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'Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee' and the Seinfeld Dilemma

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Seinfeld has never registered with me. Many times, friend-devotees of the series have sat me down and tried to lend a machete to this perplexing thicket, but after countless hours of whacking away at the undergrowth that has settled between me and enjoyment of the show, they retire unsuccessful. "It's observational humor!" says one, "I feel that so appeals to you!"

"Too true," I reply, "and yet, nothing." Not a giggle. Not even a smile. I once claimed I could sit through an entire season without feeling a single emotion besides a profound gratification that humankind has moved past the follicle missteps of the nineties (I am haunted by the strange hair-waterfall that cascades down Jerry's collar throughout the series).

"It's a show about nothing!" others exclaim, as if this alone is a selling point or a turn-key solution to penetrating my funny bone. Some try to explain more broadly, analyzing what Seinfeld and his Jedi Master a la showrunner, Larry David, are attempting to say about the unremarkable quirks of life. But these efforts, though well intentioned, are a bit like explaining a joke -- if you have to dissect it, it's no longer funny.

I've offered apologies by way of explanation. Maybe it's "too New York" for this New Englander (though I've since moved to NYC) or maybe "too Jewish" for this Catholic atheist non-Jew (no immediate plans of conversion). Maybe, it's simply that I was six months old when the pilot aired, so I wasn't in a good place in my life to appreciate it live. Does it lose some pizzazz when filtered through TBS's ad-nauseum syndications? Does funny have a half-life? But these offerings ring hollow, even to me. A series that is supposedly so broad should resonate indefinitely, and I, now, as a well-educated, New York City-dwelling white man should laugh uproariously along with my peers when Kramer does that thing, you know, that he does.

And yet, nothing. What's the deal with that?

Admittedly, these distastes considered, it was an odd decision for me to watch Mr. Seinfeld's new web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I did so partly because I work in new media, and am made aware daily of the interminable garbage that populates the Internet. As such, I'm perpetually engaged in a tireless safari for quality internet content. Also, I'm not adverse to the recent trend of comedians talking to comedians while someone records it. Marc Maron's WTF podcast, is surprisingly arresting and insightful, particularly when Mr. Maron invites veteran comics, who are slightly less fettered by the impulse to impress and don't feel the need to make each point a punch line. Also, it was a slow day at work.

The premier episode of Mr. Seinfeld's new show featured the aforementioned Larry David. After a seemingly staged "Hey, what are you doing, want to get some coffee?" call, the two climb into the younger comedian's 1952 Volkswagen Beetle, and do just that. As a collector, Jerry Seinfeld has amassed enough vehicles that several seasons of this new series could conceivably pass without him repeating a car. Guess what gorgeous machine will appear in the next episode will offer an odd pleasure to anyone even passingly interested in automobiles.

The real girth of the episode occurs after the duo enters a nondescript breakfast joint. They sit, order hot beverages, tuck into some food, and chat. And that really is all they do. Many reviewers will focus on Seinfeld finally creating a series that is truly "about nothing," but that is not what interests me. Well, it does, I suppose, but I'm also excessively introspective and have ultimately been made to feel that my distaste for Seinfeld is some latent intellectual deficiency. Why is it that I find all nine heralded seasons of Seinfeld cringe-worthy, but was delighted by Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee?

This first episode is well-shot, refreshing in contrast to Seinfeld's '90s sitcomy vibe. During the shooting of the episode, an ambitious DP has made sweet B-roll love to the surroundings. We're offered HD close-ups of restaurant coffee-makers and tea bags being torn open by Mr. David's gnarled hands. The series is bright, and, well, it's just pleasant. The two men are old friends who happen to be brilliant comedians. The warmth and history between them is resonant, and it informs their comedy. They share not only a comedic pacing, but similar razor-sharp observational sensibilities. Breaking down their comedic styles is well-trodden ground, but seeing both men's wit applied to each other's idiosyncrasies or whatever subject matter happens to cross in front of them is fascinating. The comedians leave topics in their wake like road kill.

This first episode is never uproarious. There are no punch lines, and arguably, no jokes. In fact the two know each other so well, several times very funny sentences trail off behind giggle-fits. But, there is a strange entertainment in watching men so gifted discussing tea vs. coffee, cigars vs. cigarettes, and pancakes vs. not pancakes. Seinfeld, as he (apparently) did in his series, latches upon simple concepts, and whittles them down to a fine point. He has, as he himself suggest of Mr. David, "one of the finest minds" around.

Beyond his rhetorical yoga, the joy of the series is seeing how much Mr. Seinfeld enjoys his guest's presence, and vice versa. In the same way that seeing a group of strangers laughing can, through some ancient caveman social osmosis, infect a passer-by, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee put me in a better mood. Unlike Seinfeld, this I get. This I like. I'm looking forward to the second episode in a way that I would never anticipate the comedian's first series. Though, it could just boil down to the fact that Mr. Seinfeld finally got a fucking haircut.