As you know if you've read my reviews of Seasons 1 and 2 and Season 3, Seinfeld is my all-time favorite comedy series. In fact, I'll go boldly out on a limb and say that it's the best comedy television series, ever. Other shows have emulated it, but none have captured the genius of this show about "nothing," with its fantastic writing, consistently hilarious situations, and unforgettable comic characters. Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza, Elaine Benes, and of course the inimitable Kramer, are an ensemble of characters who clicked from the very beginning, and now that the series has fully hit its stride, Season 4 is full of pure comedic gold from start to finish.
Season 4 is "classic Seinfeld" through and through, but oddly enough, it actually starts off in a highly atypical manner. Though the show's funniest moments all revolve around Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine in their daily lives in New York, Season 4 opens with the two-part "The Trip," featuring Jerry and George flying to Los Angeles to look for Kramer (who, as viewers will remember, took off for Hollywood at the end of Season 3). But this is Seinfeld, and though the "away" opening isn't quite as strong as the "home" episodes, that just means it's an ordinary level of funny, rather than extremely funny. After all, we've got George fretting about getting a no-tuck on his hotel bed... Kramer suspected of being a serial killer... Jerry appearing on the Tonight Show while George has "great conversations" with the stars backstage... and plenty of other odd occurrences presented through the wacky perspective of the Seinfeld cast.
Season 4 is unusual for its time in that it features a complete story arc, and even more than that, it's amusingly self-referential: Jerry is approached with the idea that he'll have a show on NBC, and he and George come up with the idea for a sitcom about "nothing," featuring Jerry as himself, and with the other characters based on his friends. "The Pitch" and "The Ticket" get this story arc off to a good start (for the viewers, that is) as Jerry and George discover the liabilities involved in letting George handle the business negotiations for the pilot. Things do keep moving along, with a lot of ups and downs, so that many of the fourth season's episodes play around with the trials and tribulations involved in getting a pilot episode made by a couple of guys with no experience, wrapping up in the season finale, "The Pilot."
When the only way we could watch Seinfeld was in out-of-sequence re-runs, we could only appreciate the episodes for their (ample) stand-alone merit; the charm of those ongoing storylines got lost in the shuffle to a certain extent. Now that the DVD set neatly sorts the episodes back into their original broadcast order once again, it's very apparent how cleverly the whole season is constructed. In addition to the two-part episodes and the episodes dealing with the main story arc, many of the episodes throughout the season make use of references or plot events from earlier episodes. It all ends up working very well, as it helps build up our sense of Seinfeld as taking place in a world that's rich with coincidence and curious characters, and it gives the writers more leeway to play with the wacky situations they've come up with.
The cast of recurring secondary characters also builds: not only do we again see Jerry's parents and Uncle Leo, but we meet George's new girlfriend Susan, as well as meeting George's parents for the first time. (Longtime fans will be interested to know that the DVD includes both versions of "The Handicap Spot," where Mr. Costanza appears for the first time: we get both the original version, with John Randolph in the role, and the re-shot syndicated version, with Jerry Stiller in the role that he'd then continue playing.)
Here in Season 4, with three successful seasons under its belt, Seinfeld is deservedly self-confident; how else could it get away with a story arc that basically lampoons television in general and the production of new television series in particular? But its confidence also shines through in the way that the whole approach of Season 3 is taken to a new level in Season 4. The interwoven storylines that I associate so strongly with Seinfeld are in full form here. Every episode has more than one plot line going on, with the story switching back and forth as the episode proceeds. It's what makes a single half-hour of Seinfeld feel like it has more wacky events and great comedy packed in than in a whole hour of another sitcom.
All the episodes here are great fun, and in fact it's getting harder to select just a few to highlight as stand-outs. Who can forget "The Bubble Boy," in which Jerry and George visit the title character on their way to a holiday in the mountains? "The Contest," with its plot centering around the group's challenge to see who can go the longest without doing "you know," is not only a fan favorite, but also an award winner, as it took home an Emmy for Best Comedy, Writing, and Supporting Actor (for Michael Richards) and a Director's Guild of America award for director Tom Cherones. "The Pick" counts among the most memorable episodes, with its sub-plot involving Elaine's nipple-showing Christmas card. "The Implant" is another favorite, with Jerry trying to figure out if his girlfriend's breasts are, or are not, too good to be true, while George gets in trouble for double-dipping chips at a wake. And who can forget "The Junior Mint," with a girlfriend whose name Jerry has forgotten, an ex-boyfriend whom Elaine is interested in now that he's thin, and, of course, the amazing effects of one misplaced little Junior Mint? But really, it's impossible to capture the appeal of a Seinfeld episode with a plot summary. If you're a fan of the show, you know exactly what I mean... and if you've been living under a rock somewhere and haven't watched Seinfeld, now would be a really good time to start.
Take it from me: Seinfeld is a great show. And Season 4 is a great set of Seinfeld episodes. Just to refresh your memory, here's a list of all the episodes from Season 4. All are the full-length original versions, not the shorter syndicated versions. The episodes with commentary tracks are listed in bold.
Season 4 (1992-1993)
Seinfeld: Season 4 is packaged in the same style as the earlier seasons. The episodes are spread across four DVDs, each in an ultra-slim plastic keepcase inside a glossy paperboard slipcase, which in turn has a slipcover.
Seinfeld: Season 4 appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and it continues to look excellent in its DVD transfer. It's not perfect, as there's some grain here and there (particularly in a few outdoor shots) but overall it's a nicely crisp and clean transfer. Colors look great, and overall it has a fresh and natural appearance.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack provides a clean and pleasing listening experience. The dialogue is always crisp and clear, and the musical score and laugh track are always nicely balanced with the other audio elements. The overall sound is natural and clean. French and Spanish dubbed tracks are also provided, as are English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese subtitles.
Seinfeld fans are treated to a thorough special-features treatment in Season 4. Here's a breakdown by disc:
"The Breakout Season," a 19-minute featurette, gets things rolling by giving background information on Season 4, and the new ideas behind it; we hear from a variety of people involved, including NBC representatives, the creators, and cast members, so it's quite interesting. Also included here is a 5-minute parody of Regis and Kathie Lee.
Writer Larry Charles provides a commentary track for both parts of "The Trip." We also get the text "Notes About Nothing" feature for all the episodes on this disc. "Inside Look" mini-featurettes, which give additional insights and background information about specific episodes, appear for "The Trip" and "The Pitch / The Ticket." To wrap things up for this disc, we also get deleted scenes for "The Trip" and "The Wallet."
The distinctive content on this disc starts out with a substantial 21-minute set of bloopers and outtakes for Season 4. A "Master of His Domain" segment also adds in about eight minutes of previously unseen stand-up comedy material from Jerry Seinfeld.
Two episodes get commentaries on this disc: "The Cheever Letters" with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richard, and "The Contest" with Jerry Seinfeld. "Notes About Nothing" are also included for all the episodes.
There are plenty of "Inside Looks" here, as we get the scoop on "The Bubble Boy," "The Cheever Letters," "The Opera," and "The Contest." Deleted scenes are also included for "The Cheever Letters," "The Contest," and "The Virgin."
The special features section here starts out with an assortment of minor features: NBC promos, 1992 Olympic promos, and a photo gallery.
Moving on to more substantial extras, we get a commentary on "The Airport" by writer Larry Charles, and one for "The Outing" with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richard. "Notes About Nothing" are also included for all episodes.
Deleted scenes are included for "The Airport," "The Pick," "The Movie," and "The Outing." On top of that, we also get an alternate ending for "The Airport."
The special feature that's unique to Disc 4 is an introduction by Jason Alexander to "The Handicap Spot," which in itself is a bit of an extra: the DVD includes both the original version, with John Randolph in the role, and the re-shot syndicated version, with Jerry Stiller as Mr. Costanza.
Commentary tracks are provided for four episodes here. "The Implant" has writer Peter Mehlman; "The Junior Mint" features Jerry Seinfeld; and both parts of "The Pilot" have a commentary by production designer Tom Azzori and director/producer Tom Cherones.
We get "Inside Looks" for "The Old Man," "The Implant," "The Smelly Car," and "The Handicap Spot." Deleted scenes are provided for "The Old Man" and "The Handicap Spot," and we also get an alternate ending for "The Old Man."
What more could Seinfeld fans ask for? We've got a knockout season of classic Seinfeld comedy, a great transfer, and a generous helping of interesting special features that add to the already top-notch replayability of this great set. Why are you still reading this when you could be watching Seinfeld on DVD? If you're a devoted fan already, you know you want this set, and if you've been a casual viewer, seeing the episodes in their unedited, broadcast-order glory could very well win you over to becoming a die-hard Seinfeld enthusiast. Any way you look at it, this set gets a "DVDTalk Collector Series" rating.