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Seinfeld - The Complete Fourth Season Print E-mail
Tuesday, 17 May 2005
This fourth season of “Seinfeld” has been called its breakthrough year, because it coincided with the show’s graduation from cult favorite to pop culture mainstay. If you’re a Seinfeld-head, this 24-episode box set is filled with (to borrow a network phrase) numerous must-see Seinfeld moments. At the same time, it’s still a little hard to imagine how such an edgy comedy ever became essential around-the-water-cooler-talk material. But against all odds, it did.
So what made “Seinfeld” so doggone edgy? Probably its willingness to seek out humor in many previously unexplored territories. One episode in particular, “The Contest,” has to rank right up there with the very sharpest of its edgy programs. Amazingly, this episode – which deals frankly with masturbation – also won an Emmy. To paraphrase one of its main dialogue lines, this story focused on a competition to see who was master of his/her domain. Or more bluntly, it was about which character – Jerry (series co-creator Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander) or Kramer (Michael Richards) – could go the longest without masturbating. One reason why this storyline made it past the censors is that the “m” word was never actually uttered during the broadcast. It was consistently, and allegorically, alluded to instead. It’s nearly impossible to imagine such racy material ever appearing today -- especially in our post-9/11, post-Janet Jackson Super Bowl breast exposure television environment. But back in the early ‘90s, America bought into the whole “Seinfeld” concept – particularly those that had already gotten to know this sitcom’s primary characters. And speaking of Janet Jackson’s cleavage, another episode (titled “The Implant”) centers around whether or not Jerry’s girlfriend at the time (there were just too many “Jerry’s girls” to count, by the way) had real or fake breasts. Speaking of sexuality, still another show, called “The Virgin,” dealt with Jerry’s troubles in dating a virgin. Lastly, again on the bedroom theme, “The Outing” presented a scenario where a college reporter suspects Jerry and George of being gay lovers.

Obviously, the show contained plenty of sexual subject matter. And its view on sex was mainly from the male perspective as well. But interestingly, the situation comedy’s near-omnipresence of Jerry’s ex-girlfriend, Elaine, also meant that such frank sex talk usually occurred in mixed company. Again, who could have predicted that this type of show, with all of its unique comedic tension, would have ended up at the top of NBC’s coveted Thursday night lineup?

But even when this character quartet wasn’t dealing with seemingly taboo sexual matters, it was usually, at least, behaving in a politically incorrect manner. “Seinfeld” constantly took on material that you really shouldn’t joke about, and then made America laugh out loud at it. With “The Handicap Spot,” for instance, they suffer the consequences of parking in a handicap spot at the mall, whereas “The Bubble Boy” has a few cruel laughs at the expense of a germ-endangered youth. What made this latter episode even funnier is the fact that this “bubble boy” was played, not by a boy, but by a full-grown man.

This fourth year was also the season where this program showed that it could also laugh at itself, by creating a few shows within shows, so to speak. Programs like “The Pilot,” “The Trip” and “The Pitch” all addressed Jerry and George’s bumbling attempts to get their “show about nothing” on the air. So the character of Jerry Seinfeld was presented as developing a sitcom about his life, one that was exactly like the “real” “Seinfeld” show. Of course, “Seinfeld” was never truly a show just about nothing. Instead, it took small situations and used these mini-dramas as platforms to make much larger social points. For instance, “The Junior Mint” half-hour utilized the situation of a medical operation in order to show how the loss of a little weight can transform a suitor into a much more desirable partner, whereas with “The Visa,” which spotlighted Jerry’s good intentions to help a Pakistani immigrant, revealed how, even with the best of efforts, it’s still possible to hurt someone more than help them. With “The Old Man,” the gang decides to volunteer with an organization that arranges visits to lonely senior citizens. But instead of meeting grateful elderly people, these wannabe-do-gooders are set up with the grumpy bottom of the barrel senior set. Once again, sometimes even the best of intentions are not enough to make sincerely good deeds turn out good.

Because this show was never intended to make any truly grand social statements, there are some relatively inconsequential storylines included here as well. Take, for instance, “The Pick,” where Jerry’s girlfriend thinks she’s caught him picking his nose -- even though he protests that he was only scratching it. There are always at least two or things going on within each program, and “The Pick” had an equally embarrassing situation for Elaine to address. In it, Kramer convinces Elaine to let him photograph her for a personal Christmas card, not realizing that her nipple is obviously showing in the shot. There’s also one another semi-hygiene-related show, titled “The Smelly Car.” This one revolves around how an odoriferous valet attendant seemingly puts a permanent bad smell into Jerry’s car, which causes all passengers after that to take the stinky smell with them.

Some of the best moments during this season take place outside of Jerry’s familiar apartment interior. Unlike sitcoms of old -- exemplified by “The Honeymooners,” which rarely ventured outside of that cast’s small New York apartment building -- the “Seinfeld” folks loved to play around with the scenery, so to speak. One such exterior moment harks back to the early classic “Seinfeld” Chinese restaurant episode, this time focusing on a misguided attempt by all four main characters to meet at the movies. Of course, this quartet never actually makes it to the same theater at the same time, which is just one of its comedic elements. This movie theatre setting also opens up opportunities for a few smart jokes about some of the downsides of the theater-going experience, such as the fact that there are no longer any standard small, medium or large sizes of drinks or popcorn anymore. For instance, if you want the smallest size, you must ask for the child’s size. Additionally, poor Elaine must also go through the trying task of saving seats for her friends, who never even show up. The group’s original intention was to see a mystery film together, but George is constantly tempted to see “Rochelle, Rochelle” instead. This other “film” is basically a story-less excuse for a movie, wherein the main character spends most of her onscreen time undressed. This little sidebar says a lot about the male perspective on cinematic nudity, as men are simply suckers for any half-dressed, attractive female in film. And this factor is something Elaine (or almost any woman, for that matter) will never fully understand.

For those who love “Seinfeld” and need to go a little deeper than just re-watching their favorite TV episodes, this four-disc set’s extras offer up plenty of additional layers to explore. For instance, almost every episode is accompanied by a short documentary where the actors, and sometimes the writers, explain the origins and inspirations of various episodes. There are also audio commentaries, which are hilariously titled “Yada, Yada, Yada.” Additionally, one can look at bloopers, if one likes those sorts of things, as well as deleted scenes. There is also an explanatory documentary called “The Breakthrough Season,” which helps detail specifically why this particular year’s worth of episodes is so significant. And if you enjoy Seinfeld’s stand-up routine, there’s a segment on Disc 2 called “Master of His Domain,” which sports exclusive stand-up material.

As hard as this is to believe, Jerry Seinfeld’s little show about nothing turned out to be something significant after all.

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