One of the most popular sitcoms of all time, "Seinfeld" probably would not have lasted had it aired today. When the show was initially launched, NBC worried that the show wouldn't play to all audiences and the initial ratings seemed to prove them right. However, NBC was able to see a small cult audience gathering around the show when the pilot first aired in 1989, and although the first couple of seasons saw the show on shaky ground - and they weren't the best moments of the series - the sitcom eventually began to gather some serious steam.
After six seasons, "Seinfeld" became NBC's biggest hit, drawing in audiences by the millions to the all-important Thursday night lineup. However, during the seventh season, "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David decided to depart the series. While the show would not be quite the same without David's unique and deeply funny sense of humor (Larry David is, after all, the inspiration for George Costanza), Season 7 really did see the future "Curb Your Enthusiasm" creator going out on a high note, as the 7th season is arguably one of the show's very best.
Season 8 of "Seinfeld" was the first without Larry David at the helm, with Seinfeld and a series of mostly newer writers taking control of the immensely popular series. While one can argue that season 8 isn't among the best seasons of the series, the cast and crew do put in a strong effort to keep things going after Larry David had departed. Season 8 also saw the departure of the opening stand-up bits, as the series started cutting right to an opening scene with the characters. While season 8 was going to be the end, the cast and crew decided to give the series one more round shortly after the season wrapped.
The most interesting thing to me about season 9 is that, nearly 10 years later, the finale really overshadows my memories of the season. I didn't care for the show's final episode, and neither did a lot of fans. However, this lead me to remember the final season as being a downturn in quality, when actually, there are a lot of terrific moments here and a few classics.
The season's most lasting contribution to pop culture would likely be "Festivus", which is introduced in the episode, "The Strike" (in another example of not remembering how good parts of the last season were, I thought "Festivus" happened earlier in the show's run.) "Festivus" is a holiday begun by George's father, who tells the story to Kramer: "Many Christmas' ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way. It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born: a Festivus for the rest of us."
Instead of a Christmas tree, Festivus celebrates with a steel pole. Activities on Festivus night include: the Airing of Grievances (telling those close to you how they've disappointed you over the last year) and the Feats of Strength (Tradition states that Festivus is not over until the head of the household is pinned in a wrestling match.) George's father is the character who also contributes another of the 9th season's major pop culture contributions, yelling "Serenity now!" to help calm down in "The Serenity Now".
Whereas the previous pair of seasons had largely been George-centric, the final season once again turned the focus to the other members of the group, as well. Kramer gets the spotlight in "The Burning", where he and Mickey act out various diseases for medical students, including gonorrhea. When discussing how to act it out, Jerry's advice is "Step into the spotlight and belt that gonorrhea out to the back row." Kramer's response: "I'm going to make the people feel my gonorrhea...and feel the gonorrhea in themselves!" The episode also included George's "going out on a high note" and Elaine's finding out that Puddy (Patrick Warburton) is religious.
Kramer's other great moment - and possibly one of the best Kramer-centric episodes in the entire series - is "The Merv Griffin Show", which has Kramer finding the set of the old "Merv Griffin Show" in a dumpster and turning his apartment into the set, hosting his own show (even taking commercial breaks) and eventually even hooking in Newman to become his sidekick.
While Kramer's reconstruction of "The Merv Griffin Show" was a brilliant, absurd concept, "The Voice" goes off-the-rails with the concept that Jerry's girlfriend's bellybutton has a voice, and she leaves when he tells her that it's become a running gag between him and Elaine/Kramer/George (as with apparently everything on the series, the concept was based upon a situation that really happened to the writer.) It's a little too bizarre and one-note to be funny. The rest of the episode (George is being forced out of his job at Play Now for lying, Kramer hires an intern) fares much better.
Puddy (Patrick Warburton) also returns for a couple of classic moments, especially "The Dealership", where Jerry and Elaine found that Puddy had started the annoying habit of high-fiving everyone. Warburton is also brilliant in "The Burning", where he informs Elaine in his usual deadpan that she's going to hell.
There's a few other episodes that are merely okay, such as "The Reverse Peephole", "The Cartoon" (Jerry insults Susan's friend, Sally Weaver, played by Kathy Griffin, and she does a one-woman show about how much she hates him) and "The Maid" (Jerry dates his maid and starts to wonder about the fact that he's paying her.)
The less said about the finale the better, as while the featurette has the group saying that it "couldn't live up to the hype", I still think the episode doesn't match one of the more "average" episodes from any season. Writer Dave Mandel mentions an episode that was actually going to be filmed in New York City that never happened, and I think that would have been a more fitting closure for the show.
Weird note: "The Puerto Rican Day Parade" is one episode that I have to say doesn't seem to be shown in syndication. I've seen every episode in syndication several times aside from this one, which I haven't seen since it aired. As writers Dave Mandel and Steve Koren explain in the commentary on the DVD, the episode has been banned from syndication and was not rerun on NBC for fear of being seen as insensitive.
157. 9- 1 25 Sep 97 The Butter Shave
158. 9- 2 2 Oct 97 The Voice
159. 9- 3 9 Oct 97 The Serenity Now
160. 9- 4 16 Oct 97 The Blood
161. 9- 5 30 Oct 97 The Junk Mail
162. 9- 6 6 Nov 97 The Merv Griffin Show
163. 9- 7 13 Nov 97 The Slicer
164. 9- 8 20 Nov 97 The Betrayal
165. 9- 9 11 Dec 97 The Apology
166. 9-10 18 Dec 97 The Strike
167. 9-11 8 Jan 98 The Dealership
168. 9-12 15 Jan 98 The Reverse Peephole
169. 9-13 29 Jan 98 The Cartoon
170. 9-14 5 Feb 98 The Strongbox
171. 9-15 26 Feb 98 The Wizard
172. 9-16 19 Mar 98 The Burning
173. 9-17 9 Apr 98 The Bookstore
174. 9-18 23 Apr 98 The Frogger
175. 9-19 30 Apr 98 The Maid
176. 9-20 7 May 98 The Puerto Rican Day
177. 9-21 14 May 98 The Clip Show (1)
178. 9-22 14 May 98 The Clip Show (2)
179. 9-23 14 May 98 The Finale (1)
180. 9-24 14 May 98 The Finale (2)
VIDEO: "Seinfeld" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame once again in season 9. The episodes have been remasted for this DVD release, and the results are really quite good. Having watched these episodes in syndication a great many times, I'll definitely note that the picture quality is an improvement over broadcast. Sharpness and detail seem quite good, as the picture often appeared noticably more well-defined than the episodes of the show I watch during dinner most nights.
The picture showed little in the way of real concerns. Some slight shimmer and a trace or two of pixelation were noticed, but these issues were certainly minor. Colors remained bright and vivid, seemingly stronger and more saturated than the broadcast episodes I've seen lately, which look a tad washed-out in comparison.
SOUND: "Seinfeld" is presented in Dolby 2.0 on the DVDs. The sound quality is perfectly fine, with clear dialogue. The dialogue and laugh track seemed nicely balanced, while the occasional hints of music seemed crisp and full. Overall, a perfectly fine effort - nothing to write home about, but no problems, either.
EXTRAS: In honor of the backwards episode "The Betrayal", I'll look at the extras from the end of the set to the front. "Scenes From the Roundtable" is a 17-minute featurette with David, Louis-Dreyfuss, Seinfeld, Richards and Alexander discussing their thoughts on the series and the final season. This featurette was a bit of a letdown, as much of it is clip-heavy and when the group does chat, the comments are pretty praise-heavy.
"The Maid" has commentary from writers Jeff Schaffer, David Mandel and Alec Berg, while "Puerto Rican Day Parade" has commentary from Mandel and Steve Koren. Mandel is probably the best commentator on any of the "Seinfeld" sets, as not only does he remain informative, but completely honest, such as when he discusses being upset that NBC decided not to rerun the "Puerto Rican Day Parade" episode for fear of protest (Mandel also talks about how Seinfeld approached a group of protestors to chat about the conflict.) The final disc also offers a trailer for "Spider-Man 3", deleted scenes, an "Inside Look" featurette for "The Puerto Rican Day Parade" and "Notes About Nothing".
Disc 3 offers up the traditional load of very funny bloopers, titled "Not That There's Anything Wrong With That". Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Jason Alexander, Patrick Warburton and Andy Ackerman offer up a commentary for "The Burning", and Alexander and Louis-Dreyfuss talk more consistently here than they have on the commentaries for prior seasons. Warburton pipes in on occasion, but Alexander and Dreyfuss offer the majority of the comments. We also get "Inside Looks" at "Frogger" and "The Bookstore". We also get deleted scenes, "Notes About Nothing" optional text commentaries and a "Sein-Imation" animated scene.
The second disc offers up a commentary from writers Greg Kavet, Darren Henry and Andy Robin. Writer Dave Mandel returns with writer Peter Melman for "The Betrayal". Speaking of "The Betrayal", Mandel also offers a very brief introduction to an interesting feature: for the first time ever, we get the option to see "The Betrayal" from front-to-back instead of vice versa. The episode works pretty well reversed.
Also on the second disc is a commentary from writers Andy Ackerman/Dan O'Keefe and actor Jerry Seinfeld for "The Strike". The little-known fact is that "Festivus" is real, and was actually observed by O'Keefe's father. There are some good bits of information from the writers, but Seinfeld mainly giggles throughout much of the track. However, I do agree with him that Bryan Cranston was one of the funniest guest stars of the series. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Jason Alexander, Patrick Warburton and Andy Ackerman return for "The Dealership" and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Jason Alexander, Patrick Warburton and writer Spike Feresten for "The Reverse Peephole". We also get deleted scenes, "Notes About Nothing" optional text commentaries, a "Sein-Imation" animated scene and "Inside Look" featurettes at "The Betrayal" and "The Strike".
Finally, writers David Mandel, Jeff Schaeffer and Alec Berg offer audio commentary for "The Voice" on the first disc. Also found on the first disc is a commentary from writer Steve Koren about "The Serenity Now" (which is based on a true story) and Andy Ackerman, Alexander, Louis-Dreyfuss and writer Bruce Kaplan. We also get "Inside Looks" at "The Merv Griffin Show", "Butter Shave", "The Voice" and "The Junk Mail", deleted scenes, "Notes About Nothing", a "Sein-imation" animated scene and finally, "The Last Lap". "The Last Lap" discusses the decision to have the 9th season be the last, as well as the hype around the finale.
Final Thoughts: "Seinfeld"'s final season doesn't end on the high note that fans would have hoped, but the remainder of the season does offer a lot of highlights, including a few classics. The DVD set boasts terrific audio/video quality, as well as a very nice set of extras. Recommended.