Memories of the final season of Seinfeld have always tended to focus on its most glaring misfires; Jerry sedates a girlfriend to get time with her collection of classic toys, the job George (Jason Alexander) lands only because they think he has a handicap, the Frogger episode. While the bits still seem either as poorly conceived or poorly executed as they did on first viewing its pleasantly surprising to be reminded that the clunkers are so well balanced by just how many memorable, and in some cases enduring, bits came out of these episodes; Elaine’s New Yorker cartoon (unconsciously stolen from a “Ziggy”), the Festivus holiday created by Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller), George’s overstuffed wallet, “Serenity Now”, the Human Fund; Kramer (Michael Richards), protesting against the Post Office for not allowing him to cease delivery of his mail, takes to the street with flyers (encouraging people to fax them to a friend) and a dummy dressed as a postal agent with a bucket over its head.
This last episode produces one of the season’s most inspired exchanges:
“Why does this dummy have a bucket on its head?”
“Because we’re blind to their tyranny.”
“Then shouldn’t you be wearing the bucket?”
Seinfeld had enough life and ideas left to justify a longer run, though fans should be grateful that the main players had the foresight and restraint to end things when they did. The show, for several years required viewing, was in danger of becoming merely another occasionally funny sitcom. Still, being occasionally funny is more than most network shows can muster, and while the episodes on the Season Nine DVD collection feel wobbly when taken-in with a marathon viewing, they consistently produce more laughs than groans. The disc is also generous with extras; deleted scenes, commentary, and interview clips from the show’s main players.
The Seinfeld writers were at their best when they could avoid veering between their consistently flat slapstick tendencies and their backslapping attempts to shock and needle viewers with just how anti-social the main characters could be. In past seasons, it all felt part of a grander vision for the show, part of a bigger idea that Salon‘s Bill Wyman identifies as follows:
Could the show have been made — or could two characters in an actual sitcom have gotten away with designing a new show — about what Seinfeld is really about? Something that bleak, that uncompromising? And, once proposed, could its creators have been allowed to drive home that thesis with the densest underpinning in the history of the medium, something almost play-like in its attention to details, thematic denseness and near poetic devotion to the theme? Could they have said, that is, We’d like to do a situation comedy about man’s inhumanity to man? The petty desires, the arrant cruelties? The lack of perspective, the meaningless hostility? The lack of commitment, of sympathy; the confusion, the hostility, the isolation; the impossibility of love; the futility of even attempting to break out of the molds we’d stuffed ourselves into?
Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld complimented each other’s best tendencies, so their worst never seemed to gain much of a foothold. When David left Seinfeld after Season Seven, his sense of pervasive shame and embarrassment that counter-balanced Seinfeld’s equal sense of self-satisfaction was taken away. Where Season Nine suffers the most is when it so unashamedly participates in its own myth-building. References to earlier seasons or characters are appreciated, but the nostalgia feels to be something alien to the character’s DNA.
Laughing along with the character’s self-absorption, identifying with their useless anxieties, or relating to their obsession with the minutiae of day-to-day life doesn’t disqualify you from fondly remembering the show’s best moments, but is it possible, or desirable, to feel nostalgia for a show about, “man’s inhumanity to man”? Maybe, but the nostalgia would need to come in a form that was new, that fit in with the whole inspiration and execution behind the show that inspired it.
The problem here is that when the inevitable “pulling at the heartstrings moment” comes, complete with accompanying Green Day song among other offenses, it feels so out of place, so ham-fisted and pandering; something that Seinfeld as a series so rarely was. The lingering taste is of a show so unapologetically impressed with its own accomplishments that it demands you be equally impressed.
Still, that’s a fairly minor part of a season, a mere undercurrent that leaves earlier episodes untouched. Though Seasons Eight and Nine of the show clearly struggled after the departure of Larry David, they hold together in a way that that managed to bring one of TV’s best sitcoms out with enough humor to distract from the fact that, by its end, the show was mostly trying to re-find its way back to a show about nothing.