Seinfeld Volumes 4 & 5 (Seasons 5 & 6) Review
Entering its fifth season which aired 1993-1994 Seinfeld was now a national hit with its own dedicated audience that was about to be supplemented by additional viewers tuning in to the popular Thursday night 9pm timeslot, in which Seinfeld would be taking up permanent residence now Cheers had left the air. Writing for another full season in which the characters talk about "nothing" and do "nothing" was becoming something of a struggle however, and so for this fifth and subsequently sixth seasons several new writers were brought on board and with them comes a handful of storylines which stretch the boundaries of a show about "nothing", but thanks to the new energy and often sublime dialogue delivered by the gifted cast there is always a hint of believability about the situations the characters find themselves in.
Regular viewers will be familiar with the shows episodic format, where unlike say Friends or to a lesser extent Frasier in which the central characters form long-term relationships bringing new characters into the fold, Seinfeld's central characters tend to have a new partner every episode. This makes the episodes very standalone in nature, with only a few recurring storylines and relationships each season such as Kramer's book about coffee-book tables and George's ongoing struggle with life under the roof of his parents in Season Five, and Elaine's new job working for Justin Pitt in Season Six. There are also a few call backs to earlier storylines from previous seasons, such as Jerry and the astronaut's pen, which although small enough in nature to make sure the episode it features in remains open to old and new viewers alike, is a welcome addition to long-term fans of the show.
The most inspired changes to the central characters over Season Five and Six are that of George and Elaine's living and working arrangements. George - played with the now familiar but no less satisfying bursts of pent-up energy from Jason Alexander - is unemployed and down on luck in Season Five, a thirty-something single-man living back at home with his parents. The situation proves embarrassing and hinders him in all aspects of social life, leading to even lower self-esteem than he usually possesses around women and many amusing moments for his friends and audience alike. The real treat however are the numerous scenes involving George's parents, portrayed by Jerry Stiller and Estelle Harris with a combination of bitter-sweet love and constant interference delivered by actors who appear to revel in their dialogue and play off eachother with consummate ease. They prove to be a constant delight over the course of Season Five and although their roles are reduced somewhat in Season Six, continue to put in appearances only this time the roles are reversed and George - now a successful man working for the New York Yankees - must put up his father as his parents undergo divorce procedures putting these two world-class argument-horses at each other's throats. The change in George's character between Season Five and Six are put in place via one of my favourite episodes from Season Five - "The Opposite" - in which George - teased by Jerry - decides to do the opposite of all his natural urges. Something that not only had me in stitches but sees George, a character we love only because of his constant plight, finally come out on top in everything he does and sees him swap roles with Elaine who in the very same episode finds herself out of work and out of home. A quick solution comes in the form of Justin Pitt, an obnoxious old business-man who takes a shine to Elaine and offers her a job as his personal assistant. This new role in life is put to good use by the writers' who centre much of Elaine's storylines in Season Six around her job and the character of Justin Pitt, who portrayed by Ian Abercrombie is a unique combination of a stuffy shirt businessman and friendly father-figure, something that Elaine recognises and comes to appreciate especially when she finds that he's writing her into his will.
In other areas the transition from Season Four is virtually seamless, with the quality of scripting and performances to a high level which is maintained right through the Seasons featured here. Equally seamless is the change from Tom Cherones to Andy Ackerman as the director in charge, with the latter picking up the gauntlet in Season Six and rolling with the punches showing no sign of any struggle. If anything the episodes appear to have a new lease of life, something that is added to with a new "New York Street" set which is integrated far better into the episodes than previous exterior street shots have been, and is therefore a more frequently used location. Other changes are generally quite minor, but certainly pleasing such as the near complete reduction of cheers every time Kramer enters the room, a request of Larry David's who rightly felt the applauded entrances were hurting the subsequent scenes between the actors.
The complete fifth season comprising of 22 episodes and the complete sixth season comprising of 24 episodes are presented in their original NBC Network versions (1-2 minutes longer than subsequently syndicated broadcast versions) and spread across four-discs each. Available separately priced at £34.99 RRP each, bundled together priced at £64.99, or for the collector's amongst you available in a Seasons 5 & 6 Giftset priced at £79.99 which includes both seasons complete with a customized replica of the puffy shirt (enshrined in the Smithsonian) and a reproduction of an original notepad with Jerry’s longhand written script for “The Pilot”. Visit the Official Website for episode guides, clips and more.
Picture and Sound
Presented in their original Full Frame aspect ratio the episodes have been digitally remastered and considering their age and production restrictions, look pretty damn good. To get an idea of the level to which these have been remastered you only need look at the deleted scenes, which by comparison are a blurry mix of detail and diluted colours, whereas the main episode presentations highlight sharp colour definition and good detail levels across the board. There is some considerable grain present in the image, a factor common to the show thus far, and of course their presentation is no match for more recent shows presented on DVD, but on the whole the image quality continues to impress and satisfy.
In terms of audio there can be no complaints whatsoever, with the show's original stereo mix preserved and separated well across the front channels. The audience laughter can sometimes be a little harsh on the ear but dialogue and what little music there is always comes across with great clarity. There are numerous audio and subtitle options for both the episodes and extras as detailed in the right-hand side column of this review.
Across both seasons all bonus features are provided with optional English, French, German and Dutch subtitles. The review set provided was missing disc two of Season 6, so not all extras are covered below. A * indicates figures which are based on the discs provided, and will be updated once a retail set is available.
"Yada Yada Yada" Commentaries - Season 5 offers a total of 9 commentary tracks over the four-discs with five groups of contributors providing the "yada yada yada", a phrase which sadly rings very true for the offerings found here. Most familiar and the easiest to cover are actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards who on the episodes "The Mango" and "The Non-Fat Yoghurt" mostly comment on the show's content while reminiscing and enjoying past times like old friends. In a similar fashion creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David sit back and enjoy "The Opposite", providing their own laugh track if you will as they throw in the occasional anecdote while they try and remember the episode.
Writers Peter Mehlman and Carol Leifer contribute tracks for "The Lip Reader", "The Masseuse" and "The Hamptons" while Tom Gamill and Max Pross contribute tracks for "The Cigar Store Indian" and "The Pie". As you might expect from writers these tracks have a tendency to focus more on where the ideas for the script came from, how it was pitched and accepted to the reaction the episode received once aired. The second duo are more immediately accessible out of the two writing teams but despite the majority of the writers having some form of comedy background these are all fairly straight affairs, and like the actor/creator tracks quite patchy in nature making them often quite difficult to sit right the way through.
Director/Producer Tom Cherones and production designer Tom Azzari team-up once again and provide a single track for season five on "The Marine Biologist". Unlike the other contributors their comments are not so focused on one particular aspect of the show, and they do manage to maintain conversation throughout the episode but nothing they have to say really inspires me to suggest you fire this track up immediately upon receiving the set, though it is probably the most balanced offering of the season in terms of commentary tracks.
Moving onto Season 6 I was sadly missing a disc from my review set, so was only able to account for a total of five commentaries over the three discs available, all with slightly different line-ups of contributors but giving similar results to the season five efforts. Jerry Seinfeld, director Andy Ackerman and writers Alex Berg and Jeff Schaffer contribute a track on "The Gymnast" and manage to provide one of the better tracks on these sets, with constant streams of information coming from the various perspectives of actor/creator, director and writers.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander soldier on in the unexplained absence of Michael Richards to provide tracks for "The Beard" and "The Fusilli Jerry"; with the latter being the standout as the episode content really fuels the conversation with much of the focus being on how shocked they still are with the sexual overtones found in many of these episodes.
Writers Tom Gamill and Max Pross once again return and this time offer commentary on "The Doorman" and "The Diplomat's Closet" and offer more observations from the writer's point of view, but once again prove to be one of the better writer commentary duos as they maintain conversation throughout the episodes with some interesting stories relayed and trivia divulged.
"Jason + Larry = George" (25:37mins) - The Season 5 documentary explores the character of George and his inspiration, Larry David. Many of the stories found here have been told to certain degrees over the extras found on previous seasons, but this short documentary still manages to provide some new information and be entertaining at the same time with newly shot contributions from all involved with the show.
"Running with the Egg: Making A Seinfeld" Documentary (33:44mins) - This Season 6 two-part documentary takes us through the various stages involved in making an episode of Seinfeld. From the initial 'idea' phase which sees an episode born out of a single-line concept to the numerous scripting and rewrite phases right through to the table-read, rehearsal and shooting the documentary culminates on the routine after-show meal at the "Jerry's" restaurant a few blocks from the office complete with some very amusing stories as the cast and crew reflect on the times spent together. As per all the making-of features on these DVDs this documentary is a combination of clips, behind-the-scenes footage and newly shot interviews with all involved, all tightly edited together making for yet another informative and above-all entertaining addition to the set.
"Sponsored by Vandelay Industries" Promos (3:27mins) - Available on Season 5 are a series of specially recorded promotional spots advertising the show's move to the "Cheers" timeslot on NBC. How worthy of your time these are tends to depend on the actors featured, as when it's Jerry flying solo they're rather dull but when he's joined by another of the central cast they can be quite entertaining.
"Inside Looks" - A total of 15 episodes on Season 5 and 11* episodes on Season 6 are given one of these mini-featurettes in which the cast and crew provide a little insight to a particular episode's content. Running anything between a couple of minutes to seven/eight minutes the depth varies but always covers some interesting anecdotes or reactions to the episode, such as revealing "The Sniffing Accountant" was based on true events surrounding Jerry's then personal accountant or allowing one of the several recurring guest-stars to delve into their role (such as Jerry Stiller on Season 5 and Ian Abercrombie on Season 6). An extension of the format used in the documentary these pieces are always informative and never hard to sit through due to their short running times.
"In The Vault" Deleted Scenes - A total of 11 episodes on Season 5 and 8* episodes on Season 6 have deleted material, mostly scene-extensions that although worth a look rarely manage to raise more than a smile, leaving you with no doubt as to why they were removed.
"Master of his Domain" Exclusive Stand-Up Material - Available on both Season 5 (7:53mins) and Season 6 (6:20mins) this unused stand-up material from Jerry Seinfeld will thrill fans of his stand-up work but does very little for me. Still, its inclusion is welcome and helps complete the sets.
"Not That There's Anything Wrong With That" Bloopers - Available on both Season 5 (13:18mins) and Season 6* the material here is just as viewer dependent as the stand-up footage, but where I find the former rather dull I can rarely get enough of bloopers though it has to be said the selection here (on Season 5 at least) is not as entertaining as those from previous years.
Notes About Nothing - These subtitle trivia tracks are available on every episode in English, French, German and Dutch. As with previous seasons the depth of information provided never fails to impress as it covers various girlfriend counters, Kramer entrance counters, facts on guest stars right through to useless trivia on subjects broached in episodes (such as extermination methods for fleas!) though quite how often you'll turn them on depends just how much Seinfeld trivia you can take.
"Sein-imation" - This Season 6 exclusive bonus feature sees four classic Seinfeld scenes re-imagined via simple pencil animations, usually focusing on monologues from characters which can be brought to life by the artist. They're simple in concept and equally simple in execution, making them fairly light entertainment considering they only run a minute or two apiece. Hardly essential viewing then but no harm either.
Additional to these familiar extras you will once again find that no stone has been left uncovered, with the Season 5 episode "The Non-Fat Yoghurt" available to view in both the final aired version and the alterative cut which would have aired should the New York mayoral elections it mirrors turned out differently. On Season 6 you will also find an additional introduction to the "Highlights of 100" clip show episode by Jerry Seinfeld.
Seinfeld continues to go from strength to strength, with the writers defying the odds and coming up with new and original storylines backed up by naturally hilarious dialogue which is then delivered by a cast at ease with themselves and the characters they portray. Seasons Five and Six are part of the show's golden years and these DVDs are the way to enjoy them, with pleasing video and audio quality and some excellent bonus material.