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Seinfeld’s Superbowl sketch

Last week, rumors of a pending Seinfeld reunion sent fans of the hit 1990s sitcom into a frenzy. What, exactly, were Jerry and Jason Alexander (who played George Costanza) filming on the streets of New York—in costume? When asked about it, Seinfeld played coy.

The results were revealed last night during the (otherwise less-than-riveting) Superbowl. The Seinfeld alums had worked their 90s characters into a mini-episode of Seinfeld’s brilliant web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”:

The spot has its moments. For one, you’ve got to love the car choice; Jerry ferries George around New York in a 1976 AMC Pacer. As Seinfeld snarks, “It doesn’t work; it looks ridiculous; and [it] falls apart—which makes it the perfect vehicle for my guest today: Mr. George Costanza.” Another pleasant surprise? Wayne Knight cameos as Jerry’s arch-nemesis, Newman. His wheezy cackle still makes me giggle.

But this mini-reunion has its problems, too. First, it’s too short. As a series, Seinfeld specialized in comedic payoffs. It took its time, establishing the plot threads, then entangling them hilariously at each episode’s climax. The Superbowl segment doesn’t have space to work this way. The closest we get to a “payoff” is the lame recurrence of a mumble gag established just two minutes earlier.

Another problem with the bit? George Costanza. Oh, he’s still the same neurotic kvetch. Actually, that’s the problem: George hasn’t changed at all. He sports the same wire-rimmed glasses, the same frumpy red jacket—even the same-colored hair (likely dyed). But the self-obsession that made George funny back then makes him unpleasant now. He’s less “charmingly crabby” and more “crotchety crank.” If anything, George seems more cynical and selfish than his younger self. Only now, it’s harder to overlook.

Listen: I’m not ungrateful; I’m glad Seinfeld & Friends shot this piece. We got a whimsical, nostalgic reminder of TV’s best-ever sitcom.

But the brief reunion shows why Seinfeld should never be renewed. Sure, society has generated plenty of script material in the intervening years. No doubt Jerry and the gang would have plenty to say about today’s “excruciating minutiae”: smartphone etiquette, Skype faux-paus, Netflix binges, and “reality” TV.

But would audiences want to hear them complain? The quirks that made these characters funny as thirty-somethings would make them unbearable as fifty-year-olds. Kramer’s wacky antics as a young man were lovably eccentric; they’d seem borderline creepy for a senior citizen. Elaine’s sarcastic narcissism was cute back then; from a middle-aged woman, it would likely grate.

As it turns out, the show’s original finale got it right: it’s probably for the best that these characters were “removed from society.”

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Unpacking Jerry’s apartment(s?): continuity errors in Seinfeld’s pilot.

Television pilots are tricky things. They’re test episodes, meant to gauge whether a concept will fly or not. Seinfeld’s pilot, first broadcast in July of 1989, nearly failed the test. Screenings met with a tepid response from audiences, who complained about pointless stories and uninteresting characters. But when I go back and watch Seinfeld’s opening episode, it’s not the tediously long stand-up interludes, the unfunny writing, or the lagging pace that bug me. No, I’m bothered by Jerry’s apartment.

If that even is Jerry’s apartment. Oh, sure, it resembles the unit 5A familiar from later seasons, but something seems… off. Take the windows, for example. Most of the time, Seinfeld’s producers used this L.A. façade as the exterior shot for Jerry’s building:

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In fact, in every episode but the first, this is the exterior. In that first episode, however, we get this:

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Maybe Jerry’s building underwent some major renovations? And things make even less sense viewed from the inside:

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Wait, what? Neither exterior shot included these tall, warehouse-style bay windows. Perhaps Jerry was the previous tenant at another show’s famous flat:

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Weird. I thought the Friends lived in the Village.

It’s not just the windows that are inconsistent, though. Check out this shot from the pilot:

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Now compare it to this, taken from the show’s second episode, “The Stakeout:”

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The two rooms look alike at first, aside from new decor (Jerry’s taste has improved?). Harder to explain are the changes to the bathroom area. In the pilot, the door at the rear of Jerry’s apartment opens directly into the bathroom. By the second episode, however, the bathroom has shifted deeper into the set. A wide door frame leads into both the bathroom and Jerry’s bedroom (off-camera). Either the super knocked down some walls, or something’s not quite right here.

Of course, one might say that such obsessive analysis points to some mental illness on my part. After all, the pilot was filmed years before the show hit its stride; if the writing improved, couldn’t the set design improve with it? And, besides, the pilot includes much more glaring discrepancies than the apartment floorplan. Jerry calls his neighbor “Kessler,” for crying out loud.

Still, the Seinfeld pilot is canonical! Later seasons prove it. The finale playfully references the first conversation between Jerry and George–which happens in the pilot. Even the premiere’s Kramer/Kessler goof gets retconned (i.e., explained away) in a later episode. So the pilot is authoritative Seinfeld lore. Nitpicky nerds like me are left to wonder how Jerry fit a bedroom where his bathtub used to be.

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Jerry’s apartment two years before the pilot, as portrayed in “The Betrayal” (season 9). Notice the full hallway behind Jerry. The mental gymnastics needed to reconcile this with the pilot floorplan are overwhelming.