Seinfeld almost didn't have an eighth season, due to the departure of Larry David, who had been the co-creator and executive producer of Seinfeld as well as a major writer for the show. With such a major change, could Seinfeld continue on the shoulders of Jerry Seinfeld alone? The answer (fortunately for fans) turned out to be a resounding "yes!" Though Season 8 was actually intended to be the show's final season (hence the symbolism of the little checkered flag behind the Seinfeld logo), it worked so well that Seinfeld & co. would end up doing one more season to wrap it up.
With Jerry Seinfeld completely at the helm of Season 8, Seinfeld continues on strong. As I was watching this eighth season, I couldn't help but be impressed at how consistently funny this show is. The series has moved from strength to strength ever since the opening seasons, due to the combination of a stellar cast and outstanding comedy writing. There's a telling observation in the special features for Season 8 that speaks to the success of Seinfeld: Jerry Seinfeld deliberately chose a cast who were all better actors than he was; he was willing to take on the role of straight man whenever the scene demanded it; and he worked to give the funniest material to the character who could make it work the best... not reserving it for himself. Though Seinfeld has as its title just one name, it's really an ensemble effort, as the episodes in Season 8 continue to demonstrate.
Most of what's notable about Season 8 is that it's equally as good as the preceding seasons. The writing is just as laugh-out-loud funny, the situations are just as delightful in their combination of the ordinary and the absurd, and the actors are just as good in their sharp comedic timing. The main change that we see in Season 8 is the complete disappearance of the stand-up clips at the start of the episode; the stories have organically grown to demand every available moment of on-screen time. (Remember back in the early days when there'd be stand-up at the end of the episode as well?) Instead, we jump right into the lives of the characters, either in a stand-alone humorous segment or something that gets a story thread moving. The change feels just right: in the previous seasons, it was always the stories in the world of Seinfeld that were the funniest, not the comedy routines, good though they might be.
Since the quality of the writing has, if anything, gotten stronger in this season, the result is that more Seinfeld is also better Seinfeld. Season 8 continues the characteristic Seinfeld experience of watching an episode and saying "Oh! So that's the episode with... (fill in the blank)!" There's only one title for each episode, but perhaps more than any other season, each half-hour show is a package deal full of classic Seinfeld moments. Take "The Chicken Roaster," for example. Not only does it have the hilarious story thread of the title, but it's also the episode with Elaine's struggle to justify the expense-account purchase of a sable hat, and George's trick for getting a second date by leaving something behind at his date's apartment. ("Cos-tan-za.") "The Pothole" ostensibly focuses on George's lost keys, but it's also the one with Jerry's girlfriend using a toothbrush that had fallen into a toilet, and Elaine trying to get Chinese food delivered outside its delivery zone.
That's not to say that the episodes feel exactly the same as in previous seasons. There is, I think, an increased sense of playfulness, with the plots sometimes tinged with more absurdity than we saw in earlier seasons. It's totally consistent with the Seinfeld style, though, which is predicated on the absurdity of daily life to begin with.
One of the characteristics of the funniest episodes in Season 8 is a playful self-referential comedy. "The Bizarro Jerry" is probably one of the best all-time Seinfeld episodes, at least if you are a Seinfeld fan: it does a brilliant job of playing with the audience's own familiarity with Seinfeld's characters, premises, and jokes. Then there's "The Chicken Roaster," with the incursion of Kenny Rogers Roasters transforming Jerry into Kramer and Kramer into Jerry. Seinfeld also has a lot of fun playing with references to movies, and to the conventions of film and television in general, whether it's a wordless chase scene between Jerry and Newman that plays on the typical police-story pursuit, or "The English Patient," with its riff on the characters' reactions to the Oscar-winning film. The entire film industry gets skewered with the story thread about bootleg videos in "The Little Kicks."
The working lives of the characters continue to provide ample material for comedy: Elaine's work with the J. Peterman catalog gives her some of the funniest material she's had in the show (including the Urban Sombrero), while George's involvement with the Yankees as well as with the Susan Ross Foundation is a font of great material. In "The Foundation," who can forget George's tape-recorder-in-the-briefcase trick? (recording the famous "squink.") Then there are the just-plain-classic episodes. "The Yada Yada." ("You yada-yada'ed sex?!?") "The Muffin Tops" (and the corresponding muffin stumps).
Writing this review just makes me realize, once again, that it's basically impossible to describe what makes Seinfeld so funny. If you've seen the episodes, you'll be saying to yourself, "Oh, yeah! That one! Yeah, that one was hilarious!" but if you aren't a Seinfeld fan (poor deprived soul) then you'll probably be wondering "what is supposed to be so funny about that?" See, that's the brilliance of Seinfeld. Most comedy shows take premises that have obvious potential for humor, and run with them (whether successfully or not). Seinfeld takes "nothing," the minutia of daily life, and makes it funny.
All the episodes are the full-length network versions, not the trimmed syndicated versions. Yay.
Season 8 is packaged as the other seasons, with the four DVDs in ultra-slim keepcases inside a slipcase, with an outer slipcase on top.
The episodes look great, as they have for the past seasons. The image is clean, clear, and natural-looking, with lively colors and well-handled contrast. There's occasionally a touch of grain in the outdoor shots, but the other material looks consistently clean. It would be impossible to go back to watching miscellaneous episodes caught on TV, after seeing such a nice transfer available on DVD. The episodes appear in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The Dolby 2.0 audio sounds great: the actors' voices are always natural-sounding, with a nice clarity and distinctness to the track. That's particularly important in a show that relies a lot on verbal humor: even an almost-sotto-voce remark like Kramer's description of Elaine's dancing in "The Little Kicks" ("... you stink!...") is captured just right. The laugh tracks are handled well, and are appropriately balanced with the rest of the track. A dubbed French 2.0 track is included, as are English closed captions and subtitles in French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
As usual, there's a generous serving of special features for Seinfeld fans.
Disc 1 starts with "Jerry Seinfeld: Submarine Captain," a 23-minute documentary featurette that takes a look at Jerry Seinfeld (the actor, not the character) and how he pulled the show together. It's an interesting piece that includes interview segments with the other cast members, writers, and other people involved with the show. We get 17 minutes of "Inside Looks" and two brief deleted scenes (about 2 minutes).
Disc 2 includes "The Del Boca Vista Express," a "Sein-imation" animation of a short Seinfeld stand-up routine, 18 minutes of "Inside Looks," and three deleted scenes (2 minutes).
Disc 3 has a "Sein-imation" of "Pinky Toe's Wild Ride," 15 minutes of "Inside Looks," and four deleted scenes (5 minutes)
Disc 4's main special feature is a 24-minute blooper reel, which goes to show how much effort is involved in keeping a straight face with the material; it also includes 26 minutes of "Inside Looks" and five deleted scenes (7 minutes)
All four discs have the option of "Notes about Nothing" (text pop-ups during the episode) for all the episodes. We also get commentaries for many of the episodes here:
"The Bizarro Jerry": David Mandel (writer)
"The Little Kicks": Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Spike Feresten (writer)
"The Fatigues": Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin (writers)
"The Checks": Tom Gammell and Max Pross (writers and consulting producers)
"The Chicken Roaster" has two commentaries: one with Jeff Schaffer and Alec Berg (writers), and the other with Jerry Seinfeld and Andy Ackerman
"The Abstinence": Jerry Seinfeld, Andy Ackerman (producer) and Steve Koren (writer)
"The Comeback": Andy Robin and Gregg Kavet (writers)
"The Susie": David Mandel (writer)
"The Pothole": Jerry Seinfeld, Andy Ackerman (producer), and Dan O'Keefe (director and writer)
"The Nap": Andy Robin and Gregg Kavet (writers)
"The Yada Yada": Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Peter Mehlman (writer)
"The Muffin Tops": Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Spike Feresten (writer)
"The Summer of George": Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer (writers)
It's Seinfeld. It's my favorite comedy series of all time, and, I would argue, the best comedy series ever. What's not to like? Season 8 has a slightly more absurdist flavor than the earlier seasons, which to my mind is a natural progression of some of the funniest elements that have developed as the series grew. It's a season that's a real treat for fans, giving us a chance to really enjoy the humor of self-reference as well as the hilarious stories about the "nothing" of daily life. I can't think of any possible reason not to rate this season up there with the last few, and give it a resounding DVD Talk Collector's Series recommendation.