Published Jul 09, 2018Moving from Crackle to Netflix, Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee retains its blend of funny people being "themselves" with some incidental social commentary, but largely because of its increasingly irritated host, the show's pointed perspective feels a lot more provocative and purposeful this season.
On a show renowned for big gets like still-sitting president Barack Obama and still-sitting late night king David Letterman, aside from Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres, and the late Jerry Lewis, star power-wise, this season's guest-list is more modest. In fact, Seinfeld brought Alec Baldwin and Brian Regan back to the show for second turns, as well as including Netflix-affiliated comics like Dana Carvey, Neal Brennan, Hasan Minhaj and John Mulaney, Saturday Night Live stars Kate McKinnon and Tracy Morgan, and gifted comedic actor Zach Galifianakis.
Some of the old-school showbiz stuff is insightful, such as Baldwin and Seinfeld sitting in a diner in their hometown of Massapequa on Long Island, pontificating about how there's no "commission" searching for talent; talent has to pound the pavement to make itself known. Notorious for not suffering fools and their idiot questions, Jerry Lewis is hyper respectful of Seinfeld's reverent queries about key movie scenes and his work generally, even tolerating his acolyte's concerned barbs about the giant plate of bacon he ordered at a Vegas restaurant that Lewis owned.
There's genuine joy in watching Seinfeld collapse before funny people he simply can't handle and he has numerous breakdowns: with Regan, an absurd, goddamned genius; McKinnon, who clearly viewed her episode as a performative showcase for her role-playing talents; and DeGeneres, who is playful enough to hide the keys to the '70s Toyota truck that Seinfeld procured for their trek.
But you can also see some guests shying away from Seinfeld's attempts to assert comedy into what he sees as this mire of protest against certain kinds of speech and action. In recent years, the beloved sitcom star (who co-designed Seinfeld with Larry David to at least partially expose collective rage and indignation about our poorest human impulses so that we could laugh at how dumb we all are) has taken some heat for speaking out against "political correctness" in culture, because he fundamentally believes that if something's funny, it's funny. If something gets a laugh, no further analysis is necessary.
With that in mind, you can see a self-defensive and angry strain running through each of these episodes, and it's all Seinfeld's doing. You may rightly cringe at he and Baldwin riffing on the "new guidelines" designed to keep women safe from men. He tells Regan that if he was a therapist, he would likely invoke Cher's famous line from Moonstruck, telling patients to "Snap out of it!" You can see DeGeneres question Seinfeld's wisdom in invoking domestic abuse out of nowhere. He wonders if any ventriloquists have ever thought to identify their puppets as paraplegics and McKinnon, smiling but aghast, won't touch the premise.
Seinfeld pulls a stunt like this every episode, pushing and pushing for a kind of deliberate insensitivity in the name of comedy. He also makes fun of his very own show, ridiculing the popularity of interview shows like his and Letterman's new Netflix venture, when in fact, everyone, everywhere in the world has some kind of conversation ("It's idiotic," he says to Regan, exasperated).
For all of the philosophical hand-wringing about Seinfeld's oeuvre being "about nothing," the truth is, it's about everything; it's observational comedy on a highly intellectual level whose central premise is that literally everything is stupid. Advertising, shopping, talking, eating, working, worrying, driving — he thinks it's all a waste of time. And, viewed through the prism of his success, we know where his relaxed indifference stems from.
Seinfeld knows himself and there's a sense he hasn't changed in a long time. His confidence about his identity rubs up against a timeline and a slew of people — including many of his guests — who don't feel as assured. This season of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is genuinely hilarious and often, in its truth-telling, rather insightful. But there's also a sense that the host, whose every impulse is comedic, a joke, is at odds with a period in which so many of his fans and colleagues are looking to empathize with each other first, and laugh at each other second. (Netflix)