Sunday, March 13, 2005

The meat of the lineup: Season 4 of 'Seinfeld' separates the best from the rest

All right, now it's time to get serious—seriously funny, anyway—because it was announced last week the fourth season of “Seinfeld” will make its DVD debut May 17.
This new four-disc set, boasting 13 hours of bonus material, is the latest installment in what is arguably the best TV-to-DVD treatment in the history of the medium. The first two sets (season 1-3) made their highly anticipated debut last November and proved that the six-year wait was well worth it. From new interviews to trivia to deleted scenes to lengthy gag reels, “Seinfeld” on DVD truly proved the master of its domain (sorry, couldn’t help it).
The scary thing is, as good as those box sets are, they remain three of the weaker seasons of the show’s nine-year run. Now we’re hitting the real meat of the series. The middle years, seasons 4-8, mark one of the best runs in the boob tube’s history.
Season 4, in particular, is so good, it’s probably not too difficult to come up with a 10-best “Seinfeld” list using just these 22 episodes. So, in order to make it challenging, I’m limiting my best of Season 4 lineup to just five eps. If you only watch these five, this box set will be worth the money.
And the nominees are:
• “The Contest” — The “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of ’90s television, this episode received so much acclaim over the years, it’s on a whole other level of pop culture phenomena, where we can no longer look at it objectively. Nevertheless, this show about four friends trying to prove which is “master of their domain” put “Seinfeld” on the map for good and remains uproariously funny no matter how many times you see it. My favorite scene? Tough to pick, but it’s probably Jerry sitting on the couch trying to keep his mind off the naked woman across the street. While Jerry hums “The Wheels on the Bus,” Kramer—staring at the nude neighbor, of course—starts singing, “the woman across the street has nothing on, nothing on, nothing on.”
• “The Bubble Boy” — Another watercooler moment (okay, let’s face it—every episode on this list was a watercooler moment), as Jerry, Elaine, George and Susan head upstate to the Ross’ cabin, with plans to stop off along the way to visit the Bubble Boy. Jerry doesn’t make it but George, unfortunately (fortunately for us), does. A heated game of Trivial Pursuit ensues, culminating with the Bubble Boy trying to choke the life out of George (can’t say I blame him). Never fully seen on camera, the Bubble Boy remains one of the top characters in “Seinfeld’s” long history of great guest appearances. This is an absolute gem from start to finish.
• “The Junior Mint” — Perhaps the most famous of all the show’s product placements (Snapple, Nike, etc.), Jerry is in all kinds of trouble in this classic. First, he can’t remember his girlfriend’s name, but knows it rhymes with a female body part. George’s best guess: Mulva. Um, no. Meanwhile, Jerry and Kramer attend the surgery of one of Elaine’s former boyfriends, where they unwittingly drop a Junior Mint into his open chest cavity. Paranoia ensues. One of the best lines of the entire series hails from this episode: Jerry, with a mouthful of food, agrees to Kramer’s invitation to see the operation by saying, “Let’s go watch ’em slice this fat bastard up.” Entertainment Weekly quotes Seinfeld as saying this was a landmark line in the series, as it led the writers to push the envelope even further down the road.
• “The Cheever Letters” — Speaking of dirty talk, off-color comments take centerstage in this ep, as Jerry can’t keep up with his new fling (Elaine’s secretary) while getting bawdy in the bedroom. His “are those the panties your mother laid out for you” retort is hysterically inept, and leads to trouble for both him and Elaine. Meanwhile, we get to see Jerry and George in full procrastination mode while trying to knock out the script for their “Jerry” pilot. One of my favorite sight-gags of the entire series comes up in this show: As Jerry leans across the table to whisper the dirty talk he heard the previous night, George is so shocked he squeezes the ketchup bottle spasmodically, shooting its contents across the restaurant.
• “The Outing” — The gang’s discomfort with homosexuality is hinted at in the previous episode when it’s discovered Susan’s father had a love affair with author John Cheever. But homo- … not phobia, but –paranoia, is front and center this time, as a prank by Elaine leads an NYU reporter to think Jerry and George are lovers. When the dubious duo finally realize what’s going on, they go to great lengths to convince the college journalist her perceptions are unfounded (George to the girl: “Do you wanna have sex right now? Come on, baby!”). But a malfunctioning two-line phone (provided, of course, by Kramer), proves to be their undoing. When the national wires pick up the story, their lives are thrown into turmoil. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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