Seinfeld. One name, one
long-running show, one high bar for all television comedy to live up
to. It's not the only show to be about "nothing," in the
sense that it simply follows the daily (mis)adventures of a group of
ordinary people (fairly dysfunctional people, but then, who's not?).
But what makes Seinfeld brilliant is more than the concept,
it's the execution. Where else have we seen scripts that are
consistently so insanely... well, brilliant? Even a wildly successful
show like Friends (clearly a Seinfeld imitator) doesn't
come even close. Where else is the casting so spot-on? It's
impossible to imagine anyone else playing Kramer, George, or
Elaine... or, for that matter, Newman, or the Costanzas, or
half-a-dozen other secondary characters who seem to be played by
actors who were born for the role. What other comedy manages to be so
memorable in so many episodes?
So, you've noticed I'm a big
Seinfeld fan? You know, you're right! (And that's a sentence
worthy of an exclamation point.)
After a very solid start in Seasons
1 and 2, Seasons 3 and 4 pushed Seinfeld into classic
territory. The question in Seasons 5 and 6 is then whether the show
could keep up the energy and creativity that had made it shine so
far. The short answer is "Yes"; the long answer is the rest
of this review.
Let's take a look at the ingredients
that make for two classic seasons, starting with Season 5. Right
away, in "The Puffy Shirt," we get a generous helping of
classic Seinfeld elements. George is still broke and looking
for a job, and ends up becoming a hand model. Kramer has a
"low-talking" girlfriend... and Jerry inadvertently agrees
to wear a puffy pirate shirt in his Today Show appearance. Hm.
If you've never seen Seinfeld, that might sound like a rather prosaic
episode summary, but in fact, this is Seinfeld, and it works
like a charm, with George's insecure personality on display (always
with hilarious results) and much of the plot of the episode taken up
with the absurdities resulting from social miscommunication. We can
also see that Seinfeld kept pushing the envelope of what was
allowed on television (remember the lesbian wedding in Season 3's
"The Subway"?) with great results: here, a major element of
"The Mango" is nothing less than female orgasm (and the
faking thereof). The show could have played it conservatively with
the opening episode of a new season, but instead they stepped right
out into whatever comic territory seemed right for the show, and
never mind any prudes in the audience.
One of the great things about
Seinfeld is the story structure, which by now is in its fully
developed form, so that each episode interweaves three or four
different threads into the same story. I think this is really the
core reason why Seinfeld is so funny: Jerry Seinfeld and Larry
David have the confidence of a seemingly boundless imagination, so
they have the confidence that there are plenty more great ideas in
the pipeline. With that in mind, they're generous with using
fantastic storylines for only one-third or maybe one-fifth of a
half-hour episode, when a less creative show would try to milk just
that one storyline for a full episode. The saying "less is more"
ends up being very applicable here: the small amount of on-screen
time devoted to each storyline means that each one is concentrated to
the funniest parts, with no fluff and no padding. Consider "The
Pie": not only is it a classic episode (Jerry's girlfriend
mysteriously refuses to have a bite of his pie, which of course
drives him crazy) but it has enough story material in it to feel like
at least two episodes, not even counting the side story with George.
The final result is that each full
episode is fast-paced and crammed to the gills with real comedy, and
even the "side" storylines are extremely memorable. Look,
for instance, at "The Sniffing Accountant" (a solid episode
whose title refers to Jerry's dilemma: is his accountant a drug
user?) One of the most memorable bits is Elaine's fight with her
boyfriend over the proper way to convey important news in a
jotted-down phone message. Short and sweet, it plays on the unspoken
"rules" of social communication, or rather
Season 5 continues to make great use
of the backstories of the characters and references to past episodes.
Jerry continues to have problems with girlfriends... as always...
while Kramer sails along in his peculiar way, having all sorts of
adventures that could only happen to Kramer. George's problems in
finding a job provide a rich vein to mine (as in "The Barber"),
but we also continue to see his obsession with the perfect parking
space. The two-part episode "The Raincoats" moves in to
take full advantage of the characters, as we get Jerry's parents
trying to avoid George's parents, along with Kramer's plan to sell
Morty's raincoats, and (of course) a handful of other plot threads.
As Seinfeld really hits its
stride, the multiple episode threads become increasingly related to
each other, as well. For instance, "The Cigar Store Indian"
ties together several incidents with the use of a TV Guide and
a coffee table connection. "The Marine Biologist" has to go
down as one of the classic Seinfelds of all time, with George
masquerading as a marine biologist, and then having that plot point
eventually tie into Kramer's attempt to improve his golf swing. "The
Hamptons" (again, one of the all-time classics) has the whole
group on a vacation to the Hamptons, where everyone seems to have
problems, most notably George with "shrinkage" after
swimming, and Elaine with the issue of how to describe a very ugly
baby. And let's not forget "The Opposite," in which George
decides to do the opposite of everything that he would normally do,
Kramer promotes his coffee-table book, and Elaine has serious
misadventures with Jujyfruits.
Seinfeld fans will be
interested to know that the Season 5 episode "The Non-Fat
Yogurt" appears here in both its original version (with
references to New York's mayor, Giulani, in the plot thread
devoted to the mayoral race) and the alternate, slightly longer
version used in syndication (with references to Mayor
Dinkins instead). The default is the original, but the alternate can be
selected from the episode menu.
Season 6 has all the good qualities
of Season 5, with a batch of fresh stories. OK, we do get saddled
with two clip-show episodes in "Highlights of a Hundred" 1
and 2, which are much less interesting when the viewer has just
recently watched all the previous episodes, but that's the only blip
in a season that otherwise is in classic territory. George has his
job with the Yankees now, with various job-related plot twists coming
up in episodes like "The Chaperone" and "The
Secretary." "The Race" is another memorable
multi-thread episode, as Jerry is challenged to a race rematch
against an old rival, and Elaine gets blacklisted from a Chinese
restaurant, and George gets into more trouble at work. "The
Label Maker" is likewise difficult to summarize but is packed to
the brim with great material, from regifting issues, to "The
Drake," to Kramer and Newman's game of Risk. The season
warms up even more in the second half, with Elaine trying to convert
a gay man in "The Beard," the invention of the "Bro"
(or is it the "Manssiere"?) in "The Doorman," the
appearance of the eponymous "Fusilli Jerry," and the
introduction of Mr. Peterman in "The Understudy. "
But of course, as any Seinfeld
fan knows, just pointing out a few particularly memorable threads in
a bare handful of episodes is just scratching the surface. It's not
just the stories or the jokes, it's the way everything is woven
together, constantly using references from previous episodes. You
don't have to catch any of those references or running back-story
jokes to find the episodes hilarious, but once you've followed the
episodes closely enough that you do catch them, there's a whole other
level of humor in the show. I think that's what makes Seinfeld
a show that gets better with time. It's not just funny, it's clever;
it's not just well written, it's intelligent. Who knows how many
times I've seen these episodes? They just get better and better with
additional viewing, and that's far from something that holds true for
just any series, even a really good one.
The following are the episode lists
for each season. Episodes with commentary tracks are listed in bold.
All the episodes are the original full-length network versions, not
the truncated syndicated ones. The episodes are arranged in
production order, not air date order.
Season 5 (1993-1994)
The Mango (Michael
Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander)
The Glasses (writers Tom
Gammill and Max Pross)
The Puffy Shirt
The Sniffing Accountant
The Lip Reader (writers
Peter Mehlman and Carol Leifer)
The Non-Fat Yogurt
The Cigar Store Indian
(writers Tom Gammill and Max Pross)
The Dinner Party
The Marine Biologist
(director/producer Tom Cherones and production designer Tom
The Pie (writers Tom
Gammill and Max Pross)
The Raincoats (parts 1 and 2)
The Hamptons (writers Peter
Mehlman and Carol Leifer)
The Opposite (Jerry
Seinfeld and Larry David)
Season 6 (1994-1995)
The Big Salad
The Pledge Drive
The Chinese Woman
The Gymnast (Jerry
Seinfeld, director Andy Ackerman, and writers Alec Berg and Jeff
The Mom & Pop Store
(writers Tom Gammill and Max Pross)
The Race (Jerry Seinfeld
and director Andy Ackerman)
The Label Maker (writers
Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer)
Highlights of 100 (parts 1 and 2)
The Beard (Jason Alexander
and Julia Louis-Dreyfus)
The Kiss Hello
The Doorman (writers Tom
Gammill and Max Pross)
The Fusilli Jerry (Jason
Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus)
The Diplomat's Club (writers
Tom Gammill and Max Pross)
The Face Painter
The Seinfeld Season 5 & 6
Giftset contains the two separately packaged season sets, exactly
as they're sold separately, plus the extra script and "Puffy
Shirt" collectible. Once the shrink wrap is taken off, all the
pieces are separate, with no overall slipcase, so cosmetically
there's no difference between the Giftset and the season sets bought
Seinfeld Season 5 and Season
6 continue the trend of the earlier seasons in terms of transfer
quality. The image has a touch of grain and looks a bit soft in
longer-distance shots, but otherwise it looks bright, clean, and
crisp. Close-up shots in particular look excellent, and colors are
rich and vibrant across the board. Seeing some clips of the episodes
in non-remastered form in the special features drives home the point
that this is the best we've seen Seinfeld: the transfers have
obviously been cleaned up very well for their release on DVD. All the
episodes appear in their original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
Like the video transfer, the
soundtrack provides a solid, high-quality experience. The dialogue is
always clean, clear, and distinct, which is an absolute necessity for
a show like this. The overall sound balance of the Dolby 2.0 track is
handled well, and though I'm never a big fan of laugh tracks, the one
for Seinfeld is kept in appropriate balance to the rest of the
track. A dubbed French soundtrack is also provided, along with
English closed captions and French, Portuguese, and Spanish
I have to give credit to the
producers of the DVD sets: the quality of the special features
continues to be high, with a generous quantity of extra material that
(more importantly) provides an interesting look deeper into the show.
To begin with, there are a number of commentary tracks for each
season, which I've noted in the episode lists above. Each episode
also has the "Notes About Nothing" feature, which pops up
text information about the episode as it plays.
For the rest of the features, let's
take a look at the sets disc by disc.
Season 5 Disc 1: Here we
start off with a 25-minute featurette called "Jason + Larry =
George," filling in the details on the creation of the character
of George. Next up are "Inside Look" featurettes for "The
Puffy Shirt," "The Mango," "The Glasses,"
and "The Sniffing Accountant," running 19 minutes in all.
About five minutes of deleted scenes are included for "The
Glasses," "The Mango," and "The Puffy Shirt,"
along with a set of promotional television spots for the show.
Season 5 Disc 2: Eight
minutes of unshown stand-up comedy material from Jerry Seinfeld
appears here, along with "Inside Looks" (totaling nine
minutes) for "The Lip Reader," "The Non-Fat Yogurt,"
and "The Barber." A deleted scene for "The Non-Fat
Yogurt" also appears.
Season 5 Disc 3: 21 minutes
of "Inside Look" material appears here, for "The
Conversion," "The Stall," "The Marine Biologist,"
"The Pie," and "The Stand-in." We also get eight
minutes of deleted scenes for "The Conversion," "The
Stall," "The Marine Biologist," and "The Pie."
Season 5 Disc 4: A set of
bloopers (quite funny) runs 13 minutes, and is followed up by "Inside
Looks" for "The Fire," "The Raincoats," "The
Hamptons," and "The Opposite" (17 minutes in total)
and six minutes of deleted scenes for "The Fire," "The
Raincoats," and "The Opposite."
Season 6 Disc 1: A
substantial, 33-minute featurette appears here: "Running with
the Egg: Making a Seinfeld" provides an interesting look
at the creation of a Seinfeld episode from start to finish.
After that, we move on to "Inside Looks" for "The
Chaperone," "The Big Salad," "The Pledge Drive,"
and "The Couch" (running a total of 13 minutes). There's
also a ten-minute set of deleted scenes for "The Chaperone,"
"The Big Salad," "The Chinese Woman," "The
Couch," and "The Gymnast."
Season 6 Disc 2: Another
quite funny set of bloopers is included here, running 22 minutes.
There's also a 12-minute set of "Inside Looks" for "The
Mom & Pop Store," "The Soup," "The Switch,"
"The Race," and "The Label Maker," and an
11-minute set of deleted scenes for the same episodes. A short
animated version of part of a Seinfeld episode is also
included, called "Sein-imation: The Big Race."
Season 6 Disc 3: Another of
those odd "Sein-imations" appears here, this time called
"Seinfeld Noir. " Apart from that short clip, we
have six minutes of additional stand-up material from Seinfeld,
"Inside Looks" for "The Kiss Hello" and "The
Doorman" (six minutes), and three minutes of deleted scenes from
"The Scofflaw," "The Beard," and "The
Doorman." There's also a short introduction by Jerry Seinfeld to
the "Highlights of 100" episode.
Season 6 Disc 4: One more
peculiar "Sein-imation" appears here ("Kramer vs. the
Monkey"), and then we get to the "Inside Looks" for
"The Jimmy," "The Fusilli Jerry," "The
Diplomat's Club," "The Face Painter," and "The
Understudy" (23 minutes in total). Seven minutes of deleted
scenes are also included for "The Jimmy," "The
Doodle," "The Diplomat's Club," "The Face
Painter," and "The Understudy."
Extra bonus material for the gift
set: If you buy the Season 5 & 6 Giftset instead of buying
the sets separately, you get two other special items: a replica of a
handwritten rough draft of an episode script, and a miniature puffy
shirt in a plastic display case. Neither of these two items really
adds much value to the package; the puffy shirt just seems like a
silly wanna-be collectible item with no particular aesthetic value,
and the script isn't nearly as interesting as the video special
features. Unless you are a die-hard Seinfeld geek, there's nothing in
the gift set that makes it better than buying the season sets
There's no getting around it:
Seinfeld is the king of comedy shows, even (perhaps
especially) more than ten years later. As fresh, creative, and funny
as always, Seasons 5 and 6 showcase Seinfeld at its best. With
a nice transfer and a solid package of special features, there's
absolutely no reason to hesitate on picking up these sets. The extra
items (script and miniature puffy shirt) that are packaged with the
"gift set" are nothing special, so I would say that you
have your choice of whether to buy the sets separately or together.
In any case, it's very easy to review the two seasons at the same
time, because they are both equally outstanding and both would get
the "DVDTalk Collector Series" rating, whether considered
individually or together.