Guys, it's great to be back, coming at you with season four of Seinfeld—great season, or the greatest season? This is the year when Seinfeld went from acclaimed cult comedy to genuine hit, although its status as king of the Nielsen ratings came with season five, when it became the centerpiece of NBC's Must-See TV on Thursday nights at 9 (it aired on Wednesday at 9 for its first four years, though it moved to the Thursdays at 9:30 slot for the last half of this season). This is also the year when Seinfeld captured its only Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series (every subsequent season lost to Frasier, king of the Emmys).
But most importantly, this is a year filled with classic episodes forever etched in the public mind, like "The Bubble Boy," "The Contest," "The Outing," and "The Junior Mint." Season four is the first time Seinfeld embarked on a real, season-long arc, focusing on Jerry and George's pitch for a TV show very much like the one we're watching, with a few key differences (the word "butler" comes to mind). But more on that later. Season four's opener concludes season three's cliffhanger episode, "The Keys," with an extremely madcap LA adventure for Jerry, George, and Kramer.
The wackiness levels of "The Trip" are extremely, almost dangerously high, and for such an absurdly silly episode, it's also remarkably dark-humored; no wonder Larry Charles wrote it. I didn't remember this episode that fondly because I recalled it being bloated like many a one-hour episode, but I enjoyed it quite a lot this time around. I think, as I get older, I'm more accepting of silliness as long as it's funny, and "The Trip" is funny.
After the shock of seeing Kramer on Murphy Brown, Jerry and George decide to pay him a visit, as Jerry is going to LA to be on The Tonight Show. George comes along, four suitcases in tow ("What are you, Diana Ross?") but that's because the imperceptible changes in his clothing are all part of his mood-based dressing. "This is morning mist," he tells Jerry. What ensues are a lot of running gags, centered on Kramer's failing Hollywood career and arrest on suspicion of being a serial killer. A lot of the jokes fly; some don't.
The Kramer end of things is funnier, even though it almost feels like we're in a new TV show, some wacky spinoff where Kramer finds himself in LA (like Joey was to Friends). Safe in the knowledge that he'll be home soon, I liked his nutty actress neighbor and her lengthy monologue on a Three Stooges movie she appeared in that involved a dead baby and saw all three Stooges executed. "That was an unusual choice for the Stooges," Kramer says, seemingly bewildered that he's become the straight man in his new situation.
Later, Kramer auditions for five different things in one office, donning big hair for a music video, doing high kicks in slacks for an exercise tape, and gagging down wheatgrass (or something) for an infomercial. There's even a great guest star appearance by Fred Savage, which got me all nostalgic for an age where Fred Savage was a viable guest-star for your TV show looking to hit it big. Finally, the cops bring Kramer in and he comes close to confessing, even though he didn't do it. Richards' hysterical weeping is ridiculously over-the-top, but it fits Kramer and the generally elevated tone of this episode.
Jerry and George's misadventures are a little more New York-y and some of them feel like padding, especially the two's annoyance at Lupe the maid for throwing away a joke napkin and tucking in the sheets too hard. I'm on George's side about the tucking, but if you don't like it, just pull 'em out! That's what I always do. George's encounters with Corbin Bernsen and George Wendt are also blatant padding but are much funnier; for one, they're such great examples of early-90s guest stars, and George's tale of the cat he malnourished to death is an exquisite example of Costanza-perceived victimhood.
Once they're out of the hotel, things are much better—their LA bafflement is satirized in a phone call with the police ("911? How are ya!"), and the cops who pick them up are eating Milano cookies ("What kind of a crazy town is this?" asks Jerry). In the car with them is perennial crazy-eyed, TV guest star Clint Howard, the real smog strangler, who gets in an argument with them over tips for a chambermaid ("Ww, Ann Landers sucks!"). The idea that Jerry and George egg each other on to be more and more childlike is a good one, being the basis for season 3's wonderful "The Limo," and that's basically what's going on here. They marvel at the cops' 12-gauge shotgun (much better than an 11-gauge) and take turns at playing with the siren.
But Larry Charles can't help but inject a little bit of pitch-black humor into this generally madcap hour by having Jerry and George idiotically let the smog strangler go from the cop car. When he kills again, Kramer is released, and the three of them dance a jig in the parking lot until the victim's sad family is led by; the tone of the episode is light enough that it doesn't feel like a downer, but if you think about it, that's pretty hilariously fucked up.
For such a crazy episode, though, there's a surprisingly calm and even emotional coda as Jerry and George, back in the apartment, are startled to see Kramer back where he belongs, rooting through Jerry's fridge and complaining about his mustard. Jerry tosses the keys back to him, and Kramer damn near breaks the table with his set. It's almost a hug moment for the famous "no hugging, no learning" show, but they get away with it, because all that's happened is the status quo has simply been restored. And why shouldn't we smile at that?
- Why no Elaine this week? She's also barely in next week's two-part episode; Julia Louis-Dreyfus was on maternity leave. She'll be back!
- A dumbfounded-looking Larry David is one of the many crowd members at Kramer's door when the cops arrive; Larry Charles is in there somewhere too.
- George wants to see the Backdraft exhibit at Universal Studios. Ah, 1992.
- The C-plot of the testosterone-y LA detectives is really funny and feels almost like a shitty episode of CSI, with "Johnny" subbing for David Caruso, whipping off sunglasses and calling Kramer a weed, "choking the life out of all the pretty flowers."
- Kramer's later-murdered blonde friend is trying to get a show about Eva Braun made. "What was it like, having sex with Adolf Hitler?" she wonders.
- George describes Kramer's hair as wavy. Jerry goes with curly. "What'd you ask me for?" George is right.
- "Costanza, it sounds like it stands for something; they'll believe us!"
- Feels like an old one, but couldn't help laughing at the droll response to George asking a passer-by "Where are we?" "Earth."
- Another dark gag wrapped in madcap lightness is Kramer asking Johnny how he knew about the guy in the park, basically admitting he got molested as a kid. Haha!
- "Tarragon? Ah, you're crazy."
- "If I owned a company, my employees would love me. They'd have huge pictures of me up on the wall, in their homes. Like Lenin."