Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Review of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

BENNINGTON -- Everything about Jerry Seinfeld's unique new Web series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" percolates like world-class java, except for Jerry Seinfeld.

This is Jerry Seinfeld we're talking about, creator and star of one of the best TV shows in history. I've seen every episode of "Seinfeld" 10 times or more. I love every episode. I could watch every episode 1,000 times and not get bored. The show will be funny 50 years from now, like "I Love Lucy" is funny 50 years later.

That's what makes watching Seinfeld's flailing in "CCC" difficult and painful to watch. He's not funny. In fact he's Jerry Seinfeld in a bizarro world of unfunny.

See, it wouldn't be so bad if Seinfeld made it a point to *not* be funny in relation to the show's really cool premise of him driving a vintage car every episode and picking up one of his comedy buddies for a ride then a nosh and chat over cappuccino or joe.

But the premise, to me anyway, is that his comedian buddies are supposed to make *him* laugh. And this is what makes my skin itch: Seinfeld laughs at every single thing. Not only that, he laughs at whatever his buddies say like it's a knee-slapping laugh-riot when whatever it is his buddy just said wasn't meant to be uproarious, or even a joke.

Ricky Gervais: "I have irritable bowel syndrome."

Jerry Seinfeld: AHHAHAHAHAHHHAHAHAHAHAHA!!11!11!1!!!1

Slow down there, Jerry.

Even worse is that he lurches forward and looks like he's having a heart attack when he silent-laughs and bangs the steering wheel or table top.

It's really very bizarre.

It's almost as if Seinfeld hasn't laughed a real laugh since his show went off the air in '98 and is desperate for a vehicle to make him laugh again. All of the Seinfeld outtakes let the world see the real Jerry Seinfeld when Jerry Seinfeld truly laughed with Michael Richards and Julia Louie-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander.

After the TV show ended he returned to his first love and performed a few stand-up gigs for the masses, did those American Express commercials, had interesting relationship circumstances then got married to a young girl and has since become a father. Created another short-lived show that I didn't watch once. Seinfeld syndication deals made him richer than kings. He has everything you might think someone wants in life: fame, fortune, adulation from fans around the world.

But he's bored.

Fourteen years after Seinfeld went to prison, at 58, he's in a mid-life crisis -- driving these fancy sports and muscle cars tells us that -- and he's again thirsty for adulation. In "CCC" he wants the world to see who he thinks the real Jerry Seinfeld is: goofball from Massapequa who laughs at his friends' goofiness and jokes.

The only problem is that when he laughs at yet another bit of unfunny -- and then goes badly overboard with it -- he comes across as plain goofy which, again, is difficult to watch if you've grown to love the guy.

An episode of Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee begins with Seinfeld turning a key in the ignition of a vintage car that roars to life. He explains what year, make and model the car is and its color and engine type and yadda yadda. Seinfeld drives across bridges of New York City and Manhattan and calls Alec Baldwin or Ricky Gervais or Brian Regan and invites them to ride along for a day date.

Segues during cafe or diner scenes stick out because you see the inner-workings of a coffee machine mid-brew. Other cool shots show the swirling of steamed and frothed milk into a heart atop a finished latte, or a view of black coffee as it's being poured into a cup from a high angle. It's unique and really very cool.

Of the 3 episodes of CCC I've watched, the one with Alec Baldwin called "Just A Lazy Shiftless Bastard" is by far the best. Seinfeld picks him up in a '70 signal red Mercedes 280 SL. Two things stick out in this episode: Seinfeld has lost his Hall of Fame fastball (for that matter his curve and his slider, too) and Baldwin still brings serious heat. He's a guy's guy, and he's really fucking smart -- writer-smart as he puts on display at the Huffington Post TIME AND AGAIN.

He's a storyteller's storyteller of old Hollywood. The Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas autograph pen story is Gold, Jerry! And you can't not love his impersonation of Jack Nicholson as he spins "Five Easy Pieces" with a waitress who plays right along.

"Can I have a bowl of pickles, and a fork -- some kind of dinnerware? Is that a problem?"

Seinfeld laughs at those bits, and rightly so because Baldwin brings the goods.

Yet at one point during their lunch -- when Alec asks him what fatherhood is like -- Seinfeld describes it as being atop a "surfboard on the rainbow of life" and what's the deal with my kid inviting me into the bathroom during poop time?

Hearing Seinfeld answer in the fashion he answers isn't what's painful -- it's that Baldwin pretends to laugh by covering his face with his hands and haunching over the table. He must be thinking "THIS is the story Jerry is telling me right now?"

Seinfeld is much more tolerable in the episode with Ricky Gervais because he's the perfect muse when Gervais puts his deepest insecurities on display. His bowels act up so he doesn't fancy this ride in a Austin Healey that has no shocks to absorb the bumps.

Gervais really doesn't appreciate his buddy's sado-masochistic ways as Seinfeld zigs in and out of traffic, in front of an 18-wheeler even, and scares the bejesus out of the poor Brit who squeezes the dashboard like a child clutching the front of a roller coaster car on the scream down the tracks.

Seinfeld, without faking a damn thing -- and it's a great insight into the real Jerry Seinfeld -- tells Gervais that "Fear is funny, especially when it's not fake."

Great, Jerry. Comedy is the same way, so how 'bout not faking an uproarious laugh when something your buddies say wasn't funny.

Other than that, buddy, you've brewed and poured us a nice cup of Web java.

Here's a link to the CCC episode with Baldwin: