Friday, April 27, 2012

SEINFELD - Season 4, Episode 1 - The Trip: Part 1

“The Trip: Part 1”

First Script Read: July 15, 1992
Filmed: Mon-Fri, July 20-24, 1992
Aired: August 12, 1992
Nielsen rating: 11.5
Audience share: 19
Directed: Tom Cherones
Writer: Larry Charles

Unlike the hour-long episode in season three, "The Boyfriend," "The Trip" was broadcast in two parts separated by a week. Kramer's decision to return to New York takes place in Part II, so the clue into the show's soul I've been looking for since the season three cliffhanger, "The Keys," will have to wait until that post. Of course, thanks to the miracle of DVDs I can watch these episodes one after the other, so you don't have to wait long. 

It is interesting to remember that a video collection of a television show's entire series was inconceivable in 1992. The VCR had only been a common feature of American households for a decade. Due partly to the number of tapes that would be needed to hold the required data, I don't know of any television series released in its entirety on VHS. Television releases were limited to selected episodes of only the most famous series. Even in the first few years of DVDs, it took a while for production companies to realize there might be a market for an entire series. The first Seinfeld DVD release was a collection of Jerry Seinfeld's favorite episodes. He picked "The Boyfriend," "The Rye" from season seven, and from season eight "The Pothole" and "The Yada Yada.

But I digress. Since Parts 1 and 2 were essentially created together, I'll talk about the feel of the entire two-part story here before turning to Kramer's decision in my next post.

Once again, Larry Charles' sensibilities are on full display. He likes to kill people off (see also "The Baby Shower"). He likes police procedurals, particularly Dragnet which he was watching regularly when he joined the Seinfeld writing staff (see also "The Statue," "The Baby Shower," "The Library"). He likes guns (see also "The Baby Shower," "The Subway," "The Limo"). And he just generally likes to explore darker themes than his fellow Seinfeld writers. (Just enter "Larry Charles" in the search box up in the top left corner.)

Charles also broke down the generic template of the sitcom in ways Larry David was uninterested in doing. While David brought new topics and language to the sitcom, stylistically his stories resembled the basic sitcom formula. Charles crossed over into other generic styles, stretching the boundaries of how Seinfeld told its stories. Charles used the two episodes to tell a story that felt more cinematic, particularly the parts of the episodes dealing with the police search for the Smog Strangler who is killing young women in Los Angeles.

In his DVD commentary for Part II, Charles credits cinematographer Wayne Kennan's work in creating the unique style, most notably in the scene were Kramer is interrogated:
“But see even the way this is lit, you know. There’s some atmosphere. It’s not sitcom-like. We did a good job of, of making… This episode really looks good also which is a nice quality. It was something I was always kinda pushing and something Larry [David] doesn’t always care about that much, but I was always trying to push for, you know, a little more atmosphere a little more subtlety in the lighting.”

Of course, it helped that the episode brought the characters to Los Angeles, the city where Seinfeld was filmed, allowing a lot of "on-location" shooting. While "The Parking Space" was able to use a few seconds of establishing shots along with extensive outdoor shooting to create the illusion of the New York City setting, "The Trip" gets Jerry, George, and Kramer out and about in L.A., giving it a different feel from a standard studio sitcom. Leaving the studio is the most effective way for a sitcom, or any show, to create an atypical atmosphere. (For a contrast, imagine how Lost would have felt if it was shot entirely on an indoor set.) As its budget exploded along with its popularity, Seinfeld would increasingly find new places to shoot, both outside as well as on new studio sets.

Despite this stylistic innovation, the show remained grounded in the banal. Charles knew not to stray too far from the foundation for comedy Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld had built. For example, George's biggest concern over the course of the two episodes was that his hotel bedspread not be tucked in. As referenced in season three's "The Note" and "The Limo," George previously injured his hamstring kicking free of tightly tucked hotel blankets. Alas, Lupe, the friendly hotel maid, fails to remember his request.

Also throughout, the comedy of the Jerry and George team on one hand and Kramer's zaniness on the other keeps things lighthearted. Jerry and George discuss the details of airline security when they travel, and snipe back and forth like Laurel and Hardy as they move around L.A., acting like children in the back of a police car. Kramer has several scenes with minimal dialogue and maximum antics, such as when he is auditioning for a music video, infomercial, exercise tape, and horror movie.

"The Trip" is vintage Larry Charles - twisted, edgy, and funny. He does sneak in an extremely dark detail about Kramer, one that anticipates a running joke about the character Charlie Day's sketchy relationship with his uncle in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In the interrogation scene, Lieutenant Martel presses Kramer to confess:

LIEUTENANT MARTEL: I'm not interested in your explanations, Kramer! Sure, I bet you've got a million of 'em. Maybe your mother didn't love you enough. Maybe the teacher didn't call on you in school when you had your little hand raised. Maybe the pervert in the park had a present in his pants, huh? Well, I've got another theory Kramer: you're a weed.

But soon Martel gets a phone call saying that the murderer has struck again, meaning Kramer must be innocent. He tells Kramer to leave. Kramer gets up and, as he walks out, asks Martel a question:

KRAMER: Hey, how did you know about the guy in the park?

Seinfeld didn't make this into a running joke about Kramer's character. It's probably for the best.

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