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This is the signal, Jerry. This is the signal.


Seinfeld
1.1: The Seinfeld Chronicles (Pilot)

The Premise

Jerry attempts to construe whether a woman he met in Michigan, who is visiting New York, has romantic intentions.

Observational

All the essential ingredients are here, although everyone is struggling to find their feet. The coffee shop exchanges between George and Jerry are very stagey, but they successfully announce the major themes of the series; relationships, gender differences, social and sexual misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Being early days, there’s only room for one plotline; the joy of the series at its peak would be the perfectly dovetailed parallel plotting. There’s also a lack of confidence in how to “deliver” Jerry’s bits; the laundry scene turns into an extended monologue without the punctuation of other characters to integrate it (apparently Kramer/Kessler’s dog makes a fleeting appearance for no other reason than a hound was a “bit” in Seinfeld’s routine around this time).

There is also a surfeit of stand-up; four in this one. The routines were generally my least favourite part of the show, and I was more than happy when they ditched them entirely. In part, they represent an unnecessary primer for the viewer as to the main themes and a self-conscious reminder that this guy Jerry is funny (see the audience react to him!). More importantly, when a storyline is firing on all cylinders you want it to feel self-contained rather than book-ended by Jerry signing off with his act.

The pilot features different title music to the familiar popping cacophony. The best you can say is, it’s not intrusive. For years I found the Seinfeld theme entirely off-putting. It seemed designed to actively encourage you to switch over before you gave the show a chance. Over time I suspect I’ve been brainwashed, now associating this aural assault with the feast of comedy that follows. But the best I could now offer is that I don’t mind it.

Jason Alexander and Michael Richards essentially have their characters down, but they need finessing (the former in particular). Both are noticeably more hirsute than they’ll be in the series proper, while Kramer is referred to as Kessler. If we’re getting personal, there are some dreadful fashion choices on display too. With no Elaine in sight, ironically the best acting turn here comes from Lee Garlington’s sardonic waitress Claire (giving Alexander one of his earliest George panic reactions when she tells him she has added some caffeine to his coffee). Richards also gets to imprint his idiosyncratic brand of physical comedy from the off, embedding himself on Jerry’s couch with a huge sandwich and attempting to re-attach a torn page from a magazine by licking it.

Quotable

(On discovering that Laura is engaged)
Laura: You know, I can’t wait to get on that boat.
Jerry: Me too.

Verdict:



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