Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 1, Episode 1 - The Stakeout

"The Stakeout
1st read: February 14, 1990
Filmed: February 21, 1990
Aired: May 31, 1990
Nielsen rating: 16.2
Audience share: 24
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writers: Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David
The scene from which this episode gets its name is the one classic scene from the first season and, who knows, perhaps the reason why the show survived. Critics loved this episode, the first to air during the show's four-episode run in the summer of 1990. According to Jerry Seinfeld, the late, great NBC Executive Brandon Tartikoff (who had initially passed on Seinfeld) had that scene queued up in his office to show visitors.

Jerry and George wait excitedly in the elevator lobby, looking for the woman Jerry met at Elaine's friend's birthday party. Their dialogue is very Abbot and Costello-ian (a key influence on Jerry). As Jerry Seinfeld says on the DVD commentary, the scene "was very important in establishing the way these guys were going to talk...and the stupid way they were going to solve problems." Larry David points out that the pacing of the show as it would eventually evolve matched that elevator scene, rather than the slowness of most of the rest of the episode.

Speaking of pacing, some of the rhythm of the scene is set by the physical movement of Jerry and George, who pace back and forth, changing positions on the set two or three teams during their conversation. The chemistry between the two actors is already trinitrotoluene; Seinfeld can't act, but even at this point in his career he is a master of comedic pacing, and Jason Alexander's background in live theater probably helped him weave his dialogue smoothly with Seinfeld in front of the live studio audience. The writing itself, straight from Seinfeld and David, is superb.

Jerry: "Art Corvelay?"
George: "Yeah..."
Jerry: "What does he do?"
George: "He's an importer."
Jerry: "Just imports? No exports?"
George: "He's an importer/exporter, okay?"

The level of detail that the duo haggle over is just hilarious. Moments later, the audience experiences the excitement of watching them act out their plotting. This is gripping comedy stuff.

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