Sunday, December 28, 2008

22 things wrong with TV in 2008

Let take a long hard look at the year just gone and find 22 things that went really wrong with TV in 2008...

22. Underbelly

Hmmm - what kind a crazy list am I running here - this was one of the best shows of the year.

Yes it was. No show in 2008 had a greater advanced buzz, the subject matter was enthralling, especially if you lived in Victoria where it was all happening. The production values and writing were as good as any show Australian's have ever made, and yet in a very short space of time in the weeks leading up to it's debut - the wheels fell off the gravy train.

The series was a dramatic retelling of actual events in Melbourne in the late 90's and early part of this decade with a violent 10 year underworld war.

Most of the major trials relating to the events had worked their way through the system but there will still a few outstanding procedings as well as the unresolved matter of a fugitive who had absconded to Greece with a bad wig.

Queens Council Jeremy Rapke started a campaign (about two weeks out from the premiere date) to have the series banned from distribution in Victoria because it could influence potential future jurors. He found a sympathetic ear in Justice Betty King who issued an indefinite suppression order on the series on 12 February 2008. The Series went to air in every state bar Victoria on 13 February 2008.

The resulting shitstorm is one of the TV stories of 2008.

The show, banned in Victoria (Melbourne typically furnishes the biggest FTA TV audiences in Australia - especially for locally based prods) clocked a premiere rating of 1,320,000 in four cities. It's very plausible to assume that Melbourne would have added anywhere from 500,000 - 800,000 to that number had the broadcast gone ahead.

Melbournians finally got to see the first 5 hours of the 13 hr drama in Mid September over a two week period where it drew approx 400,000 per showing, not bad but nowhere near the original expectation and the story behind that is one of life's great ironies.

Over the years Bit Torrent has been gaining widespread recognition in Australia as a viable alternative to view shows from overseas that you otherwise cannot see, this was always a factor because broadcast nets here in Australia either bury unsuccessful o/s series or hold on to big hits to screen at a time which advantages them.

But slowly the ratings on big imports have been eroded by Bit Torrent with many of the viewers obtaining these shows by alternative means.

This has been the paradigm for US and British shows for a few years now - but never an Australian show - until this year.

The Victorian Courts' decision to ban the series from exhibition created a black market of sorts for the series. It started as a Bit Torrent thing with Nine's Sydney broadcast of the premiere distributed all around the southern state, then suddenly people were sharing around episodes without any scoring or sound effects - it was like they were leaking out of the editing room.

By the time Nine was allowed to show just 5 episodes, complete with a pixelated Tony Mokbel, half of their target audience had already watched, even more probably contacted relatives interstate to procure the official DVDs (I am of the understanding that if you ask for one of these DVDs at a major chain they will ask to see your license in order to comply with the most pointless supression order in the history Australian juris prudence)

I'm not sure who deserves the blame for this complete fuck up - whether channel nine should have held off screening the show is open for debate - I'm not privy to how television advertising sales are arranged but the reporting at the time suggested that a lot of people had committed their dough expecting to see Underbelly roll on the 13th of February - if Nine had pulled it across the country - well that's an awful mess to untangle.

I place a lot of blame at the Victorian DPP and the courts - how come it takes them only two days to whiz through a supression order at the whim of a prosecuter and yet they take years upon years to do their actual job (ie: prosecuting criminals).

Lastly did the ban acheive anything? Most people who wanted to see the show ended up seeing it - 800,000 out of a population of 5 million still leaves a lot of Victorians who could participate in any related trial without prejudice - all they would have to do is ask people if they had viewed the series or not?

Clearly though - that would be assuming that jurors are also mature adults capable of making reasonable decisions - something that the Victorian Supreme Court seemed to struggle with back in February...

21. Factual Programming

Factual, Fly-on-the-wall, Docu-Dramas, call em what you will - they still suck and they're everywhere.

While the yanks are probably the ones responsible for this style of TV (Cops and Rescue 911 being early entries in the genre) the Brits took it to a whole new level with their airport shows, in Australia, Seven and Nine networks are awash with this style of program, and cable TV is worse, tune your TV to Discovery, CI, Bio or Lifestyle and it seems that anyone who works a half interesting job is being followed by a camera.

Now granted some of these shows are halfway interesting, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Ice Road Truckers, Maternity Ward, American Chopper and a handful of others that give you a glimpse into a world that you don't see everyday, but some of the concepts are beyond the pale

Particularly but not limited to... Bondi Rescue and all it's offshoots, anything where medical freaks are showcased, anything where people are shown rescuing or tending to animals (enough already Seven), any show with kiwi accents, any show with a title ending in 'Ink' (really how much stilted comraderie can we take) and any faux-dramatic soapy style wank with people either pretending to be celebrities (think Keeping up with the Kardashians, The Hills, My Perfect Life) or Celebrities pretending to be people (see Hogan Knows Best, Gene Simmons: Family Jewels, Snoop Dogg's Father Hood)

This multi-headed-hydra has infected TV and continues to propogate despite the best efforts of viewers to ignore it. It has completely overrun one Australian network (Seven) threatens to overrun the others with the 2009 schedule and have taken over several cable channels which would otherwise have nothing to offer. It must be stopped.

20. Smaller Seasons

Back when I was a kid US shows used to produce about 26-22 episodes per season and most Australian shows did about 40! (That's right 40!) - this year most (if not all) of the big US dramas are still doing 22 episodes a year while Australian shows have shrunk their productions down drastically.

On channels 10 and Nine you find a drama running for more than 13 episodes. Comedies don't seem to any longer than 6 episodes (although that could be a ratings based decision as well) Look at this year's entrants "Mark Loves Sharon" (6 eps), "Kenny's World" (6 eps), "The Hollowmen" (12 eps - although I'm informed that is 2 whole seasons of 6 episodes each - the word 'season' has now officially lost it's meaning)

Even rubbish light entertainment shows don't have very long runs.

Just look at "Hole in the Wall" - this inexpensive and (initially) well rating gonzo game show only put out 8 episodes and called it a season. It's channel nine stablemate - "The Singing Bee" started out in 2007 filming 8 episodes and for it's 2008 season only managed 4! A four episode season! Unbelievable.

Don't even get me started on the factual programs - you would assume that a show that amounts to pointing a camera at some people and cleaning up the mess in editing could go on for a fair chunk of the year - well you assumed wrong. Look at the stats "The Zoo" (11 eps), "The Real Seachange" (10 eps), "Farmer wants a Wife" (6 eps), "Crash Investigation Unit" (9 episodes), the list is endless.

The result of all these truncated seasons is an awful lot of chopping and changing on primetime schedules, viewers don't have any time to get into shows because the second they do it's "whoops - out of episodes! Onto the next thing"

This short burst programming is slowly killing network TV and turning it into cable where series generally run for 2 months before being replaced by something else. Or worse British TV where no TV season exceeds 12 episodes and it's not unusual for shows to go off the air for several years only to return for a one-off special.

Welcome to the future folks

Speaking of which...

19. Flight of the Prima Donnas

Oh man - these delicate geniuses, Working Dog, The Chaser and Jane Turner/Gina Riley put out such a refined product requiring the greatest of skill and staggering workload that in 2008 they all had to take the year off.

What the f??? We're not talking about Lost or The Sopranos here, you have a Whose Line is it Anyway ripoff, a weekly current events satire (not sure how having a year off improves that show) and a poorly written sitcom who entire humour revolves around the characters' accents and their constant abuse of the english language.

Get real idiots, be thankful people are watching your shows and make some more episodes or otherwise they just might find something else to watch...

18. Australia's Least Funny

I'm looking right at you Rebel Wilson. Not funny in "Pizza", not funny in "The Wedge", I don't want even talk about "Monster House" and then SBS gives you your own show?? No wonder Australian TV is in the toilet if this is the kind of up and coming talent we can look forward to. ugghhh

17. Saturday Night

Y'know - unlike others I don't expect a lot from my Saturdays - this night has been the past home for such taxing fare as "Hey Hey", "Man O Man" (I notice none of Rob Guests' obituaries pointed out this particular highlight), "Gladiators", "Young Talent Time", "Saturday Night Clive", you get the picture - fluffy, light entertainment.

There is now exactly one show on Saturday nights that fits this bill - "Funniest Home Videos" - which is why it's the night's most popular show. Everything else is wall to wall movies.

When networks are scheduling movies nowadays it's always a sign of retreat and on Saturday that retreat is being led by the viewers - all the way to the video store, or the PC, or the movies, or cable where you can watch Lost or all the Star Trek series, or Dog the Bounty Hunter, or some crime docos, any and all of it preferable to 6 movies you've either already seen or already decided you don't want to see.

All three nets need to put some effort in on this night. Saturdays need a particular type of show to be successful - something live (or live feeling), semi-spontaneous and fun. Currently this does not exist anywhere on television in this country.

Seven, Nine, Ten - this is your challenge.

16. Sky News

This is just a minor gripe - but anyone can run a half hour news bulletin all day long - what Sky need is more current affairs programming. Look at the schedule of Fox News - you barely see a genuine news bulletin in there - it's all shows - O'Reilly, Hannity and Combes, Brit Hume, Fox and Friends, On the Record, The Beltway Boys, Huckabee.

My fave show on Sky is Agenda, simple political round up of the day - they need more like this to break up the bulletins and far, far less sports coverage (there's already a Fox Sports News channel for anyone who wants to see it)

They've got a whole stack of ex-network newsreaders in there - why not find a few ex-network personalities and give them a show, Ray Martin's free, Derryn Hinch would jump at the chance (he regularly confessed to being a Sky News addict on his radio show) start experimenting with the format to get some original content in there, otherwise - you're just reading the news!

15. Double Pumping

This practice of showing double episodes of popular shows is as old as television itself - but cable has taken it to absurd new heights - the new cable channel 111 hits shows just about everything in double and triple episode blocks, "Will & Grace", "Friends", "That 70s Show", The King of Queens", "Drew Carey", "Dharma & Greg" - that's fine if those are the shows you can't get enough of - but peronally I'd like to see more of some of their older hit that they only play once a day - shows like "ALF", "The Wonder Years" and "Murphy Brown" haven't been seen in years and are probably the main reason people are tuning into this channel - as for changing channels and finding Will & Grace on everytime - enough already!

14. Girls of the Playboy Mansion

OK I've seen this show for about a year now and I still can't figure it out - is Heff fucking these women? Or are they just roommates - is Heff even able to get it up? Can he call them to his office for a BJ at any time he wants?

So many crucial questions that this series stubbornly refuses to answer - they're bending my mind into a pretzel!

13. Kids TV

It kind of happened when we weren't looking - but childrens TV as a whole has migrated to Pay TV, only ABC1 & 2 persist in any kind of serious childrens programming.

There was a time, 20 years ago, where 3.30pm - 5pm was all kids shows and two of the commercial nets showed kids TV in the early morning.

Seven, of course, got out of the early morning kids TV game some time ago, with great success. Ten started chipping away at the afternoons, moving a soap opera to 4.30pm was controversial back in the day - but it started the gradual erosion of Afternoon kids TV, with all networks confining their after school programming to a single daily half hour at 4pm

In two weeks Ten will move again - pulling their 4pm (C) program and moving it to 7am replacing kids dramas and the long running "Totally Wild" with "It's Me or the Dog"

Now, don't cry for the kids they're fine - my kids are well served with seven different channels of violence-free profanity-free kids stuff and before we got cable our DVD shelf was bursting with the exploits of the Wiggles and Barney

The real losers here will be the networks - they're losing future generations who won't be brought up in their universe and in the future it'll be that much easier for them to change the channel!

12. Australia

This wretched movie - which I am proud to say I avoided - was the subject of a putrid commercial tie in between 20th Century Fox and A Current Affair.

Now ACA and TT are borderline at the best of times and I often wonder how 9 and 7 are able to claim these shows as news content and escape classification rules, but this was the most blatant yet of their many transgressions.

Turning your show into Entertainment Tonight (without the news content) is not the way to go, it made me wish for the high journalistic standards of the old topless cafe story back in the days of Jana Wendt (actually I wish for a return of that story a little too much - seriously I was a teenager at the time and boobs at 6.30pm - how can you beat that!)

11. Out of the Question

What was this shite? 2 years ago Seven had the strongest Thursday night on Television, then they threw it all away with erratic scheduling (Moving Heroes to Thursdays and Lost to 9.30 in Northern States only, then moving Heroes to 9.30 after the boring Bionic Woman remake) now they were putting the nails in the coffin by giving this peice of unrefined sputum an 8.30 timeslot effectively killing their Thursday night and Lost, one of the best shows ever killed by network stupidity.

Now that we're at the end of 2008 we can see the bigger picture - that luring Glenn Robbins to Seven was a small peice of a much larger puzzle...

10. Thank God You're Not Here

The biggest no show of 2008. Trade reports doing the rounds at the end of 2006 had indicated that ten had re-upped for two more seasons of 10 episodes each in 2007.

Well 2007 rolled along and only one of those 10 episode seasons appeared, noises being made at the time indicated that the second of those committed seasons would surface in 2008, but it wasn't to be.

Shortly before the start of summer the news broke that Working Dog had shopped their show around to all networks during the year with Seven putting in the winning bid. While this sort of wheeling and dealing is nothing new in television it makes everybody look bad and can kill shows and careers

Just ask Greg Evans who jumped from Ten into the waiting arms of channel nine only to be warehoused, you can now find him endorsing health products on AM radio...

9. American Made

2008 will be for me - the year American television got quantifiably worse. Instead of original ideas we had remakes ("Knight Rider"), sequels ("90210") and retread of overseas shows ("Life on Mars", "Kath & Kim", "Eleventh Hour", "Worst Week", "Little Britain America") there was still brilliance - but overall the trend is not good.

Audience numbers for US shows are rapidly approaching cable size which is a bad sign for the production budgets of future series. So bad infact that NBC is surrending 5 hours per week of prime TV real estate to Jay Leno because of the lower overheads and better profit margin.

It's getting so bad for the American networks that they even employed Rove McManus to host a special the other week - now that's gotta hurt.

8. David Leckie

It's a good thing the general public doesn't take an interest in the thing TV executives say because if you actually read some of the bile that Seven's head honcho is quoted with it makes your stomach churn

From the Australian

Plummeting international share markets did not deter Mr Leckie from going public with inflammatory comments made to advertisers last week, including calling Ten the "pocket-money generation" network, and suggesting Ten chief executive Grant Blackley was "no good".

The mercurial network boss said Nine would be "f..ked" next year without high-rating shows from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay; called its success this year "a fluke";

Asked if he was saying Nine was "f..ked", Mr Leckie said: "I have said it for the last two days."

It goes on...

Mr Leckie said Seven would not rest on its laurels. "We haven't been arrogant and we're not going to be," he said.

Reminds me of channel nine back when everyone started to hate it.

7. TV1

Television Greatest Hits? Not! Maybe once when this channel was stuffed to the gills with great TV shows, some legendary like "Seinfeld", "Cheers", others picked up in spite of mainstream indifference ("Frasier", "Star Trek The Next Generation") and some really obscure gems from the past that nobody else would dare show ("It's Gary Shandling's Show", "Wonder Woman", "Parker Lewis Can't Lose", "Major Dad")

TV1's formative years were filled with great television from dys gone by - especially the 80's macho series like "Miami Vice", "The A Team", "Magnum PI", "BJ & the Bear" and "Knight Rider" nowadays it's a depressing mix of "Law & Order" and "NCIS" crap that I could see for free.

Get your act together TV1 - you're a disgrace to your own history.

6. Heroes

Oh man - you know in the second half of their first season I was right into Heroes, unlike a lot of serial dramas it had a storyline which seemed to be moving forwards, proving action and answers and then...


That first season finale. Talk about underwhelming - but I thought OK it'll pick up in season two.

It didn't, it was simply 3 months of Peter Petrelli's lost his memory and illegal immigrant road trip - boring.

Now it's 2008 and series perpetrator Tim Kring promises a new and improved Heroes back to the fun of the first season.

Fucking Liar - Heroes is now the most convoluted mess on television and I fairly care anymore as to what happens.

How can you care about a character in jeopardy when everyone seems to die every other week only to be revived the following week

Not to mention that the characters themselves seem to have no motivation for their actions other than to service a plot which doesn't know where it's going

And you know you're in trouble when you time travelled more times in one season than Dr Sam Beckett in his entire series.

The Peacock Network (NBC) has a full blown turkey on their hands here I don't think there's any saving it.

5. Freeview

This is a crock of shit. The advertising is as false as you can get - 15 channels my ass.

I bought an SD set top box about 3 years ago, for my outlay I pick up 6 channels (7 if you include that SBS world news thing which is not a real channel IMO), If I want to pick up these HD channels I need to buy a HDTV or HD STB - now a HDTV costs a fair bit of money and I already have enough TVs in my house and I don't want another STB - one STB and one Foxtel Box is enough.

And say I were to outlay for these HD channels - what do I get, uh a different post 10.30 schedule? Not worth it chumps, oh and Ten - take your sport channel and stick it - I don't need more sport on TV.

4. Fast-Tracking

The whole point of Fast Tracking shows was to stop the audience erosion caused by viewers using Bit Torrent and other technologies to view episodes of their favourite shows before the networks screen them

You would think this would have a positive effect on ratings - showing programs hot off the satellite would encourage those recalcitrants away from their computers and over to the TV for some fresh entertainment.

However it hasn't worked out like that.

Just look at the list of all returning shows fast-tracked this year
"Criminal Minds"
"Prison Break"
"The Unit"

Out of all those shows only "Criminal Minds" has shown any year on year improvement

Even worse only one NEW show that was Fast Tracked, "The Mentalist" has been any kind of success, every other new US show has flopped badly - the worst being "90210", which should have rode in on a ready made audience but fell victim to the double slug of fast-tracking and Ten's bad mojo.

So is fast-tracking the problem, in short - yes.

Some net-heads will tell you that viewership is down because nets don't bow day and date with their shows, but I think the real reason is much less obvious and way more important than the activity of a few households with unrestrained broadband (or deep pockets)

You see, fast-tracking means nets are putting shows to air virtually the moment they are delivered, that gives them very little time to come up with promotions for these shows.

Think back to September this year - for the commercials you saw for shows being fast tracked. Did they show many scenes from the upcoming episodes? Did they give you much indication on the storylines you could expect? Did they tell you anything besides the fact that the show was being fast-tracked. It's highly unlikely.

Now fast forward to now - it's summertime and the free to air networks are feeding us a steady diet of promos for the oncoming season - the promos are filled with new information, scenes from episodes we haven't seen yet and they're showing weeks in advance. This is important because people don't watch TV like hawks - it may take several weeks for the message to kick in that a show is coming.

With the fast tracked shows in September we had at most 3 weeks promotion (and in most cases 2 weeks) with next to no actual content in the promos themselves, by being so fast the nets have given themselves no time to build a buzz or an audience appetite for these new shows

Fast Tracking - rather than being helpful - is actually turning out to be detrimental.

3. VH1

Vh1 has some of the best and trashiest shows on Television. "Rock of Love", "I Love New York", "Behind the Music", "The Surreal Life".

VH1 started off as an MTV spin off for older film clips but has slowly found a use for old and washed celebrities by involving them in absurd reality competitions that are mind bending in their stupidity and addictive beyond belief.

They also do a fine line in special programming - their "Behind the Music" specials give you roller coaster ride of some of music's most colourful careers, "I Love The 80's" series is like a hilarious 20 to 01

But turn your Foxtel receiver to VH1 in Australia and what do you get? Countdown Reruns, "Rockwiz", the occasional "Pop Up Video" and wall to wall classic clips.

Why oh why VH1???

If I wanted to see only video clips I'd tune to [V] or Max both channels are in widescreen as opposed to MTV/VH1's crappy 4:3 display. The real appeal of the US music channels is not the music - it's the original programming you can't see anywhere else - let alone get on DVD

You know how I know about "I Love the 80's"? YouTube - before Viacom went mental and launched the lawsuit of the century to stop people from watching their shows - that's all well and good Viachumps - I subscribed to your channel - but you're still not showing anything.

It's been progressively getting worse too - half a year ago Saturday Nights were reserved for "I Love New York", a refreshing mix of "The Bachelorette" and "Jerry Springer" now, in summer when we desperately need any sort of good television - we just get endless video clips and a lame "Kareoke" show which is just the same clips with the lyrics on

Lift your game people.

2. Nine Network

The only reason they are not number one on this list is that they showed some improvement in their ratings but in every other aspect they unleashed a bigger brand of suck onto Australian Television in 2008.

Some notable sins included

"Two and a Half Men" takes off a strip 7pm timeslot, so Nine decides that nothing succeeds like excess and doubles the hours to a whopping 5 hours (10 episodes) per week.

"Monster House"
"Make My Kid a Star"

"Hole in the Wall" provides a case study into how women on TV must remail thin whilst men can be fatter than Jabba the Hutt

Shabby treatment of "Survivor", "The Apprentice" dropped altogether (just in time for it's US resurgence) yet "Ladette to Lady" continues

Gordon Ramsay becomes the "Supernanny" of 2008.

Nine plays 'Guess the timeslot' with all versions of CSI.

"Million Dollar Wheel" launched - and promptly killed

The Sunday replacement news bulletin, just give Laurie Oakes a show FFS.

The "Underbelly" fuck up

"The Strip" a lot of people tuned in for the premiere - indicating that people would love to see a CSI: Miami done in the Gold Coast - but what they saw was a steaming turd on the beach.

1. Network Ten

Ten is a very similar story to Nine - execpt they matched their suck with a shockingly bad ratings performance to boot

I have a soft spot for Ten - they were the first network that I liked the look of - that seemed to have the shows that I liked to watch.

But over the years they have followed a model of concentrating their programming firepower in a handful of reality television events to the detriment of the remainder of their schedule.

2008 was the year one of those behomeths fell over...

"Big Brother" - after 8 years turned out the lights. It's ratings had been slowly declining since season 4 but in a bid to arrest the decline Ten ordered a major retool, dumping host Gretel Killeen, dropping the Up Late show, broadening the age of the housemates and messing with a nomination/eviction system that had worked well for 7 years.

The decline put a major hole in Ten's schedule with 7pm being a major switch-on point for the network (they do not compete with news in the crucial 6pm hour) when people stopped switching on the ratings for their primetime (post 7.30) shows began to sag.

The news just got worse for Ten afterwards - it's spring 7pm series, "Taken Out", wasn't ready to bow until after The Olympics Games on rival (and market leader) Seven, the wait proved fatal as the Olypics provided the perfect opportunity for viewers to forget about Ten.

The ratings for "Taken Out" were brutal and the fallout was even uglier, with the dating show, "The Simpsons", "Friends" and "Will & Grace" all dancing around the 6pm and 7pm slots for the remainder of spring - viewers probably didn't know what was on and when they finally did - they didn't care

The plunge for Ten's 7pm slot - from 900,000 - 1,000,000 viewers to a regular 500,000 - 600,000 viewers put an incredible strain on all their 7.30 pm shows.

Through most of spring Ten was lucky to get two shows per week break the magic million mark, and barely one week went by without another series premiere, timeslot change, mystery hiatus or sheer programming hail mary

With "So You Think You Can Dance" and "The Biggest Loser" ten had the strongest start to any year in recent memory - but the second half of their year was a total mess

They are not a basket case yet - but they are dangerously close. Here's hoping they can get it together in the new year...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

22 Best Seinfeld Episodes

22. The Maid
‘Do you know how to use a mop wringer?’
Even in the show’s uneven final season there was still some greatness about – like this episode where Jerry hires a maid to clean his apartment, and starts doing her on the side. This is classic Seinfeld territory, not only the sleeping with cleaning women bit which has appeared in various episodes over the years, but also examining a fine line between dating and prostitution!

George’s nickname troubles are an ordinary idea (he wants his co-workers to call him T-Bone, instead they call him Koko – after the famous monkey) spun out to absurd proportions, he ends up hiring a maid named Coco to have the nickname dropped, he ends up being called Gammy!!

Elaine & Kramer’s stories swirl around Manhattan splitting into two postcodes, Elaine tries to get her number changed, while Kramer carries on a ‘long-distance’ relationship with his girlfriend!

What makes it great
This is the last occasion with four separate stories where they just click! The stories have interesting and neat parallels, George and Jerry both hiring maids, Elaine and Kramer dealing with NY’s dysfunctional telephone system, Not to mention the weird recurrence of Gammy!

Best Moment
A forlorn Kramer lost at the corner of 1st and 1st (the nexus of the universe!) being approached by a cleaning pimp ranks up there, as does the hilarious way they deal with the massive plot hole of George hiring Coco the maid to work at Kruger. Elaine’s face-off with the phone repair man, as well as a subsequent denouement are hilarious, but the best bit is Kramer’s revelation to Jerry “you’re a John!” beautifully done and even surprisingly offensive too!

Bet u didn’t know
The original title of the episode was “The Long-Distance Relationship”

The Little Kicks
‘It’s like a full bodied dry heave set to music’
Season 8 was looking pretty uneven until they stumbled upon this gem – all the stories click and mesh nicely – Jerry & Kramer’s Bootlegging adventure neatly dovetails with Elaine’s horrid dancing which itself sets off George’s bad boy relationship culminating in George turning to crime as… a bootlegger!

Kramers friend Brodie is the most menacing character on the show since the Nazis in Season 3, and inspires a great exchange:
KRAMER: Don’t Worry, He’ll Understand
JERRY: No he won’t – people with guns don’t understand – that’s why they get guns, too many misunderstandings!

What makes it great
Up until this point I’d started to lose hope for the show – season 8 had a penchant for wacky stories and in almost every episode something was just too over the top to be believable, Japanese tourists sleeping in drawers, Kramer going to the vet, and when it wasn’t over the top it just wasn’t funny. Here however they remembered the formula for how Seinfeld works by taking the characters out of their comfort zone – but still doing things (bootlegging, stupid dancing) that occur in the real world.

Best Moment

There are heaps of them from Jerry’s riff on art films (He’s asking for a loaf of his soul!) to Elaine hauling her co-worker away from bad seed George like an overbearing mother hen but my favourite is the credits when everyone on the street starts mimicking Elaine’s crazy dance – absolutely brilliant!

The Diplomats Club
‘I am freaking out’
Oh yeah this is a ride, the episode is dominated by Jerry and Kramer with Jerry on tour with his manager (played to perfection by Debra Jo Rupp) and Kramer waiting at the airport betting on flight arrival times putting a new twist on the K-man’s gambling habit!

Whilst Elaine’s story veers into comedy of errors territory (which is not Seinfeld’s forte), it also finds something useful for Mr Pitt to do after being absent for half a season away.

That it ends up being his send-off is a good thing – the writers find a much better job for Elaine in the following season!

George’s story is much more honest as we run into various African Americans who have appeared in the show over the year – including the father & daughter he watched the movie with as well as the exterminator from The Doodle.

Jerry’s ordeal is hilarious and highlights how little we see of him doing his job, and the Kramer plot is sublime just weird enough to be Kramer without stretching credulity.

What makes it great?
Firstly they get rid of Mr Pitt – one of the least successful peripheral characters, note to everyone – old money New York is just not funny. Secondly that pilot – he freaks me out! But mostly – well see below…

Best Moment
Easily Newman’s arrival with a mail bag that once belonged to David Berkowitz! Along with his revelation that he walks the same mail route! Totally over the top and totally believable at the same time!

19. The Fusilli Jerry
‘You are the assman’
What an episode, most Seinfeld episodes have 3 or 4 stories which meander in different directions but eventually meet somewhere in the middle, others place the group in a singular event (like the Chinese Restaurant) whereas some of the really special ones combine their powers buy showing 4 separate stories all concerned with the same thing.

In this case – Sexual Prowess, the root of the story is Elaine dating Jerry’s mechanic, David Puddy (who as we know becomes significant later in the series), and she recognises some of his ‘moves’ as ones that Jerry used on her back in the day, George finds out Jerry has been hording all these great moves so seeks out Jerry’s advice – while Jerry is pissed at Puddy for using the move on Elaine.

The real genius of this ep though – is Kramer’s story and it’s really Kramer’s episode between designing strange pasta caricatures of his friends (which has consequences at episodes’ end) and getting his licence plates changed but instead ending up with the vanity plate ASSMAN, which leads to a whole sequence of events impacting everyone else’s story. It’s a crazy and funny episode!

Best Moment
The three men speculating on who could be the real owner of the ASSMAN plates and Kramer’s riff on proctologists is great “see no-one wants to admit that they stuck something up there…” but the hands-down best moment (and probably on of the best of the series was Kramer parking in the Doctors Only spaces at the hospital and using his ASSMAN plates to fool the security guard! Classic!

18. The Airport
‘You know this car smells like a cheap hooker, or is that you…’
Cleverly designed around a single event – Jerry and Elaine fly back from Baltimore while Kramer & George go to pick them up, you don’t like to use the term ‘hilarity ensues’ but that’s exactly what happens.

The Jerry/Elaine story is simple – Jerry gets bumped up to first class and has the time of his life sharing the flight back with a supermodel, whilst Elaine enjoys the crowded hospitality of economy class (coach) and all it’s hallmarks – watch out for Larry David calling out for the kosher meal and Larry Charles stinking out the bathroom – funny stuff!

Kramer & George are picking them up (Kramer is along because he likes to shop at the duty free shop!) and firstly the plane gets rerouted then when they finally arrive at the right airport George becomes obsessed with getting a TIME magazine which lead to a run in with a federal prisoner while Kramer spot a man he believes owes him money – so he goes after him.

What makes it great?
It’s a sublime brew away from the usual sets but in a setting that is quintessential Seinfeld fodder, every scene crackles with energy and small moments make all the difference – from the indignant baggage handler who redirects Elaine’s luggage to well thought out contrasts between Jerry & Elaine’s flight experiences it’s a definite keeper!

Best Moment
The shot of Kramer running alongside the plane may go down in history as one of the greatest sitcom shots of all time – it’s definitely an iconic Seinfeld moment. It’s amazing to think that sitcoms were so staid in their presentation, at the end of the third season various crew members visited the set of Murphy Brown and remarked how it was such a well oiled machine compared to the amateur outfit at Seinfeld, while that may be the case the directing in Seinfeld (first by Cherones then Ackerman) was always taken seriously and they always found ways to get of the set and out into the world. Nothing I can think of illustrates it better than this moment – think of any other sitcom from 1992, Roseanne, Home Improvement, Cheers, The Cosby Show, did any of them attempt anything this bold ever?

17. The Parking Garage
‘I don’t even know L Ron Hubbard’

A simple idea, but different to anything that came before. Very early in the life of this new show you could see it was based on small things, conversations, odd occurrences, and where this concept really shined was in episodes where they ignored the idea of a story altogether and just stuck the characters in a situation for the whole show.

The Chinese Restaurant was the first such episode but this was the first one to utilise all four cast members, the beats are so trivial they don’t look all that good on paper – the idea is that the four wander around a shopping mall parking lot looking for their car, each character needs to get to the car for various reasons – Jerry needs to pee, George needs to be at his parents anniversary dinner, Elaine has a goldfish in a plastic bag and Kramer is lugging a heavy aircon unit.

How they stretch all this out to 22 minutes of show is a marvel but they perfectly capture the exasperation of being lost in a car park.

What makes it great
Frankly every one of these ‘single situation’ episodes is great – but this one is notable for it’s many technical achievements – before I read about it – I had no idea it was filmed in the studio – it looks like a real car park! But literally by using mirrors, reparking the same cars to shoot from different angles and not drawing any markings on the ground (incredibly they got away with it too because I never noticed this until Tom Cherones pointed it out on the commentary track for the episode!) they recreated the expansive feel of a parking garage. Also the protracted shoot (there was no audience in attendance) allowed for a lot of improv.

Best Moment
The ending where the car didn’t start (unscripted) is hard to beat – but for me the most unexpected thing was the security guard detaining Jerry and George for public urination! I mean you just didn’t see this type of thing in other sitcoms!

16. The Keys
‘I broke the covenant of the keys’

For the first time Kramer takes centre stage and the result is electric. The concept is a great one and natural to the show: Kramer, entrusted with a spare set of Jerry’s keys, abuses this trust by continually conducting his activities in Jerry’s apartment – Jerry takes the keys off him which leads Kramer to take stock of his life (that scene alone with Kramer and George is one of the most truthful scenes in the history of sitcoms!)

The remainder of the episode deals with the fallout – Jerry gives his spare set to Elaine who had given her spare set to George, Kramer hitchhikes to Los Angeles, also having broken into Elaine’s apartment George and Jerry discover a spec script for Murphy Brown (strangely enough a year later Elaine would declare “Network Television (is) part of the problem!”)

The episode ends in a surprising and unresolved manner – a cliffhanger of sorts to be wrapped up in the fourth season premiere…

What makes it great
The episode really flows from the characters resulting in a story that could not be told on any other show. The scene in Monk’s café where Kramer takes stock is both funny and thought provoking. The scenes of Kramer hitchhiking are very well done and the bizarre twist of Kramer appearing on Murphy Brown as possibly the least funny of her many secretaries is an astounding crossover (remember that the two shows not only aired on competing networks but were also produced by different companies so the reason for a crossover was not readily apparent – it seems to have been an opportunity for the Seinfeld producers to visit a show that (at that time) was at the top of it’s game.

Interestingly Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld appeared in an episode of Love & War (another Dianne English project) two seasons later.

Best Moment
That goes to Kramer depressing the hell out of George asking him why he even bothers to get up in the morning, George – “I like to get the daily news”.

15. The Trip, Parts I & II
“Was it the pervert in the park with a present in his pants”

If The Keys was focused on minutiae then it’s resolution – the two part summer cliff hanger – The Trip, was almost it’s opposite, although the humour still comes from the small stuff, tight sheets, morning mist, boys riding in a police car, the scope of the story is huge

Writer Larry Charles seems to revel in taking a dark turn as is evidenced by his earlier script “The Limo” and this, Kramer mistaken for a serial killer, is about as dark as it gets. An awful lot of the show is shot on Location, benefiting from the Hollywood setting, there are celebrity cameos, a dramatic undercurrent and a real question of whether Kramer would come back.

What makes it great
The show is really out of it’s element here, not only basing most of it in LA but with large swathes of exterior shooting, an actual cop show storyline punctuating the laughs and (due to Julia Louis Dreyfuss’ pregnancy) no Elaine.

Often when a sitcom ventures out of it’s hometown the results are putrid, Brady Bunch in Hawaii, Rosanne in Disney World anyone?? This and Friends with it’s London themed episodes were about the only time anyone’s gotten it right!

With the celebrity cameos, there’s always a danger of appearing trite as no celebrity wants to make themselves look bad on a sitcom, plus the chances of actually meeting a celebrity for the average person are pretty slim (although maybe not now in the age of reality television and youtube stars!) that the encounters often do not feel natural in the sitcom environs.

To their credit Charles and Cherones made good use of the celebs staging an awkward encounter between Kramer and Fred Savage as well as having Corbin Bernsen and George Wendt take the piss out of Costanza

The real highlights though are the interrogation of Kramer and a scene stealing appearance by Clint “I’ve been in all my brother’s movies” Howard as the real killer (you hear that OJ?) whose description provide a funny ending to the whole shebang!

Best Moment
I like the scene where Kramer, Jerry and George sit up on the hill and Kramer rambles on “I’m doing what I do etc” with George’s comeback “Kramer what the hell are you talking about!” But the absolute best moment is the 3 dancing on the steps of the police station when they find out the serial killer struck again! Comedy doesn’t get much more raw than that folks!

14. The Fix-Up
“My Boys can swim!”

This episode did not win an Emmy for nothing, the show opens with parallel scenes, George confiding to Jerry about his pathetic love life and Elaine’s friend Cynthia confiding her romantic shortcomings. A meeting of the minds occurs between Jerry and Elaine and they decide to ‘fix-up’ their friends, things happen between the couple who give the dish to Jerry and Elaine who seem to be living their own vicarious relationship through the pair.

Thanks to a defective condom supplied by Kramer (they were factory seconds!) there’s a possibility that George has impregnated Cynthia, he has the opposite reaction to what you’d expect, instead of apprehension, pride!

What makes it great
NBC is the network that pioneered the will they/won’t they sitcom. Cheers and later Friends had this feature built into their DNA. From the outset the writers were opposed to any sort of sexual tension but they did find ways to work the idea into the storylines without hurting the show.

“The Deal” the second season finale was a good example of this by playing up the whole friends with benefits angle, but this episode was very clever, not unlike The Contest which danced around the subject of masturbation without explicitly saying it – this episode puts Jerry and Elaine back into a relationship without actually doing it, a relationship by proxy as it were!

Best Moment
When Jerry and Elaine are fighting and Kramer runs in to break up the fight “Now don’t you two really see, you’re in love with each other!”

13. The Maestro
"...It's outrageous, egregious, preposterous!"

The main plot continues from the previous ep (“The Postponement”) where Kramer scalds himself with hot coffee and decides to sue the coffee house which sold him the hot beverage. Not only is this the first of three frivoulous lawsuits pursued by Kramer and his lawyer Chiles, it’s also a funny riff on the real life absurdities of people (at the time) suing McDonalds after spilling coffee on themselves at the drive thru!

The subplots all nicely rely on the character flaws of the other regulars: George tries to be helpful by offering a chair to a store security guard but ends up causing more trouble in the process.

Elaine is dating a new man who is a conductor of a minor orchestra and insists on being called Maestro, he impresses Elaine with a trip to the Italian region of Tuscany and insults Jerry in the process, the sets off Jerry on a petty quest to prove that he can find a holiday house in Tuscany just to spite The Maestro.

What makes it great
In it later years Seinfeld thrived on it’s increasingly bizarre roster of recurring characters. This was a small feature at first Newman introduced in an early episode but not really used much until the fourth season, George’s parents in the fourth and fifth seasons, Mickey Abbot also in the fifth season, Tim Watley, George Steinbrenner, Kenny Bania and David Puddy in the sixth year, but in year seven the list just exploded and no-one symbolised that more than the rapid fire lawyer Jackie Chiles, coming off a year of OJ Simpson Madness he was a clear send up of the late Johnnie Cochran.

Phil Morris proves himself a complete chameleon as an actor chewing up the scenery and making Michael Richards the straight man! This episode belongs in this list for his performance alone.

Contrast this episode to the first two eps of Season 7 which threatened to get bogged down in George and Susan’s storyline. This was the first time in the season I laughed out loud and it was completely thanks to this ep (The third in a row for Larry David) bringing the lunacy back!

Best Moment
Anytime Jackie and Kramer are on screen is a big plus – but the scene where Kramer and Jackie meet Java World’s lawyers is brilliantly done.

12. The Boyfriend
“That is one magic loogie…”

The series first attempt at a one hour episode marks a real coming of age for the show, the latter half of the third season was of outstanding quality and this was the ep that defined the third year.

The hour was basically showed Jerry & Elaine meeting the retired baseballer Keith Hernandez, as an Australian where baseball is not followed this didn’t matter much other than to know he was a sporting hero! So Jerry becomes friends with his idol, Elaine and Keith date, creating a remarkable parallel between the two relationships and Kramer, well just for balance Kramer hates Keith who he believes spat on him after an important game.

George’s story is the first good attempt to address his long term unemployment, in America unemployment benefits seem to be similar to the Australian model where you have to prove you have looked for work in order to obtain them, the twist and turns George goes through to keep his benefits are incredible and could form an episode in their own right!

What makes it great
It’s quite something for a sitcom to extend the format to one hour special. One of the most common complaints about two part and one hour episodes is that the story gets stretched to fit the timeframe, in later years this was a valid point, “The Pilot” was more plot than funny, giving us hackneyed scenes to move Jerry’s pilot from preproduction to rejection all in the space of an hour. “The Finale” did its level best to sully the show with a shameless cross promotion of Geraldo Rivera (to viewers outside the US this was even weirder), The Raincoats was an intensely stupid concoction with one decent idea (Jerry & girlfriend making out during Schindler’s List) padded out with a whole lot of unfunny crap.

This episode however is a fantastic achievement, after flying low under the radar for 2 ½ years this is really the moment where the show announces itself, the characters are sure footed, the actors are on song and the whole package is a keeper. Although the show would have to wait almost a whole year and a timeslot change before “becoming” a hit, this was the moment they hit their stride.

Best Moment
The grainy footage of Kramer and Newman’s run-in with “Pretty Boy” Hernandez and the JFK-esque reconstruction of events by Jerry is one of the greatest scenes in sitcom history period.

11. The Butter Shave
“That guy’s coming home in a body bag”

From start to finish this episode crackles, one of the best ninth season instalments but at the same time serving to illustrate just how far from reality this series had strayed. George, Jerry and Elaine all have regulation stories – Jerry is annoyed by a successful Bania, George feigns disability to get a great job and Elaine spends the entire ep on a flight back from Europe (a move necessitated by Dreyfuss’ pregnancy) with her one time and once again boyfriend, the incredibly thick David Puddy.

It’s the Kramer story, however where this one veers off the rails into wacko territory. Kramer decides that butter is “vastly superior to any commercial shaving cream” and starts buttering his face before a shave, this escalates to buttering his whole body and getting a tan on the roof, which in turn lead to the most bizarre shot of a chicken you’re ever likely to see!

What makes it great
Everyone is on song in this episode, the Elaine/Puddy fighting is fantastic and sets up a season of on again off again action with those two, Jerry’s story a welcome return to the world of stand up – echoing the fourth season fall premiere with two NBC execs approaching Bania for a sitcom idea! Jerry calls Bania a “timeslot hit” an actual phenomenon which NBC probably created where if a crap show is placed after a really good show it will still rate well, Jerry, not liking the idea of being Bania’s warm up guy decides to flub his own act resulting in the first of a few parody’s this season of Jerry’s stand-up act! “What’s the deal with Cancer!”

For the record the other parodies are Kramer’s homestyle impersonations “So What’s the deal with politics?” and the finale where Jerry performs his act for the prison population!

The George story again is classic George, with lie after lie capping off with a fantastic denouement which end with an old guy about to take George down with his cane, the last frame is cut so perfectly you cannot fault it.

Best Moment
Whilst Newman hallucination is one of the all time most memorable moments, my favourite bit is the montage to 9 to 5 (The Sheena Easton song and the second such montage in the series) the things that George gets away with (tripping over a co-worker, being carried to his office) are absolutely hilarious.

10. The Beard
“”Remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it”

This episode is really part II of “The Scofflaw” and the end of that episode George got a toupee, this episode shows what he’s like with his little “hair hat”! Kramer sets him up with a woman, he doesn’t have a picture so they go down to the local police station to get the sketch artist to draw a picture. The woman is stunning but when George meets her – she’s bald!! The visit to the cop shop provides Jerry the opportunity to date a police woman and Kramer gets to join a line up, meanwhile Elaine is performing as a beard for a gay man who wishes to conceal his orientation from his boss, she ends up trying to convert him to her team!

What makes it great
Sixth season started off weakly but by this point was firing on all cylinders, practically any one of the episodes in the latter half of the season deserves to be up here but it was the chance to see George go down the toupee route which is the highlight, also the tip of the hat to another pop culture icon of the times, Melrose Place is great.

This episode marks the exact point that the gay vs hetero metaphor of ‘separate teams’ entered into prominence, that his side had more practice time with ‘the equipment’ was a hilarious moment. Kramer helping the homeless man is fantastic as are the line ups, anything where Michael Richards has to do something physical is always guaranteed a laugh!

Best Moment
While the clip shows are all loaded up with the moment where George chases his toupee out the window, my favourite scene is jerry cracking under police interrogation over whether he watches Melrose Place! Considering that the 3 biggest shows on TV at the time were this, Melrose Place and NYPD Blue it was a pop culture moment for me!

9. The Jimmy
“When he brings that needle out – I let the expletives fly…”

The last half of the sixth season was an absolute tour de force with so many weird characters and bizarre situations. This episode was one of the all time weirdest, and what it got away with will go down in the history books.

There are three basic stories, there’s a guy named Jimmy with these special basketball shoes who always talks about himself in the third person, Kramer and Jerry both have appointments with their dentist (Watley) who has banned children from the surgery and has started stocking Penthouse in the waiting room. Elaine is involved in some charity for the mentally challenged, Whilst due to his sweating, George appears guilty of stealing equipment from the Yankees.

That’s as simple as I can summarise it, suffice it to say, Jimmy’s talking in the third person catches on and causes a whole stack of misunderstandings, Kramer and Jerry both have problems with the dentist, Jerry may have been raped! While Kramer gets too much Novocane which leads me to…

What makes it great
As I write this there have protests against the new movie Tropic Thunder for it’s use of the word “retard” and it’s insensitivity toward mentally challenged people.

That makes this episode all the more amazing, the way it skirts around what can be a very sensitive topic, Michael Richards gives one of his best performances and somehow lifts what could have been a dreadful and mean spirited finale into one of the funniest moments this series has seen.

Basically when Kramer has the novocane his speech is completely slurred, he then by chance shares a taxi with an organiser of Elain’s benefit, this man mistakes Kramer for a mentally challenged person due to his speech and the special basketball shoes, his so impressed with his self-sufficiency he decides to honour him and the upcoming benefit.

How do they get way with it?
One little word… “well” – remember “The Outing” whenever someone claimed not to be gay, it would be qualified with “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” this somehow lessened the blow and moderated the tone of the show – kept it from getting offensive, here when Elaine exclaims that the director of ACMA thinks Kramer is Mentally Challenged, Jerry responds with a “well” as if to say – with Kramer it’s not a long shot. I think tying it to the character in this way did a lot to moderate the tone of this ep.

Best Moment
Although George confusing conversation with Steinbrenner is great – you cannot beat the finale where Mel Torme sings to Kramer – the laughs coming from the audience in that scene tell the whole story!

8. The Limo
“They're shooting, they're shooting!"
This episode, from the third season is just your run of the mill sitcom adventure, there’s wacky guest stars, hilarious slap stick and even a group hug at the end, only problem is your run of the mill sitcom doesn’t involve two Jews stuck in the back of a Limo under false pretences with a couple of Neo Nazis! This is “The Limo” welcome to the ride!

The episode’s premise is simple – George picks Jerry up from the airport but with car broken down they’re stranded, that is until Jerry spots a limo driver with a sign for “O’BRIEN”, knowing that there was an O’Brien that was not let onto Jerry’s flight, Jerry & George decide to appropriate the limo ride back to the city, it all goes well until some other passengers join them en route. A pair of Neo Nazis eager to meet O’Brien who is head of the Aryan Union!

What makes it great
I don’t think any sitcom have ever attempted something this brazen, this was the first truly dark episode of Seinfeld, mining humour out of what is a deplorable organisation and pushing the boundaries of realism and good taste in a way that is still funny!

Best Scene
The scene where George gives a dressing down to his (O’Brien’s) underling asking him “who has made fascism and hate-mongering popular again?” is a hoot but the star moment is Kramer seeing a great conspiracy unfold before him where George & Jerry are actually leading a double life!

7. The Opposite
“Hire this man!”

One of the great things a show can do after a few years when the character become familiar in their surrounds is flip the premise on it’s head, no episode of Seinfeld achieved this more than The Opposite.

This was the fifth season finale of the show and unlike season 4 which Aimed high but scored low, season 5 aimed low but scored high, season five’s major character arc involved an unemployed and broke George moving back in with his parents, this is George’s third consecutive season of unemployment and it was followed to it’s logical conclusion. George moved in with his parents in “The Puffy Shirt” which was the point at which Jerry Stiller assumed the role of Frank Costanza who would become a series fixture over the next 5 years.

This episode showed George coming to the realisation that every single decision he’s ever made was wrong and that he should do the opposite to his instincts, when he puts that theory into practice he gets astonishing results, first he asks out a woman at the café using brutal honesty: “My name is George, I’m unemployed and I live with my parents…” and succeeds, he takes on some rowdy teens at a cinema, he gets cut off while driving but doesn’t succumb to the road rage, he ends up landing a job with the NY Yankees by telling off George Steinbrenner!

NOTE: This episode deserves to be in the top ten simply for introducing Seinfeld’s nuttiest character, Steinbrenner, whose bizarre rants and strange outbursts, always seen from the back of his head, are show stopping highlights of the series next 3 seasons!

While George is enjoying a meteoric rise to the top, Elaine is headed straight down, losing her boyfriend, her apartment and her job in very short order, meanwhile Jerry realises he always breaks even.

While the fortunes of the Jerry, George and Elaine serve as the main focus, Kramer caps off his major storyline for the year, the coffee table book about coffee tables, with a botched appearance on daytime TV.

What makes it great
The best season finale the show ever did, it makes a statement about the characters and at the same time shakes up the series, putting a long-time unemployed George into a new job and wrapping up Pendant Publishing, the company Elaine worked with since the series’ beginning (Mr Lippman would still appear in later episodes). This was the episode which started the quiet contemplation scene by the seaside, scene that kept repeating at big moments in the characters lives (both when George and Jerry were deciding to get married and then when Jerry was deciding whether to continue mocking his girlfriend’s navel!).

Stranger than fiction
After George chews out Steinbrenner for his failures with the Yankees, the actual real life team went on to win several world series! Perhaps George was responsible! J

Best Moment
I love when George threatens the teenagers interrupting the movie, it’s such a shock to see and funny as hell (“why don’t you step outside and I’ll show you what it’s like!”) although that style of insane screaming at the top of his lungs eventually worked it’s way into George’s regular repertoire!

6. The Cigar Store Indian
“We’re gone one week and you turn our house into Bourbon street?"

Just fantastic, the stories all flow from a single event, the four are at George’s parents’ house while the parent are out of town having just been bowling, Jerry puts a drink on the Costanza’s coffee table without a coaster causing a stain.

This throws everyone’s plans into disarray, George needs Jerry to take him and the table to the furniture repair guy to have it touched up before the parents come home, there he meets a woman while Jerry sees a Cigar Store Indian which catches his eye, Kramer hatches the idea of a coffee table book about coffee tables! Meanwhile Elaine was going to get a ride home with Jerry but instead is forced to catch the subway due to George’s table drama, there with only on of Frank Costanza’s TV Guide’s to read she is accosted by a weird man who is obsessed with Lucille Ball.

Later that night Elaine is playing poker with some friends when Jerry shows up with the Cigar Store Indian in tow as a “peace offering” for leaving her in the lurch earlier, Jerry’s Bugs Bunny style Indian impersonation offends everyone, particularly a girl, Winona, whom he is smitten with, who happens to have Native American heritage. This sets off some of the episode’s funniest moments as Jerry tries to avoid insulting remarks but ends up offending everybody and anybody in the process.

George meanwhile wines and dines his furniture store lady pretending that his parent’s house is actually his own (“I’m sorry I forgot the combination on the liquor cabinet, must’ve slipped my mind!”), this leads to one of the series’ funniest moments when George’s mother discovers a used condom, err prophylactic wrapper on her bed.

What makes it great
Seinfeld is at it’s best when it explores the nuances of human interaction and nothing is better fodder than the all conquering rise of political correctness in the past two decades, The scenes with Jerry ducking and weaving around his own speech in order not to offend Winona are golden!

This episode also picks up the major thread of season five, George living with his parents, the producers are not afraid to take this twist to it’s extreme and a high point of the episode is where George, having been caught using his parents’ bed for sex, is grounded!

This also introduces Ricky, the weird stalker who resurfaces 5 episodes later by surprise, and Kramers Coffee Table Book about Coffee Tables! Finally there’s even a mini plot about trying to make a mad dash to a kebab vendor in the subway without missing the train and a funny cameo by Al Roker, one of the few “domestic” US celebs that was known to Australian night owls at the time who watched the NBC Today show in it’s late night slot.

Best Moment
The entire scene where the condom is discovered is hilarious and works thanks to the old world term prophylactic! But the best laugh out loud moment is when Jerry having offended the mail man by asking him where the Chinese Restaurant is turns around to see Kramer in a cab with the Cigar Store Indian hanging out the window doing a drive-by apache call! Drop dead funny!

5. The Mango
“The Supermarket, you can’t get a decent piece of fruit at the supermarket. The apples are mealy, the oranges are dry… I don’t know what’s going on with the papayas!”

Above is the line of the century, guaranteed to stick in your head long after you watch the episode. The fifth season opener HAD to be a slam dunk, Seinfeld (in the US) was on it’s own in the tentpole 9pm Thursday slot. Luckily they didn’t shy away from controversy, strangely in Australia this was initially given a PG rating and shown at 7.30pm (unedited as well) and then in every subsequent airing was played at 8.30 with an M rating! The topic… Faking Orgasms and Impotence, oh and fruit.

The episode revolves around Jerry discovering that Elaine faked with him, George worried that his woman is faking becoming impotent due to the anxiety and Kramer being banned from Joe’s fruit store!

What makes it great
It’s a given that whenever Seinfeld does something about sex it will be a home run and this is no different but the real surprise in the episode is the B story of Kramer’s fruit misadventure and how it gets messed up with the main plot.

Best Moment
The scene where Jerry is buying Kramer’s fruit is classic as is Kramer’s initial clash with the fruiterer: “This place is going “whooomp” downhill”

4. The Hamptons
“I don’t know how you guys walk around with those things!”

Basically Seinfeld on holidays, the four go out to a friends’ house in The Hamptons (Long Island) to see their new baby, everyone concurs that the baby is ugly except for the baby’s paediatrician who says that he is breathtaking, he later calls Elaine breathtaking, which causes her some angst.
Jerry has been with the same woman since “The Raincoats” but George is with a new girl and they haven’t slept together yet, even though he hasn’t seen her naked, everyone else gets a show whilst sunbaking on the deck, this causes some friction between George and Jerry, where George thinks he should get to see Jerry’s girlfriend naked as well, he attempts to orchestrate it, but instead she sees him naked, after he was in the pool.

Then we get into the topic of shrinkage! Is there anything this show won’t hit, while Sex and the City would claim to have explored more sexual peccadilloes, they often did so in a salacious manner as opposed to the matter of fact way that Seinfeld handled these kind of uncomfortable topics!

With Jerry’s girlfriend having seen George’s manhood and obviously blurted to George’s girlfriend (who left as a result) George decided to get sweet revenge in the final act, which is a very satisfying piece of work

As a side plot to all this, Kramer poaches some lobster from a commercial trap and ends up having to deal with the authorities!

What makes it great
I never used to think this was a particularly great one, funny yes, especially over the shrinkage, but after re-watching it once I got the DVDs I appreciated the exquisite build up of George’s discontent in the first act, leading to what is a delightful revenge at the end, I almost regret that they had George hit in the face with a tomato at the close because he didn’t have it coming, I would’ve liked him to have the win on that ep – it was well done.

Also this references a much earlier third season outing where Kramer and Jerry were told “ya gotta see tha baby!” so kudos for that

Also kudos goes to being the only TV show I have ever seen to portray ‘The Hamptons’ as a regular beach town rather than some mega rich holiday destination, I’ve never been there, nor am I ever likely to go, but it was nice to see a different angle.

Best Scene
It’s actually a few scenes, but when the three sunbathers spot George’s girlfriend topless, and then she comes up to the deck bare-chested – that is a great setup, then Kramer blurting it out to George – that is an alley-oop.

3. The Race
“I choose not to run”

Oh man alive, the best episode of the sixth season is also it’s first really good one kicking off an unbroken run of greatness that went all the way to the season finale (yes, even the Bette Midler ep ain’t bad).

This episode takes a single topic, communism, and mines it for all it’s worth, Elaine’s boyfriend is a communist, he gives Kramer a copy of The Daily Worker which Kramer takes to heart whilst working as a department store Santa (his actor friend Mickey Abbott is his elf offsider and vehemently opposed to communism), George spot the personals in the Daily Worker and sees ‘appearance not important’ deciding this is an ideology he can embrace he creates the impression among his co-workers that he is a communist sympathiser, Steinbrenner believes this will give him an inside track to poach some talented Cuban baseball players, setting up a meeting between George and a strangely Steinbrenner like Fidel Castro!

Meanwhile, Jerry finally gets to play Superman when he dates a girl named Lois and has to face off against his old nemesis, Duncan, who believes that Jerry cheated him in a running race in high school and wants a rematch.

What makes it great
Where to begin… I’ll start with the Jerry story since for some time the obsession with Superman has been in the show’s background, but here it comes to the fore (they even use the music) The scene where Jerry revealed his dark secret to Elaine was very cinematic and typical of Andy Ackerman’s best moments helming the series. While his predecessor Tom Cherones had a knack for making the mundane seem weird (a trait he carried forward to his stint on NewsRadio), Ackerman sought to infuse the show with the kind of shots and scenes that you would only find in the movies, lifting it even further beyond the confines of television.

Elaine has a great side story about being blacklisted from a favoured Chinese takeaway, which dovetails nicely with the communist exploits of her boyfriend. The dissection of communism is well done and caters to all views, while people my age see it as a toothless ideology and not much of a threat, older people are like minded with Mickey Abbott in their views about the Red Menace, meanwhile we get to poke fun at the commies through George’s exploits in Cuba

Also worthy of special mention is when George finally gets to masquerade as an architect in a very cleverly written scene between Jerry, George and their old school friend Duncan, I won’t go into it here but watch it – it’s a keeper.

Best Scene
It has to be the ending where George meets Fidel Castro, although Kramer speaking the language of all children “Norchi worchi dorchi doo” always makes me laugh, the funniest scene though is not even in the episode but in the deleted scenes on the DVD, lets just say it involves Kramer as Santa Claus and I’m not entirely sure why they cut it because it is hilarious!

2. The Pitch/The Ticket
“Yo Yo Ma!”

One of my favourite episodes, this hour long introduction-proper to the fourth season is also the season’s best instalment setting up the serialised nature of the first half of the season, in a way this is a vote not for a single episode but for this and the seven episodes that followed it which represented the serialisation of the sitcom.

Whilst a serialised sitcom is not a new thing, Soap introduced the idea back in the 70s and many single camera sitcoms like Scrubs and Arrested Development thrived on serialisation, this was the first such example from the 80s or 90s where although sitcoms had good continuity, they never had a running story pumping through the background.

Here that story of course kicks off in The Pitch where Jerry is approached by NBC executives to develop a show, as everyone living on planet earth knows, this is art imitating life as the scenes between Jerry and George mirror Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David’s development of the show.

It is George (in place of David) who comes up with the idea of a show about nothing, in amongst their pitch meetings with executives we see a minor drama play out between Kramer and Newman with the pair swapping a motorcycle helmet for a radar detector, while Newman’s helmet saves Kramer’s life after he gets kicked in the head, Kramer’s faulty radar detector lands Newman in court with a speeding fine.

Elaine is absent save for a pair of scenes where she is shown on holiday with her psychiatrist (this becomes important later), while both Jerry and Kramer have run ins with an unhinged freelance television writer, Joe Davola (this also becomes important later) and even Uncle Leo shows up (which will become important later), to top it off George makes an impression on one of the executives, Susan Biddle-Ross (which becomes important later and again much later in the show’s run)

See what I mean, everything in this episode pays off at some later point, the laughs are there in spades and even a casual viewer can wander in and watch.

This episode will also always hold a special meaning for me because it was the first one I ever saw, in Australia Channel Nine introduced the show to late night viewers the previous year playing about 13 third season episodes, Channel Ten eager to build on their success with Roseanne wrested the rights to the show and launched it in the summer (December) of 1993, they launched with this ep.

What makes it great
More than anything else on TV at the time, this felt like real life, even though some of the things were outlandish to the regular person (developing TV shows, dealing with psychos, bizarre court appearances) the episode never spends too long on any one point and sticks a lot of balls up in the air creating the feeling that something was always happening and yet it was about nothing.

Best Moment
Too many to mention, both pitch meetings are fantastic with George fudging his credentials and storming off in a huff in the first and then looking unkept and straggly in the second meeting makes a joke about masturbation! Probably a first for TV at the time!

The scene where Jerry and
George formulate the show is an all time TV classic as is the scene where George psychs himself out before the meeting “They’re men with JOBS Jerry!”

But the big highlight comes in the middle, the scene where Susan comes to Jerry’s apartment, firstly Jerry’s handling of a telemarketer is inspired stuff but it’s Kramer throwing up on Susan and then the fallout
George: “I never saw it coming, I should’ve seen it coming”
Jerry “I think she saw it coming”

The Championship Season
The Pitch, The Ticket, The Wallet, The Watch, The Bubble Boy, The Cheever Letters, The Opera, The Virgin and The Contest, one of the most perfect runs in episodic television, a fantastic sea of continuity from one ep to the next, everything in this ep was paid off down the line.

The Wallet and The Watch dealt with Uncle Leo as well as the contract negotiations with NBC and Elaine’s fling with the pyschiatrist, during those episodes George gives Kramer some cigars (from Susan’s father), Elaine meets Crazy Joe Davola and decides to date him and Jerry meets a woman at a restaurant with an obnoxious laugh, next ep they are dating, and Kramer burns down Susan’s father’s cabin!

The fallout from that carries into the Cheever Letters while Jerry and George try to write the pilot, The Opera pays off the Elaine/Davola storyline while The Viirgin brought George & Susan’s relationship to an impasse whilst introducing Jerry’s next girlfriend who continues through to the Contest.

It is with the Contest, however, where this brilliant serialisation grinds to a halt, the next episode, “The Airport” starts free of any ongoing plot, strands of that plot are carried over to “The Pick” but then the serial nature of the story was dropped.

The TV show development only recurred in three more episodes in the season, “The Shoes”, “The Handicapped Spot” (only in a cursory way) and “The Pilot”.

The first half of the season up to “The Contest” is a fantastic trip, after that there are some strong episodes, but the sense of ongoing storylines is completely lost, and grand shame after such a promising start.

1. The Marine Biologist
“Who wants to have some fun”

Best Episode Ever. Not just because it is the most tightly plotted half hour you will ever see. Not just because every character gets a story of equal weight. Not just because of Kramer’s evocative description of playing golf. Not just because of the random things falling out of the sky. Not just because of “War, What is it good for”. Not just because of sand. Not just because of Jerry’s race to use the ATM. Not just because George shines in possibly the character’s best ever instalment. But for all these reasons and the astonishing conclusion which nobody at all saw coming and yet fit perfectly.

Kramer says it all in the episode’s send off – “A Hole in One!”