overthinking the idiot box

June 13, 2005

Seinfeld: Season Four

by Mike Celestino

For a while there, it seemed almost inescapable. It was on the tip of everyone's tongue, it changed the way we looked at televised comedy, and it helped define a decade. And since it's been in syndication, it's seemed difficult to flip around the dial without encountering at least one episode of this groundbreaking sitcom that you've already seen a dozen times before. Love it or hate it, you can't deny that Seinfeld is easy to come by. So why buy it on DVD? Why plunk down hard-earned cash to own a copy of what you've already seen countless times for free? Could it possibly be worth it? If you're anything more than a casual fan, the answer is a resounding "yes."

Well, believe it or not, those Simpsons episodes you've memorized by watching the reruns at 7:00 every day were missing scenes that haven't been aired since the original couple broadcasts.
First of all, there's a little money-saving maneuver utilized by networks called "cutting for syndication" that surprisingly few viewers are actually aware of. What that means is when a high-profile series like Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond gets sold to a lesser network, an affiliate, or a basic cable channel to rerun ad nauseum in pre-or-post-prime-time, several minutes are cut out of each episode in order to make room for more commercials. Sound too barbaric to be true? Well, believe it or not, those Simpsons episodes you've memorized by watching the reruns at 7:00 every day were missing scenes that haven't been aired since the original couple broadcasts. And if you ask me, that's the best reason to pick up the unedited (most of the time) versions of your favorite shows when the DVD sets are released.

Seinfeld is no exception. All twenty-two episodes from the show's fourth season are collected here uncut and unaltered, including the two double-length episodes that framed the year. Another notable restoration is the original version of the "Handicap Spot" episode, which had several scenes re-shot for syndication, replacing the original actor who played Frank Costanza (John Randolph) with Jerry Stiller, who took over the role in subsequent episodes. In fact, both versions of that episode are available in this set.

In terms of bonus content, Columbia/Tristar has not disappointed in replicating the sheer quantity and quality of extras found in the first two volumes of this DVD series. Pretty much the entire cast and crew has been interviewed for "inside looks" at individual episodes and reunited for commentary tracks once again, and the discs continue the tradition of including the informative "Notes About Nothing" subtitle option, in which random trivia factoids and quirky tidbits such as the "Kramer Entrance Counter" pop up intermittently on the bottom of the screen. Also included is another half-hour documentary, this time focusing on season four, not to mention bloopers, deleted scenes, and bonus Jerry stand-up footage.

I think I've made a convincing case of the obvious care that went into bringing this series to DVD, but what of the actual content itself?

Personally I feel that this is the strongest season in Seinfeld's nine-year run. At this point the show had finally found its footing and its characters' voices, and had not yet hit the almost too over-the-top levels of screwball zaniness that developed in later seasons. Many of the show's most famous and notorious episodes originated in season four, including but not limited to "The Contest," "The Bubble Boy," "The Outing," and "The Pick." Not to mention the fact that this batch of episodes was the first to feature a year-long "story arc" that developed slowly over the course of the entire season, so the ability to enjoy them in their intended order is most definitely a plus.

Said storyline, perhaps the most intriguing feature of Seinfeld's fourth season, entails Jerry and George writing a sitcom pilot episode for NBC based on the pair's adventures (or non-adventures) with their friends Kramer and Elaine. This innovative show-within-a-show concept mirrors the real Jerry Seinfeld and his writing partner Larry David's (on whom the character of George was based) process of incorporating many elements from their own lives into Seinfeld. Such mind-bending meta-plots are fairly common fodder for David's current series Curb Your Enthusiasm and certain Charlie Kaufman films, but were remarkably unique for television programming in the early nineties.

Speaking of Larry David, it's interesting to note how often one notices his voice (or even, on rare occasions, his visage) popping up from time to time in bit parts on Seinfeld now that he's become so recognizable in the wake of starring in his own series on HBO. Also, keep an eye out for a cameo by staff writer Larry Charles and a spot-on turn by Entourage's Jeremy Piven as the actor cast in the George role in the NBC pilot.

Packaging-wise, Seinfeld is handled really well. Each disc comes in its own mini-sleeve, four of which are collected in a moderately-sized box featuring attractive cover art and cast photos. As a whole, this set is enough to make even those who have every episode on VHS anticipate the next installment. So even if you've seen so much Seinfeld you can rattle off a list of women's names that rhyme with parts of the female anatomy, this collection is definitely worth checking out.

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Return to Vol. 1, Episode 6.