The Seinfeld Chronicles

This week, Sony Pictures Television announced that Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” was renewed for a second season. Wait -- “season”  and “renewed?” Them’s TV words, alright, although the series -- 10 episodes in the first year, 24 on order for the second -- is strictly an online affair. With each episode coming in at somewhere between 11 and 17 minutes, they are either very short films or very long commercials. Without ads or product placement, they offer a take on all of Seinfeld’s obsessions: collectible cars, fellow celebrity comedians, and tiny observations on fellow celebrity comedians in cars, stopping for warm beverages.

Before I get to my observations on his online observations, however, I first have to cop to my insane hatred of Seinfeld. I know -- how crazy is it to hate the guy who gave us (arguably) the greatest sitcom in TV history? (Or as Jerry might say, “What’s up with that?”)

Imagine a world with no close talkers. No “No Soup for You!” No “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Well, I tell you what’s wrong with it. It’s a beautiful, hermetically sealed world, the world of Jerry. I like the show a lot more now in reruns, but what was obviously missing all along, among the characters living in New York City, was any of the diversity of New York, and increasingly the country: There were no non-white faces (who weren’t complete caricatures as delivery guys, etc.), no gay people, and, well, no women who were not Elaine or Playboy Playmate types making one or two appearances in supporting roles as dates. And when you think about it, Elaine fit in (and was so funny) because she was so tiny, mean, and aggressive -- a manly type. She did a lot of hitting, slapping, pushing, and shoving.

Because Jerry was surrounded with this band of misanthropic eccentrics, he could seem rational and nice. And now, having watched many seasons of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” it becomes clear that much of the funny stuff cames from David. The difference, however, is that in “Curb” (which is harder to watch) the humor comes from the fact that Larry, a true misanthrope, constantly gets his comeuppance for his smugness, insensitivity, and intolerance of other people. Whereas Jerry lived in a universe that made him look like a saint.

Perhaps that’s why, post-Seinfeld, in the real world, even with all of his fame, money, and power, Jerry has mostly created a mess.

Remember his god-awful “Bee” movie? Jerry and crew have such a problem writing for women that in his movie, the drones were female and the worker bees were male. His NBC flop “Marriage Ref” had a regressive 1950s, “Oh-Lucy!” style set-up that was actually so cruel and reprehensible for the couples who got judged by celebrity panelists (aka Jerry’s friends) that one of them actually sued the show (and got divorced.)

And then there were the two long-form spots Seinfeld made with BIll Gates for Microsoft in 2008. In a company famous for being poignantly out of touch in terms of consumer communication, these were glacial bombs, with the humor coming from making fun of average people, Latinos, and Indians.

And by the way, Seinfeld got paid $10 million to make Bill Gates his little bitch in those two spots, which ran for a total of three weeks. Okay, I’ll admit that one of my issues is that I have total sour grapes over how rich the guy is. 

So the smug concept of this latest series: “Aren’t I so great that I can kill time and remind people how many cars and famous friends I have and I don’t even have to work?” just burned my biscuits all over again.

I watched some of the episodes from the first season, and here, the hemetically sealed setup suits the project just fine. He gets to pick the car and the comedian, and it’s a tiny, insidery world. The high level of production really helps -- apparently there are three mounted cameras in each car. I wish, as with some reality series, that we’d get a pull-back shot to show the entire production team in action. That doesn’t happen. But there’s a beautiful eye for detail in some of the shots (keys in the ignition, motors, headlights) that dovetails with Seinfeld's fetishism of observational details.

And without being a guy from “60 Minutes,” the long format does allow him to get new information out of his famous friends. The Michael Richards one is interesting. He talks about his infamous breakdown on stage that resulted in him shouting the “N” word repeatedly. Richards, who is a great physical comedian and can’t stop clowning, admits  to having many recriminations from the incident. But it's pretty telling that he still seems to think he is the victim.

The visit with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, at 90-year old Carl Reiner’s L.A. home, is worth its weight in gold. In real life, Mel Brooks seems to have become the 2,000-year-old man -- no acting necessary. He tells Jerry he’s never seen his act (not sure if he’s kidding) but that one guy he does like is Louis C.K. I thought that was genius.

Alec Baldwin is technically not a comedian, but great company here. He might be thinking along the sour-grapes line as well, when he actually says to Seinfeld, “Your life has been one unbroken block of green lights, hasn’t it?"

Seinfeld’s constant knee-slapping crack-ups to anything said get annoying. These were worth watching, however. (With the exception of the one with Larry David. He eats a pancake.)

I’m hoping that in the second season, Jerry discovers that there are actually gay, female, and non-white comedians. That would be a Festivus for the rest of us.

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15 comments about "The Seinfeld Chronicles".
  1. Rhys Branman from Little Rock Cosmetic Surgery Center , January 11, 2013 at 11:07 a.m.
    I am laughing remembering the episode of the Seinfeld show in which Kramer and George's father invent this product for manboobs, know that this overdevelopment of the male breast is a real condition. It is called gynecomastia and about half of the male population has enlarged breasts to some degree, at some point in their lives. That episode popularized the condition. Needless to say, as a cosmetic surgeon, that was helpful. And as a matter of fact, a about one fourth of men are affected with gynecomastia between the ages of 50 and 80, with the reduction of testosterone, just like George's father! Dr Rhys Branman Little Rock Cosmetic Surgery Center
  2. Thomas Siebert from WOLFGANG SOLO: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda , January 11, 2013 at 11:27 a.m.
    Funniest post-Seinfeld stuff is the "Modern Seinfeld" Twitter feed that Jerry's got nothing to do with, but is written as if the show was still running today:

    https://twitter.com/SeinfeldToday

  3. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , January 11, 2013 at 11:28 a.m.
    Yes, Dr! The Manziere or the Bro!! I remember the stunning shot of seeing Kramer hooking George's Dad into it from the back! We never saw the front, thank god, only George and his mother's stunned reaction!
  4. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , January 11, 2013 at 11:29 a.m.
    Thanks, Tom. Gonna look into it.
  5. Ryan Trow from Time Inc. , January 11, 2013 at 12:13 p.m.
    I strongly disagree that Jerry is painted as a saint on on Seinfeld, in fact, it is just the opposite. Jerry surrounds himself with a band of misanthropic eccentrics because they make him feel better about himself. Their never ending string of failures is source of comfort to him, making him feel like he is a "normal" guy. But the fact that he is so insecure and requires these crutches makes him the most dynamic, flawed, real and funny character on the show, and anything but "normal." And only Jerry Seinfeld could have played this character.
  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , January 11, 2013 at 12:24 p.m.
    I see what you're saying, Ryan. I guess I don't "get" the genius of Jerry. Just don't think he's that funny.
  7. James Boldebook from CBC , January 11, 2013 at 1:04 p.m.
    Call me crazy, I liked Jerry and friends then..I like em even more in the complete DVDs of the program I bought. It was Jerry's crazy little world and I loved every character in it. He is one of the few comedians that can actually do a show, make people laugh without getting vulgar.
  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , January 11, 2013 at 1:06 p.m.
    The "vulgar" part is a good point. He's a good boy that way.
  9. Robin Billie from Hearst , January 11, 2013 at 1:31 p.m.
    I have to agree with Ryan here. Jerry was a jerky guy who had even jerkier friends. I loved every minute of that series. I thought he was hilarious. Also love Larry David and his show which for sure was even more hilarious. Much more vulgarity tho.
  10. Arnease Diggs Bradford from Self Employed , January 11, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.
    Ughh.. He is struggling to stay relevant, isn't he? I never thought he was funny, in or out of his hermetically sealed world. I much prefer Larry David - he is an equal opportunuity offender and I respect that. And, he has diversity on his show. I disliked Friends for the same reason. Oh wait, they had one Black girl on there. Meh.
  11. Carol Gray from WriteAway , January 12, 2013 at 4:06 p.m.
    Once again, Barbara is spot on and manages her analysis with humor and intelligence. She may not be a fan of Jerry, but I'm a fan of hers.
  12. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt , January 13, 2013 at 11:34 a.m.
    Great Post! So jealous of his astronomic wealth, but let me try to move past it; never really watched his show when it was popular - catch a re-run here and there. Never made me laugh out loud like catching a Frazier episode does. In the era of Snookie's and BooBoo's and Kims - at least Elaine had a job and took no prisoners. I will tell you this -- after seeing only a few minutes of that debacle couples show, not sure I can see him in the same light. Whatever that was.
  13. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , January 14, 2013 at 12:38 p.m.
    Thanks, Carol! And Leslie, so true about being light years ahead of the Snookies and Kardashians. And for what it's worth, the boys did treat Elaine as an equal. Always interesting is seeing on Curb how exactly like George Larry David is, but with money and power.
  14. Ivy Baer Sherman from Vintage Magazine , January 14, 2013 at 4:56 p.m.
    Sitting down to a “Seinfeld” rerun today is like turning through the pages of a family photo album – the years having bathed them in nostalgia– enough so that the New York scenes, Hollywood-filmed though they predominantly are, seem, in their way, Woody-Allen-esque in their homage to NYC. And we can’t deny feeling slightly less humiliated when ordering soup, or anything for that matter, from a surly behind-the-counter-guy thanks to Elaine’s recipe for emasculating the Soup Nazi. That said, I was yanked from my sepia-hued romp through “Seinfeld” by Jerry’s foray into reality TV and the “Marriage Ref.” Such a sorry attempt at -- well, whatever he was attempting. Done in such poor taste – so degrading not only to the couples who participated, but to the “stars” who appeared on the panel. “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” is, in comparison, better (and kinder), certainly because of all that you have noted in terms of production/camera attention to details, and because of the underlying goal to celebrate the art of the comedian. Hopefully Jerry will let this goal take the wheel in the second “season.”
  15. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , January 20, 2013 at 1:39 p.m.
    Thanks, Ivy. Actually, the fakeness of the Seinfeld sets always bothered me, as did it when they actually drove to the movies. But yes, it has the same amount of iconography as the Woodman gave us. I think it was a huge shock to many people that Seinfeld (and NBC!) could actually produce such a low and degrading (yet celeb-filled!) show! It made the real housewives seem like Shakespearean scholars.