Critic’s Notebook: Watching the ‘Seinfeld’ reunion in context
If you felt like there was something missing from the “‘Seinfeld’ reunion” as it played on Sunday’s Super Bowl, it’s because there was. Some five minutes were cut from the complete version, a now-available episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” for which the Super Bowl spot served as an ad (and, by extension, as an ad for the series’ sponsor, Acura). There are of course reasons, tens of millions of them, why the sketch, I think we can call it, did not run full-length during the football game — “As expensive as a Super Bowl minute” is a phrase I hereby trademark, if I can do that.
Doubtless the spot raised the profile of Jerry’s little Internet show. But though clearly made to be seen in the context of the game, during whose halftime it takes place, as shortened for Sunday’s broadcast it lacked the existential essence, the rhythms, the music of what made “Seinfeld” “Seinfeld.” It was as if you took an old familiar Beatles song and removed three out of every four measures. It lurches, where it should glide.
On the other hand, I would direct you without hesitation, to the unabridged original, which you can find here.
To be sure, even the full, six-minute version of “George Costanza: The Over-Cheer,” otherwise known as season 3, episode 6 of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” may not be your dream “Seinfeld” reunion — which the 2009 “Curb Your Enthusiasm” sideways stealth reunion should have put to rest, in any case.
Is it a work of comic genius? Does it need to be? Written by Seinfeld and Larry David and directed by David — and reuniting the “Seinfeld” co-creators only with Jason Alexander (as George Costanza) and Wayne Knight (as Newman), it is no major statement but has the feel rather of old bandmates jamming together at a party. It is a bit strange to see Seinfeld and Alexander on real New York streets or sitting in the actual Tom’s Restaurant, but once they’re in place, in their booth, in a sitcomical two-shot, it seems more than a little like old times.
It has the usual “Coffee” form: Seinfeld, in some classic car, picks up a comic person of note — guests have included Jay Leno, Don Rickles, Sarah Silverman, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, Chris Rock, David Letterman, Patton Oswalt and Tina Fey — and drives somewhere to talk over coffee. Here, however, Seinfeld drives back into his old sitcom, in a 1976 American Motors Pacer, “a total disaster from initial concept to final execution. It doesn’t work, looks ridiculous and falls apart. Which makes it the perfect car for my guest today, Mr. George Costanza ... my best friend for almost every single day of the 1990s.”
Even at the greater length there is a sense of trying to do a lot in a tight space. Seinfeldean memes here include cinnamon (“Is cinnamon ever bad? It enhances everything”), the curly chip, the mumble, the over-cheer and the proper use of a host’s master bathroom. (Some do zip by.) Nevertheless, there is a satisfying sense of tension and release (and, this being “Seinfeld,” tension), of irritation building to revelation, and time enough for the signature verbal fillips that tell us where we are and who we’re with — Jerry’s “I don’t think you do” in response to George’s “I know the point of the mumble,” his “They do not” to George’s “The Wassersteins don’t like me?”
And this exchange, when George offers that Jerry leave him at Tom’s while he goes off to a Super Bowl party to which George is not invited.
“I think you mean it.”
“Here’s my coat.”
“Put it on.”
None of that was in Sunday’s cut.
Reunions — which reunite not only the players but the players with their audience — can be difficult. They remind us that we are getting old — it has been 16 years since “Seinfeld” went off the air, in another world — and will die. Many seem convened only as evidence that you can’t go home again. But when they do work, they remind us that, while nothing lasts forever, they can last a while; that continuity is possible, even with interruption, and that there can always be One More Time, while there’s time.
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