What's the #1 title on your "Most Wanted" list? Was it Star
Wars? The Godfather trilogy? The Matrix? All those
releases came and went, and sure, I was glad to see them, but they
were just somewhere in the top 10 of my personal Most Wanted list.
Firmly lodged in the #1 slot for years has been one show that's the
epitome of great comedy – of great television, in fact –
a show about... nothing. In a word: Seinfeld.
So it was with greedy delight that I tore off the shrink-wrap on the
first volume of my personal Holy Grail of DVD. (It was in my house
for a whole five minutes or so before the first disc went into the
DVD player.) And there I was, feet propped up on the coffee table,
laughing my head off at the most brilliant comedy ever to make its
way to television. It doesn't matter that I've seen these episodes
half a dozen times already, and can anticipate all the jokes; they're
still just as flat-out hilarious as the very first time I saw them.
Maybe they're even funnier, since my viewing experience is balanced
between delighted enjoyment of the episode and delightful
anticipation of what's to come.
Is there anyone reading this review who doesn't know what Seinfeld
is about? Well, there were a few people who hadn't seen Star Wars
before it came to DVD, so maybe there are a few deprived souls who've
never seen Seinfeld. (You're in for a treat.) In a nutshell,
Seinfeld is about the lives of a handful of rather neurotic
characters: Jerry Seinfeld (playing himself), George Costanza (Jason
Alexander), Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus),
and Kramer (Michael Richards). But these characters don't have
"adventures" in the typical television way. Instead, they
run into all sorts of difficulties just trying to manage their
romantic relationships, friendships, and just life in general.
Part of the genius of Seinfeld is that it pokes fun at the
bizarre nature of daily life: all the little contradictions and
absurdities that we put up with, all the uncertainty and potential
for disaster that lurks beneath even the simplest human relationship
(doubly so for romantic relationships). The fact that two of the
characters (Jerry and George) are tremendously insecure only broadens
the range of potential targets for the show's humor, as they bring
into focus all the little things that we better-adjusted (we hope)
folks secretly obsess about or bluff our way through. Whether it's
interpreting a vague phone call from a potential girlfriend ("Good
News, Bad News"), disentangling oneself from an unwanted
friendship ("Male Unbonding"), offending an elderly
relative ("The Pony Remark"), or dealing with a fashion faux
pas ("The Jacket"), Seinfeld gives us permission to laugh
our heads off at the utter absurdity that's lurking below the surface
in everyday life.
But another element of Seinfeld's brilliance is its writing,
which is spot-on. Having the main character be a comedian certainly
opens the door to a lot of wisecracks and witty remarks in the
episodes, but it wouldn't work unless those remarks were genuinely
funny. And they are. Combine the great humor in the dialogue with the
brilliantly absurd plots, and voila! Seinfeld is born.
The first two seasons of Seinfeld contain a surprising number
of great episodes. Why surprising? Because it's just amazing that a
show that ended up being the greatest comedy series of all time (in
this reviewer's not-so-humble opinion) got it right from the
beginning... and then got even better in later seasons.
Seinfeld starts out on a solid note with the first few
episodes, including the pilot. While Seinfeld fans will amuse
themselves by noticing the elements that are inconsistent with the
later episodes (Jerry's apartment looks different, and Kramer is
described as the guy who never leaves the apartment building), the
overall feel of the show is spot-on. In fact, all four of the Season
1 episodes are excellent. What's not to like about an episode like
"The Stakeout," in which (among other things) we are
witness to the invention of George's alter ego, Art Vandelay (and his
Season 2 is also fairly short, with only 13 episodes, but they're
very good indeed. "The Pony Remark" is perhaps the best of
this season, with Jerry accidentally offending an elderly guest at a
dinner party (with interesting consequences). George lives up to his
reputation as incompetent in dealing with women in "The Phone
Message," and Elaine starts to experience some job problems in
"The Statue." Speaking of employment troubles, "The
Revenge" is the start of many great episodes focusing on
George's troubles with finding (and keeping) a job; here, he's in a
tizzy because he's been demoted to using the regular bathroom at
work. "The Apartment" is a prime example of how an episode
can be about "nothing" and yet be extremely funny. What
happens here? Kramer experiments with using mousse in his hair,
George tries to meet women, Jerry considers what it would be like to
have Elaine take an apartment in his building. You wouldn't think
that's prime material for a comedy show, would you? But it's not what
the episodes are about (nothing!) but how they're told that counts.
About the only episode that doesn't really live up to its promise is
"The Chinese Restaurant," although this one seems to be a
fan favorite; personally, I think its static nature makes it feel a
Seinfeld certainly hit the ground running, but that's not to
say that the series feels exactly the same in these early seasons as
in the later seasons. Logically enough, in Seasons 1 and 2 Seinfeld
is still developing: fleshing out the main characters and developing
secondary characters who would add so much to the series later on.
The writers also haven't quite fully realized the potential for more
complex plots in each episode: these earlier episodes tend to focus
on one story thread in each episode. One result is that we get more,
and longer, segments of Jerry's stand-up comedy, sometimes intercut
into the middle of the episode as well as at the beginning. Of
course, considering how funny his material is, that's not much of a
drawback... we can enjoy the lighter structure of these episodes
while looking forward to the more tightly constructed later episodes
that draw all of their humor from within the story world.
I'll go ahead and list the episodes that are included in this set:
the names may jog a few more memories and remind you why this set is
worth buying. All the episodes are the full-length, original
episodes, not the slightly shorter syndicated versions. Note that the
episodes are presented in production order, not by air date. This
means that "The Stranded," which was produced in the second
season but not aired until the third season, appears here in the
second season. Episodes with commentary tracks are listed in bold.
Season 1 (1990)
- Pilot (1989)
- Male Unbonding
- The Stakeout (Jerry
Seinfeld and Larry David)
- The Robbery
- The Stock Tip
Season 2 (1991)
- The Ex-Girlfriend
- The Pony Remark
- The Busboy (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael
- The Baby Shower (writer
- The Jacket
- The Chinese Restaurant
- The Phone Message
- The Apartment
- The Stranded
- The Statue
- The Heart Attack (writer Larry Charles)
- The Revenge (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards)
- The Deal (Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David)
I quite like the packaging for Seinfeld. The set's four DVDs
each have a super-slim plastic keepcase, and these four cases fit
into a glossy paperboard slipcase, with another paper slipcover
fitting over the whole thing. It looks stylish, it doesn't take up
too much space, and it's easy to access the discs.
I'm not so thrilled about the menus. Cleverly designed, sure...
user-friendly, not entirely. Spoiler clips play on the main menu
screen, and the menus themselves are decidedly slow to navigate. On
the bright side, though, all the features are clearly labeled and
logically arranged. I also appreciated the liberal use of the "play
all" feature, for the special features as well as the episodes.
Seinfeld appears in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
Considering that these episodes are about 14 years old (how time
flies...) at this point, the transfer looks respectable, though not
as good as I'd have hoped for it to look. The image is bright and
generally free of flaws, though a few speckles make their way onto
the picture; the level of detail is satisfactory, and contrast is
handled well. Colors are very bright and vibrant, with primary colors
sometimes even verging on the too-vivid end of the scale. Depending
on the scene, a moderate amount of edge enhancement is apparent; some
grain also appears. All in all, it's a satisfactory transfer.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack presents the show in a pleasingly clean,
crisp manner. For a show with such an emphasis on verbal wit and
byplay, clear dialogue is essential, and the soundtrack handles it
very well. The Seinfeld theme music is nicely balanced with
the main part of the track, and the laugh track is not too obtrusive.
A substantial amount of bonus material is included in this
set, spread across all four discs. Here's a breakdown of what we get:
Two of the episodes on this disc have different play options. The
pilot can be played in its original version, with the "old"
theme music (this is the default) or in the revised-for-syndication
version, which replaces the music with the same theme that's used in
the later episodes. "The Stakeout" has the option to view
it with a short introductory clip from Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jerry
When it comes to actual bonus content, we start out with a commentary
track for "The Stakeout," with Jerry Seinfeld and
co-creator Larry David. Seinfeld and David provide a reasonable level
of commentary for the episode, though it's clear that it's a little
difficult for them to provide a lot of details for a 14-year-old
episode. Speaking of commentaries, the "Notes about Nothing"
feature toggles on a text commentary track that provides various bits
of trivia about the episodes in the form of subtitles. The Notes
about Nothing are available for all the episodes, and provide a few
interesting snippets of information. They can be selected from the
episode menus, the special features menu, or on the fly by using the
Probably of most interest on this disc is the set of "Inside
Looks": short segments that use interviews with cast and crew to
look behind the scenes for a particular episode. These can be
selected individually, or viewed with a "play all" feature
from the special features menu. Running about 14 minutes in total, we
get segments on the pilot, "Male Unbonding,""The
Stakeout," and "The Robbery."
Commentary tracks for "The Busboy" (Louis-Dreyfus,
Alexander, Richards) and "The Baby Shower" (writer Larry
Charles) appear on this disc. While Charles' commentary is reasonably
interesting, the cast commentary is rather disappointing. The actors
don't seem to have much to say, and there are long periods of
silence. In general, while they try to stir up some banter, it tends
to fall flat, and their commentary is neither particularly
informative nor funny.
Moving on to more satisfying special features, we get a seven-minute
segment of exclusive stand-up comedy from Jerry Seinfeld ("Master
of His Domain"), and the "Inside Looks" section offers
12 minutes of interesting behind-the-scene information on "The
Pony Remark," "The Busboy," "The Baby Shower,"
and "The Jacket."
Two deleted scenes are included here as well (6 minutes), along with
the "Notes about Nothing" feature.
On this disc, viewers have the option to play "The Stranded"
with a very short introductory clip from Jerry Seinfeld, which was
originally created to explain the out-of-continuity nature of this
second-season episode when it was broadcast as part of the third
The "Inside Looks" section continues to be of interest,
with a total of 12 minutes of material on "The Chinese
Restaurant," "The Phone Message," "The
Apartment," and "The Statue." A 13-minute bloopers
section has the merit of being reasonably funny, and viewers will be
interested in the deleted scene from "The Chinese Restaurant"
(1 minute). Once again, we also get "Notes about Nothing"
options for all episodes.
The best special feature of the set appears here: a very interesting
64-minute making-of documentary called "How It Began." This
three-part program (which has a "play all" feature)
features interviews with a number of different people involved in the
creation of Seinfeld, starting back when Seinfeld was a young
stand-up comedian with no television aspirations.
Three commentary tracks appear here as well. "The Heart Attack"
with writer Larry Charles is not bad, but once again the commentary
by Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander, and Richards for "The Revenge"
is rather bland and uninteresting. Fortunately, the commentary on
"The Deal" by Seinfeld and David is a lot more lively and
For more behind-the-scenes insights, we get 11 minutes of "Inside
Looks" for "The Revenge" and "The Deal." A
5-minute deleted scene for "The Heart Attack" is also
included. "Notes about Nothing" are available for all the
episodes as well.
This disc also features both the original and syndicated versions of
"The Revenge," with the difference being that in the original version, Larry David supplies the telephone voice of Newman, while in the syndicated version it's replaced by Wayne Knight's voice to correspond with the rest of the series.
For miscellaneous special features, we get a 19-minute compilation of
"The Tonight Show" appearances: a 1981 and 1990 appearance
by Seinfeld, and a 1989 appearance by Michael Richards. There's a
four-minute segment of NBC promos for the series, a Spiderman 2
trailer (yeah, that's relevant), and a photo gallery.
we've got the first two seasons of Seinfeld available... what
are you waiting for? This is a classic comedy series, and one that
has proved to be amazingly long-lasting and re-watchable. Could you
catch some episodes of Seinfeld as re-runs on TV instead of
buying the DVDs? Sure... but there's nothing that compares to being
able to watch the episodes when you want to, as many times as you
want to, in the right order, without commercials or edits for
syndication. The sound quality is great, and the image looks quite
respectable as well (if not quite as clean as I'd have liked). The
bonus material is nothing to sneeze at, either: Seinfeld fans
will be delighted by the behind-the-scenes and never-before-seen
material that's assembled here. Seinfeld: Seasons 1 & 2 gets a
very robust "highly recommended."