Friday, March 06, 2009

Happy 20th Anniversary to "Seinfeld"

Part 1: A LOOK BACK IN LAUGHTER

I shudder to think what we, the hipsters of the self-effacing 21st Century, would be if not for the chronicles of the on-screen comedian named Jerry Seinfeld (portrayed, of course, by the real life word-witt, also named Jerry Seinfeld) and his earnest band of pals: Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Kramer (Michael Richards) and George (Jason Alexander).

More than likely, we would be substantially less hip and self-effacing.Since this year marks the 20th Anniversary of the debut of the pilot for Seinfeld, then called The Seinfeld Chronicles, it's time to celebrate this monumental series.

Seinfeld was co-created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, of Curb Your Enthusiasm (on which the four seasoned Seinfeld actors will be reuniting, playing themselves). The series rang in a freshly cool period of television parody with class and distinction, initiating a new Golden Era for the small screen. It detached itself from the rules of typical humor, substracted the situation from situation comedy, and brought to the living room viewer an extraordinary sense of humor, truth and dare. Nary a contrived plot to establish, never a syrupy moral lesson to deliver in a tidy 30 minutes, Seinfeld helped us laught through subway muggings, rude waiters, bad dates, and just plain bad luck.

Though this show about nothing presented unlikable characters, the performances by the actors was nothing but likable. And though the one major rule of no hugging between characters was strictly enforced, Seinfeld refused to ignore touchy subjects and, instead, hit them straight on.

The series was the first comedy to address and hire the handicappped and various minorities in honest roles, minus the usual preach television storylines. It chose not to mangle social issues or ills, but it injected a well-needed breath of fresh laugh into topics such as dwarfism, death, mental illness, contraception, personal hygiene and other once unspeakables on weekly comedy shows. In each instance, intolerances and ignorance stuck out like sore thumbs, as the show was filtered with sophisticated, highbrow, literate Woody-Allen-esque half-hours ("these pretzels are making me thirsty").

In one episode titled, The Lip Reader, Jerry befriended a woman who just so happened to be deaf, a character played by the Oscar-wining actress Marlee Matlin (Children of A Lesser God), who also just happens to be deaf. Upon their first meeting, he thought she was continually ignoring him. He became frustrated, and finally belted out, "What are you? Deaf?"

To which she replied, "Bingo!" with forthright, unaffected confidence. In the end, it was Jerry who was shown to be impaired, with a severe lack of sensitivity (a personal quirk for which each regular cast member of Seinfeld was frequently taken to task).

With it's unequaled comic home delivery, Seinfeld prescribed a perspicacious memorandum:

Laugher is indeed the best medicine.

With its satiric dose of reality, Seinfeld appropriately needled us, refused to insult our intelligence...permitted us to actuate the positive...to not only ignore our differences, but to help us concentrate on what makes us all the same (We all like to laugh, don't we?).

Jerry, the character, was a very funny guy, whose personal observations were so keenly universal that you actually pictured, if not personally remembered, them happening to you.

There was the time, early on, when Jerry was confronted by the Dragnet-like librarian Mr. Bookman (Philip Magnolia Baker Hall, in a brilliant, Emmy-winning performance) in search of a way-over due Tropic of Cancer.

In another segment, Jerry stuck it to a rude rental car reservations clerk, and allowed us to bond with him in this all-too familiar position?

"I know how to take a reservation," the clerk would say.

"I don't think you do," Jerry would reply as the voice of Everguy, with witty aplomb, a twinkle in his eye, and perspicacious appeal - not the overt, unattractive sarcasm that later took hold of his form.

The entire cast of Seinfeld would perform in character, in an otherwise, staged, but real (realistic) situations. They each voiced words we all dream of saying to ill-mannered workers of any front desk - and they did so with style. Elaine was cynical, but adorable. She was the tough, but sweet gal-pal who would scream only once and a while. And we'd understand her frustration. George was the neurotic, cheap-but-lovable imp. Kramer the frantic voice of the show.

The gallant dash of self-awareness that each of these characters presented on Seinfeld indeed mirrored the nothingness of our lives, gracefully showcased with a balanced blend of poised pessimism, reality and comedic genius, and maybe helped us to recognize our imperfections. In all, Seinfeld was - and remains (forever in reguns) a healthy shot in the funnybone.

So, Happy 20th Aniversary, Seinfeld!

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PART 2: THE ALTERNATE ENDING

To further commemorate the golden anniversary of Seinfeld's debut, herenow please find my own take on how the series could have ended:

FADE IN: Jerry's apartment. Morning.

We see Jerry tossing and turning in bed. He's dreaming of the previous nine years of his life. His parents in Florida. George. George's parents. Elaine. Kramer. Newman. Mr. Bookman, the library detective. The virgin. The low-talker. The close-talker. The puffy shirt. Teri Hatcher's hot Sidra ("They're real, and they're spectacular!"), and all of the other eccentrics he's come to know.

He awakens, and wonders aloud, "What's it all mean?" He thinks a second more, and "Eh…it's probably nothin'."

That evening, George, on a whim (but really because he's bored), decides to set Jerry up on a blind date.

"This could be the one," George tells his best friend.

"Yeah," Jerry replies with a measure of apprehension, "maybe it's time."

"You've got to meet this girl," George goes on to say. "You won't believe your eyes."

"But I'm really not concerned so much with my eyes, as I am with hers," Jerry says. "As well as her nose, her mouth, and various other pertinent body parts and districts."

He thinks a moment, and then asks Geroge, "Is she good lookin'?"

"Good lookin' doesn't begin to describe her," George returns. "As a matter of fact, she's indescribable. Without description. This girl cannot be described."

"So, she's undesirable?" Jerry jokes.

"Come on," George insists, "give her a chance."

Jerry gives in. "Alright. Alright. One chance, and one chance only."

"Thank you, Sir," George replies.

"And by the way," Jerry warns, "this is your last chance."

We then hear the strum of Seinfeld's theme guitar and cut to the following Saturday. George arranges for Jerry to meet this mystery woman at Monks, the gang's home-away-from-home for the last near-decade. At the allotted time, the woman walks in. To Jerry's and our utter surprise, it's Elaine.

Both Jerry and Elaine who, of course, once dated, feel duped by George.

But we kind of like it.At first, they laugh. Next, they become a little angry, then begin to discuss how meeting this way (and anything that could develop from it) may have its perks.

"Hey," Elaine figures, "I've done worse."

"Well, I haven't," Jerry jokes. "This is as bad as it gets."

On that note, Kramer rushes in with Newman and his little acting friend, Micky.

"Then again…" Jerry adds.

"Guess what?" Kramer screeches.

They all look at him, as if to say, "Yeah…??"

"I've been pegged by a Hollywood producer to star in my own TV sitcom," Kramer reveals.

"Oh, you're pegged alright," Jerry says."

And I've got a supporting role," adds Newman."

Really pegged," Jerry adds.

"Me, too," says Micky.

"Pegged like you wouldn't believe," Jerry adds once more.

Kramer explains: "I play a character named Mr. Fix-It Doctor, which also doubles as the show's title. He's a plumber-slash-psychologists who knows all too well how to drain the pipes and emotions of others. And it's about the funny situations that stem from there. The premise is really out there."

"And I'm outa' here," Jerry interjects.

"You and me both," Elaine chimes in.

CUT TO:

George's apartment. We see him watching TV on the sofa. There's a knock at the door. It's Susan, his thought-to-demised fiancée.

"You can't be here," George states in shock. "You're dead!"

"No so, George," Susan replies. "Not so."

"But the poison glue from our wedding invitations? What about that?"

"All a lie," Susan replies. "I lied, George - and I learned from the master."

"Of my domain?"

"Bingo."

"So now what?"

"I tell you what. We're getting married. That's what."

Back at Jerry's apartment, Jerry and Elaine are in the living room. They've just returned from their date. And as it turns out, sparks have indeed flown. They retreat into Jerry's bedroom.
The next morning, the two decide they've always been in love, and to marry.

As we view their bliss, we CUT TO George's distorted face.

Then to Kramer, Newman and Micky flying to LA.The screen goes black.

We hear, "Cut!"

The lights go on. We see Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer reassembled in Jerry's apartment.

The CAMERA RETREATS.

The living room is really a TV set. There's the production crew. The audience."

See you later, Jerry," George says, walking off to one side of the set. But it's not George, the character saying this to the TV Jerry, but Jason Alexander, the actor, saying this to the real Jerry.

"Good night, Jason," Jerry replies, adding, "Julia…Michael," as in Luis Dreyfus and Richards.

All these years, Seinfeld has really been a show-within-a-show.

And that arc of episodes, in which Jerry and George create their own sitcom for NBC?

Well, those outings really displayed a show-within-a show-within-a show premise.But wait - there's more. The screen goes black once again. The lights reappear. We're back in Jerry's bedroom. The show. The no-show. The show-within-a show. The show within a show within a show.

All of it was…"nothing but a dream."

We think.

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