Saturday, August 20, 2016

Seinfeldia (2016)

[Prefatory Note: Rather than wait until having finished the book to write a review, our Literary Department has decided to try a new approach. Under this new approach, our Department reviewers will write the review as they proceed through the book. In this way, they don't have to rely on notes, or even make notes, when preparing their review, and will be less prone to omitting something of importance for our readers]

Seinfeldia is the history of the Seinfeld television series, with a little history of the creators and characters and others involved in the show. It puts to rest any notion that a new talent just bursts onto the scene, and shows any aspiring talent how difficult it might be to "make it" and how long the odds might be. At the same time, it illuminates how a talent's real life and life on stage are a blend, as so many of the stories you've seen on TV are just re-creations of what happened in real life (e.g., Larry David quit his writing job at SNL on a Friday night after being outraged as to how a skit of his was presented, and then came back to work on Monday morning as if he never quit, which the show re-created with George Castanza doing just that (Jason Alexander's breakthrough moment was when he realized that Larry David was replicating himself in George and was not replicating Woody Allen, whom Alexander first tried to model Costanza on). Even the names of characters are taken from real people. So, don't let anyone tell you that actors are different on the set than they are in real life.

Many of you likely knew about the borrowing of plot lines and even names from real life. But, as the book explains, it's not easy to keep coming up with new ideas this way. That is why, as explained in rich detail, the show continually turned-over its writers, so that new ones would come with new experiences, plot lines, and names. At the same time, daily news reports presented fodder as well.

The book lovingly reveals not only how the show makes the realities it is based on funnier than they were in real life, it delves into the contra-positive as well. For example, the book lovingly explains why the owners of Tom's (which became Monk's on the show) had many offers to sell at a great profit or small ways to profit such as adding dishes such as "Elaine's Big Salad."

Early Seinfeld and Seinfeld himself and Curb Your Enthusiasm and David himself, however similar, are clearly different, with Seinfeld/Seinfeld being essentially light and David/CYE being essentially dark. But the book well shows how Seinfeld darkens. It also highlights how both shows common a key trait: Each episode ends with a bang, not with a whimper.

While the cast and crew are incredibly gifted talents, until the show made it, while some had some significant accomplishments, none of them had steady work or had made it big. Each had a modicum of confidence and a healthy dose of insecurity, which the book weaves nicely to explore how those forces work to create a great team product even if the team has its cracks. Compare the movies Searchlight and, even more so, The Commitments.

Finally, for anyone who just likes celebrity (People-type) tid-bits, the book is chock-filled with them. And, for anyone who has not watched a Seinfeld re-run, the book is simply a sheer joy trip down the best (or at least second best) memory lane.

Link to Seinfeldia on Amazon

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