09 June 2005

Seinfeld Season Four

So I've been watching the episodes and extras in my new DVD, season four of Seinfeld. The farther I get into the season every night, the more I realize that this may be one of- if not THE- best single seasons for a sitcom ever. It's unparalleled. Let's take a look at the episode list from that year. I'm going do a little color coding as well, for fun and discussion later in the post.

  1. The Trip (Parts 1 & 2)

  2. The Pitch/ The Ticket (One Hour)

  3. The Wallet

  4. The Watch

  5. The Bubble Boy

  6. The Cheever Letters

  7. The Opera

  8. The Virgin

  9. The Contest

  10. The Airport

  11. The Pick

  12. The Visa

  13. The Movie

  14. The Outing

  15. The Shoes

  16. The Old Man

  17. The Implant

  18. The Handicap Spot

  19. The Junior Mint

  20. The Smelly Car

  21. The Pilot (Parts 1 & 2)

So let's get something clear real quick. There are two kinds of Seinfeld classics- cultural classics and "genuine" classics. Some episodes, as far as I'm concerned, have entered the cultural lexicon and go far beyond whatever the actual scenes represent- they're part of our background. For example, The Contest, The Soup Nazi, The Yada Yada Yada, The Outing. Then, you have genuine classics which, while possibly not the most popular, represent truly the best work of the series- like, for example, The Beard, The Airport, The Marine Biologist. Of course, these aren't mutually exclusive- The Contest being an obvious example. In addition, there are many that are one and not the other- The Soup Nazi hasn't particularly aged well, and while The Airport is one of the great Seinfeld episodes of all time, it's not absorbed "cultural institution" level.

So above, if an episode is in bold, it is a "cultural" classic, and if it is in blue, it is a "genuine" classic. If both, well, you get it.

Of course, then there are the episodes listed red, which are "great," and the ones not notated at all, which sucked.

So you'll notice: only two episodes that "sucked," and they both most certainly do- "The Movie" isn't awful- his bad comedian friend Buckles is pretty funny ("Call me when you get home so I know you're OK!")- it's just too boring to be a "great" Seinfeld episode. It's the introduction of Rochelle, Rochelle though, and Kramer, waiting for a movie downtown, somehow manages to run over to the Papaya King hot dog joint- on 86th between 3rd and Lexington. Right near me, which is how I recognize it.

"The Old Man," on the other hand, may be one of the worst episodes in the series's history. Right up there with some of the garbage from the 9th season. I actually can't even think of a "great moment" from the episode (though it may be Newman's mailmen-going-whacko-rationale), which flies right in the face of one of my many Seinfeld theories- that not every episode is great (or even good), but EVERY single one has a great, laugh-out-loud moment.

Anyway, enough of the bad. I have four "red" episodes- "great" ones that, while not "classics," are certainly nothing to sniff at, and while this probably goes without saying, even one of these type episodes on a, say, Everybody Loves Raymond would make said series a HUGE favorite. But alas.

The Visa, The Opera, The Handicap Spot and The Smelly Car are all great. Visa was the toughest call to me- it is probably the closest to "great" of the group. I just never really loved the Babu character, and this is his least funny showing. That said, Jerry trying not to be funny to boost George in front of his new girlfriend ("Is this funny? Am I being funny now? Am I?" "A little.") and Kramer kicking Mickey Mantle's ass were pretty hard to ignore.

The Opera had high hopes, but it didn't have enough of those standout moments to set it into "classic" territory to me. I'm sure this will bring me the most disagreement, as I know people love this episode- I do too- it just doesn't jump out at me. George in his suit is amazingly funny though, as is Joe Davola and the "kibosh" he's putting on Jerry.

I have, out of 21 episodes (24 if you count some of them as independent shows), 15 classics- 7 of which were "cultural" classics. This season of Seinfeld had, arguably, the strongest of these type of "classics," featuring ones that nearly every American comedy fan is aware of, containing bits of dialogue a great deal of people across different backgrounds would recognize. The Bubble Boy, The Virgin, The Contest, The Pick, The Outing, The Implant and The Junior Mint all exist, to varying degrees, as bigger than the series itself. They're truly the kind of shows that make Seinfeld the Beatles of modern American sitcoms.

They all speak for themselves, but really, to not expound a little on the most famous one would be silly.

The Contest has to be the greatest episode of a sitcom ever, and if this sounds like it's not saying much- it might not be- revisiting it makes you realize the absolute brilliance that is all over this show. If this was the season that Seinfeld became 22 minute short films- gargantuan in it's ability to shred the ins and outs of modern life- then The Contest was it's greatest moment. Kramer's "I'm out!" entrance is one of the great moments in American comedy history. Really, no declarative is too broad for this episode. It's the best. And for it to survive as such for this long, under that much scrutiny and popular exposure, speaks volumes about the strengths of Seinfeld- the writing, premises, and performances.

The funnest part of watching these DVDs is dissecting the little things popping up left and right that repeated viewings force you to appreciate. When Elaine gets a call from her sister complaining that Elaine's nephew has stashed her Christmas card (nipple showing) under his mattress. The look on Elaine's face when she settles fraudulently into the First Class seat in The Airport. When George goes to Dalrymple's house to resuscitate the pilot deal, and he keeps lowering the offer ("10 thousand and I never came up here- Cynthia, enjoy the dinner, Russell, I'll see you Monday...").

In fact, the more I watch Seinfeld, the more I love Elaine and Julia Louis Dreyfuss. This leads me to a few conclusions:

  • One of the worst things the show ever did was allow Julia to do the "Elaine Makeover" around season 7- that's one of the watermarks for the show's decline

  • I can't think of a purely funnier performance by a woman ever on TV

  • She's my favorite of the four on the show- provided the right storyline

  • She doesn't always have the "right storyline" and, of the four, her's tend to be the most hit-or-miss.

  • She's awesome.

    Of course, you can't be sure season four is the best ever. In fact, maybe you can make a case for Seinfeld Season 5 (which has The Opposite, The Marine Biologist, The Stall and The Puffy Shirt), Seinfeld Season Six (The Beard, The Jimmy, The Switch), The Simpsons Season 5. You could go on, but just watching the fourth season, it's hard to beat this one.

    My ten favorite Seinfeld episodes, in order:

    1. The Beard

    2. The Marine Biologist

    3. The Opposite

    4. The Switch

    5. The Library

    6. The Pick

    7. The Airport

    8. The Contest

    9. The Subway

    10. The Chinese Restaurant

    Not a terribly "hip" list because most of these are favorites, but they're that for a reason. The one I'll go to my grave never really liking was "The Soup Nazi." But whatever. 2-10 could change tomorrow, but I've always said my favorite is "The Beard." To me, it is THE perfect Seinfeld episode (and is enhanced when viewing after seeing "The Scofflaw," replete with Jon Lovitz's brilliant cameo as a cancer-faker).

    Some new links in the "Sox Blogs" section worth checking out:

  • Miles From Fenway- another Sox fan in NYC! Yeeahh!

  • Reb's Sox & Pats- Jere's Comrade-in-Arms Stalking Sox...

  • Witchy Sox Girl- cool looking joint, great blog... but Interpol doesn't suck, lady!

  • Three gals, three blogs. Check em out, yo. Don't forget the Grand Dame of all Sox blogs, though.

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