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Using a fine blend of a comedy series within a comedy, Seinfeld was one of the biggest and most watched sitcom’s of the 90’s. Though perhaps not carrying quite the same weight as Friends and Frasier, it was still hugely popular and holds many of its own unique personalities. To this day it stands as a fine collection of classic American comedy and has won countless awards across the board. It was superbly written and elaborately hilarious in its day, but has it withstood the cruel test of time that so often tarnishes certain series?

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Series
The quick answer to that is of course yes! I have to confess that I have never actually seen this show before now, and I am deftly glad I have jumped aboard the bandwagon. Being such a huge Friends and Frasier fanatic myself, I was very much looking forward to seeing Seinfeld (the endless praise and accolades that surround it has always intrigued me) and I hope to invest in the remainder of it when the DVD’s become readily available.

Seinfeld actually didn’t start out as a major team player for its respective network, in fact the included two seasons produced only ‘acceptable’ ratings at best. It was only during the mid to late ninety’s when the show really picked up steam and started to wow studio execs. It was during this time that fan interest really peaked and the somewhat overlooked first seasons started to get the attention they deserved. It is within these very seasons that the fruition of the show came to form and all of the many foundations were built to withstand all what would follow.

Speaking of this ‘comedy within a comedy’ I mentioned earlier, the concept of Seinfeld is typical and quite simple to understand. The titular Jerry Seinfeld is a stand-up comedian (a damn good one too) who is surrounded by the obvious bucket-full of eccentric characters, oddball friends and the occasional loopy neighbour. These first two seasons bridge this unique concept together, and in so doing creates some of the most memorable and fascinating variety of comedy characters I have ever seen.

Amid the chaos of Seinfeld’s life, season’s one and two breaks down like this; firstly you will notice how short the first season is; just five episodes to be exact. Season two has slightly more; twelve episodes. It wasn’t until the third year that the traditional and more orderly twenty two episode schedule came into play. The pilot episode entitled ‘The Seinfeld Chronicles’ was actually not exclusive to the show, it does not, for example have most of the acting talent as seen later on in the show, and some of the references might not make sense at first. It’s still a good way to get things rolling, but for the real meat you’ll want to check out the remainder of the first season, as vastly abbreviated as it is.

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The acting is simply nailed in this show (from almost everybody involved); Jerry Seinfeld himself is predictably, somewhat obviously perfect in the role of his own shoes (much like Eminem in 8 Mile perhaps) and really brings an unforgettable charm to the series. Maybe it’s his fretful voice or his rugged appearance, I can’t quite pin it, but he’s always a treat to watch and makes this show the gem it is today. The rest of the cast in these first two seasons also give it their all, non more so than Seinfeld’s chum George (played unquestionably by Jason Alexander, who some may remember from Pretty Woman and Star Trek Voyager’s Think Tank). Michael Richards who plays the persistent and inexorable Cosmo Kramer is perhaps the most bizarre creation on the show but one cannot forget or overlook the ever-charming presence of Julia-Louis Dreyfus who acts out Elaine Benes. The cast shines here, which is always a good thing in a static situation comedy.

Those new to the show (like myself) need not worry about the likeability of the characters. From the first episode alone I was able to connect with these people and really felt apart of their intoxicating world by the time the credits rolled. To be honest, this kind of early affection sprung up fond memories of the first time I fired up Frasier. I knew right there and then that I was going to like the rest of the show, and I did.

Standout episodes included would have to be ‘The Phone Message’ which sees George getting nasty with his girlfriend’s answering machine messages. ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ was also a great episode, having the gang visit the local Chinese (which as you can imagine doesn’t go too well). The general flow of these two years are pretty good, nothing too extraordinary overall but I am told the seasons to follow greatly improve over what we have here.

In all, I would recommend this as an essential viewing experience to all who appreciate such stalwart television. Seinfeld is quintessential American comedy and nothing much else produced in the last ten years save from the two aforementioned sitcom’s can really touch it. Its pure formula, but it’s absolutely engrossing television that does come with a warning label attached: just try not to bust those stitches when you laugh too hard!

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Video
Supposedly remastered in High Definition video, Seinfeld has seemingly been awarded a new lease of life on DVD. Indeed, the video transfer has been handled rather well. The image still looks old, but I suspect nowhere near as murky as the television broadcasts. When you take into consideration the pilot episode is some fifteen years old and budgets weren’t exactly off the scale at the time, it is easy to be impressed with what Columbia have to offer here.

While the pilot did seem to suffer from excessive grain and dirtiness, the succeeding episodes showed marked improvement. Overall, the focus and sharpness were greatly improved, colours looked natural and there were not too many edge enhancement issues. All I can really say is that this boxed set mirrors any of the more recently released sitcoms in this area. Not perfect, granted, but good enough.

Audio
Only Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo here, but it works just fine. There are no LFE and directional audio signals to comment on but the centre/fronts work nicely together. As you can probably fathom, the show is entirely dialogue driven (as is the case with most sitcoms) so Dolby’s effort really doesn’t get the chance to shine. For what it’s worth, the centre/front sound is decent, nothing special though. It’s clear enough to make out but I feel it could have been a fraction louder and more consistent in places. I often found myself turning the volume up for some scenes and down again for others.

Extras
On this four disc set, the features are fractured onto each disc. They are not actually that straightforward to use (some are buried within menus, some are more obviously presented) but the general content really holds up well. The menu system is good too! Each disc houses a different menu layout, and all represent the show nicely. My favourite is the one that resembles the Chinese restaurant. It not only looks authentic but entails a few quirky surprises too.

Commentary tracks are available on the following episodes: ‘The Steak Out’, ‘The Busboy’, ‘The Baby Shower’, ‘The Heart Attack’, ‘The Revenge’ and ‘The Deal’. Most of them are pretty good, my personal favourite probably being ‘The Heart Attack’. Their very inclusion is simply fantastic and an unheard-of feature among most television boxed sets! For that thought alone, the folks who produced this DVD deserve a pat on the back.

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‘Inside Looks’ are latched onto the following: ‘Pilot’, ‘Male Unbonding’, ‘The Stake Out’, ‘The Robbery’, ‘The Pony Remark’, ‘The Busboy’, ‘The Baby Shower’, ‘The Jacket’, ‘The Chinese Restaurant’, ‘The Phone Message’, ‘The Apartment’, ‘The Statue’, ‘The Revenge’ and ‘The Deal’. The title really gives it away; they are simply small snippets of footage on the aforesaid episodes. More often that not, these snippets expand on several aspects of the individual episodes, but on some they concentrate on one larger comedy set piece.

Most episodes also have a feature called ‘Notes about Nothing’. This nifty feature acts like an audio commentary; without the audio. Instead, text-based notes appear on the screen rather like subtitles. I found them to be quite an enjoyable read throughout the episodes, casting light on various production issues, script notes et al.

The ‘Deleted scenes’ feature comes with a handful of episodes across all four discs. Usually there are just one or two and unfortunately they are not that good. I find this the case with most deleted scene features, but some may find enjoyment in them.

‘Master of his domain’ is a seven minute exclusive stand-up hosted by Jerry Seinfeld himself. It’s mostly topical but will deliver some corkers. I actually love this little feature and I wish more of the same had been included. Hopefully Columbia will expand upon this in further releases.

‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that’ is a lengthy blooper reel which (to my great surprise) I found rather amusing. Much like deleted scene features, I don’t normally discover much joy watching blooper reels, but this was one of the best I have seen in ages. Perhaps it has something to do with the cast, I’m not quite sure, but I was pretty creased throughout most of its runtime.

‘How it began’ is a making of documentary spit into three chunks. I found this documentary to be very good, informative and actually entertaining. It takes us all the way back to 1981 when Jerry Seinfeld first started to gain popularity and how he quickly became a comic legend. Being a newcomer to Seinfeld, it answered a great deal of nagging questions that were bobbing about in my mind. I highly recommend this as essential viewing to anyone who happens to be a new fan of the show. Just a side note; these three parts are Godzilla-sized! The first two run for nearly half an hour, the third lasts for about fifteen minutes! As Darth Vader might say in his Empire Strikes Back tone, “Impressive, Most Impressive”.

‘The Tonight Show’ is a smaller feature that carries some goodness within. It basically shows some of the other television series Seinfeld made appearances on. And finally, ‘Sponsored by Vandelay Industries’ shows the original NBC trailer and promotional material used way back when the show first aired.

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Overall
Seinfeld is a fantastic show to indulge in. It is one of the most wildly popular sitcoms of all time and that success speaks volumes about the quality of the show. It earned its accolades truthfully and honestly, unlike most over-marketed trash currently dominating the airwaves. You know you want it so don’t deny yourself this treat! Pick up the DVD today and enjoy it the way it was meant to be seen.

If the image impresses you more than you may expect and the audio caters well enough, then this is nothing to the vast array of special features available. Not only have they included some older material but they have actually gone to the trouble of roping the cast and crew back to provide handsomely for this DVD. Now, forgive me for saying, but it really doesn’t get much better than that!

Columbia has well and truly delivered one of the best sitcom packages with Seinfeld seasons 1 & 2 (and I suspect season 3 too). This is hands down a fantastic package for fans of the series and newcomers alike that should prove to be an overwhelming success all over again!


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