STUDIO: Sony Pictures
MSRP: $49.95
• Deleted Scenes
• Bloopers and Outtakes
• "A Closer Look" featurettes
• "Sein-Imation"
• Roundtables
• Commentaries
• Watch the reverse episode "The Betrayal" in reverse-reverse

The Pitch

It’s the final season of the best comedy series of all time. What’s not to like?

The Humans

Jason Alexander, Michael Richards, Julia Louis Dreyfuss, Jerome Seinfeld

Michael Richards had a history of vicious racist outbursts. Also: Let’s see if the above screencap will get this review banned from syndication.

The Nutshell

The postmodern adventures of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer come to a close in the Season 9 DVD set, as we watch Kramer turn his apartment into the Merv Griffin stage, Elaine struggle with her buffoonish boyfriend Puddy, Jerry date his cleaning woman, and George get fired from yet another job. Yes, I’m aware that the term "postmodern" is contentious when it’s applied to Seinfeld, but I don’t care, since I really needed an adjective in that sentence. Sue me.

The Lowdown

[Scene: George and Jerry, sitting at Monk’s cafe, looking at a globe]

George: There’s the Netherlands, there’s Denmark, there’s Germany…

Jerry: So, where is it?

George: I don’t know. Where the hell is Holland?

Jerry: Maybe they made it up.

I’m an unapologetic Seinfeld fan. There’s not much to apologize for, since Seinfeld is generally considered one of the best television shows of all time. When the show was still in production, I remember that I found Season 9 one of the weaker seasons; the plotlines seemed weaker and zanier, and it was obvious that the writers were running out of ideas. It’s amazing how a decade of watching relatively bad television changes your perspective.

After rewatching Season 9, I still think it’s one of the weaker Seinfeld seasons (especially the gimmicky "The Betrayal" episode, which was originally aired in reverse). But it’s still Seinfeld, which means that it’s still sublimely clever, well written, and well acted.

George’s inability to distinguish between what he called "casino" and "curry" Indians infuriated his friends.

Season 9’s disc 1 begins with the funny yet far-fetched "The Butter Shave," which sees George getting a job at Play Now because of a fictional disability and Kramer using butter as a skin moisturizer. It’s a pretty great episode, but it pushes the zany button too many times, and sets the tone for what makes Season 9 one of the lesser seasons. It’s followed up with the one-two punch of "The Voice" and "The Serenity Now", which are minor classics in their own right. "The Junk Mail" is notable for a great cameo by Wilford Brimley, who I’m told now has diabetes. I miss Wilford.

Disc 2 starts off on a low note. "The Slicer" is amusing but contrived, and "The Betrayal" is probably my least favorite episode in the entire Seinfeld catalogue (although we’re given the option to watch this episode front-to-back, but more on that later). "The Apology" is my favorite on this disc. The James Spader cameo is marvelous. The disc is rounded out by "The Dealership," and "The Reverse Peephole," and is completely redeemed by the wonderful "The Strike," which introduced the world to the Festivus holiday.

Disc 3 is fairly decent, as it contains "The Wizard", but it also contains "The Frogger," which is one of the least enjoyable Seinfeld episodes in this set. After watching George fail hilariously at things like employment and relationships, it’s underwhelming to watch him fart around with an arcade game. Other than that, there aren’t too many weak links here. Disc 4 ends the series on a strong note, as it contains the controversial "The Puerto Rican Day" and "The Finale" episodes.

Hey, anybody here interested in co-starring in the Michael Richards show?
Let’s make lightning strike twice, guys!

I vaguely recollect watching "The Puerto Rican Day" when it first aired, but I don’t remember enjoying it as much as I did now. Some of this might be due to the infamous syndication ban of this episode (there’s an entirely innocuous scene where Michael Richards accidentally sets a Puerto Rican flag on fire during the Puerto Rican Day parade, and he’s seen stomping it out on the sidewalk. See screencap 1). Listening to the commentary, it turns out that this episode was one of the most expensive of the entire series, since the bulk of it was shot on the streets of Los Angeles. It’s a lot of fun, and I like to think of it as the true coda to the show, since it’s Seinfeld’s last regular episode. The characters embark on a mundane journey (to a baseball game), but things go spectacularly and horribly wrong, and nobody ends up happy. It’s the Seinfeld formula we’ve come to know and love, and it’s done with such gusto here that it easily put a smile on my face.

"The Finale" was also controversial, but for entirely different reasons. I won’t spend too much time or effort waxing on the quality of Seinfeld’s finale versus my own expectations, but I will say this: "The Finale" does a great job of tying up loose ends, bringing back familiar faces, and it has a final scene that’s pitch perfect. For those who don’t know (and I can’t imagine that there are many who don’t), here’s how "The Finale" plays out: While stranded in the fictional town of Latham, Massachusetts, the group witnesses an overweight man being mugged, and they’re arrested for not stepping in and helping him. During their trial, various characters from the Seinfeld universe serve as character witnesses, and it ends with the quartet being sentenced to a year in prison for violating a draconian "Good Samaritan Law". My main complaint with this episode was that it felt like a glorified clip show, since it’s essentially a courtroom rehash of the characters’ most embarrassing moments. However, it’s still a fun episode, and it plays out in a genuinely dramatic way that toys with audience expectations and provides a great callback to the series’ roots. Nobody expected them to end up in the slammer.

Frank’s ten week "LEARN HOW TO USE ROTARY PHONE!" class was a success, but it proved frustrating to some.

Season 9 contains more than a handful of gems. It isn’t perfect, but by today’s standards, it’s nonpareil. Watching the last few episodes, I really felt nostalgic for the show, even if the show is so widely syndicated that it’s almost hard to miss. I’m glad they ended the show here, as it’s good to see a show go out on top, rather than fizzle out into oblivion. Will this set win over any non-fans? Probably not, but who cares. Television doesn’t really get any better than Seinfeld.

The Package

If you need a good reason to buy this set, then look no further: Season 9’s package is spectacular. We’re given plenty of deleted scenes (one of which is quoted at the top of this review), and they justify the purchase price alone. There’s probably a cumulative hour of deleted material, and it’s all worth watching, especially if you’re a Seinfeld fanatic. We’re also given commentaries, but only sporadically, as there are only about five or six episodes with commentary. They’re fun to listen to, but I wish they’d recorded more of them. Many of the episodes have an "A Closer Look" segment, which serve as mini behind-the-scenes featurettes for the more seminal episodes. We also get outtakes and bloopers. There’s a wealth of episode-related goodies, and they’re sure to delight even the most cynical Seinfeld fan.

We’re also given the ability to watch "The Betrayal" in reverse, which turns it from a gimmick-based farce into a nearly likeable episode. Since many of "Betrayal"s gags depend on the reverse-order nature of the episode, many of the jokes go unnoticed, but it’s still worth a watch. There’s also a roundtable session with Jason Alexander, Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis Dreyfus, and Larry David. Unfortunately, it’s readily apparent that none of them really want to talk about Seinfeld, but it’s worth a watch if yo want to see Larry David squirm with displeasure.

Inexplicably, there’s something called "Sein-Imation", which takes a famous scene from the classic episodes (for example, Jerry and George mimicking "The Voice" at Monk’s), and sets it to poorly drawn animation. It’s fun, but there are only four or five "Sein-Imations" in the whole set, and they’re each about twenty seconds long. It’s a pretty mild bonus, and doesn’t add much to the set. Still, they’re interesting if only to marvel at Sony’s decision to include it in the set.

The audio is a competent Dolby 2/0, and the picture is fine. I really, really love the individual mini-jewel-cases for each disc in this set. I can’t stand The Simpsons‘ "fold out" system, and the accordion-style cases seen in most other releases irritate me.

If you like Seinfeld, you’ll love this set. It would look great underneath anyone’s Festivus pole this winter.

What’s the deal with pointless DVD extras?

8.7 out of 10