Seinfeld is another show that aired in about a thousand different timeslots in syndication, and as a young teen, I pretty much tried to catch them all. There was no concept of seasons for me, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s hair was the main clue as to whereabouts the episode fell in the timeline. Season 4, the one where Jerry and George are trying to pitch their own show to NBC, was the only one that stood out. At the time it was because it had a running plot, today it’s because this year has so many of the best episodes. Episodes good enough to grab the public’s attention. You watch Season 4 from beginning to end, you get to see a TV series go from a smallish cult hit to a mainstream smash that dominated pop culture for the rest of its run.
What I like is how the sudden success didn’t compromise Seinfeld at all. Up to this point, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David pretty much just made a show that they themselves found funny. And if they’re to be believed, they didn’t really care how many people were watching. Seinfeld claimed he never looked at the ratings, and David apparently spent seven years desperately wanting the show to be canceled before everyone found out what a hack he was (though I’m sure they didn’t mind all the money).
If you get the show on DVD or Blu Ray, most of the episodes have these terrific little making-ofs. All season long, you have the writers going “This <insert weird event> actually happened to me in real life, when I told Larry and Jerry about it, they said ‘That’s an episode, go write it.'” There’s no point this season in which that process changed even as the accolades and audience numbers surge. They just kept making the same show the same way they always did, and would have kept at it whether it was a hit or not.
The NBC arc actually doesn’t have that much to do with why this is my favourite season. Simply, and I’m out of ways of rephrasing this, it’s all down to the episode-by-episode quality. Time after time, they knock it out of the park. “The Bubble Boy,” madcap and amazingly awkward. “The Contest,” which put the show on the map and gave us that stupid catchphrase (“Water cooler show,” not “Master of your domain”). “The Airport,” a nice bit of black comedy from Larry Charles. “The Movie,” a terrific spiritual successor to “The Chinese Restaurant” and “The Parking Garage.” “The Outing,” which made homophobia hilarious with the simple use of the phrase “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” And quick honourable mentions to “The Trip,” “The Opera,” “The Pick,” and “The Implant” as well.
A sitcom would be lucky to have this many great episodes spread over its entire run. These are all in a single season. What else is there to say? It’s the best season of one of the best shows ever made. Good night, everybody!
If I Had to Nitpick…: Really just that Puddy and J. Peterman haven’t been introduced yet.