One of the most popular sitcoms of all times, "Seinfeld" probably would not have lasted had it aired today. However, NBC was able to see a small cult audience gathering around the show when the pilot first aired in 1989, and although the first couple of seasons didn't exactly light up the ratings - or were they the best moments of the series - the sitcom eventually began to gather some serious steam.
Despite my notation that the series didn't exactly start well, that doesn't mean that there aren't some definite highlights within these first two seasons. The pilot starts things off on shaky ground when Jerry has a woman come to stay with him, only to find out that she has a boyfriend. Although it's fun to see that Kramer's original name was Kessler here, the pilot is otherwise pretty unfunny. The next real highlight is "Stock Tip", which is one of the funniest early moments from Michael Richards as Kramer. When Jerry and George go in on a stock tip, Kramer hovers over Jerry, predicting the worst.
Another favorite from the early going is "The Pony Remark", which really shows a lot of the inventiveness and spark that the show would fill out in the later seasons. In the episode, Jerry offends a fellow dinner guest when he makes a minor joke about how kids have ponies. She gets completely offended, yelling about how she had a pony when she was a kid. When she dies, Jerry ponders whether he had anything to do with it and whether or not he should go to the funeral or to his softball game. There's a discussion here about whether the dead woman's watching him from above or whether she'd have other things to do late in the episode that's very funny.
The next great episode doesn't come too far after. "The Jacket" has Elane's author father, Alton Benes (Laurence Tierney) coming to town. Elane is late to the meeting, forcing Jerry and George to sit in uncomfortable, hilarious silence with Elane's stone-faced, gruff father. When Jerry is afraid his jacket will be ruined by the snow, he turns it inside out - the colorful lining doesn't go over well with Elane's father - who forces him to turn it back. Kramer, of course, then gets a new freebee.
The hits keep coming with the next episode, "The Message", where George leaves nasty messages on a girlfriend's answering machine. When George finds out that - no surprise - he was wrong about her, he and Jerry scheme to switch the tape in the machine without her knowing. "The Statue" is a funny episode about George finally being able to replace a statue of his parents' that he broke years ago. The ending, however, doesn't sit well - although George always finds that the cards don't land in his favor, this one seems even a bit too abruptly mean towards the poor guy.
"The Revenge" (George wants to get back at his boss by slipping him a "mickey"), "The Heart Attack" (George thinks he has a heart attack in the diner, but argues the bill - in pure George fashion - right before he's taken away. George then doesn't have much luck with alternative medicine), "The Baby Shower" (Jerry is convinced by Kramer that illegal cable is the right thing) and "The Deal" (Jerry and Elaine try to figure out a way to have this - and that) are average episodes, getting together a few laughs, but not really entirely successful. Maybe I've just seen these episodes too often in syndication.
"The Chinese Restaurant" is one of the more widely discussed episodes of the series, as it focuses entirely on the everyday task of waiting for a table, but it's also not one of my favorites. The series has been so good over the years about constructing multiple stories out of a single episode that this more uneventful episode seems a bit lackluster in comparison. "The Busboy" isn't one of the finer moments, either.
While there are some mis-steps in these early episodes, there are still certainly some great bits and the show does offer a look here at what it would become when the characters started to become more well-defined and the stories more consistent.
All 18 episodes from the first two seasons: The Seinfeld Chronicles (pilot), The Robbery, The Stakeout, Male Unbonding, The Stock Tip, The Ex-Girlfriend, The Pony Remark, The Jacket, The Phone Message, The Apartment, The Statue, The Revenge, The Heart Attack, The Deal, The Baby Shower, The Chinese Restaurant, The Busboy.
VIDEO: "Seinfeld" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame throughout this first year. The episodes have been remasted for this DVD release, and the results are really quite good. Having watched these episodes in syndication a great many times, I'll definitely note that the picture quality is an improvement over broadcast. Sharpness and detail seem quite good, as the picture often appeared noticably more well-defined than the episodes of the show I watch during dinner most nights.
The picture showed little in the way of real concerns. A little bit of wear - a couple of specks - appeared on the elements used at times, but these instances were certainly brief and not a distraction. Some slight shimmer and a trace or two of pixelation were noticed, but these issues were certainly minor. Colors remained bright and vivid, seemingly stronger and more saturated than the broadcast episodes I've seen lately, which look a tad washed-out in comparison.
SOUND: "Seinfeld" is presented in Dolby 2.0 on the DVDs. The sound quality is perfectly fine, with clear dialogue. The dialogue and laugh track seemed nicely balanced, while the occasional hints of music seemed crisp and full. Overall, a perfectly fine effort - nothing to write home about, but no problems, either.
EXTRAS: Although there was a fairly big issue with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David against Dreyfuss, Richards and Alexander about the cast's profit participation with the DVDs, that has been worked out and we hear from Seinfeld's co-stars here.
star/producer Jerry Seinfeld and writer/producer Larry David participate in commentaries for "The Stake Out" and "The Deal". Actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards and Jason Alexander offer their comments for "The Busboy" and "The Revenge", while writer Larry Charles comments during "The Heart Attack" and "The Baby Shower". The commentaries aren't up to what I was really expecting for these tracks, unfortunately. All occasionally throw out some interesting production tidbits (such as Charles talking about how the original ideas for "The Heart Attack" sometimes differed in comparison to the final episode), but there's a lot of fairly uneventful chatter and some pauses of silence throughout the tracks.
The biggest disappointment is the Alexander, Richards and Dreyfuss commentaries, as the three really don't seem to have a whole lot to say. The trio of actors occasionally laugh and throw out a comment or two on what's going on in the episode currently, but they don't have much of interest to offer. Seinfeld and David offer some funny moments and a couple of decent production tidbits.
Much more informative is "How It All Began", a documentary that runs a little over an hour. The documentary starts off following Seinfeld's early years in comedy, then how he and David began to collaborate, eventually coming up with the idea for the show. These early moments have Seinfeld himself going through different parts of New York and talking about how the concepts between him and David got started - for example, David walked out of his job at "Saturday Night Live", only to realize it was a bad decision. That idea turned into the episode, "The Revenge". Once the two eventually get a foothold at NBC/Castle Rock, we're lead through the obstacles and problems that the two encountered, such as casting, test audiences that didn't care for the show and finally, a network that was going to let the show go if it wasn't for a few champions at the network.
On the negative side of network dealings, we also hear about how David and Seinfeld had to deal with some network notes that they didn't accept. They also wanted more control of the series, but they weren't going to get that until if the show got picked up. David is also amusing throughout the documentary, as he talks about just wanting to get the first presentation done, get paid and get back to New York. He couldn't imagine doing full seasons of it.
We then are presented with three "Tonight Show" appearances - two from Seinfeld, one from Richards. "Sponsored by Vandelay Industries" offers a series of promos/trailers for the series. These are fun to watch, as they're remarkably cheesy. Most of the episodes have brief "Inside Look" making-of featurettes. There's also the very informative "Notes About Nothing" subtitle fact-track that one can enable while watching the episodes. In addition, there's also a photo gallery.
Finally, there's also bloopers, additional stand-up material, a trailer for "Spider-Man 2" and deleted scenes for five episodes. There is also a Gift Set, with seasons 1-3 and extras like a screenplay.
Final Thoughts: "Seinfeld" fans finally get to own at least part of the series (seasons 1,2 and 3 are now available), and Columbia/Tristar has done a very nice job. The presentation's audio/video quality is solid, while the majority of the supplements are informative and entertaining. A definite recommendation.