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:
In fact, in every episode but the first, this is the exterior. In that first episode, however, we get this:
Maybe Jerry’s building underwent some major renovations? And things make even less sense viewed from the inside:
Wait, what? Neither exterior shot included these tall, warehouse-style bay windows. Perhaps Jerry was the previous tenant at another show’s famous flat:
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:
Now compare it to this, taken from the show’s second episode, “The Stakeout:”
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.
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.