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Seinfeld Seasons 1-3 DVD Review

Seinfeld Seasons 1-3

May 29, 2005

Director: Jason Alexander, Tom Cherones, David Steinberg, Joshua White,
Starring: Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, Jason Alexander, Richard Fancy, Estelle Harris, Richard Herd, Wayne Knight, Len Lesser, Barney Martin, John O'Hurley, Liz Sheridan, Jerry Stiller, Heidi Swedberg, Patrick Warburton, ,

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DVD Review

Forget Friends – this is the iconic US sitcom of the 90’s, finally released on DVD with a bounty of special features that even George Costanza couldn’t fault.

Before Will & Grace made bitching bitchy and Friends friendly, Seinfeld set the template for the modern sitcom: A handful of main characters who live in each others’ pockets and, through every fault of their own, wind up destroying relationships, gifts and just about anything they come into contact with. If Cheers was the wedding of how sitcoms would progress over the following two decades, Seinfeld was the honeymoon made in heaven.

Larry David (who would go on to have a solo hit with Curb Your Enthusiasm) and stand-up Jerry Seinfeld created a show that was simple but universal: Have four neurotics whine about the everyday things in life that bug them. The pilot from 1989 is a prime example: Jerry and George are waiting at the airport for Jerry’s friend, discussing how Jerry should interpret how the woman will greet him. If she shakes his hand it’s bad, says George. If she hugs him, that’s good…Just so long as it’s a proper hug and not the ‘shoulders touching but the hips are eight feet apart’ hug.

Elaine emerges in the first real episode of the four-episode-long first season (pay attention 007), and it takes a good seven shows before the Elaine we know and love starts to blossom, running around her apartment like the Tazmanian Devil trying to make sure her annoying boyfriend catches his plane home (“He’s a really nice person, but I just can’t stand him!”). Likewise George, ultimately the most selfish member of the quartet, has yet to find his dark side. Viewers who only fell in love with the show mid-way through thanks to the BBC’s shoddy scheduling will be shocked to see him actually trying to help out a busboy who loses his job. Jerry’s neighbour, the twitchathon that is Kramer, also hasn’t yet discovered his trademark penchant for door-sliding…

If the first series struggles for laughs and has poor structure, it’s still fascinating to watch the characters finding their feet. Jerry’s stand-up routines are present from the get go, but as the series progresses, less time is given to them and they are relegated to the opening and closing credits. Moving into season two (fourteen episodes long), everybody begins to settle into their roles and the writing improves (notably in The Busboy episode where two story strands merge at the end; something that would become another Seinfeld trademark). The wit was evident in the pilot, but now we start to get labyrinthine plots to tie it all together. And the episodes always revolve around the silliest little things, which somehow makes it all the more amusing. Example: Jerry buys an expensive suede jacket but it’s snowing outside and the only option to save the suede is to turn said jacket inside out. Of course, the lining is awful and Elaine’s terrifying father won’t be seen dead with him…

Series three continues with the now successful formula of nothingness, with every one of the twenty-two episodes a winner. Witness the absurd ‘The Pen’, where Jerry ends up with two black eyes and Elaine keeps screaming “Stellaaaaah!” at a family dinner because she’s overdosed on the happy pills, or the JFK spoof in ‘The Boyfriend’ which, though thirteen years old, stills hits the funny bone as if Oliver Stone’s film had just come out yesterday. The list just goes on. You can even spot tiny roles by future stars such as Peter Krause (Six Feet Under), Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) and, um, Janis from Friends.

Yes, sometimes George stops being funny and just becomes homicidally irritating and, let’s face it, what the hell is Elaine doing hanging around with three weird blokes? But what it boils down to is that Larry and Jerry took the usual topical stand-up routine and morphed it into a hugely successful sitcom that never bowed down to studio interference and stubbornly did things its own way for the sake of comedy. Only the bad clothes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus suffers the most in this regard) prevent Seinfeld from being called timeless, but in retrospect this 90’s shoulder-pad nostalgia only adds to the show’s charm. Roll on seasons four to nine.

Special Features:

Now this is more like it! Just about everything you could ever want to know about Seinfeld is included here, spread out over the six discs. There are various episode commentaries split between creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, and stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards and Jason Alexander, who all willingly poke fun at their dated wardrobes and recount the stories behind the stories (did you know that the majority of episodes were based on real incidents; so much so that Jason Alexander modeled George entirely on Larry David’s sudden bursts of pointless outrage?).

Each episode comes with an ‘Inside Look’ featurette, which interviews cast and crew about what they remember about that particular storyline. There are also deleted/alternate scenes, ‘Notes About Nothing’ trivia tracks and archive footage, such as Jerry Seinfeld’s debut on Saturday Night Live in the 80’s. The outtakes are so vast that they are split into two sections and are particularly funny thanks to the ‘physical comedy genius’ that is Michael Richards (Dreyfus’ reaction to him slamming his head against a door is just priceless).

All of the anecdotes and recollections about the show are neatly brought together in the ‘How It All Began’ documentary, which is split into three sections and covers everything from how the brief first series was commissioned (the pilot was funny but NBC insisted they add a lead female character, thus Elaine was born) right through to the present day as Jerry gives us a personal tour of the New York locations where ideas for the show originated. Due to the sheer wealth of information on each disc, some stories are inevitably repeated from the commentaries and Inside Look’s, but they’re usually worth hearing more than once. Special mention must also go to the layout of the menus which, as well as being easy to navigate and wonderfully designed, allow you to watch all the special features in one lump or by the individual episode.

“Boy, these pretzels are making me thirsty.” Sums it up perfectly, don’t you think?

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 99%

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