Seinfeld: Season 8 Review

In its seventh season, Seinfeld continued on as it always has done with its central characters finding themselves in all kinds of crazy situations as they make idiosyncratic comments on subjects as varied and unimportant as what shower head you have installed in your bathroom to what flavour of gum you like. In amongst the banter George found himself engaged to be married almost as quickly as he realised what a huge mistake he’d made, setting up a season long source of anxiety for the stocky fellow before finding an unlikely way out of the situation in the finale, where Jerry himself soon faced the same situation.


Moving into the eighth season I wondered how the writers would tackle Jerry’s dilemma and knew immediately they had one of two obvious choices. Run with the storyline or simply gloss over it in the first episode giving some basic explanation for how the situation was resolved. They went with the latter, and in many ways this approach typifies what I’ve seen of season eight (my review copy was lacking the fourth disc and therefore the last four episodes) with very little attempt to develop a more substantial running subplot through the episodes. Even George’s grieving process over the loss of his fiancé is paid very little attention, a situation that is setup very well in the opening episode with a turn-of-events mirroring those of his engagement as George goes from heaven to hell in a few short minutes, only for the storyline to be almost forever quashed in the following episode.

Instead the most consistent running storyline is one carried over from the seventh season, which sees Elaine’s melodramatic boss Mr. Peterman promptly depart for the Burmese jungle, leaving her to run the magazine he owns. This boosts her confidence in the workplace somewhat and makes for some amusing situations including her “dance” and the calls she makes to Jerry immediately placing him on hold. It also yields some embarrassing ones that can serve as examples of the show broadening its scope and featuring a little too much crazy in a single episode, as I found myself cringing throughout “The Fatigues” in which she chooses to promote rather than fire a psychotic mail worker. The broad performance of the guest star in this role is further exacerbated by the combination of Michael Richard’s growing free-reign in the role of Kramer and another of the show’s firecracker characters, Frank Costanza (portrayed by Jerry Stiller). Fortunately the episodes where these more crazy elements converge to overwhelm the viewer are rare, with another of Elaine’s poorly conceived workplace stories in “The Susie” only really standing out. In spite of their loosely threaded construction even these episodes tend to remain amusing as the writers always work in at least a B or C story with another central character that is more grounded to even out the playing field. So even the crazy works when delivered in the right dosage, and none more-so than Mr. Peterman who makes a welcome return in the latter half of the season, quickly demoting Elaine and then in just one of many storylines places her in charge of writing his biography, which yields more great delivery from John O’Hurley in this engaging role.

Any complaints about the show becoming ever more outlandish tend to fall by the wayside when you consider how even here, in its eighth season the basic concept of the show about nothing remains solid with the healthy banter between the leads still of a consistently high quality. The more elaborate storylines could be attributed to the departure of Larry David from the writing staff, but in reality the situations faced by the characters over the seasons have continued to grow more unlikely as the writers search for new ideas. Said ideas only fuel the characters’ adventures in-between the various partners each of them find only to pick up on some minutiae and run with it until the relationship ultimately fails. Watching Jerry and Kramer essentially switch roles (and apartments) briefly in “The Chicken Roaster” is certainly a highlight, with Jerry apparently relishing mimicking Richards’ performance and being greeted by the kind of cheers Kramer generated in the early seasons. Equally humorous and well played (particularly by Jason Alexander) is the abstinence from sex George and subsequently Elaine partake in “The Abstinence”, whereby George, given a solid reason for not sleeping with his current girlfriend finds that his brain – no longer preoccupied with something he can’t have – unlocks his potential leaving him to learn new languages and generally outsmart everyone. Another fine George moment and one of the purest examples of the show’s basic concept is seen in “The Comeback”, where after finding himself the butt of an office joke he comes up with what he believes to be the perfect witty retort. The only problem is, like we have all so often done in the past, he thinks it up quite some time after the fact, but here we witness George fly to Ohio in order to deliver said retort as it’s just too perfect for him to leave alone.

Even if this season does lack a more solid running subplot it does continue in the Seinfeld tradition of throwing in numerous appearances and references to characters and situations who we might not have seen or heard from in some time, thus enhancing and solidifying the world these characters inhabit. Here for example the long-lost “Jerry” pilot episode for the show within the show is resurrected as George tries to sell it to the Japanese, while elsewhere Elaine’s bra-less friend pops up to berate her while Kramer stops by his lawyer’s office for another lawsuit that ultimately goes nowhere. The latter is always a delight, as while the cases Kramer brings him tend to be the result of some of the character’s weaker and less reeled in storylines, the performance by Phil Morris as Jackie Chiles, a character so broadly modelled on Johnnie Cochran, is always a blast. Less frequent but recurring characters like Newman also help to keep things interesting (particularly when used sparingly), and along with the occasional appearances by Jerry and George’s parents coupled with some memorable guest stars (a favourite has to be the late great Lloyd Bridges in one of his last roles) keep this a varied and eventful season that retains a sizeable chunk of the spark which made the earlier seasons so fresh.


The DVD

Episodes are spread across four-discs in a 6/6/6/4 split, with the original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio adhered to and the presentation once again digitally remastered for this release. Everything looks as you would expect really, with detail reasonable across the board along with natural colours and good contrast throughout. The source material is not perfect with some obvious noise in the image while the compression is handled fairly well, though edge enhancement is frequently visible.

In terms of audio the discs offer the original English stereo mix in Dolby Digital 2.0 which serves its purpose well, with clear dialogue and separation across the front soundstage. French and German dubs are also present along with a range of subtitle options as detailed in the right side-panel.

All extra features (including the commentaries) are subtitled in English, French, German, Dutch and Portuguese.

At the time of writing only the first three discs were available to us for review, so we’re basing the totals on the press release information.

”Yada Yada Yada” (Commentaries) - Of an advertised 14 commentary tracks I was only able to listen to 10, but what I heard is roughly consistent with the previous outings. A mixture of the good and not so good, as the majority of episodes are covered by the various writers, some of whom are more eloquent and engaging than others but on the whole deliver tracks which focus heavily on the writing process, looking at where the ideas come from and how their scripts are developed. A common theme in all of the tracks I heard is that of Larry David’s departure from the show in season eight and the effect that had on this process, which along with the coverage found in the Inside Looks and the Submarine Captain documentary leads to some repetition.

The best of the writer tracks were those hosted by David Mandel (“The Bizarro Jerry” and “The Susie”) in which he explores the ideas of each, in particular the self-referential nature of the comedy in the former and what he believes failed to work in the latter. The honesty of his approach makes his tracks easy to settle into, while his delivery is always engaging. The same is true of Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin, the writing team behind “The Fatigues” and “The Comeback” who deliver equally good tracks that along with Mandel’s are easy to recommend. Not holding up so well is the writing team of Tom Gamill and Max Pross who, while offering the same basic content in their track on “The Checks” as that found in the other writers’ tracks, fails to be as engaging or well constructed.

Jerry Seinfeld joins director Andy Ackerman on the first of two commentary tracks for “The Chicken Roaster” where, true to previous form, Jerry mainly reminiscences and laughs along to the show with Andy following suit. Jeff Schafer and Alex Berg are the writers of said episode and team up for the second commentary track which is up there with my other recommended writers tracks, offering a good mixture of stories about the writing process and where the ideas came from which are relayed in a positive manner to the viewer.

Individually, writer’s Steve Koren and Dan O’Keefe join Jerry Seinfeld and Andy Ackerman on “The Abstinence” and “The Pothole” episodes respectively, but aside from the occasional nugget of information on where their ideas might have come from they fall into the same trap as those before them and simply end up watching and enjoying the episodes with Jerry.

Notes About Nothing - Available in English, French, German, Dutch and Portuguese these excellent trivia tracks return and are present on all 22 episodes delivering a wide range of information from filmographies on guest stars, details on locations, snippets from interviews relating to a scene in an episode and much more. The counters also return, with the girlfriend/boyfriend counters steadily rising while Kramer’s entrance counter moves into the three-hundreds.

Inside Looks - These short behind-the-scenes featurettes are present on 14 of the 22 episodes and feature various talking head interviews with the cast, crew and the occasional recurring guest star (Jerry Stiller, John O’Hurley, Phil Morris, Wayne Knight). Short and to the point (approx 5-6 minutes each), they usually focus on one particular aspect of an episode and comment on where the ideas came from and the process that went into bringing them to the screen. Along with interviews and clips from the show, they quite often integrate alternate takes and outtakes from the episodes in question, which really add to the entertainment factor of these pieces.

Deleted Scenes - A total of 14 deleted scenes, these are self-explanatory though it’s worth noting they’re better than most deleted scenes, with the material usually cut for time.

Jerry Seinfeld: Submarine Captain (23:29mins) - The documentary for this season focuses solely on Jerry, with the usual suspects offering their views on the man as a writer, producer and actor over the first seven seasons, before noting the changes brought about on the eighth when co-creator Larry David left. Heavy on the praise but always genuine, this is another well put together piece in the tradition of previous documentaries on the Seinfeld sets, and offers some good insights to the change in process for the episodes it accompanies.

Sein-i-mation - These basic ink animations of classic Seinfeld scenes include a standup bit from Jerry (“The Del Boca Vista Express”, 1min) and a classic Kramer story (“Pinky Toe’s Wild Ride”, 2mins). They’re fine to watch through once, but not exactly an essential bonus feature.

Blooper Reel - This feature should be present on the fourth disc of the retail set, and is something I’m very much looking forward to seeing as I’ve found them very enjoyable on previous Seinfeld sets and the outtake clips in the Inside Looks from this season are all gold.


Overall

Another solid outing both in terms of episodes and the DVD, Seinfeld continues to impress me with the consistent quality it exhibits over eight seasons now, remaining true to its roots for the most part while the content on this DVD release backs up the season well.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
7 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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