Why Seinfeld Was The Original Sitcom

1. Seinfeld: Seasons 1 & 2

Nothing? Seinfeld is a show about everything! It’s about the appeal of the posse and coma etiquette. It’s about importing and exporting. It’s about sneaking a peek, and seeing the baby. It’s about this, that, and the other. TV Guide ranked Seinfeld the best TV series of all time. It has become the master of its syndication domain. Its most devoted fans can quote each episode chapter and verse; their absorption of each scene’s minutiae anything but a trivial pursuit. With such fervent devotion to the show, and demand for its DVD release, series creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David could have easily just OK’d a bare-bones set containing nothing but the episodes. Not that there would have been anything wrong with that, but instead, the creative team came together to create extensive and encyclopedic features that make this four-disc set buy-worthy. The candid and revealing audio commentaries and interviews, deleted scenes and original episode promos, and optional “Notes About Nothing” pop-ups are as irresistible as a Drake’s coffee cake.

It’s always fun and instructive to return to the humble beginnings of a series that became a pop culture benchmark. Here are Kramer’s first not-so-grand entrance, Jerry’s first contemptuous “Hello, Newman,” and Elaine’s first “Get Out!” shove. But what is most revelatory about these episodes from the first two seasons is what Jason Alexander, during his commentary for the episode “The Revenge,” calls a “sweet quality” that somehow redeems these characters’ more base instincts. Consider the scene in which Jerry gives a freshly unemployed George some career guidance, or Jerry and Elaine’s palpably affectionate banter throughout. The “Inside Look” episode intros offer fascinating insights into this singular show that subverted sitcom convention with such now-classic episodes as “The Chinese Restaurant,” in which Jerry, George, and Elaine wait in vain for a table. We learn, for example, why movie tough guy Lawrence Tierney, who guest starred in “The Jacket,” never reprised his role as Elaine’s father. All of this, of course, is yadda yadda yadda to Seinfeld fans, whose patience for the show’s DVD debut has been amply rewarded. As Elaine screams in the third-season episode, “The Subway,” “It’s not nothing, it’s something!” –Donald Liebenson

2. Seinfeld: Season 3

For Seinfeld, the third season’s–for want of a better word–the charm. The show has found its misanthropic voice (by season’s end, a fed-up Elaine tells herself, “I gotta get some new friends”), the ensemble has a firmer grasp of their characters, and the writers rise to the occasion with episodes that have entered the Seinfeld pantheon, including the Seinfeld equivalent of a Very Special Episode, “The Boyfriend,” with Keith Hernandez and the J.F.K. parody, “The Library,” featuring Philip Baker Hall channeling Jack Webb as library bookhound Bookman, “The Pez Dispenser,” and “The Keys,” with an L.A.-bound Kramer winding up on Murphy Brown. Michael Richards, especially, comes into his own this season as Kramer. The first two seasons built up the mystique of this “man-child”/”parasite.” So while he was absent in season 2’s “The Chinese Restaurant,” he is now out and about with the close-knit, albeit dysfunctional, trio. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has some of her giddiest golden moments, zonked on painkillers in “The Pen,” or, as a bored party guest in “The Stranded,” telling an obnoxious bride-to-be that “Maybe the dingo ate your baby.” And don’t get us started on Jason Alexander as George, series co-creator Larry David’s neurotic and angst-ridden alter-ego. To paraphrase what Julia Roberts said of Denzel Washington, we don’t want to live in a world where Alexander doesn’t have an Emmy.

But it’s the extensive bonus features that give this four-disc set “hand” over other TV-on-DVD releases. The “Inside Look” episode intros, optional pop-up “Notes About Nothing,” and candid, albeit a little too casual, commentaries offer a fount of information to even the most obsessive Seinfeld fans. We learn that even the most outrageous episodes, such as “The Pez Dispenser,” were inspired by real-life events. Especially telling is Alexander’s observation that Jerry never really socialized with the other ensemble members. This has extended to the commentaries: Seinfeld pairs with David on some episodes, while Alexander, Richards and Dreyfus team up on others. They are gracious to the guest stars and extras, and mostly mum on Jer. –Donald Liebenson

3. Seinfeld: Season 4 (Bilingual)

It’s hard to believe, but for the first three seasons nobody really knew that Seinfeld was about, well, you know. It wasn’t until season 4–unleashed here in a four-disc set that’s equal in scope, quality, and quantity of bonus material to its predecessors–that the show really became something. In a series which can claim every installment as classic, the two-parter on disc 1 titled “The Pitch/The Ticket” truly stands out as a defining episode and, in retrospect, marked Seinfeld 4 as the breakthrough season. It’s the one where (fake) NBC executives express their interest in working with Jerry Seinfeld on a TV show, then moves to the who’s-on-first shtick of George successfully pitching Jerry on creating “a show about nothing.” Scattered throughout the discs in commentaries by cast and creators and in numerous “Inside Look” documentaries, nearly everyone expresses some anxiety about the season having a story “arc” depicting Jerry and his “real” life becoming a sitcom. The show had been only marginally successful up to that point anyway, and with the edict, “no hugging, no learning” still in place, maybe messing with nothing was a bad idea. What makes the arc so arch is the self-reflexive way it details the reality of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David coming up with the concept and pitching it to (real) NBC executives as a show that really was about, well, you know. In one of the many informally informative interview segments, Jerry remembers hitting a stride during this time when a lot of crazy ideas started to make sense. “Everything was just a wild guess,” he says, “and it takes a while to get confident that you’re guessing pretty good. I think sometime in season 4 we realized we were guessing pretty good.” Oh, that we could all be so good at nothing.

Season 4 also gave us the episodes “The Bubble Boy” (“He lives in a bubble!”), “The Pick” (“There was no pick!”), and, perhaps most memorably, “The Contest.” Recalling how nervous he thought NBC might be about a show based on how long a person can remain–ahem–master of his domain, Larry David says that he kept the idea hidden for a long time. He may have had NBC sweating, but the episode goes by without anyone uttering the word that it’s really about. The curmudgeonly David also observes that another famous season 4 episode, “The Outing,” only made it on the air due to a network “note” about making sure it wouldn’t be offensive to homosexuals. Hence we have the addition of another standard to the Seinfeld lexicon of American pop culture: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” Not only wasn’t there anything wrong with it, the episode won a GLAAD Media Award. Season 4 also brought Seinfeld its first Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. Stay tuned for season 5 (and a move to the coveted Thursday-at-9 slot) when the volcano we now know was always brewing really blew its comedic top. –Ted Fry

4. Seinfeld : Season 5 (Bilingual)

DISC 1 THE MANGO- Jerry learns Elaine faked orgasms with him and pleads for another chance. Kramer’s banned from his local fruit stand and George discovers the sexual power of mango. THE GLASSES-George loses his glasses and thinks he sees Jerry’s girlfriend with his cousin. A strange dog bites Elaine and Kramer helps Jerry buy a powerful air conditioner. THE PUFFY SHIRT-During dinner with Kramer’s low-talking girlfriend, Jerry unwittingly agrees to wear a puffy pirate shirt for his upcoming “The Today Show” appearance. THE SNIFFING ACCOUNTANT-Jerry thinks his accountant is a drug addict. Jerry, Kramer and Newman plot a stakeout. George plans another career change: bra salesman. THE BRIS-Jerry and Elaine agree to be godparents to their friends’ newborn boy. They find a shaky mohel to perform the bris. Kramer is convinced he saw a pigman at the hospital. DISC 2 THE LIP READER-George tries to get Jerry’s deaf girlfriend to read lips at a party. Kramer becomes a ball boy at the U.S. Open. THE NON-FAT YOGURT-Jerry and Elaine try to confirm that their favorite frozen yogurt is non-fat. Their research causes a stir during the NYC mayoral election. Elaine dates George’s boyhood nemesis. Now, for the first time, see two versions of this episode! THE BARBER-Jerry frets over leaving his incompetent barber. Elaine enlists Kramer to participate in a bachelor auction. THE MASSEUSE-Jerry’s masseuse girlfriend won’t give him a massage. Elaine dates Joel Rifkin – not the mass murderer. THE CIGAR STORE INDIAN-Jerry offends Elaine’s friend with a cigar store Indian. Kramer sells his coffee table book idea to Elaine’s boss. DISC 3 THE CONVERSION-George converts to the Latvian Orthodox religion for a girl. Jerry spots a suspicious ointment in his girlfriend’s medicine cabinet. THE STALL-Elaine agonizes over a woman’s refusal to pass toilet paper under the stall of a public restroom. Kramer convinces Jerry that his girlfriend makes a living as a phone sex operator. George befriends Elaine’s “mimbo” boyfriend. THE MARINE BIOLOGIST-George starts dating an old classmate when Jerry tells her that George is a successful marine biologist. Elaine’s electronic organizer injures a passerby when her Russian novelist client launches it from their limo. Kramer golfs on the beach. THE DINNER PARTY-En route to a dinner party, Elaine and Jerry pair off to buy a babka. George’s jacket gets in the way at the liquor store where he and Kramer look for a bottle of wine. THE PIE-Jerry meets his girlfriend’s father and loses his appetite. Elaine discovers that a mannequin resembling her has been showing up in window displays. George plots to buy a suit on sale. Kramer dates a Monk’s cashier. THE STAND-IN-Kramer is hired as a stand-in on a soap opera. He encourages Mickey to put lifts in his shoes, but his advice doesn’t sit well with the other little people. George is ready to break up with his girlfriend until he discovers that she’s being urged to call it quits with him. DISC 4 THE WIFE-Jerry lets his girlfriend pose as his wife so that she can receive his dry-cleaning discount, but the scam backfires when his family learns of his “marriage.” Elaine’s health club boyfriend wants to turn George in for peeing in the shower. THE FIRE-George panics during a fire at his girlfriend’s son’s birthday party and bolts for an escape route. Kramer saves Elaine’s co-worker’s pinky toe. THE RAINCOATS (PARTS 1 & 2)-Elaine dates a “close talker” who loves spending time with Jerry’s parents. Jerry is caught making out during Schindler’s List. Morty and Kramer go into business together. THE HAMPTONS-A weekend getaway to the Hamptons spins out of control when Jerry’s girlfriend sees George, a victim of “shrinkage,” naked. THE OPPOSITE-George decides to do the opposite of his instincts and everything falls into place, even a job with the Yankees. Meanwhile, Elaine loses her boyfriend and her job, but Jerry remains “even Steven.”

5. Seinfeld: The Complete Series Box Set

No show captured the eccentricities of New York like the Larry David-created sitcom Seinfeld. Helping to define America’s view of New Yorkers, the series gained endless fans over its nine season run. Though it wasn’t the first show to assert the rudeness of Gotham’s citizens, its characters are selfish to a fault–not that there’s anything wrong with that. Self-obsessed comedian Jerry Seinfeld is joined in the cast by his neurotic ex-girlfriend, Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus); his chronically lazy pal, George (Jason Alexander); and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), who takes the sitcom cliche of the weird neighbor to impressive new heights. Despite their faults (or perhaps because of them), they’re some of the most hilariously watchable characters in television history. The entire series is presented here.

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