and Larry to the rest of the cast members. It's a great feature, funny and informative; hearing Larry David talk about openly weeping every time the series was picked up for another season is worth the retail price all by itself.
Some deleted scenes, a lengthy blooper reel, archive footage of Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up comedy, and a bunch of promotional materials round out this substantial offering.
If you're a fan, you own this. If you're not…well, I don't know if I want to talk to you anymore. Sure, the wait was insufferable for this series to make it to the digital world, but the quality that's on display here makes up for it. The only thing that's minimalist about this set is the episode plots.
Not guilty. You better believe it, buddy.
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