Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Good to the Last Drop

This past week, Jerry Seinfeld aired the last in his series of webisodes, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Seinfeld’s experiment of filming himself and friends in cars, getting coffee proved to be a successful one. He has said in interviews that he went into the project without any specific expectations, rather, it was just something he wanted to try and thought audiences might enjoy. Jerry filmed ten episodes and aired them weekly from late July through last week, in his words, until he ran out. This scheduling was a smart choice, allowing him to build an audience during the summer while the network series were on hiatus and end just as the new television season is starting. He further released the episodes in a sequence which felt like a season, drawing us in with some big names and building toward others at the end:

1. Larry David (07.19.12)
2. Ricky Gervais (08.02.12)
3. Brian Regan (08.09.12)
4. Alec Baldwin (08.16.12)
5. Joel Hodgson (08.23.12)
6. Bob Einstein (08.30.12)
7. Barry Marder (Ted L. Nancy) (09.06.12)
8. Colin Quinn and Mario Joyner (09.13.12)
9. Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (09.20.12)
10. Michael Richards (09.27.12)

You are of course free to watch these in any order, but this sequence has a pleasing rhythm to it.

Over the course of the episodes, Jerry continually mixes the setting between Los Angeles and his native New York (though he may have originally filmed these in a different order), the types of comedy we associate with each guest, the styles of coffee shops visited and of course, the cars. An explanation of each week's car choice is posted on the CCC Facebook page; I’d be even more interested to see any forethought that went into the choice of restaurant - mostly old school diners, with deviations like one to a bowling alley in Bob Einstein’s episode. The continuous changes in setting and personalities kept the series fresh and surprising each week, even in instances when I was less familiar with the guest’s work (Jerry provides a CV on each comedian at the beginning of the episode so even if you haven’t seen them before you can get a sense of what they will bring to the show.)

Each episode is worth studying, but the arguable highlights of the series took place in the last two episodes, featuring Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks and finally Michael Richards. The second to last episode starts like the previous ones with Jerry getting coffee with Carl Reiner, during which Reiner mentions that he and Mel Brooks have met for dinner every night for the past forty years, and extends Jerry - and us - a special invitation to join them.

The dinner scenes are a complete joy to watch. The fact that these two entertainment legends have such a close lifelong friendship, and eat dinner every night as that tradition slips away, is a rarity worth seeing. We also get to see Jerry - an idol to many of us - in the fan role, as his own heroes share stories of Get Smart, The Producers and The Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s great fun.

Last, we see Jerry with none other than Kramer himself, Michael Richards. As many know, Richards has a checkered past, notably relating to a 2004 onstage outburst from which his public image never fully recovered. Even in the 2009 Curb Your Enthusiasm staged Seinfeld reunion, Richards had the most minor role of the four cast members, audiences still sensitive to the event.

Needless to say, I wasn’t sure what to expect from seeing Richards on CCC but went into the episode with an open mind. It starts off with some zaniness, with Richards suggesting they visit Sugar Ray Leonard - only to find they had the wrong house - and donning a surfer wig and sunglasses disguise - only run into someone with the same real-life look. A disclaimer at the beginning of the episode reads, "Certain things in this episode seem set up. They were not."

The episode continues into the coffee segment of the day, with the conversation shifting toward Seinfeld memories. Suddenly, Richards begins to open up, ultimately addressing the previously mentioned incident. It’s a completely unexpected and refreshingly heartfelt moment, and one which I believe to be genuine.

Whether Jerry had planned for Richards to have this platform to express remorse, I don’t know. He has said the episodes are all unscripted, and the conversation felt as natural as any of the others, so I trust it was. I don’t condone what Richards said in 2004, but I do believe in second chances, and if this experience can serve toward one for him, I think that’s a great thing. Jerry says it best, "It's up to you to say, 'I've been carrying this baggage enough.'" Which is true of all of us.

Jerry has said he’s unsure whether he’ll film another set of episodes, and perhaps this is the best possible ending. I’d love to see more guests and think the possibilities are as of yet unlimited. Still, should Jerry choose to bring the project to a close as it is, he can do so feeling very proud of the work he’s done and knowing we’ll be eagerly awaiting whatever he does next.

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